It is around a year on from Glasto-gate, or, depending on your perspective, headdress-gate, and of late I have again received a number of requests for interviews about the petition’s success. Because of this, I felt it beneficial to return to the topic in writing, so here I have compiled and amended a selection of answers to questions I was posed last year. I hope it will contribute in some way to future discussions about the issue of cultural appropriation.
– Daniel Round, October 2015.
What inspired your decision to start the online petition to prevent Native headdresses at Glastonbury?
I have Native friends in North America who convinced me that things needed to change regarding the cultural representation of Native Americans in 2012 and 2013, at the same time as the Idle No More movement was on the rise in Canada. Then, after seeing more headdresses than ever before at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival, I decided to set up the petition. I wasn’t alone in the UK in thinking that it had got to the point where action needed to be taken – the music journalist Dorian Lynskey wrote an excellent piece just after I penned my first email to the festival, stating that we need to declare “war” on cultural appropriation. Celebrity headdress controversies at the time seemed to have the effect of pushing cultural appropriation up the agenda for many observers of culture.
Did you have any particular negative or positive feedback from the general public about the petition?
I think there were three waves of reaction: first, a great response from the people who this matters to – Native American civil rights activists and festival-goers who are sympathetic to the cause; then a torrent of reactionary trolling and angry “political-correctness-gone-mad!” backlash online; and once that had all calmed down, a return to positive discussions in response to more celebrity headdress controversies (e.g. Ellie Goulding). A lot of the negative stuff was ad hominem, anyway! Hopefully, any consciousness raised via the Glasto petition and sale ban will help to bring a maturity to future discussions when the issue inevitably arises again in the UK.
Do you hope that this step from Glastonbury will influence other festivals to make the same changes?
Absolutely. It is one thing for Glastonbury to make such a decision, but if a major festival on North American soil was to follow its lead, that would be even more significant. Already Bass Coast in Canada had gone one step further than Glasto in banning the headdress altogether. A lot of pressure online seems to be directed at Coachella festival – hopefully it will continue, and force the festival to consider taking a position.
Why are festivals an important institution in promoting awareness of cultural appropriation?
Well, Glastonbury is uniquely important given its standing among British festivals, and as the festival that has always been at the forefront of leftist activism, social consciousness, etc. As for other festivals, I can only hope they take heed of Glasto’s decision, especially those in North America. As I said, Coachella is the biggie. A common response from online observers in North America was: “your move, Coachella!”
Do you think that there can be any positive implications of cultural appropriation (particularly in fashion)?
Cultural appropriation, no, but certainly transculturation is hugely positive – indeed, culture and fashion by their very nature transcend physical and imagined borders. Unfortunately there is some confusion when we have these discussions. That is why I hope the Glastonbury decision helped to raise awareness and foster understanding.
Prior to this change, some festival goers may have been unaware of the problems caused by wearing headdresses and imitating other cultures. Do you think that the success of your petition and bringing this subject into the news will encourage people to become more aware of this and hopefully start a wider conversation about cultural appropriation?
I hope so, that was the main aim of this, really – to raise awareness and educate rather than to legislate. As I was ignorant and then made aware of the issue myself, I value the power of consciousness raising. I hope this aspect of it will contribute in making people stop and think about the historical issues at play in much the same way with blackface, for example. In the British context, white Brits work with and live beside black and Asian Brits, and so many are aware and considerate of historical grievances, inequalities and symbolic issues. However, most British people don’t personally know Native Americans or their plight – hence the added importance of raising awareness and inculcating a sense of fairness when it comes to the less well known Native American issues.
I will also add that I hope that any consciousness raising done here with cultural appropriation will also extend to people in the UK taking an interest in other even more pressing issues for indigenous people in the US and Canada – poverty, economic inequality, issues around land and resources, etc. etc. Idle No More and other groups are doing excellent work on such issues. If just a few people in the UK have a more internationalist outlook after this and a new interest in Native American affairs, then it is a small success but a success nonetheless! Racism transcends borders, and so should anti-racism.