I have a photo of my daughter, my son and my nephew wearing colorful and highly decorated sombreros in a hotel gift shop in Mexico. They’re now all in their 20s. When I took the photo, they were teens and we were on vacation.
The sombreros were for sale in the shop so we stopped to snap a photo but we didn’t make a purchase. If, however, we did buy the sombreros and wear them back in the U.S., would we have been guilty of appropriating another culture? Would we have been excused if we only wore them when we landed in a U.S. airport, still lugging suitcases and bearing suntans from having recently visited a climate warmer than Northeast Ohio’s? What about if it was chilly in the airport and we warmed ourselves with blankets that we also bought in that Mexico hotel gift shop and those blankets were made with traditional Mexican designs? Is that appropriating another culture?
I’m asking because I seriously do not know the new rules about this sort of thing. I mean no disrespect to anyone’s culture, but the rules have frankly gotten confusing.
Another nephew, who used to manage a restaurant where he was also a chef told me that when he invented new recipes by blending food from different cultures (like a taco filled with curry-flavored meat and vegetables), patrons got angry at him for appropriating cultures.
I recently read a story about a big-name clothing company (I forget which one) that received a lot of hate for selling women’s tops embroidered with floral patterns because the patterns resembled those used by traditional clothing makers somewhere else (I forget which country).
I read another story about a white high school girl (somewhere in the U.S.) shopping for a prom dress in a second-hand store. She selected a red silk gown designed and embroidered in a traditional Asian style. When she proudly wore it to her prom, she was met with bullying and attacks by those who accused her of appropriating someone else’s culture.
I hear stories about white people who wear their hair in locks (formerly known as dread locks) getting bullied for cultural appropriation.
Maybe I’m being very thick-headed about this but, really? I thought, in art, food and fashion, sharing each other’s inventions, discoveries and traditions was encouraged and celebrated and considered a beautiful example of people coming together to enjoy the best of humanity.
I understand the concept of intellectual property protections and copyright and plagiarism laws, but really?
I understand the ugliness of blackface. I agree that Chief Wahoo needs to go, and I support the Cleveland Indians baseball organization’s plans to change the team name. But sharing each other’s food, fashion, art and even hair styles is now also bad? Are we still allowed to dance to music from other cultures? What about if I use white-person dance moves while dancing to a song by a black band, or vice versa? How much hate mail and how many death threats will that get me?
When jets carrying visitors to Hawaii arrive at the airport, do locals still place a lei around each visitor’s neck? Or do only those of Hawaiian decent get to wear the leis? Since yoga originated in India, is it offensive that non-Indians now enjoy the practice? What about belly dancing done by those whose DNA indicates their ancestors did not invent it? I appear white, but by DNA, I am 15 percent North African and Middle Eastern. Does that grant me more freedoms to do non-white things? Should I have to carry a DNA report to avoid harassment?
If we share and enjoy and celebrate each other’s cultures and stay away from mocking or making fun of or making caricatures of each other, we should be good. Right? Or wrong? And that is the question.