Music festivals are a great place to discover new bands, party and forget about the problems of the outside world. They are also a great place to appropriate culture. It may seem like talking about cultural appropriation is all so 2015. But the conversation should not stop.
For people who’s eyes are open to political incorrectness it is difficult to stop thinking about cultural appropriation even in a festival setting where you are meant to enjoy yourself without a care.
This summer I went to both Field day and Latitude Festival and witnessed the culture of marginalised groups being appropriated by white folk. However, these festivals are also very white spaces, you hardly see any people of colour at festivals. Can the reason for this be partly the appropriation of cultures that makes ethnic minority folk feel unwelcomed at these events?
The easiest explanation of cultural appropriation is when you take a part of a culture that doesn’t belong to you. When you as a person are oppressing that group of people in an economical sense. Also, when people that that culture belongs to are not accepted if they express that element of their culture.
A common example of cultural appropriation is the Bindi. Bindies culturally belong to Hindi and Jane women, particularly amongst Hindus in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. But they are now appropriated by caucasian women who want to look “cool”. Bindi has very significant meanings to people who are culturally allowed to wear them, and wearing them out of context is disrespectful to that culture. Looking back at the definition I gave, it seems totally acceptable for white folk to wear bindis at festivals, but for a Pakistani diasporic person it is not acceptable to express wearing a bindi because they become too “othered” and would be told to follow “British Values” instead.
This does not seem to matter to mass groups of white girls covered in glitter, face paint and pumped on alcohol.
“Why does cultural appropriation matter anyway?” you may ask. The short answer is, it does not. You can appropriate a culture the same way you can say the “N” word, and colonise and murder indigenous people of a country and steal everything from them. But you shouldn’t.
Another example of cultural appropriation which is more common in the States, but I also witnessed at Latitude festival was feather headdresses. The Sioux were the first tribe to be known for using the head dress. The feather head dress is a very symbolic part of the culture, for example, each feather was given to the owner for an act of bravery which is why the chief’s headdress is full of feathers. This tradition is sacred and honored to this day and in many tribes, the headdresses are used for ceremonial purposes. So the question remains, is it right for white folk to wear these head dresses for fun? It is useful to reflect on the brutal history of invasion/colonisation of America by the Europeans, which has resulted in the loss of culture for many of the Native American tribes, in my eyes a white person wearing the feather head dress is a “badge of honour” for destroying lives of the Native Indian people.
Festivals are also a great place to eat expensive food from all sorts of countries. However, one could argue that the food at festivals are also an appropriation of culture. Food is a big part of every culture, but at festivals, foreign food is almost exoticised and often sold by people who don’t belong to that culture and in no way does its profits benefit that community, which is again an obvious outcome of appropriating a culture. “Buddha Bowl” is an example of this, a vegan curry/noodle food stand that promotes pacifism and healthy food, owned by white people and aimed at white people, because I personally cannot imagine a person of Buddhist faith not finding the name offensive and actually purchasing food from them.
A strange situation I came across was a Henna tent at the Latitude Festival, where people could get henna tattooed on them. It may not sound harmful, but actually visiting the tent, the people who did the henna were white women, and the customers were made of white people. Henna is another ceremonial tradition that can be simply appropriated. It’s not just something that looks “cool” and can make you feel special for a “temporary” amount of time. To most South Asian and Middle-Eastern folk, it is much more symbolic than that. For me personally, I know henna as a very special ceremonial treatment that the bride and the women/girls of the wedding party receive the night before the wedding, to prepare the bride for marriage. This is a tradition that has died out in most countries as a result of colonial thinking and westernisation. But now is being used as a way to make money at festivals benefiting none of the people who culturally relate to the tradition.
These festivals as a whole seem like a bubble that people enter in which they can be excused for acting problematic, most of these issues can be called out in the outside world (even though it may not make a difference) however in a festival setting it is much more difficult to bring up the conversation and be a “kill joy”. It is also difficult especially when you are the minority in a festival which is the case all the time at these festivals as they are well known for being aimed at rich white young folk. Only recently I heard from a person of colour that the reason why they don’t go to these festivals is the frustration over problematic behaviours. Why are these spaces created when they are so exclusive of people of colour and disrespectful of their culture, and when people of colour feel unsafe in such spaces, where can they go to enjoy their time without the hassle of calling out political incorrectness?