Cultural appropriation is the latest buzzword for many who are looking for reasons to be offended. For those who are unclear on what the term means, it is generally a member of one culture or race taking a custom, style, or tradition that originated with another and utilizing it in either a mocking or patronizing way. What it is not, however, is somebody using a style that is common to many cultures and using it to express their own personal style.
That last definition is what has landed one San Francisco State student in hot water after she was caught on video attacking a fellow student for his hairstyle. Bonnie Tindle, who is black, can be seen going after Cory Goldstein, who is white, for wearing dreadlocks.
The video opens after the confrontation begins, with Goldstein asking Tindle why she should have a say over what hairstyle he can wear. He points out that other cultures, such as ancient Egypt, have worn dreadlocks as well. She responds by implying he doesn’t even know where Egypt is. He then demands that she leave him alone and stop trying to dictate his style and attempts to leave.
That’s when things escalate. She physically restrains him, grabbing his arm and pulling him back down the stairs as he tried to exit the scene. Once more he tries to leave, and she blocks his egress, so he pushes her aside to leave. Tindle then has the audacity to demand he not touch her — even though he had done nothing to threaten her, only pushing her hands away as she tried to make the situation a physical one.
Finally Goldstein is able to leave, and as Tindle attempts to go after him once more she discovers that the events are being recorded. She demands to know why, grabbing for the camera, and the cameraman can be heard explaining that it’s for everybody’s safety.
What Tindle has demonstrated in this video is exactly the type of entitlement and coddling mentality that has populated American college campuses as of late. Sacrificing free expression and free speech in favor of being made to feel comfortable, she believes she has the right to dictate how others should be able to dress. If Goldstein had been wearing something that was actually cultural appropriation, or even threatening, she may have had a defensible position — even if her methods were wrong in any case.
For their part, the university is launching an investigation into the incident to see whether or not any action is required. The altercation was fairly minor, but it was a physical one, so light disciplinary action may be necessary. Some students have jumped to Tindle’s defense as well, saying that there was more to what happened than the video showed. Still, it’s pretty damning evidence that Tindle overstepped her bounds when she went after Goldstein.
What Tindle and other censorship worshipping students like her often get wrong is that many types of so-called “cultural appropriation” are not appropriation at all. As Goldstein points out in the video, dreadlocks are hardly the exclusive realm of black people. Many other cultures, including Egyptians, Greeks, Indians, and even northern europeans like vikings and the celts have worn dreadlocks for centuries, even millennia. But the dreadlock is often associated with African-Americans thanks to the Rastafari movement making it mainstream over the last half century, who themselves got the custom from the Middle East via their interpretation of certain biblical texts.
In other words, cultural appropriation isn’t quite as simple as many believe. Most of our customs, especially in a country as diverse as the United States, have elements of many customs — everything from our language to our clothing has been influenced by European, African, Asian, and indigenous American cultures. To be sure, when using a tradition commonly associated with another culture should be done in a way that is not crude or offensive (a gentile wearing a yarmulke in jest or pretty much anybody doing minstrel in blackface, for instance).
However, when somebody is expressing a style that is common to many different cultures, despite being more popular in recent memory with one particular subset of a particular culture, they are well within their rights to do so. And in very few cases is a physical response necessary, especially a hypocritical and uninformed one.