Culture as entertainment

Guest Columnist

White America disregards cultural significance while appropriating


Though stealing seems to be a universal cultural no-no, there seems to be some hesitation when it comes to the topic of coveting.

Wanting what others have, or what you can’t have, is what feeds the American dream.

We aspire to get ahead and obtain positions at work that currently belong to someone else, to be able to buy the things that are advertised on television, or to be able to look like the men and women in magazines.

These types of coveting are not only culturally acceptable, but required to some extent.

If coveting were against the law, then we would all be found guilty of it.

So then when is coveting not okay?

When is wanting what someone else has a bad thing?

Is it only when that coveting leads to stealing or another negatively associated behavior?

Or could it be when we offend and hurt someone in the process?

Historically, white Americans have taken things without permission from others on multiple occasions.

From the land that the first settlers set foot on to the holidays and customs taken from other cultures, rarely do white Americans fully understand the significance of the traditions taken.

Often, they are used and adapted in a manner that could only benefit those that hold the upper hand.

Land, traditions, holidays and practices have been appropriated to fit the American circumstance and for American enjoyment, but have failed to be fully appreciated or respected.

On many adopted holidays, such as Cinco de Mayo and Saint Patrick’s Day, few Americans actually know what is being celebrated or honored by the cultures.

The claims to celebrate become reasons and excuses for people to drink, and the cultural traditions of the other are reduced and appropriated to someone else’s liking.

Simply put, these holidays and practices become a means of entertainment that neither appreciate nor respect the cultural significance they hold for the original owners.

The actions of Americans who use another culture’s practices solely for means of entertainment can easily be interpreted as ridiculing and dishonoring said culture.

Halloween costumes, for example, are a topic that constantly comes up around this time of year when discussing racially degrading customs.

Year after year we find people dressing up as a Native Americans in feathered head dresses, Mexican costumes consisting of wearing a poncho and a sombrero, and Geisha costumes including white face makeup and kimonos.

Sacred and traditional clothing become sexualized costumes for women or damaging cultural stereotypes are assumed; fake bombs attached to a costume are used for a good laugh.

This taking, stealing and coveting of other cultures only oppresses the marginalized further.

While at the end of the night white Americans can remove the face paint and the costumes, they sometimes fail to realize that there are others who can’t do the same.

They get to return to a privileged self, while others have to live with the marginalization on a day to day basis.

Where is the reconciliation that we strive for as Americans?

We cannot claim to be the peacemakers of the world if we hurt and oppress people through our conscious and unconscious actions.

We should analyze our practices and be able to recognize when we are stepping into oppressive behaviors that take advantage of other cultures. Ignorance does not justify actions.

What, then, are the rules?

When is it okay to participate in another culture’s rituals, practices, holidays and traditions?

We believe that there is some level of respect that needs to be given when participating in another culture’s lifestyle.

Time and space need to be given to these cultures, and when we choose to participate in these activities, we must realize that they are not ours to take over.

While reconciliation is a long road ahead of us as a nation, we can follow simple guidelines to make sure that we are respecting each other by engaging in conversation with other cultures, learning about the history behind these cultural practices to make sure our practice today is appropriate and striving to make sure that we are not taking the culture of others and using it to oppress the people we are taking it from.

Each small step leads us into the right direction.