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? And what’s up with all these accusations about cultural appropriation?
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.”
Cultures have always had a mix and exchange. The fallacy in this argument ends there. IT IS UNAVOIDABLE. And actually, the mixing of cultures should be encouraged, especially in a place like The United States where there are so many subethnic groups and generational gaps that it’s impossible to place a person in just one box. In addition, the argument completely invalidates those of mixed races and may be white-passing. Accusing someone of appropriation is as ignorant as judging someone on their looks.
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 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.”
Examples In The Fallacy Of Cultural Appropriation
Let’s break it down. Everyone wears sandals, right?
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. Flip flops were not invented in America and were not originally worn by Americans.
So could it be that we are appropriating in our every day clothing choices without even realizing it. Again, the answer is yes.
What about Kylie Jenner’s cornrows?
The real argument behind Kylie’s braids is the double standard it holds when comparing Black women to White women. 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.
This White girl stealing a hair-style often worn by Black women, without even acknowledging where the style came from or even standing up for the struggles a Black person goes through, is typical Becky behavior. 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. Her not using her platform for awareness isn’t cool, and the double standard is wrong if not deadly, but the argument that she is appropriating braids or stealing the intellectual property rights of braids is actually false when we really look at history.
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.
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. The hairstyle doesn’t BELONG to anyone. So cultural appropriation is just not a thing you can claim when the origins were from no specific culture.
However, there is a problem when society is built around a “norm” which is whatever White People do or whatever White People feel comfortable with.
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.
But cultural appropriation should not be confused with forced assimilation. When news channels rule out braids or schools take away hijabs, that is forced cultural assimilation, otherwise known as institutionalized racism. Forced cultural assimilation starts at birth with the naming process where certain names supposedly define what culture you come from.
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 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.”
I’m not going to water down racism by claiming cultural appropriation when culture, especially in The United States, is fluid. In addition, the argument does not take into account people from non-homogenous backgrounds who really have no defined culture. And with travelers always preaching to “respect the culture” by assimilating to the country you’re traveling to, this cultural appropriation argument gets so confusing.
So someone saying respect is being confined to our own culture is basic.
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.
But there are instances where cultural appropriation is definitely NOT OK.
Below are three rules you can follow to stay in the clear of being an outright racist.
1. Cultural Mockery
Cultural Celebration is not to be mistaken as Cultural Mocking. 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 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.
2. Cultural Robbing
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. So yes, Wang, you can find them everywhere if you were even remotely connected to the culture that you stole from.
Even worse is when cultural artifacts that entire communities rely on are repacked and repurposed without permission. Like the French designer who stole a traditional indigenous Oaxacan design that is under a protected status due to these women making their living off of their traditional clothing, and then resold without permission or any royalties being paid for the design. It is never appropriate to blatantly plagiarize styles from another culture. Wearing the blouses isn’t the issue. The issue lies in profiting off of a community with no intent of collaboration.
3. When Someone From That Culture Tells You No
With all these Internet thugs in the world, people are fighting each other on cultural appropriation and aren’t even from that culture. For example, I’ve seen White women drag other POCs on cultural appropration and like, they’re not even from that culture, so shut up. I’ve seen Korean-Americans yelling at White women who dress up in hanbok Korean traditional dress, and not even realize that in Korea you get a discount in many places for wearing hanbok AND there are rental services being offered all over to take part in a traditional experience. Cultural exchange is encouraged. So sitcho ass down and stop speaking for people who are not offended.
However, when someone from that culture tells you no, you NEED to respect that. There’s just no going around it.
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. And 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.