Dear Marooned Alien Princess

Dear Marooned Alien Princess,

Where is the line drawn between appreciation and cultural appropriation? Why can’t I just enjoy things from other cultures? Isn’t denying people access to your things just because they’re a different color than you exactly what we should be fighting?

Ima try to stop rolling my eyes long enough to type up a response. First of all, this whole paragraph screams boundary issues. Don’t people have to outright give you things or at very least give you permission to have them in order for it to be appreciation and not stealing? This is exactly how colonization and slavery happened too. Folks decided they wanted somebody else’s land, culture, even people, and simply took them with no regard for consent or those peoples wishes. That wasn’t appreciation, it was thievery and inhumane violence.

Beyond colonization, boundary issues are gross and scary as fuck and the basis of rape culture (this is a never-ending loop of fuckery considering rape culture is also the basis of colonization).

So let’s break this down bluntly, shall we? You look foolish as fuck dressed up as somebody you are not. Cultural appropriation is just that. Wearing other people’s culture as a costume when you are not them, have no real understanding of what things mean to them and no respect for them or their consent. Power dynamics make it so the same cultural things more marginal people are shamed and belittled for appear edgy, cool, cultured and celebrated on people with more power.
Sharing is caring and all that, but when you simply take mindlessly, you do not care about that person. That is not sharing, it is, again, stealing.

Cultural exchange is great but ideally exchange denotes equitable negotiation, consent and access. Who did you negotiate with? Arguing about how people with less power don’t have a right to say “no” to you isn't negotiation. It is boundary issues, rape culture, and colonization.

As an AfroLatina I have the displeasure of watching AfroLatinxs cultural signifiers in Latin America be taken up by nonblack Latinx as their preferred “popular” authentic culture. This happens as AfroLatinxs are degraded, denied, and erased from Latin American history, politics, media and social life by the very same people who appropriate our culture. It’s not sharing, its cruel disrespect and cooptation. Maybe I wouldn’t mind sharing our food, spirituality, Tango, Merengue, Bachata, Cumbia, Punta, Salsa, Reggeatton with nonblack Latinxs if they didn’t completely marginalize AfroLatinxs. If they acknowledged that we started it all, and genuinely respected and valued us. This is just another way to use and abuse people. And in the case of descendants of enslaved Africans, its a continuation of exploitative slavery dynamics.

If sharing is caring, then ask yourself: Is it fair and caring to treat people this way? Is it caring for you to nonchalantly consume quinoa and stay complicit in leaving indigenous people unable to afford their main food source? Is it caring for you to wear cornrows and locs as a nonblack person because they’re cool on you, while not giving a fuck that Black girls are literally ousted from school and denied jobs over their hair styles? Is it caring for you to bypass cries of marginal people telling you they’d like to preserve what little they have left, because you have to have whatever you want, at whatever cost?

You won’t die because you weren’t allowed to touch what isn’t yours and doesn’t even have deep meaning to you. Nor will you die because marginal people demanded respect and acknowledgement. But marginalized people do, literally, die for wearing cultural garb that is considered cool and acceptable on you. Is that what you are fighting to normalize? If so, don’t “we” me.

We aren’t on the same side. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I will go back to rolling my fucking eyes.

Dear Zahira,

I struggle with the concept of being true to myself when, as an AfroLatina, being honest locks me out of many places I need to be. In both the U.S. and Latin America, speaking, dressing, and behaving like me means I don’t get the job. So I water myself down. At the end of the work day, I feel like a fraud with no choice because rent won't be paid if I am honest. I’m not even sure how you can help. Maybe I just need reassurance that I’m not a fake bitch.

This is so relatable and fear not, your reassurance was coming, whether you’d asked for it or not. AfroLatinas are peripheral to mainstream society in so many ways. We are not the acceptable, light, nonblack Latinas. We are not the acceptable Black people. We are not the acceptable U.S.ians. In 2017, people still debate whether or not we exist. We are the cultural backbone of Latin America, yet our language, music, form of dress, and social class is deemed lesser until someone who is not us mimics us. Then it’s great.

In Latin America we cannot hide our Blackness or skin color, but we can try to pass for a higher economic class than we are. Which usually entails whitewashing ourselves in other ways, such as adopting upper-class Euro-inspired mannerisms, diction and language, wearing certain preppy name-brand clothing, frequenting higher-class stores, bars and social clubs, etc. It’s a common practice, and people go to great lengths to, as we say, aparentar. They do everything from spending less on food in order to buy clothes that fit the aspirational social class to refusing to speak to poorer people in public. And while this does often involve very shallow, fake individuals, one cannot deny how much of that is rooted in the fact society judges and values us by extremely shallow standards.

In the U.S. it is no different. Job interview advice tells us to speak without using our hands, to dress as indistinctly and conservatively as we can according to white colonial social mores, to hide our afro hair and cultural jewelry, and to put on our best Becky voice. If we show up speaking and looking as relaxed, colorful and animated as we would at home, we are considered uncultured, stupid and too much—unemployable. Code-switching becomes a means of survival in the most visceral way. It’s a matter of life and death, of being housed and fed or homeless and hungry. And as immigrants of color or their children, code-switching can even be the difference between being picked up by ICE and sent to hellish detention centers to face deportation or not. Unfortunately, the less attuned we appear to be with our non-white culture, the more access to safety and humanity we are granted, even if we are only ever dealt scraps in the end.

The current capitalist social landscape is a stepladder of humanity in which we are ranked by how close to the ruling class we can look and behave. Hiding the parts of ourselves society hates is both a privilege and burden, as some cannot hide who they are no matter how they try and will not be able to escape consequences for it.

Code-switching for survival is, for many, inevitable. This isn't fakery, but an acquired and very necessary skill if we are to get by in the rat race. You still know who you are, and you are still you when you clock out. And, frankly, even if the habit became so entrenched that you no longer switch back after work, it would only be because it was necessary for survival. There’s nothing fake about that. It represents the resolve to do whatever you have to do in an unjust world. And it is not dishonest, unless you are being purposely unethical and harmful to others in your work and life.

Code-switching is hard and it is exhausting. But you are not an abomination for having to do it. The abomination is the society that requires our forced assimilation.