From Halloween time to run-of-the-mill offensively-themed college Greek parties, cultural appropriation is a growingly popular topic and issue. However, like the many ways of exploiting minorities and marginalized people for the benefit of the privileged, it has existed in the history of the world for quite some time. Though it may seem that the concept cannot be taken seriously thanks to liberal extremists, the true reasoning for calling others out on their appropriation has nothing to do with policing anyone’s freedom of speech.
Stereotyping minorities is not a new fad or a new anything to the world. As it seems, people have always found ways to differ themselves from the “strange and unknown.” Edward Said’s Orientalism observes how people in the west categorized people from the east in demeaning manners.
Orientalism is “a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western experience” (Said, 1). Though the Orient dealt with eastern Asian people and their cultures, people stereotype and appropriate many other religions and types of ethnic people as well today. I believe the idea of orientalism and its effects are portrayed today through the racial tropes society has put on various ethnic groups. “Orients” today could mean any type of marginalized group. We could talk about the difference between the occidental US and the orient of the Iraq or the occidental American culture and the orient of Spanish culture.
With the movement of Black Lives Matter and an increasing public interest in social justice with my generation, cultural appropriation has been brought up many times in the current news. White people putting their hair in dreads, wearing bindi, or even full-on traditional garb as fashion statements or for fun.
Though most of the time these cases are not meant to shame or make fun of the cultures, it still can negatively impact the marginalized group in question. Because of this sort of “innocent” perpetrator, people argue that the incidents of cultural appropriation should
be taken lightly because of lack of bad intentions. Some even argue against the idea that cultural appropriation has any meaning since people have their rights to express themselves freely. In an example Viet Thanh Nguyen puts it in this article, “it is not simply an issue of whether white people can enjoy and adapt black music” if they appropriate and profit off it in the music industry (LA Times). There are safe and inoffensive ways to celebrate a culture. What matters is the historical context in which a marginalized group has faced mistreatment and other hardships for partaking in their culture.
In the way that white people can rap along to a song by Travis Scott, black people doing the same exact thing can be seen and looked down upon as being “thuggish” or “ghetto.” When Muslim women wear hijabs in public they can be sneered at or thought of as terrorists, but when non-Muslim supermodels wear hijabs for aesthetic purposes they are seen edgy and beautiful. Acts like these reinforce the privilege that non-members of a marginalized group have. Compared to the “Orientals” that face resentment and hate when they act within their culture, these people do not know the struggles that come with being “oriental.”