There was a story on CNN about a white dude with dreadlocks who was confronted by a black chick who thought it was somehow disrespectful for a white guy to have “black” hair. My first instinct was to ignore the story. I probably should have - I mean, it was an argument over a hairstyle for cryin’ out loud. How is this newsworthy?
But I read it, and so did about ten million other people. We wasted our time reading or watching the story and then we wasted our time talking about it and then we wasted even more time writing blog posts like this one about it. Don’t you have anything better to do than read this? Go write something of your own, clean your room, or go for a walk or … do something.
I gotta say that I’m siding with the white guy on this. She said that his dreads were a “cultural appropriation”, and indicated that this is somehow in-appropriate. But I’ve been thinking about this for a minute and a half now and from the depths of my intellect have concluded that cultural appropriation is one of the things we do best in this country - it’s a piece of what makes America great. We’re a collection of cultures mingling with each other to make something really interesting. The idea of the American “melting pot” isn’t really accurate, because we aren’t all reduced and reformed and melded into something new and homogenous. We’re more of a stew: with chunks and pieces of our various cultures remaining whole and identifiable, available for others to taste, and enriching the whole pot. We get to sample bits and pieces of each other - some we like, some we don’t, but it all adds to the flavor.
So, to the ethnic hair police, let me ask this: when did it become taboo to experiment with elements of another culture that we find interesting? We do it with food and music and art and language and fashion all the time. I love Chinese, Mexican and Indian food, but I’m not Chinese, Mexican or Indian. Is it “cultural appropriation” for me to eat it? I love the blues, and sorta, sometimes, I like a little hip hop. Is it cultural appropriation for me to listen? Is it cultural appropriation for a white guy like Joe Bonamassa to play a kick-ass blues guitar? Is it cultural appropriation for a non-Native American potter to be inspired by Navajo designs? I think the answer to all of these is yes, they are cultural appropriation, and I don't see anything wrong with it. I recently saw on BBC a story about how American country music and the "cowboy look" were becoming popular in Uganda, of all places. For the geographically and demographically challenged, I’ll tell you that Uganda is in Africa and the vast majority of the people who live there are black. Is it cultural appropriation for black Ugandans to wear cowboy boots and listen to Garth Brooks? Should the rednecks be pissed about this?
The idea that you’re not black enough, or white enough or whatever enough to wear your hair a certain way or dabble in some other aspect of culture is, at best, elitist, and “elitist” is just a really nice way of saying “bigoted”. To disallow cultural appropriation is to keep us all pigeon-holed within our race or our ethnic origin, and that stifles our ability to understand each other - it keeps us from appreciating the best that we all have to offer. It seems counter-productive to race relations.