How do i wear a lei and isn’t it racist?

A lei is traditionally worn during the Aloha ʻAha Hou ceremony in Hawaii, but some people wear them as a way to embody their Polynesian heritage. However, it can be seen as cultural appropriation or borderline racism to wear a lei outside of this context.
Regardless of intention, lei are seen as sacred in some cultures and are symbols of love, beauty and welcome. As such, they should only be worn in certain circumstances. Most people think that wearing a brightly coloured plastic lei is a no-brainer, but it’s important to know the history behind this practice.
In Hawaii [see “Flickr” for more information], lei are worn during the Aloha ʻAha Hou ceremony as a symbol of love, peace and unity. At this point, many people want to wear lei in their everyday lives and some create their own means of cultural expression, making them a symbol of appropriation.
Appropriation is when someone takes something that belongs to one culture and uses it in a way that is unlikely to be accepted by the original culture. For example, Americans wearing Chinese dress at the Chinese New Year celebration or people from China wearing American dress at the Western New Year celebration are appropriating elements from another culture – both parties should be aware of this fact.
The difference between appropriation and cultural exchange is about intention. When people exchange cultural elements, there is a sense of respect for the original culture that does not exist when someone appropriates it. So why are some people still wearing lei?

is wearing a lei cultural appropriation
is wearing a lei cultural appropriation

Cultural Appropriation & My Leis Hat’s Not Racist…

In the Hawaiian language, ʻaloha isn’t just a word, it’s an idea. Aloha ʻaina means love for the land. This is similar to Native American’s love for the Earth and black people’s love for Africa. It is a concept that cannot be owned by any one person or group of people. Cultural appropriation occurs when a dominant culture dresses in the clothing, customs, or beliefs of a marginalized culture. This is the exact opposite of cultural appreciation. In this instance, Hawaiian people have been “appropriating” their own culture by wearing leis or Hawaiian shirts as a way to celebrate their love for Hawaii, but it has backfired as correct/corrected people claim that wearing a lei is racist symbol.
In the 1970s, Hawaii’s image of being a tropical paradise was spread throughout Japan and it was seen as a place to release your worldly pressures. The commercialization of these symbols has caused Hawaiian culture to be appropriated by white people and led many to believe that they are Hawaiian natives. Furthermore, I witnessed this when an Asian-American person I know said that he felt like he didn’t fit in with either his Asian or American culture because he couldn’t find anyone to relate with. So he said, “If I could just be Hawaiian, then I would fit in with that culture.” The problem is that Hawaii is an American state and a Polynesian cultural symbol.

is wearing a lei cultural appropriation
is wearing a lei cultural appropriation

Is Cultural Appropriation an Issue of Race?

People who claim that it’s a form of cultural appropriation to wear a lei often ignore the fact that Polynesians are still living and breathing, making their past and culture alive today. Hawaii is an actual place with people who are directly affected by what is said about their culture. Wearing a lei as a way to celebrate Hawaii’s ʻaina doesn’t make you an appropriator, it just makes you proud to be Hawaiian. Had this happened in the United States, people would understand that wearing the clothing of a different culture can only be seen as respect and not racism.
I am not asking you to stop wearing leis or Hawaiian shirts, but if you do realize the problems with wearing them, fight against it. Do not let people tell you what you should and shouldn’t wear. Talk to people who are against cultural appropriation and show them the proper way to be Hawaiian. If they don’t learn from your actions, then back away from them in silence until there is no longer a problem with cultural appropriation in Hawaii.
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This article was edited to avoid the appropriation of the voice of a real Hawaiian person. It is only one person’s opinion on cultural appropriation. If you have another opinion, please feel free to make your own blogpost! There are many people who do not agree with this article.

is wearing a lei cultural appropriation
is wearing a lei cultural appropriation