I hope you all had a beautiful spring weekend!
This week I’m spending time on cultural appropriation, particularly because this is one of the ways in which good people can get tripped up by white supremacy and racism. This is one of those areas that isn’t classified as overt racism most of the time and that can be hard for people to feel justified in calling out as a problem. Full disclosure, I had to do quite a bit of reading and educating myself before I felt comfortable writing this up for all of you, so it’s a process for me, too.
There are many kinds of cultural appropriation, so I’m going to pick a pretty straightforward one: dressing up like someone from another culture or race. One of the most extreme examples is blackface, which in recent news has been clearly shown to be offensive and wrong. But this also extends to Halloween costumes and costume parties. For example, it’s not appropriate for a white person to dress up as a black person (even without blackface) or a Native American person or an Asian person or anyone else who is marginalized in some way. If you’re going to invite white people to a costume party, please don’t make it a 90's hip hop theme because almost all famous 90's hip hop artists were black and white people dressing up as black people is wrong. Period.
Cultural appropriation is part of a racist, white supremacist culture because it picks and chooses elements from a culture rather than appreciating the whole culture, and comes from a consumerist and entitled approach. In terms of costumes, it’s also something you can take off when the party is over, which is a great example of white privilege because marginalized people cannot just take off their skin color or cultural identity or change their lived experiences by changing their clothes. A costume reduces a person or culture to something disposable, to be used, removed, and discarded.
Related to this, please take a breath before feeling defensive if someone shares that you did or said something that offended them. From Courtney Ariel, “Be sensitive. If someone tells you that something is offensive, try not to search for ways (or lines from the Constitution) to prove to them why their feelings are wrong. Please see them as your neighbor. Take them at their word. Keep in mind that this country was built up with the intention that black people would never be free — they would always be property. Please imagine that these intentions, this lineage, and this history all play a huge part in our present day realities.”
And pulling from the Allyship Workshop training again (it really is amazing!), good people can do offensive things. Racism isn’t a character flaw, it’s a pervasiveness in everything. Instead of assuming that you can’t possibly be racist because you’re a good person, focus on ways in which you can be anti-racist. Loving hop hop doesn’t make you anti-racist. Living in a diverse neighborhood or choosing an integrating school doesn’t make you anti-racist. Showing up, identifying your biases, educating yourself, listening and validating, accepting that you will make mistakes and then apologizing when you do, being accountable to those who are marginalized by the system — those things are anti-racist.
It is extremely hard work and it is absolutely necessary for white people to engage with this work if anything is going to change. Failing to try means being complicit with white supremacy and racism. So try, learn, try again.
For a little inspiration, here’s Michael Gerson’s opinion piece in the Washington Post.
Also, great news from VOICE with their success in lobbying Virginia to change the driver’s license suspension laws.
Keep trying, learning, working.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.
Listen. Amplify. Follow.
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