This was a post that I did for Carla when she was doing guest posts by people of color. I think this is something that a lot of people still dismiss as a joke so I hope that it sheds some clarification on the issue. I wrote the post and Carla found the perfect video to go with it.
There is a very fine line between appreciating a culture and appropriating it in a disrespectful manner.
It’s one thing to want to learn about and value something that you are unfamiliar with.
It’s another to stereotype, make fun of, undermine the importance of and use poor examples of a community to represent all of its members.
Black/brown face is not acceptable, nor is it funny. It’s degrading and childish. Surely if I, an African American woman, decided to put baby powder on my face as a “joke” you wouldn’t laugh. And you shouldn’t because it’s wrong and disgraceful.
Reducing Mexican culture to a “drinking holiday” while wearing mustaches and sombreros should not be tolerated. If you’re going to use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to celebrate at least know what it is that you are celebrating. It’s about much more than half price tacos and cheap margaritas. No, it is not Mexico’s Independence Day. It’s the day that the Mexican army, despite the fact that were extremely outnumbered, defeated the French in the Battle of Puebla. That’s not a hard fact to find so the least you could do is look it up, remember it, and correct people who still make that stupid assumption without realizing that their ignorance is depreciating an important event in Mexican history.
Yes, this applies for St. Patrick’s Day too. You don’t become “Irish for a day” just because you want to drink beer or whiskey and dye your food green. This holiday was supposed to be one of culture and religion to commemorate one of the most famous patron saints of Ireland – not Jameson specials.
I probably won’t watch the next season of Fuller House because they decided to throw an “Indian themed party” without any explanation of the culture and traditions. Surely they brought in someone familiar with the culture to choreograph the Bollywood dance that was performed, but the issue is deeper than that. Thinking that it’s okay to throw a themed party of a culture that you know nothing about – just for the hell of it – is not appropriate. Taking traditional garb and using it as a “costume” undermines the importance of it. Renting a cow as a prop for a party doesn’t display the fact that it is considered sacred. Little things like this could easily show appreciation if time was taken to learn of their significance. This scene could have easily been remedied by doing simple things. 1. Bring in real Bollywood dancers to start the dance. Have them dance first so it’s sort of like a demonstration and then have everyone else join in. They had to be taught the dance anyway so why not include some of that. Obviously not a full blown lesson (it is TV) but just a little bit instead of making it seem like they all just knew how to do this dance. 2. For the clothes that they were wearing, a little background on it would have been nice. Something about the colors, the beads, why Max was wearing a turban. 3. Explain why a cow is sacred. Literally there was no explanation at all. All of those things would have made a difference between appreciation and appropriation.
Note* No I am not Indian but I did have a conversation about it with one of my really good friends. The fact that she was so upset by it, was enough for me to understand and be able to point out where they went wrong. Also, in situations of appropriation some people that are a part of the culture being appropriated may say that it doesn’t bother them. That’s totally fine, different people have different experiences. However, it is still important to remember that most of the time more people are offended than not. And if you are going to partake in something its really just common sense to learn about it. I mean, if you’re going to study abroad in Italy you’re going to learn a bit about the country right? Exactly*
If you want to actually show appreciation for a culture different from your own, the way to do that is to learn about it from people that are actually a part of it. For example, throughout undergrad I was on the executive board of the Latino Student Association for three years. I do not identify as Latino or Hispanic. I originally joined the eboard 1. To spend time with my best friend who was the president at the time and 2. To help with the logistics of running an organization and managing large scale events because that was my thing. The entire time, I was constantly learning. I used this as an opportunity to immerse myself in different cultures and learn a little bit of the language. I visited Spanish, Venezuelan and Colombian restaurants, and learned how to make pina coladas, empanadas, and tostones. I learned the differences between most Latin American and Spanish speaking countries and now know most of their flags and where the countries are located. I learned how to dance Salsa, Cha Cha, Merengue, Bachata, and Rueda, the evolution of these dances and where they originated. I learned about the struggles that young Latino- and Hispanic-Americans face and volunteered with their underserved youth in Philly and Camden to help prepare them for college. That is an example of how you can appreciate a culture the right way.
This is the video that Carla found that also clarifies this situation quite nicely: