When I need to unwind, or need to focus, I tend to find my way to YouTube and plug in anything in the EDM, Dance, Trap, Tropical House, Chillstep, or Trancestep genres and let the music work its magic. It’s amazing how much music helps me, almost as much as hockey. However as an avid listener of this music I have learned that the best way to get people to click on your videos is to splay a nice and defined image of some cleavage or butt. I don’t control who posts these images and I can’t do anything about it.
So, while surveying the land of YouTube for good music I came across one with a thumbnail of a rather attractive young woman (fully clothed, surprisingly) looking out into the sea while wearing a First Nations war bonnet. Not really thinking anything of it, I clicked the image and started listening to a pretty solid set of Tropical House (don’t ask me what a scantily clad, war bonnet wearing, white girl has to do with Tropical House because you will just get a spiel about cultural appropriation). Anyway, like the social media masochist that I am, I scrolled down into the dreaded comments section. And let me tell you, friend, my Jimmies got rustled faster than a cheetah on e-e-e-e-ecstasy! (you’re welcome, by the way)
Amid all of the rather crude comments relating to the perversions of a handful of men, I came across a comment rather unique considering the people who usually knuckle-type broken sentences on these videos. This gentleman, who seemed like a pretty well-educated and grounded fellow (think generic good guy, think Kenny), had raised a valid and well-articulated point about the cultural implications of a woman (who on the surface does not seem to have any relationship with the First Nations community) wearing a sacred and honoured ceremonial piece of clothing of many First Nations tribes. He had touched on the fact that while it may not seem like much to us, these kinds of artefacts are generally revered in their respective communities and not used as costume props like they are in many aspects of North American culture. The Headdress is an EARNED cultural item that (mostly) men of the Plains Nations are awarded with upon completion of a certain task or ritual. Ask yourself this, were you offended when that guy who wore a fake uniform and military medals showed up at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Remembrance Day back in 2014? If you answer no, I’m sorry, but you’re as useful as tits on a bull. If you answered yes like a sensible person, then you SHOULD also be offended by the fact that people are taking the EARNED headdress of the people of the Plains Nations and just popping it on their head like a girl who literally can’t even while dancing to Calvin Harris at Coachella. This guy was really careful with his use of words and how he carried himself and did not use any aggressive or personal speech throughout his point. I thought he would get a little support on this one …
But who are we kidding? This is YouTube and the internet; the trolls shall emerge from beneath their bridges and their cave dwellings below at the first sniff of a “social justice warrior”.
The internet and it’s users can be the most powerful tool on earth for the empowerment of women, the rise of social equality, the ending of cultural strife and racism, and bringing people from all over together in one place. But it can also be the exact opposite of that as I learned years and years ago. If you manage to make it through this decade with your faith in humanity intact I will personally procure you a baby panda directly from one of those Chinese Panda sanctuaries that I want to be buried in. But I digress!
The attacks against this man and his ideology were pretty much the internet equivalent of the “shock and awe” tactic in warfare. These people were RUTHLESS in their attacks and seemed to be personally insulted by the idea that some people may not appreciate the stealing of their culture and identity. I see time and time again this backlash and opposition to the idea that the status-quo should be changed. These people seem more than happy in their little bubbles and do not seem to be interested in being part of the solution, but rather revel in being part of the problem.
Needless to say this man, who dared to challenge cultural appropriation, came out worse for ware thanks to the abuse that was flung at him much like the faeces of the noble chimpanzee. One person even tried to claim his entire argument was invalidated because he got a little off topic and took a jab at a rather aggressive commenter regarding his education. That’s a whole other barrel of fish regarding the world of internet debating, but it was still an attempt to resist change. Those who do not see an issue with how things are going form a large majority of society sadly, but it is the ones who actively attempt to shut down change and the questioning of social norms who do the most damage to our society.
I read a really good article on HuffPost Politics the other day; it reflected on the idea of privilege in society. But there was a quote in there that really stood out for me: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression“. I think these individuals are the ones who are feeling oppressed. They have this deep seated idea that losing the privilege of being a bigot or ignoring cultural appropriation is oppression in the highest! Well guess what boys and girls, it isn’t. Get over yourselves. Your resistance to change is damaging the very society you live in. As far as I am concerned these individuals have two options; accept that there are disenfranchised minorities in need of change, or continue to be ignorant and be left behind harrumphing in a dark room. It really is not asking much that you consider other people’s feelings and beliefs before making a comment or donning an insensitive Halloween costume.
Here is what your resistance does:
- It creates a negative, bigoted atmosphere where other people start to feel like the world is getting too “sensitive” (trust me that was the most PG word I found on that comment thread). In reality, we are all simply waking up to the fact that words hurt. Our resistance to change hurts even more.
