Friday, June 5, 2015

Cultural Appropriation by Any Other Name Still Smells...

Hello all, I hope your weeks have been more fantastic than the thought of playing on a life size Monopoly board (come on, admit it, it would be fun).

Well, this past week I happened to post a video on my Facebook page addressing the issue of cultural appropriation, particularly focused around "theme" parties that tend to stereotype entire races and cultures in a detrimental light (i.e. themes like "Ghetto Fabulous," "Asian Parties" etc). 

For context, and because it is an excellent piece, here is the video:

While most of the response I received from posting this originally was fairly positive. There was one comment that I received, in person no less, from a Caucasian acquaintance who is nearly as pale as I am that made me want to go high five someone... in the face... with a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The comment basically boiled down to (and I am paraphrasing), "I don't see why people of those cultures would be so offended. I mean, it's just a reason to party and it isn't like we're trying to be offensive."

Sadly, I have heard this exact sentiment echoed by many white people I have spoken to about a lot of different forms of cultural appropriation.

"Come on, what's the big deal?" asks the white frat-boy dressed at Halloween as a Muslim wearing a turban with bombs strapped to their chest.

"I don't think this is offensive," says the white girl who is dressed in a "Thug Life" t-shirt, with a fake grill who is addressing everyone at a party using the n-word.

The point that these comments miss is this: Not being of that culture means that you DO NOT have the right to decide what is offensive and what isn't. (I bolded and underlined that, is there some other way I can make the "do not" more noticeable?)

It's as simple as that, just because you don't find something offensive, doesn't give you a pass to use other peoples' cultures, history or race as you please.

My family, on both sides, is Scottish. How Scottish am I? I know Flower of Scotland by heart, am helping organize the Highland Games and I can quite happily tell you where to go and what to ride on to get there in Gaelic.

You know what I find annoying? The phrase, "Oh, but Ireland and Scotland are basically the same thing right?"

Absolutely, if you ignore two completely diverse cultures, histories and just mash ancient traditions together like the ingredients in a haggis, then the two are exactly the same.

Don't get me wrong, I love the Irish, but calling our heritages the same is just not correct.

If I am annoyed by just that phrase, I can only imagine what it is like to have your entire culture hijacked and mocked publicly just because someone else thinks it is "fun" to do so.

Remember, the outfit you're wearing as a "joke" is something that someone else wears on a daily basis as part of their everyday life. You take off the costume and you return to your daily life, but that person gets to deal with the nasty stereotypes or stigma perpetuated by your disregard for their culture.

So how about next time you think, "Is what I'm doing perpetuating harmful stereotypes? If I wore this in a insert culture neighborhood would I find a lot of people who were very offended?"

If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then please rethink your plan.

As always I can be found on Facebook or Twitter (@AllisonHawn) and my books can be found here.


  1. "I know Flower of Scotland by heart..."

    Wow! That's better than most Scottish people, from my experience. Most of the ones I've met can proudly sing the first verse (the one about sending Edward's army homeward), but when it gets to the second verse, they start looking at their shoes and mumbling, "Da dum da dum da dum..."

    Course, when it gets back to the chorus, everybody gets back into it in full voice.

  2. Hear it at enough Highland Games events and you pick it up pretty quick. ;)