This is a partial reprint of a post I wrote a few years ago. The full text is here, but it speaks to the controversy over Lionel Shriver’s address on “identity politics” and the greater discussion around cultural appropriation.
I have this name my father gave me, because he loved the Arthurian Legends, and they’d just come to Montreal. He was feeling homesick for Wales, so he gave me an ethnic name. Little realizing the effects it would have on my life.
Every time I meet someone at a (Pagan) festival who’s taken it as a “Craft Name” I want to say, “Look, you didn’t get beaten up on the playground over it, so you can’t fucking use it.”

 

I don’t say that, of course, but the urge is there. Petty? Probably. But all I can remember is that I struggled (perversely at times) to keep some dignity and my name when I was constantly told that if I just let people call me by some diminutive, my life would be easier.

It would also be easier if I pretended not to be so smart, learned to not be a fashion disaster and learned how to tell people apart (I’ve got faceblindness and a slew of other neuro-atypicalities).

So, this is my teeny, tiny experience with cultural appropriation. It is certainly not on the same level as what others experience. But it is the experience I draw upon when I’m trying to explain why cultural appropriation is wrong.

My daughter brought it up yesterday when we were having dinner. We were talking about the politics of hair. Her position is that white people shouldn’t do locked hair because A) unless you have the right hair, they look terrible and B) it is serious cultural appropriation.

The person she was talking to (an older, wealthy white woman) had the position that one should be able to do whatever one wants with one’s hair.

We talked about Celtic hair and how there is such a thing as Celtic locks, but they are different from African locks.

I love the look of locked hair. If I could get mine to do teeny tiny ones, I would love that. However, I can also imagine the African American woman looking at me and thinking, “I am s ubject to unfair treatment in all points of my life get beaten up on the playground for that. You can’t have them.”

 

 And she would be correct. The fact is black women have to fight not to be policed for their hair–and everything else about their lives.
When you have had to fight for something, it hurts to watch someone just walk away without earning it.
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