Music festival season is upon us, which means it’s time to brace ourselves for the onslaught of photos of white girls wearing bindis and Native headdresses, bombarding our feeds and causing totally avoidable indignation. Although these are slightly more blatant forms of cultural appropriation, this offensive phenomenon is practiced everyday, constantly and in much subtler ways.
Everyone from Taylor Swift to the Kardashians to Katy Perry has been accused of cultural appropriation, so what is it exactly, and how can we avoid doing it?
Cultural appropriation is essentially when a person of a privileged group temporarily adopts the role of an “exotic other,” while obviously maintaining the ability to skirt the daily discrimination and systematic oppression the members of the marginalized group face. Historically, everything from slang, hairstyles, clothing, music and more have been appropriated from their rightful cultural owners.
Many people respond to accusations of cultural appropriation with, “What about all the people of color who appropriate our (i.e. white) culture?”
First, many would argue that there is nothing that specifically belongs in the “white culture” category; therefore, there is nothing to appropriate. But for the means of answering this question, the appropriate response would be that people of marginalized groups are often forced to adopt the culture of the dominant group out of necessity not recreation. Considering black women have been fired from their jobs for wearing their natural hair, it makes sense that some would opt to fashion their hair in a way that mimics white women’s. To contrast, when the dominant group adopts a marginalized group’s culture, it’s for fun.
Some offenses that occur continuously each summer are the vinas who get cornrows during their family vacation to Mexico or the Caribbean. Or those Halloween costumes that amount to “sexy” Native American.
Now before you are wracked with guilt about the sushi you ate for lunch, know there is a such thing as cultural appreciation, but the lines are blurry. An article in Everyday Feminism boils the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation down to two things: respect and mutual understanding. There is a meme going around the inter-web right now comparing Angelina Jolie’s appreciation of Muslim culture vs. the Kardashian/Disic’s notorious appropriation.
The best thing to do is for women in the dominant group, particularly white women, is to listen to our peers of color. If something you’re doing is making them uncomfortable or upset, respect their feelings. It is not your place to tell them they should not be offended. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not our culture to take.
Share this with your vinas, so you can avoid appropriation! And download the Hey! VINA app to meet other kind, respectful and openminded vinas in your area.
(Featured image via The Fightline)