How Not To Cultural Appropriate Like A Basic Bitch

When traveling to another country, it’s pretty tempting to assimilate to another culture. Not just tempting, it’s actually preferable. But what about bringing back those cultural practices and taking them out of context?

Recently, there has been a lot of talk of cultural appropriation, from Kylie Jenner wearing cornrows to women at Coachella wearing shiny beads on their foreheads or feathers around their head. And always, every Halloween, we’re lectured about the age-old, wildly offensive Pocahontas Halloween costume. You can read the most recent argument in a Teen Vogue article here.

Cultural Appropriation-Pocahontas
The dreaded Pocahontas costume.

So what even is Cultural Appropriation?

According to Wikipedia (very trust worthy new source, don’t play like you don’t use it)

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation is sometimes portrayed as harmful, framed as cultural misappropriation, and claimed to be a violation of the intellectual property rights of the originating culture. Often unavoidable when multiple cultures come together, cultural appropriation can include using other cultures’ traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and cultural songs without permission.”

Let’s break it down. In the melting pot that is the United States of America, what would we define as “our culture”? Hmm, kind of a hard question to answer. Every time I think of a subject, it actually only applies to a subgroup of people. But everyone wears sandals, right?

Cultural Appropriation-Japanese Sandals
Japanese sandals. Photo from: http://www.aliexpress.com

The modern flip-flop came from Japan and was brought to the United States after WWII when American soldiers brought this style of clothing over. Are we culturally appropriating flip-flops? Are we in “violation of the intellectual property rights of the originating culture”? The answer is yes. Yes, since flip flops were not invented in America and were not originally worn by Americans, technically, yes.

Could it be that we are appropriating in our every day clothing choices without even realizing it. Again, the answer is yes, yes we are.

So, why is everyone upset about Kylie Jenner’s cornrows, but not flip flops?

Culture Appropriation-Kylie Jenner Cornrows
Alleged Cultural Misappropriation Violation #1

Well haters will say the Japanese aren’t discriminated against. Ok, just check out these very real Japanese concentration camps, so let’s not get into comparing struggles. The real argument behind Kylie’s braids is the double standard it holds when comparing Black women to White women, which isn’t evident in the wearing of flip-flops. Kylie’s braids were seen as cool, fashionable, and edgy, but only because she was White. Black women have been doing cornrows for centuries. In fact it’s a protective style for their hair. Yet, our society makes Black women feel uncomfortable wearing cornrows in public and they fear being discriminated against, stereotyped, and not hired for jobs since cornrows on Black women are portrayed as ghetto, poor, or stupid.

Cultural Appropriation- beyonce braids

The Teen Vogue articles seems to be saying, Black women don’t want this White girl just stealing their hair-style without even acknowledging where the style came from or even standing up for the struggles a Black person goes through. #BlackLivesMatter, anyone? I mean, since Kylie dates Black men and appropriates Black culture from injecting her lips to wearing cornrows, you’d think she could use her platform to stand up for Black men being senselessly executed by police. Or nah? She only wants to appropriate a culture when it’s convenient for her? Well, that is not cool, and you can’t do that.

Well, actually you can. People can and will do whatever the fuck they want.

Her not using her platform for awareness isn’t cool, but her character shouldn’t have anything to do with her braids. The argument that she is appropriating braids is actually false when we really look at the history behind braids.

Cultural Appropriation-venus-of-willendorf
Venus of Willendorf. Photo from: http://www.bookishswint.wordpress.com

In reality, Black women did not invent the braid. The first braid was found on the oldest female sculpture in the world The Venus of Willendorf. The sculpture portrays a whole head of braids. And guess where they unearthed her? Austria. Birthplace of Hitler and Aryan af. The first depicted braid was found in Europe. Point blank.

In conclusion, braids have been used by all cultures and have always been decorative. Basically anyone who has hair, has had a braid at some point in their life. Vikings, Egyptians, Namibians, Indians, Incans, Chinese, you name it. Just because it benefits Black women in their hair growth process, does not mean the braid is owned by that culture. So instead of watering down the struggle to a fucking braid, let’s address the real underlying problem: forced cultural assimilation.

