Cultural Appropriation: A New Kind of Racism?

Katie Cetinski, News writer

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You might not know the name for it but it’s been everywhere the last few years: Selena Gomez wearing a bindi during a performance of Come and Get It. Hilary Duff’s white boyfriend dressing up as an Indian chief for Halloween.

Cultural appropriation is when one culture takes an aspect of a minority’s culture and does it themselves/makes it their own, despite not being part of that culture. One example of this, and why it should be talked about, is because of something that happened in England just a few days ago.

A girl was sent home from school because she was wearing ‘dreadlocks’ in her hair, woven with white threads. She’s Caucasian. However, her friend of Jamaican heritage is wearing, and is permitted to wear the same hairstyle.

Don’t get me wrong; if you’re ‘dressing up’ or copying another culture just to be offensive…if you’re like “oh ha-ha #whiteIndian2016”, then that’s racist. That’s cultural appropriation in my opinion. What I don’t understand is those of innocent intent who mean no offense are being penalized; to them it’s just part of a costume. I don’t see how the ‘dreadlocks’ the English girl wore to school are ‘offensive’. I understand that it’s part of culture and tradition for African American women, but I don’t see how it’s ‘offensive’ if a girl of white skin color wears that hairstyle as long as she didn’t mean to insult. If that’s offensive, then wouldn’t an African American woman with straightened, smooth hair – a typical ‘white’ hairstyle – be offensive?

Another case of cultural appropriation is how Disney released Halloween costumes for its new movie Moana, centred around the first Polynesian Disney Princess, and starring Dwayne Johnson as Moana’s burly, legendary, heroic sidekick. The costume for Dwayne Johnson’s character, the demigod Maui, included a grass skirt and a long-sleeved shirt designed to look like brown skin covered with traditional Polynesian tattoos. Ouch.

Needless to say, several people, including Polynesians, saw this costume online. Their basic consensus was shock, hurt, and anger. To quote one enraged Tweet, “our brown skin is not a costume”. Disney received so much flak for the costume that they took all the Moana costumes, including, Maui, off the site.

This was not cool. It’s one thing to dress up as a Native Hawaiian when you’re not actually Hawaiian. That’s fine, but what is NOT fine is when you dress up with a shirt to resemble brown skin and culture-specific tattoos when you’re not of Polynesian descent.

My overall consensus is that when it comes to dressing up as other cultures, there needs to be a line drawn somewhere. Not everything in the world is offensive just because someone likes the way another race wears their hair. But it is racist to go as far as imitating that race’s skin tone. Please be respectful, and maybe we can all move along and focus on other issues.