Carla asked me to write a post about cultural appropriation and was kind enough to post my thoughts on her page. Until I actually started writing, I didn’t realize how much of this I wanted to get off my chest. Here is my post and a video that Carla found that ties everything together very nicely.
Appropriation vs Appreciation
There is a very fine line between appreciating a culture and appropriating it in a disrespectful manner.
It’s one thing to want to learn and value something that you are unfamiliar with.
It’s another to stereotype, make fun of, undermine the importance of and use poor examples of a community to represent all of its members.
Black/brown face is not acceptable, nor is it funny. It’s degrading and childish. Surely if I, an African American woman, decided to put baby powder on my face as a “joke” you wouldn’t laugh. And you shouldn’t because it’s wrong and disgraceful.
Reducing Mexican culture down to a “drinking holiday” and wearing mustaches and sombreros should not be tolerated. If you’re going to use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to celebrate at least know what it is that you are celebrating. It’s about much more than half price tacos and cheap margaritas. No, it is not Mexico’s Independence Day. It’s the day that the Mexican army, despite the fact that were extremely outnumbered, defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla. That’s not a hard fact to find so the least you could do is remember that, and correct people who still make that stupid assumption without realizing that their ignorance is depreciating an important event in Mexican history.
Yes, this applies for St. Patrick’s Day too. You don’t become “Irish for a day” just because you want to drink beer or whiskey and dye your food green. This holiday was supposed to be one of culture and religion to commemorate one of the most famous patron saints of Ireland.
I probably won’t watch the next season of Fuller House because they decided to throw and “Indian themed party” without any explanation of the culture and traditions. Surely they brought in someone familiar with the culture to choreograph the Bollywood dance that was performed, but the issue is deeper than that. Thinking that it’s okay to throw a themed party of a culture that you know nothing about – just for the hell of it – is not acceptable. Taking traditional garb and using it as a costume undermines the importance of it. Renting a cow as a prop for a party doesn’t display the fact that it is considered sacred. Little things like this could easily show appreciation if time was taken to learn of their significance.
If you want to actually show appreciation for a culture different from your own, the way to do that is to learn about it from people that are actually a part of it. For example, throughout undergrad I was on the executive board of the Latino Student Association for three years. I do not identify as Latino or Hispanic. I originally joined the eboard 1. To spend time with my best friend who was the president at the time and 2. To help with the logistics of running an organization and managing large scale events because that was my thing. The entire time, I was constantly learning. I used this as an opportunity to immerse myself in different cultures and learn a little bit of the language. I visited Spanish, Venezuelan and Colombian restaurants, and learned how to make pina coladas, empanadas, and tostones. I learned the differences between most Latin American and Spanish speaking countries. I learned how to dance Salsa, Cha Cha, Merengue, Bachata, and Rueda, the evolution of these dances and where they originated. I learned about the struggles that young Latino- and Hispanic-Americans face and volunteered with their underserved youth in Philly and Camden to help prepare them for college. That is an example of how you can appreciate a culture the right way.