I have been previously critical of “cultural appropriation” campaigns against students and faculty and others accused of incorporating or adopting clothes, food (here and here and here), or exercise (and here) or even art (and here) associated with other cultures. These controversies have also involved hair and jewelry styles, including dreadlocks. The latest controversy arose over a comedian, Zach Poitras, who happened to have dreadlocks who was scheduled to have a show in Montreal at a bar associated with the University of Quebec. It was cancelled after people objected that he was white and thus his hair style was cultural appropriation. It is the same misguided position that we have seen on college campuses in sanctioning those who explore different styles or art forms or foods.
The Coop les Récoltes is connected with the Université du Québec à Montréal’s Groupe de recherches d’intérêt public. The co-operative posted a statement that it is committed being “a safe space, free from any link to oppression,” and describes cultural appropriation as a form of violence. It states “a person from a dominant culture appropriates the symbols, clothing or even the hairstyles of persons from a historically dominated culture.”
I remain unpersuaded by that argument. Poitras may be wearing the hair style out of identification with the culture or simply aesthetics but it is not an effort to appropriate someone else’s culture. All of our cultures influence a pluralistic society and many of our traditions or foods or styles are incorporated into a varied and collective mosaic. I realize the good intentions behind the movement and the legitimate concerns over some displays deemed offensive. However, these are cases of people who adopt positive elements of other cultures rather than appropriate them. The effort to sanction people for such cultural appropriation has become increasingly intolerant of the choices of others in our society in my view.
What do you think?