By: Embrya Townsend
Cultural appropriation is the assumption or use of aspects from a culture by someone not apart of that culture. Today, cultural appropriation can be seen throughout many different areas including sports, arts, language, music and fashion.
The most common form of cultural appropriation is in fashion. There are many things that are considered culturally appropriated including wearing attire from a different culture and styling one’s hair like someone from a different culture. This can be seen prominently throughout the music and entertainment industry with the appropriation of Black, Asian, and Desi cultures.
Examples of culture appropriation against Blacks can be seen throughout the fashion industry. High end fashion designers often dress their models in clothing and accessories that can be seen throughout African American communities and give them hairstyles stemming from African American men and women including braids, twists, cornrows, bantu knots, dreadlocks etc.
During the 2015 New York Fashion Week, both the DKNY Spring/Summer collection and the Marc by Marc Jacobs Spring collection styled their white models’ hair in bantu knots. Bantu knots derive from the African Zulu tribe and have been worn throughout Black and African communities for centuries. However, online website Mane Addicts raved Jacobs for his stylish use of the ‘twisted mini buns’; completely discrediting the origin and use of bantu knots by black and African women throughout the world.
Blacks and Africans aren’t the only people who have dealt with cultural appropriation on the runway. In 2015, Dsquared2 twin designers Dan and Dean Caten showcased a Native American/Navajo collection where white women were once again dressed in Native American prints and clothing. As if this wasn’t problematic enough, the designers went as far as to entitle the collection Dsquaw; ‘squaw’ being a derogatory term for a Native American woman who is ‘ promiscuous’. Native American culture is perhaps the most visibly appropriated culture in America. Navajo prints can be seen can be seen in everyday American life from clothing, to shoes, to household appliances. The cultural appropriation is everywhere.
Some people feel that cultural appropriation is a form of flattery from the person appropriating the culture. I beg to differ. There is nothing flattering about a white man wearing a durag on a runway or a white girl wearing box braids on Twitter. There is nothing flattering about a white man with dreads being labeled as ‘hipster’ while a black man with dreads is labeled a ‘thug’. There is nothing flattering about Kylie Jenner being called ‘trendy’ for wearing cornrows, while a black woman who has worn cornrows her entire life is seen as ‘ghetto’.
People who deny cultural appropriation fail to realize the fact that the only people being flattered are the ones appropriating the culture. There is nothing flattering about being hated, condemned and ostracized for your culture by people who in the same breath steal it, take credit for it, and capitalize from it. This is the problem with cultural appropriation.