Opinion: Western white guilt

By Hannah Flynn

I am a young, straight white woman who is about to talk about – brace yourself – cultural appropriation. I discovered something new about myself this week. I found out that I am a ‘privileged white female’. A heated debate about cultural appropriation can leave a woman like me with an overwhelming sense of ‘western white guilt’. How could I possibly understand what it’s like to feel victimised or oppressed in society when supposedly I won the social class lottery?

Cultural appropriation is a trendy issue for the media at the moment and is to be approached with caution and sensitivity. The idea is that if you are inspired or influenced by another culture you are in fact stealing, which in turn is an offensive act.

I wholeheartedly agree that it is wrong for the dominating West to keep taking little pieces from other cultures, rebranding them and taking all the glory. Yet I can’t help but feel the sensitivity around it has just gone too far. Having dreadlocks if you’re white or wearing a kimono if you aren’t Asian is seen by some as taboo. In theory then, eating pizza is cultural appropriation, along with using chopsticks or shopping at Ikea. Should we all just segregate ourselves to avoid offending? Surely life is about opening yourself up to the world, not shutting it out.

On the surface I am seen socially as a privileged white female, and I do not deny that this label is valid. But this doesn’t mean I can’t understand or have an opinion about cultural appropriation.

“Check your privilege” is a phrase batted around these days when talking about social issues. It’s not a bad motto to live by; reminding yourself of the inherited advantages you have over others. It’s hard not to feel, though, that this translates into “Shut up, your opinion is not important.”

Why shouldn’t I be able to express my opinion on cultural issues? My experience on this planet is just as unique as anybody else’s and believe it or not I have the ability to empathise and imagine what it’s like to be in somebody else’s shoes.

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