Cultural Appropriation: Nothing But Blurred Lines
By Attiya Karodia
The topic of Cultural Appropriation is touchy to say the least, but the more I encounter what would be deemed by the masses as unacceptable, the more confused I become about the more subtle offences that slip by, and furthermore, whether there are any distinct lines that shouldn’t be crossed.
In short, I’d like to ask, are we making up rules about cultural appropriation as we go along?
For example, we have all established repeatedly that blackface isn’t okay and never will be, but in South Africa, we’ve not only been accepting blackface, but actively paying for and supporting it in the form of Leon Schuster’s entire film career for well over a decade. Surely this shouldn’t be the case in the country of Freedom?
There was an international out cry for Victoria’s Secret’s geisha campaign, and then again for Native American head-dresses being worn to the Coachella music festival, but comparatively less noise for Robert Downey Jnrs role in Tropic Thunder. This raises a second question. Is cultural appropriation a matter of context in that a ‘respectful’ portrayal is tolerated more than one of a humorous nature?
Then there’s the issue of cultural appropriation in the fashion industry, which to be honest, more often than not is offensive (see Dolce & Gabbana’s horrid attempt at historic fashion) but again, confuses me. If a person of colour wishes to channel the culture of another, it seems to be more acceptable than if a Caucasian does.So is the offensiveness of cultural appropriation also dependent on your race?
All of my thoughts and questions culminated in an intrinsic explosion when I saw a young (probably) Zulu man wearing a traditional headdress to a house music festival and my mind was thrown back immediately, because his donning of the culture was not a matter of respectful portrayal (he doesn’t wear it to work or on the weekend the way a Muslim or Jewish person would), rather one of entertainment or a show taking the form of a costume element, but was it suddenly okay because it was his culture?
From what I gathered based on the way that we’ve reacted as both a nation and the globe, I can deduce the following disheartening facts (which I hope my readers can debunk as ignorant myths and inconsistencies):
- Cultural Appropriation and Blackface is okay if it is curated by a mass media platform such as film.
- Cultural Appropriation and Blackface is okay if it’s your culture that you’re mocking.
- A Cultural accent from another is acceptable, a costume is not.
- If you’re white, stay away from donning anything from anyone else’s culture but your own.
I hope my readers can tell what I’m getting at, the fact that we’re continually drawing and redrawing boundaries that no one but ourselves can cross, and then changing the rules to suit our tendencies of mocking what is ours.All these double standards breed nothing but a back and forth of hatred, when all it takes is a little consistency and clarity.
Cultural Appropriation and Blackface are sickening acts, but it doesn’t feel any better when you trivialize your own culture, just because you can.