Dusting off the ol’ soapbox

If you’re not interested in a little social justice-y rant, I invite you to otherwise educate yourself by watching MinutePhysics on Youtube. Here’s a good video explaining antimatter.

Actually, no. If you’re not interested in social justice, you should read this, because I’m going to try to explain why you should be.

Guys, gals, students (particularly Churchillians and Dartmouth students)…we need to talk about cultural appropriation.

Image from here.
Image from here.

This is an issue that I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, but I wasn’t planning to write anything about it because I’m White, and privileged, and part of my privilege is that the voices of people who look and sound like me already dominate the media and culture. I’d rather that people direct their attention to people of color writing about the issue, because their voices are more important in this context but less likely to be heard. Here’s a great post by a Native American blogger about a facet of cultural appropriation.

Like I said, I wasn’t going to write anything about this, but then…I saw people dressed up at Guest Night.

I don’t know about you, but when I heard that the theme was “Around the World in 80 Days,” I thought it sounded pretty hard to come up with original costumes for. (I admit that I haven’t read the book and am only acquainted in passing with its contents.) I mean, you could dress up as an 1880’s explorer (many people did), or just slap on a top hat, a big moustache, and a monocle (another popular option). I saw one or two people dressed up as hot air balloons, which was super cool. One of my friends wore a black dress and attached a black strap with some baggage claim tags stuck on in. “I’m a suitcase,” she said.

Almost everybody else decided to go with “outlandish caricature of somebody else’s culture.” The second I walked into the Buttery (where people were meeting for pre-formal drinks), I spotted a White guy in a rainbow feathered headdress. There were bindis, qipaos, kimonos, keffiyehs… you get the picture.

Now, I am by no means perfect or immune to racism or anything like that. I also don’t think that anyone I saw dressed up last night meant any harm. But that, in a way, is exactly the problem of White privilege. You can take off your war bonnet at the end of the night and go back to being a regular white guy Cambridge student (for example). Native Americans cannot “take off” the legacy of genocide. There are a host of other issues tied up in this, like the eroticization of “exotic” women or clothing, but I don’t want this to get too long.

Just one thing: the next time you’re dressing up for a themed party, be mindful. You can use this handy guide.

Okay, I think I’m done. *steps off soapbox*

More handy links:

White Privilege, Explained

The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation


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