Following Splendour in the Grass over the weekend a favourite radio presenter of mine, Zan Rowe, posted a picture of a Splendour-goer wearing a long headdress accompanied with the caption, “Hey guys just sayin’… Culturally insensitive. Y’know? #SITG.”
The cultural appropriation argument has been ongoing and not just with headdresses, but many other cultural symbols.
Often the argument against wearing these cultural symbols rely on people lacking an adequate education regarding the matter, but upon researching the history of the Native American war bonnet (headdress) it is revealed only men were given the privilege of wearing them. The headdresses that are being sold by designers are currently styled as to those in which only Native American male tribal leaders could wear, highlighting the unequal rights of a women in the tribe, even if they battled or were chiefs in which there indeed was.
Being a woman myself, I am a part of a minority group so perhaps I can argue that I am deeply offended by the fact women, despite being leaders and helping their community, were not allowed to wear headdresses.
Although I am not offended, my argument is that many cultural appropriation activists actually lack the knowledge of what they are standing up for. While Zan Rowe is educating many who do not understand the importance of these headdresses, which is very beneficial, she can be seen to also be suggesting that she believes it was okay that men were given the privilege of wearing such a powerful headdress, while women were not, even if they were equal in their position within the tribe.
Another issue surrounding these activists is that while protesting against cultural insensitivity for one cultural symbol they will be indulging in many others. For example, many will attack a headdress-wearer or a Bindi-sporter while preparing for their Mexican-themed party on the weekend, in their cowboy boots, and donning a tartan-patterned clothing item.
Although many don’t see the harm, Mexican-themed parties can actually cause offense, with a Latino student group distributing a letter last year stating they are offended by these celebrations.
“Some of our peers choose to throw ‘Mexican-themed’ parties that are culturally insensitive, offensive, and detrimental to the Northwestern community,” said the group, which identified that this was an issue year after year.
“Drinking tequila shots, eating tacos, and wearing sombreros do not commemorate Mexican culture; on the contrary, that offends, marginalizes, and isolates many of our friends, classmates, and community members, and casts our entire community in poor light.”
However on Zan Rowe’s instagram account she has posted a photo of her producer wearing a sombrero in early 2014 without any indication that she believes this is culturally insensitive. This conveys the idea that cultural appropriation is only acceptable when it suits activists.
Cultural appropriation is very real and can understandably offend those who are being represented in a stereotypical sense rather than a respectful manner, however those who attack and shame others for wearing cultural symbols need to question whether or not they have participated in cultural practices which have actually been offensive, despite being fun, for example wearing a lei at a Hawaiian themed party.
Read the article regarding the letter from a Latino group here