I’m having a very hard time distinguishing where that very fine line between being sensitive to and perpetuating racism is.
Where do you draw that line?
I’m not being flippant, I’m asking real questions and I need real answers.
I’ve always loved the name Diego. The name Diego is a Spanish baby name and I, much to my own dismay, am not Spanish.
Not even a little bit.
If I had a son and named him Diego, is that cultural appropriation? And if it is, why?
And is it racist that I just said that I am dismayed not to be Spanish? Why?
And why does it seem more strange for somebody to name their baby a name that has origin that the baby does not, than it does when they do it to a pet?
If I had a son named Diego, I think people would find that strange.
If I had a Boston Terrier named Diego, I’m pretty sure most people wouldn’t think anything of it.
I was in Paris recently and I saw a beautiful beaded necklace that I knew my daughter would love. It looked not really but a little bit like this:
I knew my daughter would find it as gorgeous as I did and that it would look amazing on her, but I had to have this long guilt laden conversation with myself about whether or not I was racist or appropriating somebody else’s culture by wanting to buy it for her.
I don’t know if it’s true or not but I read somewhere once, that some native chokers were used as physical protection for the throat from a possible knife attack but that they were also used as a spiritual protection for the voice. My daughter is a singer. I thought it would be a beautiful gesture.
The necklace haunted me for weeks after I returned to Canada without it. I waffled between berating my own ignorance and refusing to subscribe to societies rules about how I can or can’t express my appreciation for all things beautiful before the argument in my head made the necklace so ugly I couldn’t imagine anybody wanting to wear it.
Has my daughter studied 47764 semesters of aboriginal studies, and been taken in and raised since birth on a reserve by the Haida people themselves, as though she were their own? Clearly not.
Is she going to wear the necklace with her face coated in tribal paint and sport a bralette with Matoaka written across it to a hipster music festival? Probably not.
Is it racist for her to wear it?
I’m not being facetious. I’m asking you. Is it?
I grew up in British Columbia. I don’t know a living human there who hasn’t owned a Cowichan sweater at some point in their lives. I loved my sweater. Those sweaters remind me of my childhood, cozy autumn days, and the Aboriginal art that is so prominently displayed all over the city I grew up in. I have amazing love filled associations with those sweaters. They make me homesick and happy all at the same time. I’ve been wishing somebody would send me one from home ever since I moved back to Montreal.
Does that make me racist? I’m not telling you, I’m asking you.
I heard recently that YAAS QUEEEEEN! is on the top 10 list of things that white people aren’t allowed to say. Apparently it’s a black lady thing to say so white people are NOT ALLOWED to say it because in saying it, one is appropriating black lady culture.
I’ve only heard it said on Broad City, by two white girls.
Some people say that a video of a Lady Gaga fan started it by his yelling “YAAAASSSSSS Gaga!” at her as she passed him.
According to P.J. Vogt Yaas actually originated with the queer POC (people of color) community circa the late 1980s, specifically those involved in ball culture and often yelled out at the stage as drag queens performed.
I don’t know where it started but in my quest to find out, I came across “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture.” Written by Sierra Mannie and a slightly angry queer’s response to it. I’m not going to lie, in reading these articles, I lost all interest in origins and became even more focused on how inhumanely we treat each other about them.
While I don’t at all advocate ignorance or a complete lack of respect for the suffering and oppression that anybody has gone through at any point in history, the present, or even the future for that matter (because let’s face it,
while Black people are allowed to vote, and it is no longer illegal for first nations people to practice traditional rituals; women are allowed to have mortgages AND divorces, and gays are allowed to be gay AND get married without being imprisoned for it- yay- we’ve still got a looooonnnngggg way to go),
I do question the extent to which we are willing to go to, to “protect” ourselves in the name of political correctness.
With one particular exception, a word that I personally think it would be best that nobody use, unless referencing a revolutionary quote or reciting a thoughtful historical essay; But we’ll get into that some other day, in yet another instalment to the category “more reasons for people to hate me”;
I think that telling people that they can’t use words because “it’s a black person thing” is as destructive as as telling anyone that they can’t say things because “it’s a white person thing”; it’s just feeding and nurturing the divide.
I am white. I am from Montréal Québec. My parents are New York Americans. My father’s family is Italian and British and German.
My mother’s family is French, from France; Paris and Alsace to be exact.
I am not aghast when I see non-French people wearing striped shirts and berets while rolling their own cigarettes. My skin doesn’t crawl when English people coat themselves in Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium or Chanel No. 5, although it does give me a bit of a headache.
You can wear a replica of Princess Diana’s wedding dress to the pub, or lederhosen for Halloween and you can eat all the pizza and gnocchi you want, right in my face! I promise you I won’t care. Not even a little bit.
