If This Were Cultural Appropriation “Ask Alice”…
I’m Irish, and people dress in ‘Kiss me, I’m Irish!” t-shirts all the time on St. Patrick’s Day…isn’t it the same thing?
The experience of ethnicity amongst white individuals in the US is almost exclusively symbolic. The claim that “I’m oppressed too because there was a time when people didn’t like the Irish” does not hold water because identifying as Irish in today’s context does not impact your life outcome in any negative way – it is a symbolic ethnicity. You get to choose to participate in your ethnicity when it is convenient or pleasurable for you to do so. A person from a historically underrepresented group does not get to shed themselves of their identity nearly as easily as you are able to – it is a very real and concrete part of their existence with regards to how they navigate in the social world.
But what about whiteface? Minorities are racist towards white people all the time…why is that okay?
In a nutshell, Racism = Prejudice + Power. Individual people of color do not have the power in this culture, therefore reverse racism is impossible. P.O.C.’s can be prejudiced against certain people, just the way anyone in a marginalized group can be, but they cannot be reverse-racist because of their lack of power within the systems and structures of American society. While I certainly don’t advocate the aforementioned, it certainly isn’t a justification to make the behavior acceptable – it’s wrong regardless.
Well, why don’t historically underrepresented groups just educate better?
It is not up to historically underrepresented people to make oppression more palpable to you; This implies an undue burden. For example — why should a Native person take all the responsibility to educate people about their culture? That would imply a privilege to interrogate or force that connection on someone else. Instead, do some initial research on your own – For the most part, most high-schoolers are taught at least some rudimentary level of research skills and methods. If you have further questions that you’d like to ask someone from a racially-marginalized group, you now have some background research and information to further the discussion. Showing effort means something. Most people will be appreciative of it!
But, I’m oppressed, too. What about me?
Instead of complaining and insisting that you share the same plight as oppressed people, become an ally. Be respectful, humble, and inquire. Examine yourself critically! Examine your position within society critically.
What is privilege and how does it relate to me picking out a costume at Halloween? Aren’t there better ways to address the issue?
Part of privilege is thinking you have the right to define things, conversations, contexts, and pick and chose what you want to talk about, listen to while ignore things you are uncomfortable with. It has nothing to do with merit (something you’ve earned), it is something you are born with. If you think you have a right to demand how someone from a historically underrepresented population should speak to you about their experiences of oppression (ie, “it makes me uncomfortable that you’re bringing this up this way…”), that is part of the problem. Instead, it would be more useful to do some internal reflection on privilege.
But, if you don’t share these cultures, they’ll die out! People should be happy we’re promoting their culture!
“Not sharing” culture doesn’t make it die out. There were historical reasons and oppressive policies design to stamp out marginalized cultures around the world. Saying, “it’ll die if you don’t share it” is a gross simplification of entire histories of marginalized persons. Not to mention, the means by which you’re “promoting” another culture are probably highly inaccurate and very stereotypical, at best.
But what about people of other cultures wearing things from American culture? For example, a person from Japan wearing a Sesame Street shirt?
First, let’s distinguish the difference between the sacred and the mundane. Sesame Street is not a religious or sacred thing. While it may be special to you (heck, it’s special to me), it is secular (mundane) and is not something tied to faith or something deeply ingrained in an entire culture’s way of being.
America is a world power. Sesame Street is a multibillion-dollar television show with many investors, lawyers, and hundreds of patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Sesame Street is not vulnerable in the same way that a culture is. Sesame Street has not been trampled on for centuries. People have not made fun of Sesame Street, told you that it’s not special, told you that they know how special it is without actually ever having seen it, and haven’t made sweeping generalizations or assumptions about this children’s tv show. And even if they had, this has almost definitely been on an individual level and not been indoctrinated by an entire nation. Let alone from the people in power of the nation in which you live. For your entire life.
Last year, I wore a costume like that…are you calling me a racist? I bought a costume like that for this Halloween…am I a bad person?
“It’s not about whether you’re a good person; prejudice and privilege and the blind spots they create, these are things good people are going to struggle with all their lives. We’re all human beings, we’re all going to be prone to having blind spots and preconceived notions – that’s the nature of being human, we’re imperfect. This attitude that, “I’m a good person, therefore I shouldn’t be questioned on things” is kind of like, “my bathroom is clean, so I don’t need to clean my bathroom.” We’re always going to gravitate toward having these flaws and misconceptions, and it’s impossible for us to always be aware of how our privilege is affecting our worldview and our actions. The key to being a “good person” is to constantly challenge yourself and be open to being challenged, and to respond to criticism with humility.” — Jay Smooth