Cultural Appropration-Native Americans
Native American boys before and after forced cultural assimilation

Kylie Jenner will not suffer the same stereotypes a Black woman or other ethnic minorities would wearing braids because she does not have to assimilate. But is that really her fault? She was born White. She didn’t choose that. And she is embracing another culture. She thinks cornrows are DOPE. And that isn’t negative at all. So why are we mad?

What we’re really mad about is our forced assimilation, not her privilege. 

Forced cultural assimilation is a type of cultural assimilation that forces minority groups into an established and generally larger community. This enforcement can be in the form of a new language, legislation, education, literature, and worship. Unlike ethnic cleansing, the local population is not forced to leave a certain area but forced to become members of the dominant society.

When news channels rule out braids or schools take away hijabs, that is forced cultural assimilation. AND THAT IS ALL KINDS OF FUCKED UP. That is called institutionalized racism and we shall not stand for that. But won’t cultural appropriation help us fight against that? For example: if a White person wears braids or an Asian person wears braids, won’t it be that much harder for discrimination to take place? Or when a White girl wears boxer braids and hoops and so does a Latina and so does a Persian, won’t it be that much harder to apply “ghetto” to that style? What if White girls started wearing hijabs? Who will the ignorants call a terrorist then?

Cultural Appropriation- Hijab

So shouldn’t the real question be “Why can’t we wear braids?” And not “Why is she?

Our comrades, both White and Colored, can help each other on the struggle that is discrimination, prejudice, and stereotypes. By acknowledging and celebrating our cultural differences, we close those gaps, unify, and take a step in the right direction. 

Our comrades, both White and Colored, can help each other on the struggle that is discrimination, prejudice, and stereotypes. By acknowledging and celebrating our cultural differences, we close those gaps, unify, and take a step in the right direction. 

Stefanie from Postcards From Stef says:

“As a person like myself, who doesn’t have roots in one place because I moved every two years growing up, who never knows what to say when someone asks me where I’m from, and who has lived in many countries, I find the accusations of cultural misappropriation frustrating. It’s like I belong everywhere and nowhere…whatever happened to the idea of imitation being the highest form of flattery? We are all human beings who have been sharing ideas with one another since the beginning.”

Zoe from Elle Est Zoe eloquently says:

If the world wants to be OK with everyone and truly have peace, we need to be OK with some culture mixing. It’s OK if White chicks wear cornrows and chicks like me to wear haoris. It’s the first step in appreciating what’s awesome about someone not like you. It’s flattery. We can’t just get mad at one part and not all. As Americans we have all taken a piece of something from someone else and made it our own.”

With that said, assimilation should not be forced onto anyone. It is easily recognizable in institutionalized racism. For example: our names. Forced cultural assimilation starts at birth with the naming process where certain names supposedly define what culture you come from.

Cultural Appropriation-Names

I always hate it when people use their “American” names when that wasn’t their name to begin with. My mom gave me two names, an “ethnic” one and a “normal” one. And I think it is sick and disgusting that she felt she needed to do that for me. Because last I checked I was born in the United States and have a United States passport, and my name is as American as “Sally” or “Dave” ’cause I am literally as American as you can get. But she did that so that employers would not stereotype me just off of my name. She wanted to give my resume a fighting chance.

But fuck all that, I go by my ethnic one. Because you can be American and ethnic at the same time, and it’s about time people learn that. Just like how I can say the name “Sally” or “Dave” with ease and not apply any ideas to those names before meeting them, so should people be able to say “Marquita” or “De’Shawn” or “Guadeloupe” or “Xiu-Lu” or “Mohammed,” without any thoughts about the person before meeting them. By going by your real name, you are fighting for your culture. This is the only way to normalize our “different.”

The Teen Vogue Article

So yes, I found myself feeling some type of way about an article in a Feminism section, in a column titled “Girl Don’t Do It” written by a Black woman entirely to tell other women what to do (or what they can’t do). As if corporate society doesn’t boss her around all day long in her Blackness, and as if we needed yet another rule to abide by. The title specifically targeting White women, “Dear White Women,” was particularly offensive, in my opinion.

