Over the past year or so, the country’s racial battles have been cast in black-and-white terms — with black folks on one side, white folks on the other. Other avenues often expressed are the entitled versus the poor.
Recently, a video showing a black San Francisco State University campus student accosting a white student over his dreadlocks has reached both news and blog infamy. Bonnie “Bonita” Tindle lectured Cory Goldstein about how being white means he shouldn’t have dreadlocks, calling it “cultural appropriation.”
Since America seems to be under some detailed microscope, old ideas about its racial dynamics have been extensively challenged. Writer Wedaeli Chibelushi noted that part of the oppressive culture (I presume white), the white student emulates minority tradition (I presume Black) while ignoring the discrimination that came with it.
I simply cannot recall a single instance where dreadlocks have been patented to a specific race. Corey Goldstein was correct when explaining dreadlocks are not the sole preserve of black culture. The style has been traced back to Ancient India, Egypt and Greece. Critics claim Goldstein isn’t immune to the accusation that now surrounds him: that he’s guilty of “cultural appropriation.”
Critics require a reality-check, everyone one is guilty of cultural appropriation.
On May 14, 2015, Rihanna arrived at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating “China: Through the Looking Glass.” Rihanna swooped in, wearing a fur-trimmed yellow cape with floral swirls of gold and a train so long it required three assistants. The ensemble came with a little pink mini-dress underneath, and a sparkling tiara. In keeping with the evening’s theme — China, and its artistic influence on the West — the outfit came from Beijing-based designer Guo Pei, whose sumptuous designs also are on display in the current Metropolitan Museum exhibit, “China: Through the Looking Glass.” At the same event, Lady Gaga, wore a huge kimono-like garment studded with feathers by Balenciaga. Gaga drew cheers when she waved to the crowd packed behind bleachers across Fifth Avenue from the museum.
No one was busted neither Lady Gaga nor Rihanna. Then again, I heard no one talk about China’s labor camps, exiled dissidents, or widespread poverty and corruption in rural areas either.
It’s much harder to patrol the ramparts of our cultures, to distinguish between the appreciators and appropriators. Just who gets to play in which cultural playground?
Today, we question ourselves constantly. Does eating an Israeli-grown avocado mean I effectively fund the war on Hamas? Does drinking Russian vodka mean I approve Putin bombing Syrian hospitals? If I eat high-end chocolate harvested in Africa, do I condone slave labor by Africa cocoa farms, where an estimated 100,000 children are working, with more than 10,000 trafficked? I wear a Buddhist pendant and a silver cross made by a Navajo Indian Artist. Does that make me a cultural appropriator?
And speaking of American Indians, people have been injured, and some have died, in fraudulent sweat lodge ceremonies performed by non-Natives. Utterly horrific. Yet many other forms of cultural appropriation are honored, including New York pizza, Japanese denim, not to mention democratic discourse, mathematics, and the calendar.
Personally, in light of everything going on in today’s world, the only sin Corey Goldstein guilty of is a bad hair style. Whoever did that style for him should never be allowed in a beauty parlor again.
From a Buddhist perspective, the message is tolerance and the beauty that comes out of cross-cultural expression.