Like their parents and aunts before them, the Kardashian children have entered the murky depths of the cultural appropriation debate, thanks to an Instagram Story Scott Disick posted over the weekend, showing some of them performing a Māori Haka dance. Reactions to the video are so mixed, we thought this was a good chance to discuss opinions on what’s good and bad about learning dances from another culture.
On Saturday, Disick posted a video of daughter Penelope, Kim Kardashian-West’s daughter North and son Saint, and two other unidentified children on a set of stairs dancing the “Ka Mate” a Māori war dance made famous by the New Zealand rugby team the All Blacks, according to the New Zealand Herald. They’re also chanting all the words in Māori.
“TikTok ya don’t stop. Ain’t got nothing on us!” Disick wrote on the video.
The calls of this being another instance of Kardashians committing cultural appropriation came swiftly. (We’ll try to quote only those that appear to be by people of Māori descent.)
“@ScottDisick take your instagram story down of the kids doing a ‘haka,’” j.nelle wrote. “It is culturally unacceptable. Do you even know the meaning of the Haka & Pukana? May seem like innocent ‘fun’ but [I] suggest you LEARN the reasonings and don’t MOCK OUR CULTURE. Kia ora.”
“This is so fucking disgusting,” Jaylyn Jean wrote. “My culture is not your fucking trend. I’ve officially lost all respect for America. STOP BEING DISRESPECTFUL YOU UNCULTURED IDIOTS.”
At the same time, some defended the video.
“Their pronunciation is better than some pakeha, just saying,” Jordan Lee said. “I think it’s cute & happy our cultures being embraced internationally.”
The thing is, this is not a clear-cut issue, as Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki explained to the New Zealand Herald.
“On the one hand, it’s a great thing,” Tukaki said. “On the other hand, I would love to have a conversation with them about what the haka means and what motivated them to do it. … It has to be done with true intent. It’s not just something that’s good for Instagram or social media.”
That’s where we Disick went wrong. And he wouldn’t be the first to do so.
The haka is a ceremonial dance, and it’s also a part of modern culture, thanks to the Kiwi sports teams that have made it famous. And in my opinion, it is OK for children to learn the dances and music of other cultures, because that is how humans connect with each other. As a kid, I learned steps of dances from Hawaii, West Africa, and other cultures that aren’t mine, and it was a wonderful experience.
“Non-Māori are welcome to learn the haka, however, it’s important that you respect the culture and traditions behind the dance,” reads a feature on NewZealand.com. “Learn the words and make sure you understand the meanings behind the chants, the significance of a particular haka and what you are trying to express when performing it.”
We have no idea how the Kardashian kids learned the dance — whether a friend from New Zealand taught it to them, or they just saw it on the internet. If it was part of an effort to learn about another culture, that’s awesome. Stephen Colbert just did so for the Late Show, sharing highlights of his visit to the country.
The problematic appropriation happens when someone like Scott Disick, whose social media presence is a source of income, posts a video like this without context. That puts these kids (and by extension, him) at the center of the narrative, not the people who created the dance. Don’t do that.
TLDR: Honor people fairly for their work and culture, and don’t steal it as your own or wear it as a Halloween costume. And if those people ask you to stop, just do that and move along. Your kids do NOT care whether your video goes viral or not.
Add these great children’s books by Black authors and illustrators to your kids’ shelves.
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