Please explain this to me

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?

3 thoughts on “Please explain this to me

  1. I think drag is a good example here because some women are offended by it (because they think it is demeaning and makes fun of women) and some women think it is outrageously funny because it shows the ridiculousness of femininity. And a lot of people would argue that whether it is offensive or not depends upon how it is done, who it is laughing at, and the tone of the performance- but some women would argue that it shouldn’t be done, period.

    Appropriating black hair-styles, on the other hand, is orientalizing it (taking something from one culture, imbuing it with exociticism and usually eroticizing it). And I think that is the issue with white women (or men) taking something from black women’s culture (even if it is a social construct). It is a form of cultural colonialism and it raises the issues of how white people have viewed and/or used black women as their slaves, maids, mistresses etc.

    Don’t know if that helps or not. Or if I’m correct here either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel that I don’t have the same insight in the relation between “black” and “white” people. Our history is so different in that aspect (even though Sweden have had five colonies over the years, one of them was between Cape Henlopen and Trenton in the mid 1600, and tried to tap into the slave trade for a few years with another colony). We never differentiate between white and people of colour here, the discussions are more based on “Scandinavians” vs “immigrants” or “we” vs “Muslims”. That said I know that Afro-swedes rightfully are fighting to clean up our language (the chocolate balls I mentioned before were called n–balls when I was a kid and no one thought about how degrading that word is) and art, specifically “blackfaces”. But I’ve never heard them talking about appropriation. I don’t know if that’s because I don’t listen enough, it’s not such a big issue in Sweden or if they’ve just had to start the battle somewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s an interesting topic. Coupled with Jamie Ray’s comment it reminds me of when I briefly tweeted recently about drag and how I feel about it. There’s been a bit of a debate whether it’s okay or not, in relation to how sensitive it is in relation to being trans. I’m not clued in enough at all to say much worthwhile but I did realise drag makes me uncomfortable. I think the problem is, especially here in the UK, the idea of a man in women’s clothes is seen as hilarious. It’s positioned as a big joke and this really funny concept, it’s often seen on British TV sit-coms and sketch shows, I have no idea why. It honestly seems pretty demeaning to women that this is a cultural trope but it’s only in recent years have I heard people speak up and say it’s offensive.

    I think the issue is complicated though. As, like you say, these sorts of things ignore the struggle involved. It’s like if a random cis guy wears a dress as an experiment and gets flak for it, that’s nothing like being trans because: 1. He can take it off at the end. 2. Being trans isn’t (just) about getting flak from other people for being yourself it’s about the pressure to blend in, it’s about the dysphoria and weathering society’s messages that tell you that coming out as trans is a really, really bad idea and being trans is bad. So someone doing it for “support” and to see what it’s like doesn’t work.

    Meanwhile, doing it for comedy is damaging on a cultural level as it keeps the story going that man in dress = funny. But… drag is a “safe” place to dress up for people who are questioning, I do see that as something worth mentioning. But I see that more as a side-effect of the shitty state of society, that it isn’t safe to begin with. I feel a little bit selfish when I admit it but I don’t like drag and I’d rather not see it. People find it enjoyable sure and it doesn’t directly harm anyone but it definitely has an indirect effect and it makes some trans folks uncomfortable.

    …This was a long slightly off-topic ramble but basically: It’s complicated but I think it comes down to taking specific elements out of a marginalised community and re-packaging them in a safe and privileged manner that’s ignorant of the vulnerabilities and struggles of that community. Drag does the same thing, it’s “safe” to be a man in a dress for laughs, it’s not safe to a trans woman perceived as a man in a dress out of comfort. I think this is also the reason Eddie Izzard is tolerated for being openly a cross-dresser (I don’t like that word but I saw him say he’s not trans so I’m not really sure what word to use) as he’s a comedian, he’s trying to make people laugh. Although his outfit choice is unrelated to trying to make people laugh, I think that makes him come across in a safe and more understandable way. For instance if he was an actor first, and didn’t establish himself as a comedian prior, I think the public would be much harsher.


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