Warning: cultural appropriation; in this post I’m using the words “black” and “white” as a very, very simplified way to talk about cultural differences. I also apologize for the incoherent language, I’m writing about stuff I don’t really understand and find it difficult to express my thoughts in this matter. This post is about me trying to understand and I sincerely hope I don’t offend anyone. If I do I can guarantee it is not my intention!!!
I subscribe to the feminist magazine Everyday Feminism and lately they have written a lot about cultural appropriation. I get the general idea, and issue, with appropriation vs appreciation but sometimes the arguments just fly high above my head. I don’t know if it’s because the issues are less severe in the region I live in or if it’s because I’m blinded by my privileges (white, middle class, middle age, man, without visible disabilities). The latest article I read was about the problem white people wearing black peoples hairdos cause. I get that this is a real issue in the states where some workplaces don’t allow “black hairdos” (unthinkable here!!! A rule like that in a workplace in Sweden would cause a media storm where the employer would be stamped a pure racist idiot. They would have to back down, apologize and crawl in the dust for a while in order to get their business back). I get that white people are just exercising their privilege by showing that they can wear a hairdo less privileged people can’t. The scriber points out that wether or not a white person can pull of a black hairdo is based on context, and again I follow. If I braided my hair and posted it in social media with a text about the absurdness that I’m allowed to wear my hair any way I want, but my friends of color aren’t, the context would make the hairdo ok. But let’s say that after posting that I went out to have a bite to eat, passing/meeting/interacting with “black” people. What would happen? Is my hairdo ok just in the specific context of talking about privileges/struggles meaning I have to un-braid my hair before I walk out the door, or is it ok on the street because I’ve used it in that context? The truth is that the people I meet haven’t seen my post and will likely take offense. But if I was a celebrity doing the same I would be able to walk with my new hairdo after my social media post and people would instead be reminded of the statement it is because they’ve seen or heard about my post. Back to ordinary me, would a badge with my message on it make the hairdo ok? Or me constantly talking about it? I guess that my question is: if wearing “black” hairdo isn’t banned for “white” people, when is it ok? In which contexts is it ok and what do you do when you have to transport yourself between those contexts? Feel free to explain it to me. I’m not trying to make a sassy point here, I’m genuinely confused.
But since appropriation is such an interesting subject to talk about, I’ll move on to something closer to home; LGBTQ+ appropriation. Being on the suppressed side of the story makes for an interesting turn on things, but unfortunately I’m equally confused. So, “straight” people acting or dressing in a “gay” way/ “cis” people dressing or acting in a “trans” way. People can do this for a good cause, like dressing up for the pride parade – even the LGBTQ+ community likes to dress more queer than usual on this occasion. Joining the parade is appreciation. Having a party themed “gay” or “trans” or using those words in a derogatory way is just rude. So logically somewhere in the middle I should find “appropriation”. I try to think about what kind of expression would make me feel aggrieved as a gay or trans person, but I really struggle to find it. Maybe all those secret signals gays used to identify each other, like blond tips, earrings, thumb rings, scarves and all the rest I’ve forgotten. The reason there’s so many is because straight people find them cool and take them over – making them useless. However, I would classify this as annoying at the worst but I don’t consider myself violated by their thoughtless acts. I guess that the difference is that those small signals have never been used to oppress or belittle gays. I think the closest I can get is when a young, white man dress up in a non-flattering gown, wearing the kid’s yellow princess-wig and badly applied makeup from the kids Halloween-kit, and using a photo of it as their profile photo. The reason this bugs me is because his photo doesn’t appreciate the struggles many trans people go through. BUT, if the dress actually fitted him, the wig was brushed and in a natural color and the makeup put on thoughtfully I wouldn’t mind him making it his profile picture. On the contrary I would see it as an act of appreciation for the trans community. Funny how a little effort can make such a difference. But applied to cultural hairdos it doesn’t really work anymore. Bad braids -appropriation, professionally made braids – appreciation?
Am I just stupid for not getting this? Am I too privileged to get it?
What would you consider gender/sexuality appropriation?