As summer quickly approaches, warm weather, Senioritis and music festival season has already begun. While students and celebrities alike begin to assemble their summer wardrobe, it’s important to ensure that fashion choices are not culturally insensitive or offensive.
You may have stumbled across the term “cultural appropriation” on social media, where even the highest profile celebrities are being held accountable for their style choices. Justin Bieber came into fire over his “dreadlocks,” and Kylie Jenner has frequently surprised and outraged social media with cornrows, fetishizating of black culture and without advocating for Black issues.
Although cultural appropriation has always been historically present, it’s become a mainstream topic due to young people’s immediate access to information and ability to facilitate dialogue to a larger audience through social media. In response, some are becoming more educated on social justice and racial issues that are not discussed in the conventional classroom.According to one blog, Unsettling America, cultural appropriation is “the adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another.
It generally is applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, or military status to the appropriating culture.” This “appropriation” often occurs without any real understanding of why the original culture took part in these activities or the meanings behind these activities, often converting culturally significant artifacts, practices, and beliefs into “meaningless” pop-culture.The most common examples of cultural appropriation in contemporary American culture include Black protective hairstyles (i.e. cornrows, box braids, dreadlocks), bindis, henna, hamsas, and Native American headdresses.
The bindi is very important in Indian culture, especially for women. A bindi is marked on an Indian person’s forehead to remind them about the purpose of life while they are not in prayer. Different colored bindis have various meanings; a red bindi is worn by married women tosignify true love and prosperity, while young girls are free to wear whichever color bindi they’d like. However, the religious and cultural significance of the bindi is completely wiped away when a non-Indian person wears it purely for aesthetic purposes. This happens often at summer music festivals, where it is rebranded as a “Bohemian” look.Another component of the “Bohemian” look is the peasant blouse, an article of clothing that Junior Carolina Hernandez Campos views as appropriation of her own culture.
“The dresses from my country [El Salvador] are called ‘peasant tops,’ and a lot of people get [Central American styled, colorfully embroidered peasant blouses] from Urban Outfitters and wear them to Coachella,” said Campos. “If someone from another culture wore it, especially if they’re white, it would be called ‘indie’ or ‘Bohemian.’ But if I wore that with all the colors from my culture, they would think ‘Oh, she’s a Chent,’ or someone who doesn’t speak English.”
This debate can be countered by the belief that people of color assimilating to Western culture is a form of cultural appropriation. The most commonly cited example is that o f Black girls straightening their hair.
First of all, straight hair is not exclusive to White people. People from every continent have straight hair. Secondly, Black girls all over the world have been taught from day one that in order to be considered beautiful they must adhere to Eurocentric beauty standards. Black girls are shamed and taunted for their Black features, told that their natural hair is “messy,” or “unprofessional” for school or the workplace.
In South Africa, Pretoria High School enforced Black female students to chemically straighten their hair, their afro deemed as ‘untidy’ according to The Guardian.com. Many people brush off the idea of cultural appropriation as “just a hairstyle.” But the roots of cultural appropriation make it an issue that we need to take seriously. Cultural appropriation goes back to colonization, when ruling nations imperialized countries and stripped the Indigenous people of their resources and culture for their own use and claimed them as their invention.
Although many times cultural appropriation is not committed with ill or racist intent, it is still deeply oppressive and offensive to the people of color that are exploited. The concept of cultural appropriation may be new to you, but it is a complex, sensitive issue that deserves attention. There is no excuse to remain ignorant when there is so much information on the subject easily accessible. In the words of Hernandez Campos: “Educate yourself. That’s the main thing, because ignorance is the worst when it comes to culture. Cultural appropriation is a broad subject. You have to go into depth, but it’s your responsibility to educate yourself. And you can’t be like ‘I didn’t know!’ Well now you know.”
White girls: Your hair can’t tolerate the pulling from black protective hairstyles, such as cornrows and box braids. You’re going to ruin your hair, babygirl! You’re also harming an entire community, as well as yourself. Black protective hairstyles were designed and are only functional for black hair.People of color: If you see your homegirl slipping up, wearing crystals on their forehead or wearing cornrows, you need to check them!!
Giving your friends a “pass” to appropriate your culture isn’t okay – you are not the spokesperson for your entire community, when it is in fact harmful.When it doubt, don’t get your summer outfit ideas from Kylie Jenner.