What is the goal of our society with regards to race and culture?
I like to believe we are ultimately striving to achieve a society where everyone, no matter where your born, how much you’re born with, or what gender, sexual orientation or race you’re born with, has the same opportunities at life.
The path to getting there is an uphill battle full of complexities and barriers. Yet when we take a moment to consider how far we have come, we should in fact be proud of the progress our society has made. Mentality and discussion regarding race and gender for example has certainly changed during our lifetimes and the awareness of inherent institutional racism or sexism is acknowledged by the many. Acknowledgement is not the same as action and so there is of course a long, long way to go.
So how does culture play into this. Firstly, a question which has been tackled by many an anthropologist including renowned figures such as Clifford Geertz who has produced volumes of work exploring this exact question: What actually is culture. The Centre for Advance Research on Language Acquisition has defined culture as “the shared patterns of behaviors and interactions, cognitive constructs and understanding that are learned by socialization.” The word “culture” derives from a French term, which in turn derives from the Latin “colere,” which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivation and nurture. It shares its etymology with a number of other words related to actively fostering growth. Thus it can be seen as the growth of a group identity fostered by social patterns unique to a group.
Yet perhaps this whole idea of culture as something unique to groups is in and of itself outdated and needs changing. It seems to me that fundamentally we are dealing with a social paradox. We want a society where race, gender and all other socially constructed divides have no impact on opportunity. We want a multicultural society where groups coexist and value one another and their differences. Yet we also do not want the sharing of certain aspects of certain cultures. We are wanting to buttress social divides in the name of protecting cultures and their history at the same time as wanting everyone to overcome divides and live as one.
Whilst I totally recognise and understand the argument that certain cultural practices are important to minorities and cultures that have been oppressed, as it unites them and gives them a sense of identity, I believe that we should be striving for a soceity where differences between peoples are not tools for division but methods of uniting. We must work to eradicate racism and all other discriminatory systems from out world and in doing so allow cultures to be shared by all. Ideally, groups should not feel the need to preserve culturalpractices just for them in order to defend their identity, as their identity should no longer be under threat at all.
Even still, I myself do not know where exactly I stand on this debate, as I acknowledge that I myself would never feel right getting my hair cornrowed but at the same time I would not feel like I could tell anyone else not to. I think at the end of the day we live in a world where, thanks to technology and social media, everyone has a voice and there are so many arguments and opinions circling around. I believe in lessening the divides between communities, not enhancing them. That may mean little white girls going to Coachella with their hair done in hundreds of pleats and faces bedazzled with Indian bindis. But I believe it will be more positive and restorative for society as a whole if we allow cultural practices to indeed be not only appreciated but repeated and shared.
What is vital however is that those involved understand the roots of cultural practices before they choose to twist the roots of their hair into what they may see as simply a cool style they saw donned by Kylie in her latest video.
In response to the image above, the “appropriator” therefore must become aware of the culture’s significance. Along with the sharing of the products of different cultures should come the sharing of cultural understanding. Girls who choose to wear corn rows should be aware of the style’s history and meaning. In doing so we will see divides between people not only break down physically, as groups share products of their culture, but also mentally, as people learnt to accept one another and live together in a world where culture doesn’thave to be something in need of defence but something to be celebrated by all. I believe this will aid the cohesiveness and progression of a multicultural society.