Cultural appropriation is a very controversial topic and funnily enough, as always in these kind of discussions, it can mean very different things depending on who you ask about it.
On a university campus in Claremont, CA 3 Latinx students have contributed to a graffiti wall offered by their educational institution, which has the aim to enable open dialogue and free expression of speech.
Their outspoken statement: “White Girl, take OFF your hoops” resulted in a public outcry by people oversimplifying its massage (“Pitzer College RA: White People Can’t Wear Hoop Earrings”, as published by The Claremont Independent1) and shifting the discussion in an unhelpful direction.
Right, I get it – us, liberal SO totally tolerant university-educated geniuses don’t like to be told what to do, but if we had made the effort to inquire about the intended message beforehead instead of illegally publishing their names without consent and denouncing them as being double-standard perpetrating snowflakes, they would have told us something like this:
“Latinx women are forced to assimilate into academia to be respected while their struggles remain invisible to the institutions. While navigating educational settings that automatically view us as unprofessional and unintelligent, women and nonbinary femmes of color are stripped of our hoops and our browness. As long as we conform to their standards, our existences can be legitimized, our voices can be heard and our contributions can be deemed as worthy by the white classmates and faculty that dominate academic spaces.
If we don’t conform, it becomes difficult to access campus resources, find job opportunities and create professional networks. Despite erasure, institutions knowingly label forced assimilation as a process of “professional socialization” rather than a process that violently strips identities and culture from women and nonbinary femmes of color. On the other hand, white upper-class elite women are able to appropriate fashion created by marginalized groups with no consequences to their well-being, social acceptance, and academic success.”2
The significant difference then, is that privileged folk have what some have called ‘the benefit of the doubt’3 – even if I engage in the same behaviours as people of colour, my community including people in powerful position that can change what resources I can access or what opportunities I will be offered will refrain from judging my worth as a person or a professional long enough so I can demonstrate my actual value.
If we listen to these 3 students, they will not tell us “fucking stop wearing my earrings”, what they are asking for is to live in a world that permits them to do the same without facing social ‘persecution’.
To me, what it all boils down to, is the problem that we have social injustice which we help to maintain (partly by cultural appropriation) without contributing to having a societal conversation about how to dismantle this present state of oppression.
I wonder, if any of the representatives of the university listened to this reality when brought forward by latinx students in the past – my educated guess is No.
And so how come when they resort to attempting to open a dialogue about their struggles which quite possibly could be their last resort, we respond in a way that doesn’t enable an open discussion?
Actually, The Claremont Independent demonstrated quite impressing what you should not do in these circumstances: jumping to conclusions based on one’s own presumptuous attitudes, not consult the authors of the controversial statements and altogether deny their voice to the very people to attempted to make themselves heard.
Clearly, no irony there…
Our biases influence the way we engage with challenge. So why do some people celebrate the deliberately controversial statements by the oh-so-very-serious-and-qualified Tomi Lahren, affirming the idea of open dialogue and free speech, while simultaneously shouting down 3 university students without offering them the same opportunities.
While personally I might not be entirely in favour of their graffiti statement, I am sure as hell not in favour of the treatment these 3 courageous people have received, and most essentially, this illustrates that we need people like them to speak up, because we still have not managed to enable real liberty of speech and expression.
Source of featured image: https://www.google.es/search?q=take+off+your+hoops&espv=2&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjU9Pz2tpzTAhXCNxQKHQyGCU0Q_AUICCgB&biw=1396&bih=690#imgrc=SC4FUyuUS24shM: