Recall the fires on gender and race that were flaring up? In response to Tim Hunt’s dinosaur joke on women in labs and falling in love and crying, another scientist had put up an image of a tree house with ‘no girls allowed’ – which reminded me of the all male meetings Tumblr blog and the Calvin & Hobbes G.R.O.S.S. cartoon. Interestingly, the argument now goes that it has highlighted women in science more than any other campaign ever managed – with many women taking selfies in the lab, at fieldwork etc. It cost Prof Hunt his metaphorical head but perhaps he sort of deserves a bronze version of it – displayed in UCLs gardens maybe…
So, following on from that Twitter went nuts over Mr Jenner turning Ms Jenner and how she now needs to return her Olympic medals because in the past he “always felt he was a she” and so competed under fraudulent circumstances. That said, she got congratulations for being herself and being honest – even from Obama.
Not so much for Rachel Dolezal who is white but feels black. A woman who campaigned for black rights but then was outed as her parents as white. Cultural appropriation is complex. It means that if you wear Dutch clogs without knowing the meaning of it or being of Dutch heritage, I can be offended. ‘Can’ because it’s not actually about the item of cultural representation but the underlying power relations. So in the Dolezal case another twitter storm ensued. I’m standing on the sidelines trying to think it through – it seems the liberals have accepted transgender people more than transrace people but only in one direction of the latter – white to black, as black to white is a matter of power struggle.
But, in the words of Radiohead, do we do it to ourselves? Segal and people argue that race isn’t biological – it’s a category we invented. So if we’re on a spectrum, we are not bound by categories. When we continue mixing, it’ll get increasingly complicated to categorise the world.
Thus if cultural appropriation includes racial appropriation and are we then saying race is a culture (system of shared meanings – not biological?) and if a white woman dying her hair black is outrageous, can offence be taken by women about gender appropriation when transexuals find it feminine to don theatrical make up, wear tiny skirts and lacy tops as it is not representative of what women are and, in some eyes, ridicules it? But isn’t the transexual being exposed to a non-empathetic outside world and thus such cultural appropriation isn’t the same as somebody wearing sari without understanding the cultural values behind it?
Through the process of differentiating, we set boundaries and tell others, just as there was a move to be politically correct/inclusive/multi-cultural that they can now not take on that (part of) identity. We then engage in ‘othering‘ ourselves for the purpose of highlighting that the external (skin, clothes, ceremonies) are part of a deeper underlying system of shared values (culture). It takes a bit of conscious thinking and lower gear shifting to fully understand the hurt. As Bill Withers sang in the 1970s “who is he and what is he to you?” applied to a 2015 context.