It’s a fine line and it’s time we talked about it. Think about it.
When you look up ‘cultural appropriation’, Google tells you ‘Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the latter group has historically oppressed members of the originating culture. Appropriation may eventually lead to the appropriating group being seen as the new face of said cultural practices.‘
It’s actually pretty easy to understand. When a majority culture borrows elements from a minority culture, without cause or prior knowledge of its traditions and importance, it’s known as cultural appropriation. It’s not hard to see why this would offend. For eg, when a white guy decides to sport a headgear of the Native American culture, without realising it’s cultural significance to a music festival just because it looks pretty dope, you know something is wrong.
The headdress has been banned by many festivals, including Glastonbury due to its sensitive nature. The headdress is a very important part of Native American culture, and can only be worn by a MALE member of the tribe after an elaborate ceremony. And here we got white folks sporting it just so they can hashtag their Instagram pictures #ethnic.
Similarly, Hindu culture faces a kind of appropriation too, with decorative and elaborate bindis almost a necessity for perfect festival attire. Also, you can call yourself a true hippie only if you have participated in various hours of ‘kundalini yoga’, have ‘Namaste’ tattooed on your wrist and have been to at least three transformational festivals.
Clearly there is a lack of understanding about what constitutes as ‘decorative’ and just plain offensive. But there are ways to use aspects of another culture without offending anyone. After all, it is hardly fair for a culture to freeze itself in time and refuse to let anyone else into it. Cultural appropriation can be done right in the form of appreciation for another culture that you respect and value.
So where do you draw the line? When do you know that your curiosity and awe of another culture could end up offending? Here are some basic rules that you can follow and others, and not just you can have a great festival experience.
1. It is important to know the implications of what you say, wear and believe
Did you know that the phrase ‘Long time no see‘ was actually used to mock people who’s first language wasn’t English for their bad grammar in America? You probably did not. Using this phrase is propagating a terrible culture that you did not know you were participating in. The key is to keep yourself informed of the cultural sensibilities of where you are going to be attending your next music festival. Don’t pretend music festivals are exempt from basic courtesies and respect the people around you.
2. If you have to ask ‘Is this racist?’, it probably is
Dressing up as someone else’s ethnic stereotype, race or culture is literally the least funny thing on earth, so please stop trying to make that happen. We get it, music festivals are all about having fun and “c’mon it’s just a joke” and all that jazz, but it really is not and hurting another person’s sentiments should never be your idea of fun. You might wanna drop the taco costume for your next festival. Instead, you can dress up as a banana. Bananas are cool. Everybody likes bananas.
3. There are ways you can celebrate without offending
Yes, that is where the concept of cultural appreciation comes in. You don’t have to be part of a culture to understand it’s significance and if you choose to celebrate that, well, more power to you. But try and understand what part you might have played in that culture? Do you know enough about it to be sporting to be wearing its accessories? And only if you are able to answer these questions to your satisfaction, indulge. And yet, indulge with caution. Here’s hoping you know what those tribal tattoos you got at your last festival mean.
4. Bond with other cultures
Don’t get cornrows just because Kylie Jenner did. Try and understand why the hairstyle is so specific to black culture and its significance. Music festivals are the one place where you can expect a level of diversity that is hardly witnessed anywhere else. Use this opportunity to immerse yourself in all the new cultures and experiences that you will be exposed to. And no ‘I once smoked some weed with this Asian dude’ does not count.
5. And most importantly, realise everyone is equal but that doesn’t mean we can’t be different
Each culture and race have a vibrant history replete with struggle and victories. And each culture has its symbols to represent these times. Once you realise this, these elements and symbols start making a lot more sense to you. If someone around you is taking pride in flaunting their culture, hold back the judgement. Go talk to the guy. Get to know how it feels to have such history behind you. Share yours. Let them know that they are welcome to be themselves with no judgement.