I swore to myself I will never make another post about cultural appropriation. The very concept irritates me because it is often misused to shout down well-meaning people who genuinely want to engage in cultural exchange and appreciation.
I have argued this enough on hundreds of Facebook posts before finally deciding that the CAP (Cultural Appropriation Police) was never going to listen. From my experience, many of them belong to the SJW subculture (yes, it is absolutely a subculture even if the term is now used as a pejorative and no one uses it to refer to themselves).
So, long story short– they are often impossible to engage with.
Imagine my shock when I realized this evening that I was going to be the CAP for a very large group of people. Spoiler alert: It did not end well!
But before I elaborate on why I’m writing this piece, let me give you some background.
For the last seven months or so, I have been playing a really fun game called Covet Fashion. It is a modern version of the age-old doll dress up– played on smartphones where one uses Covet cash and diamonds to purchase virtual versions of real designer clothing to dress up the virtual doll. Covet is basically a product placement game that offers a platform to many popular luxury brands including but not limited to Sachin and Babi Noir, Laurel Dewitt, Camilla, Lane + Lanae, Luisa Spagnoli, Arturo Rios, Pritch London, and Apologie Paris. In turn, geeky proles like myself learn a little bit about the strange, wonderful world of fashionistas that revolves around the glittery stores of 5th Avenue and the breezy studios of SoHo. Every challenge in the game is based on a theme which can be anything from an ancient Egyptian ritual to an Indian wedding, a Viking battle to an African coronation, or even a pre-k alphabet class to a ballet where the dancers only perform after sunset.
Needless to say, some of the specialty pieces required for these challenges are often not available in the collections offered by the real designer labels. Covet solves this issue in two ways. It releases tailor-made items for these challenges through the Covet Collection which now includes hundreds of pieces ranging from ornate, bejeweled belts to stiff silken corsets from 16th-century France.
The second thing Covet offers are hair accessories (shortened to HA for ease)– these can be acquired in three ways– Continuous Monthly Runway Rallies (You can enter these multiple times with your virtual fashion house and win a number of prizes among which a new HA is offered each month), special series challenges, and real money. Yes, you can totally buy past accessories which cost $8.99 a piece. Every few months, Covet offers a discount in which you can buy two of them at $4.99 each.
I understand that nine dollars is a lot of money to spend on a game. But as someone who is guilty of this crime, I am in no place to judge other people for it. As of this very moment, I own a crystal crown, a sea shell crown, an East Asian Peony Headdress, an Indian maang teeka (which they called a pendant headchain!), two wedding veils, and a spooky blue veil among other things. Of the accessories I don’t have, I can’t wait to buy the forest crown and the red rose which is great for Flamenco-themed challenges.
Of course, the players must vote on the looks in order to win tickets which they can then use to enter the challenges. And it is for this voting that these accessories are bought– to grab the attention of the voter within the split second they take to decide which is the prettier doll.
Pretty has a variety of definitions. In most of Covetland, it is a blond woman with blue eyes, red lips, pale skin, and dressed in a princess gown. Even if the challenge is about a Bedouin bride, a Nigerian poet, or a Chinese dragon slayer, the belle of the ball is always Cinderella with her waist-length golden hair and her expensive floor-length Terani Couture gown.
Today’s daily challenge was about a Middle-Eastern dancer who dances in the desert. The challenge was called ‘A Thousand Nights,’ an obvious reference to the Arabian Nights. To most of us, it was clear that the doll should be dressed up as a belly dancer. For those who went according to the cover photo of the challenge, things were a bit more complicated because the model in that image looked more like a pre-Islamic tribal Arab woman as opposed to a typical belly dancer.
And this is where the trouble began. People thought it perfectly fine to mix the two. The result? Half-naked dolls wearing the Hijab hair accessory– which players proudly shared on one of the many Covet groups on Facebook. As someone familiar with Islamic customs and a lot of observant Muslim friends, I felt the need to say something.
I knew being rude would serve no purpose. So I tried being polite.
But the backlash that came in response to my comment was unexpected, painful, and in some ways, eye-opening.
This is just a sample of the comments I received. And barring one person, everyone else wanted to believe that I did this to create drama and conflict. One person even tried to school me on the different types of head coverings in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism– all the while forgetting that the logic of all those head coverings is the same. A traditional idea of modesty that does not go hand-in-hand with half-nude dancers.
Now, I am not about to get into a discussion about whether the lack of a covering is immodest or not. In my opinion, how much skin a woman shows has nothing to do with her character or her piety. But I do not believe in disrespecting symbols that are sacred to other people even if I disagree with what they represent.
It is a basic courtesy and one that shouldn’t be very hard to follow.
Of course, not everyone recognizes this. As one person mentioned– that just because people have spent money on the hijab HA, they have the right to use it how they want. Does this also mean that people who spend money on fake Native American costumes have the right to wear it how they want on Halloween? Does it mean it is okay for white people to wear dreads and braids while refusing to acknowledge where they come from? Is it okay to do any of this while real Black people are called unprofessional for wearing their natural hair and women in hijabs are called terrorists and told to go back to where they came from?
Well, it is a game. And a 9-dollar virtual hair accessory is not cheap at all. But it is definitely not more worthy than a real person who chooses to wear the hijab despite all the risks that come with it. It is definitely not more worthy than the lengths to which this person goes to follow the tenets of their faith. It is also not more worthy than what it means to them.
And we have no right to trample all over that– especially after being told by someone that it is offensive and hurtful.
Of course, in Covetland, people like me need to chill or be banned from commenting.
And oh, if you’re curious, this is how I dressed my doll up!