By Adriana Cárdenas /
As tensions between different cultures and ethnic groups continue to rise in modern society, cultural appropriation has widely become a topic of discussion. According to Maisha Z. Johnson, the Digital Content Associate and Staff Writer of Everyday Feminism, cultural appropriation refers to “a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.” Now, the problem is that every time someone, in most cases a Person of Color (PoC), labels a situation as appropriating culture, others respond by saying things such as “it’s not that serious” or “why does everything always have to be about race?” The reason that it IS that serious is because it is hurtful to those PoC when something within in their culture is misrepresented by someone else and then idolized when in reality, those parts of the culture that are being misrepresented are what PoC are so heavily stereotyped for and judged by.
Often times, the celebrities who people look up to and aspire one day to be like are the ones who appropriate various cultures, whether they are aware of it or not. For example, during 2014’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Vanessa Hudgens, an American actress and singer, made headlines when she wore a bindi and later posted a photo on Instagram with a caption that read “#bindimarks.” Since ancient times, bindis have been an important aspect of Indian tradition. They are used by both men and women in that culture to signify various things, from marital status to their purpose in life. However, Hudgens merely used it to be “trendy and chic”, causing it to simply become a fashion accessory and nothing more. Yet in the 1980’s, in Jersey City, a group known as “The Dotbusters” sought to “get Indians to move out of Jersey City” and went as far as beating to death Indians who wore silk garments, bindis, or other traditional Indian attire
Another minority that is very often the face of scrutiny is African Americans or blacks in America. As I have witnessed firsthand on television and through various sources on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, black women are critiqued on a daily basis for things such as the texture of their hair to their physical features, e.g. big lips, large backside. Many people refer to black hair as “horsehair” and often times automatically relate it to being not well taken care of, when in reality, that’s just how the texture of black hair naturally is. But dreads and cornrows in the fashion industry, or simply just on your average white person, are seen as “cool and trendy.” For a few years now, Miley Cyrus has become the face of twerking. Whenever she has had a performance at a nationally televised awards show or at the shoot of a new music video, she has made it a routine to twerk alongside her black backup dancers. On the other hand, when a black woman is seen twerking for her own enjoyment and entertainment, she is automatically labeled as being “ratchet and ghetto” and assumed to be of low class.
A culture is not something that one can decide to be a part of one day and then decide to leave behind the next. One cannot take something from a culture that has historical value and meaning to make one seem “different” and “fashionable” and then turn around and judge or stereotype the originators of those things once the person appropriating same culture decided that he or she no longer wants to embrace it. A person cannot wish to look like someone of a different culture and lifestyle, but disappear when that group is facing hardships within the community or nation for the exact things that he or she copied.
Today, as more and more attention is being brought to the subject of cultural appropriation, measures are beginning to be taken in order to bring peace to the PoC who are affected by this issue. Colleges and universities within the United States are setting regulations as to what students can and cannot wear to events such as fraternity parties, Halloween parties, and other events hosted by that institution. The University of Washington sent out a video to its entire student body in which “students from various ethnic groups and of various sexual orientations said that almost any portrayal of them can cause a wound.” Other schools such as Duke University and the University of Michigan have gone a different route and chosen to create social media and informative websites to encourage students to critically think about what they are choosing to wear in order to prevent them from offending any of their peers.
In order to reduce existing conflict among cultures and ethnic groups, individuals must begin by respecting each other’s feelings and resolving the problems and issues that they know can be resolved. If someone is not a PoC, he or she should not ever question why something is hurtful or offensive to someone that is. Cultural appropriation is a real issue. There is a difference between cultural exchange, in which different individuals both agree to exchange information regarding their culture in order to create a mutual understanding, and cultural appropriation, in which one is profiting from stealing parts of the culture of another, while the other is suffering from it. If anyone ever has to question whether wearing a certain type of clothing or hairstyle might offend someone, DO NOT wear it.