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No you Don't Own your Culture

Updated on November 9, 2016

I don’t know if It’s just me, but lately I’ve been cringing when I hear people using the following terms. “My people” “My race” “My culture” As though they have exclusively purchased rights and trade marked their legacy. And what is even worse is this thing called national pride? Pride about what exactly? What has this person who is filled with so much pride achieved really? Discovered electricity? Created the internet? Cured a disease? The only thing they technically achieved in regards to their race was to be the fastest at reaching the womb. They didn’t choose to be born in Germany, India or Colombia. Everything was determined for them, from their name, culture to religion. Let me ask you this. How much blood shed have these common phrases caused? ‘God bless America, we are the chosen people, your country needs you!’

Don’t get me wrong, I was once one of these people who claimed ownership over the culture I was born into. Was proud to be Lebanese. I used to wear the Lebanese flag on a chain and walked around thinking that every white person was the enemy because a few Anglo Aussies in high school called me a wog. I once even got really offended that Indian people opened up a Lebanese restaurant. “How dare they cook food from my culture?” Was I in fact unconsciously a racist? I thought that this fabulous race I was born into was better than the rest. National pride consumed me that I mostly made Lebanese friends and only wanted to marry a Lebanese man. Years later after much personal growth, as well as living in several countries and opening up my mind, the paradigm about national pride and culture shifted. But the turning point was about 2 years ago when I was chatting to an Israeli friend of mine. In this conversation, he told me that there was a bombing in Israel and two young Israeli boys had died along with a few other Arabs and tourists. He explained how sad he was about the two Israelis and how he’d been crying the whole morning. Then I asked him, why he wasn’t crying about the non Israelis. He simply replied, “Well they are not my people.” I recall feeling a little offended by his words and It was from that moment that I began to view national pride as harmful. A tendency to emphasise on the, 'us against them' to separate and exclude. I began to shift my perception and pull away from national pride. It was then I began to realise that holocausts and wars have been created because of national and cultural pride.

But then you have another form of cultural pride taking trend at the moment. This other group of people throwing hissy fits about cultural appropriation. They are making claims that if you don’t come from a certain culture then it’s not appropriate to adopt certain customs from it. Especially if you're a white person. It could be anything from wearing corn rows in your hair, singing rap music to getting a henna tattoo. Last year I witnessed a young woman get humiliated in a facebook group. All because she wore a henna tattoo on her hand. The conversation went along these lines, but not exact words. “How dare you wear henna from my culture!” This person wrote underneath a photo she had posted which revealed her wearing a henna tattoo on her hand, “You’re a white person! You’re a racist! How dare you steal it from my people.” As this spectacle went on, I couldn’t help but realise that the people offended where filled with underlying prejudice towards white people. Individuals who were basically riding on the backs of their ancestors. Taking credit and ownership of a culture they had no input in creating. I’m sure that the people who are embracing different cultures are doing it with the best intent. The young girl who was humiliated and called a racist for wearing henna on her hand had no intention of being offensive. In fact, she admitted that she thought Indian culture was beautiful and wanted to embrace it.

Another case of cultural appropriation gone too far was when a class which taught yoga to disabled people at the University of Ottawa was shut down because the people there were culturally appropriating a practice which belongs to people from India. Jennifer Scharf who had been offering free classes since 2008 was notified in September 2015 that her yoga classes will be suspended. ‘There are cultural implications involved in the practice.’ She was told.

Instead of getting offended by something that’s technically not yours and cannot be stolen because you still have it, why not focus your energy criticising those who are truly racist. The people who would never even dare wear clothes that are different, are disgusted by ethnic foods, are the first to protest about sending the boat people back and who are truly mocking cultures by dressing up as terrorists and taking the piss. But instead we let our ego get in the way, claim ownership over basic things such as fashion and hairstyles and hold on so tight to something that is man-made and non tangible.

Do I think that at times some people may go too far and disrespect other cultures by dressing up as natives for Halloween or putting on a black face? Yes of course. And sure I am the first to educate. Some thank me and say they had no idea, while a few others get defensive and tell me to lighten up. We should never ever shut down a minority who are speaking up against racism and prejudice. Neither turn our heads and tolerate racist remarks about a certain group or race. But to claim ownership of a culture and exclude others from embracing it is what divides us, causes wars and conflict.

At the end of the day deep down I believe culture and diversity are beautiful things. I’m glad that I was born into a culture and can embrace an identity. At the same time I always remind myself just because this identity was imposed upon me does not define my authentic self. I want to encourage us all to move away from the 'my people vs your people' attitude in order to unify and make a better world.


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