Remember that one time when Nicki Minaj wore a feathered headdress to announce her PinkPrint tour? A lot of people said, “Whoa, girl, why are you wearing a Native American headdress? Not cool, that’s not yours.”
Then other people said, “Simmer down, that’s not Native American, that’s a carnival headdress; it’s cool because she was born in Trinidad.”
It’s the Tumblr trap of trying to stop cultural appropriation in its tracks — but accidentally giving people flack for enjoying their own culture.
Now, I think Tumblr is usually pretty damn eye-opening when it comes to social issues. But I’ve also seen lots of Tumblr peeps get angry at someone for cultural appropriation, only to be told, “Um, hey, Tumblr, I just don’t look like my culture. Can I still be proud of it? That okay with you?”
I’ve totally fallen into the Tumblr trap.
On Offbeat Bride, we look through a lot of wedding photography, and some people still haven’t got the message that it’s not okay to fill their wedding with cultural elements that don’t belong to them or their partner. We try our best to politely filter those out.
But every once in a while, I catch myself getting ready to dismiss a wedding based on the photos (“Cultural appropriation! Begone, foul fiend!”) and remember to, oh yeah, read the text. Oh. That bride’s actually half Indian? And then I have an awkward moment of silence for my SJW-self.
But then I have another dilemma. You may have noticed that the internet is fueled largely by images these days. *Gets out old lady voice* People just don’t read like they used to. Case in point, I just admitted that I myself suck at reading sometimes before jumping to my own conclusions. So my question is: Am I still helping representation by showcasing an ethnic wedding that doesn’t fit the cultural mold at first glance?
Stay with me here. You saw Big Hero 6, right? Remember Honey Lemon, the chemist with a purse that produced balls of brightly colored, weaponized powder? Did you pick up on the fact that she was Latina? Not many people did. She’s super tall, super thin, and blonde. Some people were excited that a Latina was represented at all (her voice actress is Latina as well). But a lot of people were pissed — “Really? You finally animate a Latina character, and that’s what you made her look like?”
So in that case, was the representation enough? Sure, there are tall, thin, blonde people in just about every ethnicity. Genetics does what it does. But if a group of people aren’t generally represented in media anyway, is it really a great idea to represent them with a genetic outlier when they finally get some screen time? But on the other hand, ideally everyone would have representation in media because breaking the mold is kind of the whole fucking point. So, yes, get the pale Latina on screen too.
It is at this point that I freely admit that I am not going to get representation right all the time. I can only draw on my own cultural background (white, Midwest, American) while trying very hard to keep my eyes and brain as wide open as I can. I have to keep giving space for the experiences of others, even (especially!) if they don’t fit whatever image I’ve got in my brain for it.
You have the floor. Has someone ever tried to keep you from honoring your own culture because cultural-appropriation-how-dare-you?