Cultural appropriation: the shade of it all


Picture a chatty white girl at a Halloween party wearing an American Indian costume off of a Party City rack that consists of a short brown dress the size of a postage stamp and a feather in her hair.

“It’s okay because I’m 1/32 Cherokee,” she says with an eye roll, waving her plastic tomahawk with nonchalance.

Cultural appropriation, the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another, was once a viable argument during time periods like the 1920s, when blackface was seen as top-notch entertainment. While there are very real circumstances of cultural appropriation, the term has become an excuse to blast people via social media over insignificant circumstances, like when people post pictures of themselves doing crazy things such as wearing Day of the Dead costumes for Halloween.

Are these people actively trying to misconstrue, degrade or steal Hispanic culture? Probably not.

In instances like these, the needle on the metaphorical Appropriate-O-Meter leans more toward secondhand embarrassment than being truly offensive.

What started as a movement to educate people that cultures aren’t costumes or gimmicks has warped into something far more hyper-vigilant. As an example, Kendall Jenner posed for a photoshoot with Vogue España dressed as a ballerina this past September and was called out on social media for ‘appropriating the art of ballet.’ Who would’ve thought that 5-year-old me, standing in ballet class, was committing a heinous act of appropriating ballerina culture? Stay woke, kids.

Similarly, culture police choose to call out those who appropriate only a few choice cultures. As a white person, I can’t say “throwing shade” since it originated as an Ebonics term. By this logic, St. Patrick’s Day, the one day in the year when everybody is suddenly Irish as an excuse to get completely blasted, should be the Holy Grail of cultural appropriation. But I’ve yet to see one blurry camera-phone video of a crazed Social Justice Warrior fighting someone with a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” shirt in the streets or a crowd of people booing the Notre Dame mascot, a significant figure in traditional Irish culture, as he prances his way down the sidelines (I mean, maybe fans of the other team, but that’s a different story). This is the content I like to see, and, frankly, cultural gatekeepers are failing me right now.

Ballerinas and leprechauns aside, there are people who actively choose to be insensitive when replicating aspects of cultures other than their own. Remember Rachel Dolezal, the white NAACP chapter president who said she “identified” as African American? Cultural appropriation in its purest form.

Nine times out of 10, however, the only issues with cultural appropriation are raised in unfounded subtweets by people with nothing better to do. We should all calm down, chalk things up to ignorance and refrain from drowning real issues that deserve our attention in a sea of triviality.

No shade.