Q: I have family members/friends who feels differently from me about an issue. This week for Cinco de Mayo, the Anaheim Angels (baseball team) had a promotion for their game which was to hand out sombreros and giant fake black mustaches to their fans. I found this really upsetting. Most of my friends/POC agreed, but some were utterly offended that I would call them out on this. How can I explain to white “friends” that dressing up as caricatures of people from Mexico is hurtful? I need help translating this. Ideas? This is a great question. As white people in the US many of us are raised to to think that freedom means the option to wear and say whatever we want to. Just because we have the “freedom” to do so doesn’t mean that we should. Your example of sombreros and mustaches is a great example of cultural appropriation. A description/definition of cultural appropriation that I often use comes from Nadra Kareem Nittle from about.com
The United States has long been known as a melting pot and, more recently, as a salad bowl. Because people from hundreds of different ethnic backgrounds make up the nation’s population, it’s not surprising that at times cultural groups rub off on each other. Americans who grow up in diverse communities may pick up the dialect, customs and religious traditions of the cultural groups that surround them.
Cultural appropriation is an entirely different matter. It has little to do with one’s exposure to and familiarity with different cultures. Instead, cultural appropriation typically involves members of a dominant group exploiting the culture of less privileged groups — often with little understanding of the latter’s history, experience and traditions.
Costumes that reduce cultures to humorous and simplified stereotypes are hurtful to the less privileged group. Additionally, Lauren Duca adds to our above definition by saying, “Cultural appropriation refers to picking and choosing elements of a culture by a member of another culture without permission. This includes traditional knowledge, religious symbols, artifacts or any other unauthorized use of cultural practice or ideation.” Continue reading