Written by: Jennifer Ngo – Grade 10
Lately in pop culture, there has been lots of talk about cultural appropriation. However, what is cultural appropriation? It is when a dominant group takes elements of a minority group, such as the group’s cultural practices, dress wear, etc. and misuses them by making fun of it or not understanding its original purpose. It stems off of stereotypes and its presence can seen mostly in pop culture.
We often see this example in many music festivals in America such as Coachella. People like to wear the Native peoples religious headwear as “fashion”. However, these headwears are very symbolic in Indigenous culture and it is quite offensive for them to be only used as “fashion” and to not be taken seriously. Cultural appropriation also has a very big presence during Halloween, where many people think it is okay to dress up as other cultural or minority groups, when in reality it is not. An example would be having your face painted black and dressing as a stereotypical “black person”, which is quite mocking of the minority group. When dressing up, it should always be kept in mind that if your “costume” may potentially offend someone, then you should try thinking twice.
However, we are always surrounded with these stereotypes, including in the media. In this article, it describes how one of many high fashion labels used other culture’s dresswear as the “next new thing”. In this case it was African textiles and tribal jewellery, which often have deep meanings behind them. Sadly this is also not the only place we see this happening. Many celebrities have been accused of cultural appropriation as well.
Take Selena Gomez for example who donned the Bindi during the MTV Movie Awards about 3 years ago. While some think that the she was simply taking an appreciation for the culture, a Hindu spokesperson Rajan Zed stated that, “The bindi on the forehead is an ancient tradition in Hinduism and has religious significance, it is also sometimes referred to as the third eye and the flame, and it is an auspicious religious and spiritual symbol. It is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed.”
When elements of a minority culture are transformed into a “trend” by big-name celebrities, we often overlook the cultural group themselves. For example, people who practice Hinduism traditionally, have had struggles with embracing their identity because of discrimination by dominant groups.
Another example would be society’s reaction towards cornrows. Cornrows originally came from black culture and is mostly worn by people that are “black”. However, there is a lot of stigma when a black woman dons cornrows while walking on the streets because it is considered “ghetto”. Yet when a white woman who is a celebrity dons cornrows it suddenly becomes “trendy, edgy, or the new look”. This is a problem because when celebrities take on cultural elements, they are praised to be “unique” and a “fashion icon”, while the people-group themselves are degraded for practicing their traditions long before it was displayed on western media. This type of thinking can affect many cultures and it only ends up hurting the culture and the people in it.
While we can now see the negative impact from cultural appropriation, it is a very big relief that this has been a social discussion topic. The Internet and many different platforms of social media has been a great way for people to voice their thoughts on issues relating to cultural appropriation and help many more people become aware of the rising issue. We are also able to criticize high end labels and celebrities about how they are practicing cultural appropriation and push them into not doing it again in the future. Another way we can lessen this practice is having the ability to boycott products that practice cultural appropriation. This way, many of the clothing companies are more aware of what they can or cannot sell as obviously they do not want a bad reputation with the public.
As a school community and the future generations of our society, we should be more aware about what’s happening around us and help cultures around the world have a voice when their cultural wear or customs is seen in Western society.