To this day my most popular Odyssey article is one I wrote about cultural appropriation: "No, White People, You Don't Get To Wear Bindis, Dreadlocks, Or Headscarves". Don't misread me though -- when I say most popular, I don't mean it's my most well-liked article. It's actually the article for which I've come under the most fire. I remember my Facebook notifications blowing up the night it released, and even though it's been over a year, I still get emails and DMs about it. Some people are well-meaning, asking questions for clarification. Others are not so polite, attacking me rather than being open to a conversation.
The truth is when anyone mentions cultural appropriation or any hot controversial topic it should be just that: a conversation. I am absolutely sick and tired of people attacking each other online. With that being said, let's have a little conversation about cultural appropriation and the Met Gala.
The Internet is buzzing. I've scrolled through dozens of folks mad at a supposed "double standard" because "if this were any other religion, it wouldn't be OK."
Let's start with a simple Wikipedia definition of cultural appropriation for your convenience: Cultural appropriation is a concept in sociology dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture. It is distinguished from equal cultural exchange due to the presence of a colonial element and imbalance of power.
Let me just emphasize this: cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of a MINORITY culture by members of the DOMINANT culture.
I.E., a dominant culture (like Catholicism) cannot be appropriated. That part is non-negotiable.
And it's because cultural appropriation is about POWER relationships.
It's not about what an individual does or thinks. It's about systematic, unequal power relationships and the way they are perpetuated. It's just like how you can't be racist towards white people. Can you be prejudiced towards white people? Yes. But again, it's not about what one person does or thinks (which is prejudice). Racism is institutionalized, meaning that it is historically shaped and expressed in various social, political, and economic institutions (think: cultural/behavioral norms, representation in Congress and policy, and distribution of wealth).
Expressions of racism, including cultural appropriation, are about the ways the dominant culture SYSTEMATICALLY keeps the oppressed people oppressed. It's physically impossible to be racist towards white people or to culturally appropriate Catholicism because white people and Catholicism both sit on the superior, privileged side of power relationships that historically and currently subordinate people of color and non-Christian religions.
Even without these technical errors in your "this is cultural appropriation" cries, I still have issues with the way the Met Gala is blowing up on the Internet, and I'm not the only one. @Xicanisma_ summarized her issues on Instagram: "White folks shouting 'my religion is not a costume' like they don't appropriate PoC's religion to make shitty fashion statements year round. Apparently, the word 'appropriation' is only a part of your vocabulary when it concerns Nirvana and Jesus."
My point here is this: How come cultural appropriation only matters to you when it's about you?
People of Color deal with this kind of shit every day, so where are you when we need you?
Where's your rage when people get dreadlocks, wear bindis and headwraps to music festivals, or throw parties on Cinco de Mayo? Last I checked, you're not here for "cultural appropriation" then... instead, you're attacking PoC for claiming cultural appropriation and excusing your behavior with a "we're just 'celebrating' their culture, there's nothing wrong with that". To be honest, I don't care so much if you disagree that Catholicism cannot be culturally appropriated. I care that, once again, when it comes to issues that deeply impact PoC every day, you're ignoring us and only showing up for yourself.
I hope you read this and pause before you immediately type your two cents in the comments. I hope you allow these words to sink in. I hope you continue your research. I hope you learn to listen to the often silenced voices of PoC instead of getting all your information from the dominant culture. And I hope you allow your opinions to shift, even if that just means opening yourself up to a new perspective without attacking it. That's the whole point of conversation, right? And I know one thing for sure: if anything's ever going to change, then we have to keep having open conversations.