I have never in my life felt that anyone was appropriating my culture because my family did not suffer a long history of oppression. We were never forbidden macarons or pasta (despite the best efforts of Pauline Marois) and we were never banned from speaking our languages (oops! Not true actually but that’s cool, I’ll take one for the team because you really can’t even begin to compare, and also honestly internet I am a little bit scared of you) or pray to our Gods. We didn’t have our friends, our families, our children and our faith ripped away from us. And I’m very very very aware of and grateful for that.
But when we reduce all of that real life tragedy down to who is and isn’t allowed to wear liquid eyeliner or hoop earrings, put chopsticks in their hair, or practice yoga, I get concerned.
Partially because I do all of those things and I don’t want to stop.
Partially because there are plenty of people who were born and raised in the countries from whence these traditions came, who know nothing about the origins themselves.
And mostly because we can’t tell people that it’s abusive to make rules for other people based on their race or religion but then add, except for when it comes to fashion, mixed tapes and dining etiquette.
I am thoughtful and caring. I am not racist. I don’t care if you believe that or not. I know it to be true.
I also know that for as long as we make up rules for how people are allowed to behave, based on their colour, their ethnicity, their history, etc… whether it is to destroy or protect anyone’s identity or culture,
we are feeding and nurturing the divide.
That, I am not asking you. I am telling you.
I know that twerking originated as part of the bounce music scene of New Orleans. And I know that a lot of young kids who don’t know that might think that Miley Cyrus invented it. But that doesn’t mean that history is being re-written.
I’m guessing a lot of kids also don’t know that the colors on the iconic red and white striped barber pole once symbolized a time when people went to barbers not just for a haircut and a shave but also for bloodletting and other medical procedures.
And I’d have a pretty hard time believing you if you told me that you were fully aware of the Scottish Dress Act of 1746 where in an attempt to bring the warrior clans under government control the tartan and other aspects of Gaelic culture were banned entirely, before you put on that plaid shirt this morning. And I’d be tempted, if you did, to ask if you knew which clan or family your highland scarf represented.
“My what scarf now?”
Yes, that’s right, it’s not actually called an H&M plaid tennis skirt, or an Urban Outfitters plaid flannel sheet in real life. But you didn’t know that and nobody screamed at you when they saw you drinking out of this this morning on the subway did they?
No they did not.
I’m not being argumentative. I’m asking you… why Miley (or any other white girl) shouldn’t twerk.
Aside of course from the fact that when they do, they kind of look like my dog does when she is trying to shake a reluctant turd out of her ass.
There is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation I know. But what if, instead of hating on the people who are running around in bindis, cornrows, and headdresses, but have no freaking idea what it is they are wearing or what it means to the people who hold them near and dear to their hearts, we just educate them and hope that seed germinates sooner than later, instead of convicting them of racism and hateful fashion crime?
Do I think that people should callously and carelessly wear whatever they want, regardless of whose culture they are disrespecting? No.
Do I think that a department store capitalizing on the sales of mass-produced cultural symbols that they have zero interest in, respect for, or connection to is wrong and inappropriate? Yes.
But I don’t necessarily think you are a jerk if you don’t throw out that Navajo inspired throw pillow on your bed if it brings you true joy,
I don’ t think you’re metaphorically spitting in the faces of all christians by buying that cubic zirconia ring from Ardene and wearing it on your engagement finger even though you’re single and having pre-marital sex with your Qigong instructor; although the Lord may punish you by turning your finger green.
And I don’t think that there should be a law prohibiting Madonna Circa 1984 from burning crosses and wearing a rosary while rolling around on the floor in her underwear singing Like a Virgin either.
I mean, if you catch your friend on their way to a West African funeral in a Purple and lavender Dashiki, maybe stop them from embarrassing themselves and offending others by either finding them a red one or re-directing them to a wedding, but that’s about being a good friend, not about being a self-righteous dick.
What I am trying to say is that I don’t think that the level of respect we show each other should be based on how much each of our collective peoples have suffered (or currently suffer). We should respect each other. Period.
And no, this isn’t an “all lives matter” post. I’m not on that train.
We march, demonstrate, fight, pray, sing and beg and plead for equality, the right to celebrate our cultures and our rituals, and for others to embrace diversity.
What if we did all of that lovingly and free of judgement and accusations?
And what if…. when others joined us, we saw that a little tiny bit less as making light of the discriminations faced by our cultures and a little tiny bit more as a contribution to wiping out the need to describe being a decent human being as one who embraces diversity.
What if we saw it a little less like blurring the importance of a culture’s history and a little more like blurring the line that separates us from being one people.
And what if…. you’re going to hate me, I know it, but just hear me out…
what if we were even allowed (just a little tiny bit) if we did it lovingly and free of judgement and accusations, to make fun of or parody out of ourselves for being such f#$%(&@ jerks to each other just once in a while?
I’m not preaching! I’m just asking.