So I tend to associate cultural appropriation with white people taking on trendy aspects of other cultures without dealing with the struggles that come with that culture. You know, “everything but the burden.” when I think of cultural appropriation I think of white guys walking around listening to rap, sagging and talking about how their life is so hard, when in actuality they lives of those they are trying to emulate are so hard.
Or, a more relevant example for me, is the current obsession with Brazilian culture. Man, are weBrazilians in style right now. You’ve got Havaianas everywhere, açaí cafes left and right. Capoeira is everywhere, often with way more white Americans than Brazilians (here in Santa Cruz I have yet to confirm if there actually is a Brazilian in the group), and everyone wants to learn Portuguese.
Which, on the one hand, is flattering. It’s cool to have been born into the trend, and wear it without trying. But it’s also bizarre hearing people tell you about something you’ve grown up with, or suddenly become interested in something because its associated with Brazil. Ya, people dance capoeira in Brazil. But it’s not all about fun dancing and exotic drinks. My Brazil looks really different, even though I appreciate those parts of it too.
Anyways, this is all to say that I found a very unexpected example of cultural appropriation in the New York Times’ Lens section. It’s a photo collection about Latinos who have converted to Islam.
Here is an excerpt from the interview, I would encourage you to take a look at the accompanying photos.
“The biggest challenge with photographing Islam is having to respect each individual’s concerns. For example, some women could not be photographed without their veils, which made photographing intimate moments in homes difficult. There are a few photographs I had to omit from my final edit. One showed a couple salsa dancing at a family gathering. The subjects did not want to be shown dancing publicly, since this went against their conservative Islamic principles. It was important to respect their decision, retaining the trust between photographer and subject. Also, it shows the complexity and challenges that some converts face, straddling two distinctly different cultures.”
“Wearing a veil or growing a beard means Latino Muslims can face the same negative stereotypes and prejudice that may challenge any other Muslim. The largest challenge specific to Latino converts is to be accepted by their immediate families after conversion. Their families gradually accept most, but there are rare cases where converts have been estranged from their families.”