Cultural Appropriation-White Tears
White tears. Photo by Drew Angerer via Getty Images.

I am not defending White women. White guilt and White fragility are real things. But White women aren’t the only race that culturally appropriates. We all do (i.e. flip flop example). By targeting ONLY White women, we continue to create division and perpetrate racism, which doesn’t move anywhere near the end goal of acceptance.

So someone saying respect is being confined to our own culture is basic. You are not taking into account people from non-homogenous backgrounds who really have no defined culture. It is completely acceptable to be fluid in going from one to the next. And honestly that’s how we all should be. You can represent who you are, while being accepting of someone or somewhere you’re not originally from (where Rachel Dolezal went wrong).

But wait hold up, let’s not get it twisted. There are instances where cultural appropriation is definitely not OK. That is called Cultural Mockery

Cultural Celebration is not to be mistaken as Cultural Mocking or Cultural Robbing, even though all qualify as Cultural Appropriation. You see, dressing up as Pocahontas, the character–an admirable one at that–is different than dressing up as a Native American. You cannot dress up in Black Face and “be” a Black person. You cannot wear a sombrero and a mustache and “pretend” you are a Mexican. Putting chopsticks in your hair and mimicking Asian accents will never be culturally appropriate. You cannot dress up as an ethnicity or race. And no you cannot appropriate a culture with malicious intent or treat it as a joke. At that point, you are no longer celebrating culture, you are mocking it and enacting stereotypes.

Cultural Appropriation-Black Face

Also, you are not celebrating culture if you are claiming it as your own invention. For example, Alexander Wang “came out” with airbrushed t-shirts “You Can’t Buy Anywhere” during New York Fashion Week, when really they started with the hip-hop movement 60 years ago and have been selling at the fair for $10 ever since. Or when Balmain “brought back” Bamboo earrings and sold them for $844 when I’ve been buying those from the beauty supply for $2 since I started making money and they’ve never gone away. It is not appropriate to blatantly plagiarize styles from another culture without at least the acknowledgement of what inspired it.

3786639405_9b137366e0
Bamboo Door Knocker Earrings. Photo by Soul Jewelry via Flickr

I could never embroider a shirt in traditional Mexican style or re-invent the kimono as my fashion movement. No, that is THEIR fashion movement and has been in fashion for years, and it is beautiful. So just say so and rock it however you want to. Wear your forehead crystals, your braids, your air-brushed T’s, and flourish in celebrating our differences. Just be sure to do so in celebration.

So don’t tell me what I can and cannot do on some basic shit. You will see me stunting around museums as Frida in traditional Mexican dress, or on Halloween dressed up as Pocahontas ’cause she was the first cartoon-princess to stick up to the White man, yas girl.

Cultural Appropriation-Frida
I am not Mexican. Neither is the girl next to me. We love Frida. This is cultural appropriation celebration.

Yes, sometimes a bitch just wants to be a Von Trapp and I will wear my Austrian dirndl on occasion, OK? You might catch me trolloping around in my kimono on my no-bra days, and wearing cornrows to a concert, BECAUSE I LOVE CELEBRATING CULTURE AND I THINK ITS DOPE. And no, I don’t belong to anyone. But does that mean I don’t understand and am not an activist for POC rights? No, not at all. Why make that connection?

Culture Appropriation-Austrian Dirndl
Von Trapp, trapping hoes. Another example of cultural appropriation celebration.

Yes, I’m very aware fictional characters and cartoons can be based off of real characters that did not have happy fates and often times romanticize colonialism. But then address exactly that. Media portrayal is powerful and perpetrates stereotypes. Don’t attack the woman next to you who is just trying to live her life and not intending offense. It’s important to understand the difference in intent.

In addition, while it is always good to learn about a culture and the significance behind those items, we should also keep in mind that those items worn out of context no longer have those significant meanings. Crystals are spiritual in some cultures, headdresses mean leadership in another, but at Coachella, those meanings no longer apply. They’ve evolved into something completely different for a different culture.

