Opinion: Cultural appropriation is over-hyped at Foothill


Emma Kolesnik

Our country has a bad history of racism. We have been racist against African-Americans, or blacks. Even after slavery was outlawed, black codes and Jim Crow laws continued. We have been racist against Native Americans, pushing them from their land and mocking them.

Every non-white race could probably find some sign of discrimination in America’s history. Even certain white groups like the Irish have experienced discrimination. I would be stupid to deny this, and to deny that many minority groups still experience discrimination.

For hundreds of years in America, every race’s goal has been to gain equality, and integrate themselves into American culture. In our modern world, when there are fewer and fewer signs of apparent racism, people are now focusing on things like “cultural appropriation.” Cultural appropriation is when people adapt or “appropriate” parts of another culture to suit their own needs.

In my opinion, it is offensive to be constantly yelling “cultural appropriation.” I see this in particular at Foothill. My school is predominantly white, yet people love to talk about cultural appropriation which has no effect on them. Even for our own Foothill Dragon Press, the majority of the articles written on the topic were not written by people of color.

By saying that all of these random things are cultural appropriation we are showing how ignorant we are of other people’s cultures. An example from our own school would be the backlash for the Arabian Nights Prom theme. People associated with Arabic culture didn’t seem to find it offensive, yet many people at our school who aren’t Arabic did.

Arabian Nights is a book of folk tales. It has no part of Arabic culture in the truest sense, and the majority of the people in the Middle East would probably say that their cultural identity has no relation to a book of short stories. It isn’t a part of their culture.

Some have claimed that Bova offensively wore “blackface” at Air Guitar. Photo Credit: Grace Carey / The Foothill Dragon Press.

Many things that are called cultural appropriation are, at least, part of the culture of a group. Braiding your hair in a certain way is clearly a part of certain people’s African-American identity. Wearing certain “tribal” prints is clearly a part of Native American culture.

My problem with calling this cultural appropriation is that (to me) it implies that people are wearing these cultural things in mocking. I think it would better be defined as appreciation.

If we are truly fighting for equality of the races, and we want to all be part of the same America, then I would hope that all cultures can become part of what we consider American. Girls wearing braids or cornrows in their hair are doing so out of admiration and envy of black culture, and I don’t see what is wrong with that.

Everyone realizes, I hope, which culture is being appreciated with braids and certain fashion coming into the mainstream. It’s not about who is “doing it better”, but integrating things into one larger culture. It is not the same as members of the KKK wearing blackface in order to mock and humiliate African-Americans.

We saw an example of this at our school at air guitar last Friday. Mr. Bova dressed up as Prince and put a slightly darker color on his face. Some saw it as just a beard, or fake scruff, and others viewed it as “blackface.” Many found this to be cultural appropriation and disrespectful.

Yet, his only intention was to be respectful from what I saw. The teachers all did a tribute to Prince and his music. It had no mocking or disrespect. I think we should have more faith in our teachers and administrators and their values. The makeup maybe could have been more thought out, but his actions are being blown out of proportion. It was not mocking, or intended to humiliate, if it even was what people are calling “blackface” at all. 

If, on the other hand, certain things are done in mocking, then obviously it would be racist, and “appropriation.” Certain Halloween costumes clearly have more of this tone to it than a tone of respect. However, I would like to bring up one point when considering the Halloween costume “horror” we see at Foothill.

I would ask the people complaining to think about their privilege. Many of the people calling out cultural appropriation at school the day after Halloween had been at nice houses partying it up and drinking on Halloween. As far as I heard, nobody said anything to the people they saw dressing up as a certain race.

I don’t understand why it is okay to not stand up against cultural appropriation when you see it, yet complain about how it affected you a few days later. I don’t think we have the right, as privileged (mostly white) people living in a liberal area, to complain about cultural appropriation affecting our lives.

Ultimately, cultural appropriation is often over hyped. For many, it is very easy to spot when people borrow from other cultures, and this makes it easy to target. Yet, by targeting this we make it seem like a bigger issue than it often is. African-Americans and other racial minorities face true discrimination every day, particularly in many other places in the country outside of California. Many face job discrimination, and unfair discrimination by police in certain areas.

It might not be as fun to talk about, or as apparent to us living in Ventura, but these issues are ultimately far more important than people wearing clothing that is associated with a disenfranchised groups’ culture.


Photo Credit: Grace Carey / The Foothill Dragon Press

What do you think?