So apparently we live in a harmonious world where inequality and injustice have miraculously disappeared. It is a utopia known as a melting pot (not to be confused with fondue). If we want to wear an Native American headdress or bindi to a musical festival WE CAN OKAY IT’S NOT RACIST IT’S CULTURAL APPRECIATION IT’S TOTALLY FINE AND YOU CAN’T STOP US. (note: sarcasm).
Cultural appropriation and racism can be tricky to talk about. So I’m going to let someone who isn’t super White and privileged (*cough* myself), explain it.
Cultural appropriation feeds into Othering and casual racism. Outsiders donning cultural dress is not outwardly stating a dislike for the people whom the dress stems, but it is completely disregarding the hardship and ridicule that group may face/ have faced for wearing and upholding those same aspects. As Johnson (2014) explains, “Cultural appropriation shows that you don’t have to like a person or respect their identity to feel entitled to take from them.”
Musical festivals seem to be one place particularly festering with cultural appropriation. You’ve got Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hugens wearing bindis, the Jenner sisters in Native American headdress and a million other hipsters following suite.
What this says inherently is that you do not respect or understand the (often brutal) history that goes with those cultural pieces; you’re going to claim them as your own and wear them because ~fashun~. This practice has become so rampant that Osheaga, a music festival in Montreal, has banned wearing native headdresses. As Marsh (2015) explains, “any attendee who shows up wearing a headdress will have it confiscated upon entry or be asked to leave and return without it”, in an effort to respect the nation’s First People and generally not encourage entitled, ignorant behaviour.
Another very popular example of this is White people sporting dreadlocks or cornrows. These are things thought to be ‘edgy’ if Kylie Jenner does them, but dirty if Zendaya dares.
There was severe backlash from Rancic’s racially fuelled comments, even if they were not intentionally racist. Kelly Osborn walked from the show Fashion Police following the incident and Rancic issued an apology, but the proof is there – White women with Black hair are encouraged, and Black women with Black hair are judged.
Avila (2015) from Everyday Feminism explains that the core issue with cultural appropriation is that dominant groups take from marginalised groups, same old story. This practice is “tinged with leftover power dynamics from colonialism” (Avila, 2015) and does nothing in the way of building respect between races. Just ask Katy Perry about the appropriateness of literally pretending to be a Geisha?
So, how can we avoid participating in cultural appropriation? Simply, by knowing an item’s origin, and only taking on board what is authentic to you (Avila, 2015). If you are not Native American, do not wear a headdress; if you are not Black, don’t have dreads. And for gods sake, do not refer to specific cultural dress or practices as inferior or dirty.
Avila, T 2015, Here Are 5 Cultural Appropriating Outfits It’s Time to Retire for Good, Everyday Feminism, viewed 31 August 2015, <http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/07/cultural-appropriating-outfits/>
Johnson, M. Z. 2015, What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm, Everyday Feminism, viewed 31 August 2015, <http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/?utm_source=SocialWarfare&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=SocialWarfare>
Marsh, C 2015, ‘Osheaga’s headdress ban shows festival’s zero tolerance for cultural appropriation’, The Guardian, viewed 31 August 2015, <http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2015/jul/17/osheaga-music-festival-headdress-cultural-appropriation?CMP=fb_gu>