This doesn’t mean everyone is respectful when they cultural appropriate, and it doesn’t make all instances right; it just means this conversation needs to evolve. Racism is so much more than just clothes or hair. Just because you don’t cultural appropriate doesn’t make you not racist. And just because you do, doesn’t mean you don’t understand colonialism and prejudice. Instead of addressing and attaching meaning to material things, conversations need to be had and racism should be addressed at its core.

So I encourage you to call out racism when you see it, but don’t declare all cultural appropriation as racist. You don’t know what a person’s background is or life experiences just by looking at them. When in dialogue, use it as an educational moment, not one of shame.

However, if you still don’t think that is appropriate and you would still like to attach negative meaning to fashion trends, go ahead and stay mad. Instead of getting other people to change, your efforts would be more productive in being an example of respect for others. At the end of the day, ain’t nobody gonna stop doing them.

If you’ve made it to the end of this article and feel offended, please read this.

18 Comments

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  1. I never heard of cultural appropriation as being a particular bad thing outside of American news and culture. In South Africa there are black people in sari’s, white people with dreads and Indian people with cornrows. We never grew up thinking this was weird. Even here in Kuwait, no one is judging each other if they are wearing a hijab or not wearing one or if a white guy is wearing traditional Kuwaiti dress, they locals are slapping him on the back not getting offended. Why such a big deal in the U.S?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s really common in non-homogenous society’s. Minorities make up a large percentage of the population but it’s still dominated by White-Americans. So imitations take place both in the form of flattery and in the form of mockery. In your case, maybe those people aren’t behaving in an ignorant manner. And also maybe the society is not as heterogenous. OR maybe they are just more open minded about cultural mixing. Who knows! But this sensitivity is rampant in American culture.

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    • It’s a big deal in the US because we are still dealing with rampant, pervasive racism at every level of our society. Our president is racist. Our employers are racist. Our schools are racist. Our police departments are racist. Our entire society is racist. At every turn, people of color are getting f**ked right and left. We’re supposed to be the great melting pot of the world, where everyone can show up, get a Visa, and say they’re American. But the American dream is a damn illusion if you’re not white. It’s not just an issue of being offended. It’s literally life & death right now. We live in an era where people of color are terrified just walking down the street that they will be GUNNED DOWN. So yes, they’re angry, and yes, they have every right to be, and you know what? In 30 years when we’re all past this, maybe we can have this discussion again, but until then, maybe just don’t be disrespectful because you don’t have to fear for your life and the life of your friends and your children every single day and fight against a system that is built to systemically oppress you so the least you can do is just NOT WEAR BRAIDS ON YOUR HEAD LIKE AN ASSHOLE.

      Source: am white, do not feel like my life is restricted in any way by not culturally appropriating others.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The sentiment behind your comment is correct. People of color, me being one of them, ARE oppressed. But the point of this article is NOT to reduce the struggle to just a braid because at that point we’re not arguing about the real struggle here. We can argue all we want about who the braid belongs to or who should and should not wear braids, but then we’re not tackling THE ACTUAL ISSUE. The least you can do is NOT not wear a braid. The least you can do is not be racist. We should actually be talking about racism and the systems that oppresses us, not disrespectfully reduce it to an article of clothing or a braid. If White people think they’re not assholes by not wearing a braid that’s fallacy. There are plenty of ways you can be an asshole and just because you don’t wear a braid doesn’t mean you’re not one. And just because you do, doesn’t mean you don’t understand the struggle. No one is saying that POCs are not oppressed and that we shouldn’t be respectful of other cultures, but the point of this article is to argue those systems, not nitpick on clothing and attack individuals in the process.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Like, I generally agree with you. And yet, you wrote an entire article about cultural appropriation instead of an entire article on How Not to Be Racist. If this is really such a meaningless issue as you believe, and it really takes away from the greater conversations and actions we SHOULD be taking, then by all means, include that discussion in your post. Make it a platform for social change instead of a racist gossip-fest and a memorial for the good ol’ days when we could wear Pocahontas costumes without feeling bad about ourselves. Where did you talk about the ACTUAL issues? What are the ACTUAL issues that you keep mentioning, that you claim we’re all detracting from by having this conversation (which you’re contributing to in the public sphere)? My comment was a clear outline of why this stuff DOES matter. I’d really like to see you walking the walk that you’re talking in the comments. Change this article into a vicious takedown of our systemically oppressive system. Explain systemic oppression. Point out racism in daily lives, especially in well-meaning people. Write an article called “How to not be racist like a basic bitch.” This? This doesn’t positively contribute to an anti-racist sentiment (and like a zillion people have explained that to you, people of color, people who are outspoken leaders in the blogsphere when it comes to issues like this). Sit back and listen and learn. That’s lesson #1 of not being racist: you don’t get to decide what is racist if you are not that race. When someone tells you you’re racist, yes even if you didn’t mean to be, you listen, you learn, you absorb, you do better in the future. I don’t see you learning or engaging here. I see you sticking to “I’m right and everyone else can go to hell” and that’s a damn shame, because I really think we agree on a lot of things and overall we have the same mindset (if I didn’t, I wouldn’t still be engaging with you in the comments here).

