American Ignorance of European Culture and Tradition

I don’t want to come across as an asshole because I think a lot of comments to this article is overly harsh. It is understandable that many minorities are upset about how American white majority culture may use clothes, styles or traditions of a minority as simple stylistic element, whithout any concepts or knowledge of its history and meaning. Yes it is kind of offensive with the “look how exotic I look it this outfit.”

However you view this in too racial terms, when in reality this is simply a general issue in America. This is not really about white vs black. It is about American being detached from pretty much any culture.

Many of us Europeans traveling in America and see the remanence of our culture on display also find a lot of what we see somewhat offensive. What is important to us is often just turned into commercial gimmickry.

Let us take your example with head-wraps. You presented a careful curated history, which entirely excludes European culture. It gives the reader the false impression that people with white skin color would not wear head-wraps of any kind. Let me show some pictures of traditional Norwegian clothing:

Image for post
Image for post
Traditional Norwegian Bunad clothing from the Vest-Agder province.

There are an enormous amount of variation in head-wraps for Norwegian traditional clothing, depending on what province the clothing is from. Many European countries have their own style of traditional clothing where the hair is covered up. Covering up your hear isn’t something special for non-whites. We had a minister visiting Iran in traditional Norwegian clothing. Iranians where shocked that a westerner had modest looking clothing, covering the hair, with long sleeves, long skirts etc. There is this built in assumption that western culture is simply whatever modern culture looks like.

This is a very live tradition for us in Norway and I am immensely proud and happy to see minorities in Norway embracing this. This is not cultural appropriation to me. This is cultural appriciation.

Image for post
Image for post
Dennis Vareide, Haddy N’Jie and Noman Mubashir wearing Norwegian traditional clothing

It is of course not uncontroversial in Norway. There are always racists who insist they are not Norwegian enough to wear our clothes. By suggesting people not traditionally part of a culture cannot wear the clothes of another culture, you are really just giving ammunition to these racists. Many minorities in Norway have fought hard to be accepted as Norwegians.

American Social Justice Warrior Brownwashing

American social justice warriors are preoccupied with concepts such as whitewashing to such an extreme that they become completely blinded and guilty of the same offensive behavior they profess to combat.

In America there is this sense that an oppressed minority cannot possibly look whites. America sees the world in a very binary simplistic lens where whites are the oppressors and people of color are the oppressed.

When American Disney made the Frozen movie inspired by Norwegian traditions and history, they included elements from the Scandinavian indigenous people, the Sami, with their own language, clothes and traditions. A group that has long been oppressed and which even today face a lot of racism.

Norwegian Sami people where thrilled about their inclusion in Disney’s Frozen, yet American Social Justice Warriors where foaming with anger. They claimed that Disney had whitewashed the Norwegian indigenous people.

Image for post
Image for post
Disney version of Kristoff to the left and SJW version of Kristoff people to the right.

Hence they presented their own new version of one of the characters. How they believed he should look to not be “whitewashed.” The SJW logic is that if you are a minority you have to be dark skinned. They also seem to opinion that a minority cannot have Caucasian eyes either.

Frankly it is bizarre to me that American SJWs think that people who live far north should look like somebody from Hawaii. A Norwegian newspaper article wrote about this odd American obsession with skin color, where they interviewed Sami people. To sort of make a bit fun of it, they added these pictures of actual Sami people in Norway.

Image for post
Image for post
Sami people look quite similar to other Norwegians. Yes you can be a minority indigenous person and look white!

So please stop making this into a white-black thing. It is more like an American thing. Americans are not all that well informed about any culture whether it is a culture involving black, brown and yes white people.

Not that we are necessarily any better. We have a whole subculture in Norway around what we call AmCar. People who dress and live like rednecks driving classic American cars. They love all sorts of American symbols such as the confederate flag. For them it is just gimmick, the way Bunad would be in the US. Most don’t have a clue what it means. They just think it is a cool American thing. Fortunately a debate has started in Norway about the use of the flag, and to inform Norwegians about what it actually symbolizes.

My point is anybody can be stupid about culture. Both car enthusiasts, white suburbanites and Social Justice warriors.

Written by

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store