- It reinforces the notion that there is no need for change or that changing too much is a bad thing. What you need to understand is that we are constantly changing as a society. If we can move past lynching innocent people for their skin colour or sexuality, we can stop using hate speech or wearing black face at Halloween (this is actually a huge cultural phenomenon in Australia).
- You promote the idea that societal progress IS oppression and you are no better than those who came before you and attempted to stop change:a) Men (and some women) who aggressively tried to stop the Suffrage movement for more equality between men and women as well as the right to vote in the early 20th century.b) The men and women who fought the Civil Rights movement and those who still do. Black Lives Matter is a perfect example of a modern day struggle against privilege and for cultural identity.c) Those who continue to culturally appropriate the identity of other people, especially during Halloween. You have an infinite number of costumes to pull from in our long history. You don’t need to go around taking traditional and ceremonial clothing from other cultures to be “sexy”, “scary”, or “exotic”. Cultural appropriation and white washing is still a real problem, and has been for some time.
Those of us who are sensitive to social justice and want to end privilege or inequality are not “overly sensitive” people. I think it can be argued that it is YOU, the people who fight against us, who are overly sensitive. You are the ones uncomfortable seeing the world for what it is and cannot accept that maybe life gave them a couple of good lemons while the black kid living in social housing in a Chicago project got a bag of Magikarps … ya, GD Magikarps! (I don’t care if they turn into a BAMF Gyarados, they still suck).
I have accepted that I have white privilege; I am using it right now to write a WordPress draft on my home computer in suburban Orleans while my PS3 plays episodes of Community and the Office on Netflix so that I can share my thoughts with friends and family on social media. The difference between people like myself and people like you is that I know that my words can hurt and I TRY to police myself and my words while also acknowledging my status of privilege.
Now, I know that some may say “Well where do we draw the line? Am I allowed to say ANYTHING without fear of being called a bigot?” but that is really tricky to answer. In my opinion at least it is. Someone will always be offended by something that is said or done regarding race and culture. It seems to be inevitable but there are some pretty basic steps we can take in the right direction. While I have had my fair share of gaffes and missteps in the world of political correctness, I still do my best to be as unbiased and sensitive as possible. It really isn’t that much to ask. If I ask you not to use the word “retarded” in a negative connotation, it is because I would appreciate you to use other language as that word hurts me on a personal level. I don’t need to explain why it hurts me, all you need to know is that it does. The English language currently has 1,025,109.8 words (yes .8). I am sure you won’t be too hard pressed to use another, less harmful word than retarded when joking around with your friends. The same goes for costumes as stated earlier.
Unfortunately, I am not the most qualified person to talk to regarding this kind of stuff. It is hard to provide you with a full and educated response to cultural appropriation and insensitive words because of my white privilege. How can I, a white, 24 year old male from the suburbs of Ottawa, possibly provide you with an idea of what it feels like to have my identity turned into a silly Halloween costume or to have my life considered less important based on my skin colour? Now, that does not mean that all white people are now the “problem” and cannot be objectified or ridiculed, it simply means that my privilege allows me to avoid certain scenarios in which far too many people are sadly born into, without agency. I personally detest the notion that “white people can’t complain” about injustice. While we certainly face less problems as a whole, we are all still human and all our own person with our own real problems. Injustice is not picky, everyone and anyone can suffer from it. The problem isn’t those who SUFFER from injustice and cultural appropriation, it is those who decide to DELAY change and RESIST it with the incorrect notion that a level playing field somehow hurts them. God forbid you can’t go around calling a member of the First Nations a red face or a black person the N word (I know someone who has NO ISSUE whatsoever using that word in the most liberal way possible), you weren’t born into a society that automatically makes assumptions about you based on the pigment of your skin or your nationality.
So, my friends, who are you going to decide to be? The individuals who decided to stay barricaded behind false lines of security and “equality” while ignoring their inherited privilege and actively delaying the forward march of social justice? Or are you going to be someone who tries to make a difference in the world, one person and one small act at a time?
I am not asking you to change your entire self and personality or beliefs, just take time to consider that others are hurt and oppressed daily by the use of words and cultural appropriation. I know you have freedom of speech and have no issues with you exercising that right. As English Writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote in her biography on French Enlightenment Philosopher Voltair: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”.
I just want you to understand that your speech and actions do not just hurt an individual, but rather an entire culture, nation, lifestyle, and our society. Just remember, you have issues that hurt you too and you may be uncomfortable when people trivialize your life or anger you with words. If that is the case, I cannot understand why you would insist on encroaching on other people’s sensitivities in response. The best thing you can do as a member of the greater society is to listen, think, then respond. Maybe then you will see that we “social justice warriors” aren’t so soft and sensitive after all, we are just people trying to help our fellow brothers and sisters.