Two Sides of Cultural Appropriation

David Kelly: This is nonsense

No more Halloween, kids. Nowadays, people aren’t interested in what to dress up as, but what not to dress up as. A slew of articles have been released that explain if you’re white and you dress up differently to your own culture, you are racist and a culprit of ‘cultural appropriation’.

Of course, this is nonsense. The notion that cultural appropriation’s racist is completely regressive. The idea that you should stay within the realms of your own culture is, in my opinion, completely divisive and polarizing to the idea of equality and freedom of expression.

Cultures appropriate from each other all the time, it’s how they better themselves, it’s how great ideas such as democracy have flourished, by picking and choosing the best parts of different cultures and interweaving them into something that works best for everyone. It’s celebrating diversity, not to mention, a bit of fun.

You see, I think this is where some of the difficulty arises. It’s okay to appropriate culture once it doesn’t offend people, but once it does… bam, you’re a racist and nobody likes you.

Firstly, being offended is a position of zero value. Being offended is a subjective state of mind that can be controlled. It doesn’t cause pain, or PTSD, it does nothing to you.

Secondly, if we take it that all civilised cultures are equal, then it follows that no culture is above being appropriated, or God forbid, stereotyped by members of another culture.

There is nothing wrong with stereotypes, in context. Every culture has its stereotype, everyone is aware of these stereotypes, ignoring them isn’t going to make them disappear. The only time stereotypes become dangerous is when people start taking them seriously.

Otherwise, they allow different cultures to impersonate or joke about one another, especially at Halloween, a time of the year that is dedicated to dressing up differently. As in, you’re not confined to the parameters of your own culture. As in, you dress however you want because it’s different and fun.

It’s such a cynical position to assume Halloween has a sinister, racial undertone to it. People don’t use Halloween as an excuse to be racist. In fact, inferring racism from something as harmless as a Halloween costume is explained by the theory of ‘psychological projection’.

‘Psychological projection’ is when one defends themselves from their own unconscious impulses/qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.

Cultural appropriation feeds into something called ‘identity politics’. This is a postmodernist, Marxist ideology that aims to pit majority and minority groups against one another. It creates people whose identity and hence morals, become intrinsic to their political ideology.

Therefore, if I disagree with your ideology and you are morally right, I must be morally wrong, hence I’m a bad person and it’s okay to slander and undermine bad people, because they’re bad.

Which brings me to my point; if you’re someone who gets offended by a Halloween costume and thinks it’s racist to innocently dress up in another culture’s garb, or as a silly stereotype, then you’re probably, albeit unintentionally, psychologically projecting your own hate onto that person. Surprisingly, that means you’re the problem, not the Halloween costume. Who’d have thought?

David Kelly


Sabrine Donohoe: A mockery of other cultures

Many people, often those from the privileged part of society, have been accused of cultural appropriation – American celebrities alike. We can argue that maybe this was done without ill-intent, that no, “I just love Indian feathers – so what’s the problem?”

Don’t get me wrong – I am all about learning, appreciating and enjoying cultures: be it music, food, language, or traditional clothes. This is what makes for an educated and diverse society. But there is a difference between enjoying a culture and plain insulting it.

Coming from a mixed Irish-Moroccan background, I suppose I have seen both accounts of this. From personal experience, the sometimes unintentional mockery of a minority culture, who may have been oppressed historically, is not always sported by the white, middle-class male. For example, I would hardly call Chinese people a minority considering their vast communities abroad in Canada, America, and Australia; although less so in Ireland. Still, some people think it is okay to put their hands together and half-bow out of nowhere because this is what “Asians” do.

So then, what is this fine line, not to be crossed? The difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation?

It all comes down to primarily a will to understand other cultures. Why do elderly Native American tribesmen wear headdresses with feathers on them? Because they have earned these feathers over a lifetime as leaders of their tribe; a symbol that is not only cultural but spiritual, much like the headdress of a Pope. Someone else wearing this, even if they belong to this tribe, would clearly be insulting their elders. In contrast, the normal form of greeting in China is a simple handshake and “hello”.

Pop singers Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Miley Cyrus have all been accused of cultural appropriation. Madonna for using dead black rights icons wrapped in black ropes on her Rebel Heart album cover, Stefani for her music video ‘Harajuku Girls’, Cyrus for twerking on stage.

Here is where my opinion may differ to others. If you show an understanding and respect for a certain culture, immerse yourself in it. Madonna could have used a different photo to show her respect for Nelson Mandela, Stefani could have omitted the ‘Lolita’ high-pitched screeches and cat noises from her song, while Cyrus’s recent change back to an ‘innocent and pure’ white girl from her previous ‘hip-hop baddie’ image shows her distinction between good and bad. Is performing a dance with African-American roots cultural appropriation? I personally don’t think so.

But I digress.

Despicable things such as blackface, yellowface, or wearing religious symbols, stereotypes or caricatures of other cultures is just plain wrong. It promotes making a mockery of other cultures just ‘for a laugh’, as well as racism, ignorance and segregation in our society.


Sabrine Donohoe

Image Credit: Empire Group Careers