        Liked by 1 person

      • I get you. And that article is soon to come lol. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to touch on the systematic racism in one blog post. I also am in the middle of my dissertation and couldn’t write it all down. Anyway, I appreciate your discussion. Thank you for bringing up the empty pockets where people are able to make assumptions about my thoughts on racism. I will address those in a later blog post.

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  2. I can’t comment on black culture since the American context is so highly specific to American history and current affairs. But just in general terms, it’s usually a positive thing – especially where fashion (and food) is concerned. I mean, we have everyone’s food in Malaysia – or will do, eventually! And we kinda roll our eyes to the neighbours who are overly sensitive over whether other countries ‘can’ have ‘their’ cuisine.

    I can really think of only one way cultural appropriation would certainly be offensive. It’s when the cultural thing has a very specific context in the original culture, and the appropriation is done in a context that is anti-thetical to that, or gravely trivialises it. For example, a lot of Hindus are offended by the concept of ‘beer yoga’. But are totally proud/OK with yoga becoming globally mainstream otherwise, with or without its Hindu religious spirituality. I totally understand why.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love Malaysia and it’s mix of cultures that is reflected in the cuisine! I can understand that. Setting aside the obvious contradictory health practices with beer yoga, I can understand why Hindus may be upset. But are people practicing mocking or robbing the Hindu culture or are they celebrating it and evolving yoga into something they can adopt into their own culture? Think thats the question we need to ask ourselves before becoming overly upset. I feel the same way about people getting tribal tattoos since this is very symbolic to other cultures and my own, but putting a tattoo on your body is an act of celebration so it’s on me to let go my ill-feelings towards seeing that as a negative thing. But this is all my opinion, other people are allowed to feel different. Thank you for your input!!

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  3. Fuck yes!!! Thank you for writing this! I have never understood why people got so upset over this stuff.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I absolutely love this article! It sums up exactly how I feel about the “cultural appropriation” sensitivity that has rocketed out of (seemingly) nowhere in recent years. I love to travel, I love to experience new cultures, and I love to celebrate them. As long as I am not mocking or denigrating the other culture, surely it’s a good thing to embrace it in a positive light? Thanks so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes!!! Speak on it! Such an important topic! THANK YOU!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Like I mentioned on Instagram, this was an enjoyable article. Well thought out and well said. It gave me a different way of showing appreciation for other cultures. Keep up your wonderful blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hmm,

