Given my column strongly disagreeing with the premise of a recent New York Times column suggesting that House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes could be charged with obstruction of the memo released by the Committee, I am reluctant to raise yet another Times column. However, the Times yesterday ran a piece that highlights the growing angst over every costume and image as a possible act of “cultural appropriation.” In an article entitled “Who’s Allowed to Wear A Black Panther Mask?”, the newspaper interviews experts on whether white children should be allowed to wear the costume of the popular character. While the verdict was that white children could wear the outfits, it was not without trepidation and the need for some pre-playtime exploration of the racial, socio-economic, and political implications for the children.
Here is the set up:
Black Panther costumes — whether the character’s full raiment or just his claws and mask — are on toy store shelves (and, of course, on Amazon) in anticipation of the film’s Feb. 16 release. At best, the character get-ups speak to the enthusiastic embrace of a black superhero. At worst, they could be perceived as an unwitting form of cultural appropriation, which has in recent years become a subject of freighted discourse.
I have written columns and blogs through the years about the disturbing trend on U.S. campuses toward free speech regulation and controls. In the name of diversities and tolerance, college administrators and professors are enforcing greater and greater controls on speech –declaring certain views or terms to be forms of racism or more commonly “microaggressions.” Now protesters are seeking to declare classics as microaggressions and a university has again folded in the face of the mob.
We have seen students rise in protest over what they believe is “cultural appropriation” in schools offering yoga or students wearing dreadlocks or serving Mexican food. Recently students at Oberlin even fought to stop the school from offering students sushi as “cultural appropriation.” We have even seen the mispronouncing of names or the cancelling of the performance of Aida as either cultural appropriations or microagressions or both.
The expanding objections to cultural appropriations has extended outside of universities, as we saw with the protests over two white women opening a taco truck.
In this case, the New York Times struggles with the question of whether a parent should allow a white children to emulate the Black Panther. The angst-filled article appears to give reluctant acceptance to permitting white kids to do so, but not without interjecting society’s problems and race into their playtime.
Brigitte Vittrup, an associate professor of early childhood development and education at Texas Woman’s University, counsels caution: “we need to be very aware of what that says.” She added
“White people have the privilege of not constantly being reminded of their race in the United States, where white is the majority, whereas as a black person you don’t . . . Kids are not colorblind. There’s a lot of structural inequality in our society, and kids are noticing that. By not mentioning it, by not talking about it, we’re essentially preserving the status quo.”