Every time you open up Instagram, there is always someone under fire for cultural appropriation. And it often spurs this never-ending, unswaying fight between internet activists and trolls. ‘It’s 2020 why do people even care, people can dress however they want,’ is what I hate hearing the most. Except, it’s not just a piece of garment is it.
Wearing another person’s culture for a day because it’s cool and everyone is doing it at Coachella does not justify it. At all. I’m not sure if some people can comprehend this, those cultures have a long and valuable history that cannot be treated as another OOTD(outfit of the day).
Let us understand the difference between appropriating and appreciating. Some people have spent minimal time actually educating themselves on the culture that they presume, and just because they do yoga every once in a week, probably have an Indian friend, and have tried a curry once in their life, they can suddenly prance around in a sari (traditional Indian garment) and wear a bindi. No, just no.
Cultural appropriation is the act of taking elements from a culture that isn’t your own, in other words picking and choosing what part of the culture you wish to participate in. This is not cool and it often derails meanings of the element that people decided to reduce to a ‘fashion statement.’ Cultural appropriation is wearing a hijab for fun, without having to deal with any of the aggression Muslim women face on a daily basis. It’s doing blackface, so you can look like your favourite rapper, without having to face the relentless discrimination black people deal with, which is inherent to their skin. Remember it’s someone else’s pain, not your fashion. It’s a fairly easy concept to grasp, but many people still argue that in being able to ‘express’ themselves, they use cheap imitations from eBay of someone else’s culture rather than being considerate of the culture they are jacking from. Really, people, it’s simple.
Cultural appropriation is a hard concept to grasp, so think of it this way. Imagine this, you create something wonderful, only to be ridiculed and pushed away. Someone else uses the same idea, and because they have a bigger presence, they’re treated better, as if they were the original mastermind under that creation and hence, they’re profiting from your credit!
So, you can imagine the internal chorused frustration black women feel when they see Khloe Kardashian rocking cornrows or faux fros or… Bantu knots. Or when “Instagram baddies” tan 10 shades darker than their natural tone, whilst actual black/brown people struggle to be treated equally. Yes, whilst non-black women predominantly white are praised for adapting to a culture or being called ‘chic’, black women are struggling to live through their everyday duties, at work, at school, because they wear ‘dreads’ or just their natural hair and it’s suddenly deemed unprofessional. Huh? So, everyone else can benefit but me?
There is a fine, marked line between appropriating and appreciating. Before you try out a different ‘cultural look’ ask yourself:
“Am I reducing this to a fashion statement?”
“Are people of this culture the ones who are profiting off of this?”
“Do I know anything about this item or where it originates from?”
Appreciating is when you actually spend the time to understand the culture, you might have visited the country and you know the cultural meaning behind the items you wear. You know the history, sometimes you do it out of respect. A prime example would be:
“Angelina Jolie visited Pakistan, wore a hijab as a sign of showing respect to towards the women.”
However, wearing native headdresses to a music festival does not count as appreciation.