Harris and Ewing | Courtesy Library of Congress
BY MADI TORTORA
When is it acceptable to wear a bindi as a fashion statement? How about a headdress? The answer may shock you, especially if you’re Kylie Jenner: unless it is a part of your culture, leave it out of your wardrobe.
With a lot of media focus on it nowadays, you may be wondering “What is cultural appropriation?” In the shortest possible explanation, cultural appropriation is when members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by said dominant group. So, where’s the problem?
Cultural appropriation is a lot of things, but a cultural exchange is not one of them. Appropriating someone else’s background allows people to decide that they are entitled to someone’s culture, no matter if they respect that person’s identity or not. This is different from cultural assimilation, which is the fusion of ethnic minorities into the dominant culture to resemble the majority group in terms of norms, behaviors and values.
In the media today, people who are in the spotlight aren’t necessarily the role models that society may need or want. Women like Miley Cyrus, Kylie Jenner and Katy Perry are using their popularity to perpetuate stereotypes and politically incorrect values through both dress and actions.
For example, Katy Perry’s performance of her song “Unconditionally” at the 2013 American Music Awards brought a lot of attention to her encouraging of a very real stereotype for Asian women. Perry was wearing a non-traditional, knock-off style japanese kimono and a chinese cheongsam, while behind her were women swirling around with parasols and visions of cherry blossoms blooming across the stage.
Critics referred to her performance as a “ beautiful homage to Asian culture,” but let’s just call it what it is: complete and utter cultural appropriation. For Perry, it was just a costume, merely a character; but for Asian women everywhere, this stereotypical image has intense sexist and racist consequences that cannot be taken off at the end of the day. White men actually expect many Asian women to live up to that exotic “geisha girl” stereotype, and to be completely submissive and docile. To bring attention to this common stereotype is only giving it more opportunity to misrepresent an entire culture.
Kylie Jenner is extremely famous in the fashion, modeling and reality TV industry because of her family’s popularity in the media. Currently, it seems as though Jenner’s favorite way to be noticed is to completely appropriate another culture, be slapped on the hand, then do it again. Many a time, she has been seen fashionably sporting cornrows and dreadlocks. In a particular photoshoot, Jenner was even seen in an over-edited photo to be sporting a significantly darker skintone than her own.
In another instance, while Disney channel star, Zendaya, walked the red carpet, Fashion Police co-host Guiliana Rancic claimed that her dreadlocks made her look like she “smelled of weed” or “patchouli oil.”
One should not be wearing or appropriating something from a different culture without understanding the cultural significance that comes with it.You should be able to love and appreciate someone’s culture without stealing important things from that culture for one’s own gain.
As “Hunger Games” star Amandla Stenberg stated in her video “Don’t Cash Crop on my Cornrows,” “Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed high fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves. Appropriation occurs when the appropriate is not aware of the deep significance of the culture they’re partaking in.”