The Daily Illini

Cultures are not costumes

By The Daily Illini Editorial Board

Music festivals are a celebrated tradition of American young adulthood. Since Woodstock in 1969, they have become an escape to enjoy music and bond with people of similar interests.

Coachella, one such festival on the West Coast, started this past weekend and will continue this upcoming weekend. Performers include AC/DC, Drake and Jack White. Like all music festivals of such high popularity, the atmosphere is fun and the music is incredible, drawing crowds from all over to participate.

However, the wardrobe choices of some attendees distracts from what is otherwise harmless fun.

Native American headdresses and other culturally insensitive attire are often donned by festivalgoers — not just at Coachella, but Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and other similar events.

Wearing Native American symbols as a fashion statement undermines the struggles faced by Native Americans and misrepresents a culture, while also frequently sexualizing Native American heritage. Native American women historically do not wear headdresses. Rather, they are reserved for elders within the community.

They are a symbol of honor, not one of style.

This issue is not limited to just music festivals or just headdresses. On the University campus, the persistence of Chief Illiniwek is a prime example of similar cultural appropriation.

Further, accessories like the Hindu Bindi, the Mexican sombrero and Japanese kimono are all frequently worn, either as costumes or attempts at celebration. All have the same effect as headdresses at festivals.

When people wear these pieces frivolously, they often fail to take into account the systematic and historic oppression of that respective group by dominant culture. It undermines the cultural significance, perpetuates the stereotypes associated with those symbols and discounts issues that oppressed groups have faced at the hands of oppressors.

People inappropriately wearing headdresses, sombreros, saris and kimonos might not realize they are playing a role in microaggressions and racism, but for majority groups appropriating cultures, it’s crucial to understand how those appropriations will affect those of the minority.

Not wearing a headdress to Coachella is not going to prevent anyone’s fun, so when choosing an outfit or a theme for the next festival or party, be conscious of how these outfits represent not only the wearer, but also poorly represent the culture the outfit originates from.

Do not perpetuate oppression. Be aware of how little things relate to bigger problems and join in to help stop it.

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