    This article had me nodding and grimacing gurrrl. I agree – cultural appropriation is a problem when any race (not just white people) claim something as their own, without recognition as to where it stemmed from. Also when they profit and/or benefit from this appropriation when the original race and/or cultural subgroup/ethnic minorities do not. To take your example as per braids and Jenner – that got hyped in the MSM ’cause they after clicks (lol) but that shit has been happening for years and is more an example of microaggression. Majority ethnicity groups wearing “urban” clothing, dreadlocks, and yes – cornrows and afros are not perceived, as you mention as being “ghetto, poor, or unacceptable for work.” This is the problem, not that they’re borrowing a style from a culture, but because their skin colour deems it acceptable/fashionable over the minorities. Additionally when fashion houses borrow from tribal hairstyles (e.g. bantu knots) that derived from Africa (as we all do!!!) and then are called “edgy and innovative” but then, black celebrities, for example, Alicia Keys, are called out as looking “weird or odd” for wearing a similar hairstyles. Nah B, I’m not here for it. I do agree that forced cultural assimilation is also a problem – but is different from cultural appropriation. Also it’s a much more nuanced issue than I think can be tackled ok I’m outtt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I soooo appreciate this comment and agree with everything you said. You’re not the only one that grimaced, this article caught a lot of hate on the internet. But I was expecting it to as this is a blog post not a dissertation on cultural appropriation and every living example of its nuances like you mentioned. There’s lots of awkward moments of cultural appropriation. And it’s ok to feel weird about it. For example, tribal tattoos are a part of my culture but people get it tatted on them everyday and don’t really know anything about it. It bothers me, yea. But them tatting something on themselves is them celebrating in whatever it means to them and I don’t have any business forming an opinion about what they wanna put on their bodies. And honestly it’s a waste of my time trying to argue about that instead of talking to them about privilege or colonialism or whatever other more important topic there is other than a tattoo, which is already taken out of context and the significance no longer is attached to it. The take away was just to talk about the underlying subjects behind clothing or item of significance, not bash the person wearing it or the item itself if it’s not used deliberately in mockery or robbery. In the case of Alicia Keys, I guess I classify it as forced cultural assimilation in that the majority is “allowed” while she is viewed as weird, causing societal pressure for her to conform. And that’s never appropriate. And I ain’t here for it either. But if you classify it under cultural appropriation, then its a matter of semantics but no that’s not appropriate. In general, there was a lot of room to make assumptions in this article, and make connections that weren’t directly stated in this article ever. It doesn’t mean I don’t validate those sentiments. Everything you said, I feel the same way. I am so appreciative to you for writing how you felt.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ohhhhh girl. This is terrible. Just because you CAN be a culturally appropriating, basic white bitch doesn’t mean you SHOULD be. You’re not going to get arrested, sure. You can do whatever the fuck you want. But just because you can be a dick doesn’t mean you should be. Being respectful and considerate of other people who don’t have the same privalege as you happened to be born with doesn’t actually restrict your rights, it just makes you not a douchebag. It’s not pie – giving respect and cultural acknowledgement to other people doesn’t take away any pride and joy from yourself.

    Like

    • Lol thanks for this comment Lia. I don’t disagree. I believe I said in the article to be respectful and acknowledge culture. But also for people to keep in mind that culture is sort of a wash when people mix together and that racial undertones should be talked about at their source, not to attack each other over clothes or hair styles that takes away from the bigger message. Sorry if you misinterpreted.

      Like

      • I didn’t misinterpret. You’re confusing the difference between racial identity and things that to you, seem ancillary. Nobody’s “attacking” anybody over hair style or clothing. What they’re doing is explaining why it’s actually shitty to wear a hairstyle or item of clothing without acknowledging the pain and suffering that is STILL BEING FELT TODAY by ACTUAL REAL PEOPLE for whom racial and cultural identity is NOT separate from physical expressions of racial and cultural identity. If you’t not a member of a race or a culture, you DO NOT GET TO DECIDE whether or not it “takes away from the bigger message” or whether enough time has passed that it’s no longer painful to appropriate or whether “actually, white people did it first.” That’s just not your call. I’m sorry that this is falling on deaf ears, but know that a lot of people really feel this stuff personally because it is a part of their DAILY LIFE, not a once a year dress-up limitation. Their feelings are valid, and the respectful and kind thing to do is to step back and sit down and validate that pain – because it IS part of the “bigger message.” You can’t parcel out the parts of racism that aren’t convenient for you and say “that’s just a distraction from the real issue.” It’s all the real issue, girl. All of it.

        Liked by 1 person

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