Some time ago another blogger, the talented and charming, Jess of Daring to Jess invited me to write a post about cultural appropriation vs cultural appreciation. I was more than happy to do it. But, I wanted to get it right. I wanted to give this important and provocative subject justice.
So, here we go.
Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. … Often, the original meaning of these cultural elements is lost or distorted, and such displays are often viewed as disrespectful by members of the originating culture, or even as a form of desecration.
Desecration. A word like that made me think of one of my favorite RPGs, Dragon Age where mages (magic users for the uninitiated) can enter unholy covenants with demons and transform into tainted, demonic abominations.
Obviously, the word desecration let’s you know, dear reader, that cultural appropriation has a negative connotation and for good reason.
Cultural appropriation is like treating other people’s cultures like an all-you-can eat and not all-you-can stay buffet, picking and choosing which parts of a culture you want to take part in. It’s superficial. It’s shallow. It’s not a good look.
Why? Because you cheat yourself into not getting to know the people of said culture; being ignorant of who they are as individuals; lacking the culture’s history; its struggles, its beauty; its mistakes; its successes; etc.
Likewise, cultural appropriation isn’t looking at a culture’s multifaceted parts. Instead, it’s a practice of using bits and pieces of that culture as a fashion statement. Which is just plain tacky . . . or plain creepy like a study in the twisted doctor Frankenstein stitching the pieces of dead body parts to create his “masterpiece” or monster.
But I have digressed . . .
Some examples of cultural appropriation are:
Oh yes. I went there. Popular singers and actresses like Katy Perry and even Destiny’s Child (before Beyonce went solo) have sported kimonos and fetishized the geisha of Japan. Have these women — especially Katy Perry — considered how harmful it is for Asian women to fetishize the stereotype of the submissive and sexually exploit them for entertainment?
The question is, do these women even know what purpose the clothing and hairstyles serve? Do they care? Do they even know what the heck a geisha is? And is knowing important? Damn straight it is! Ask G.I. Joe.
Other cultural appropriation examples are wearing a hijab or cornrows in a selfie and posting these egocentric and annoying photos on Instagram because you think it’s cute or cool or whatever. However, people who naturally wear this attire aren’t immune to micro-aggressions that the “fashionistas” get praised for whilst sitting at home taking more selfies in the safety of their bedroom or bathroom.
Basically, a Muslim woman may face or have to deal with dirty looks as she shops for groceries or a Black woman who rocks cornrows will be sent home from work because her hairstyle isn’t considered “professional”. Even worse and more annoying is that people who play dress up with another person’s culture don’t even know why the culture they’re imitating has these types of hairstyles or clothes. Nor do they care to know! It’s arrogance in ignorance and I don’t understand why people love it so much! With search engines like Google at their fingertips, they couldn’t think to look up why people dress the way they do and why? Sheesh. I think maybe I’m asking too much . . .
For example, Black women have been rocking cornrows for decades. Historically, cornrows or braids, also called cane rows in the Caribbean, are an ancient traditional African style of hair grooming, in which the hair is braided very close to the scalp, using an underhand, upward motion to produce a continuous, raised row.
However, when white women like Bo Derek, Kylie Jenner, et al come along – then suddenly everyone loses their effing minds! Headlines declare, “Blah-blah or so-and-so has broken the Internet after doing such-and-such!” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/9-times-white-people-have-appropriated-black-hairstyles-since-2014_us_55a81211e4b0896514d0c3ca). Commenting viewers think it’s stylish, they think it’s beautiful, they think it’s oh-so effing amazing.
How often are Black women mentioned for the beauty of their hairstyles, the versatility of their hair by non-Black people? We’re often our own cheerleaders.
Cultural appropriation FLASH-ATTACK! (HADOUKEN):
In some predominantly white-audience magazines, Bantu knots are ignorantly called minibuns.
Uh, no. Just no.
What about the culture the hairstyle came from? Anybody heard of Africa? You know, the continent with over 50 countries and such diversity and history that its beauty could fill scores and scores of books? The hairstyle is also popular in Jamaica where my mum is from. After you wash your hair, you part your hair and then simply twist the hair (two parts — not three) and then knot it around to lock it in place. It can stay in place for days or more and when you untwist the knot, the hair falls in a lovely manner!
The social thriller movie, “Get Out”, written by Peele (the other half of the dynamic comedy duo, Key and Peele) is a perfect example of cultural appropriation on steroids. I’ll discuss those juicy tidbits either on another blog post or on my Youtube channel, Monique Monique, Quite Unique. 🙂 *rubs hands and giggles mischievously*.
Now, for the sake of argument, I shall play Devil’s advocate.
While browsing the Internet and all of its many wormholes, I noticed a comment by a White woman who pointed out that it’s not fair that Whites are often criticized for being cultural appropriation villains when non-Whites (particularly Black women) have committed crimes by appropriating White women’s hair. I considered responding to her lament, but fortunately another commentator, Tamika Mustipher, beat me to it. And I’m so glad she did because she was more patient than I would have been and I don’t think my response would have been as clear as Tamika’s.
Below is her explanation in all of its absolutely fabulous glory:
“Agreed! Overuse of heat appliances on hair does cause damage, regardless of ethnicity. I have to disagree with your idea “that cultural appropriation is what they call it when White girls wear cornrows” though. The problem with that statement is that it is far too broad and insinuates that every Black woman is concerned with the ways in which White women style themselves. Let me tell you, that couldn’t be further from the truth because I do not care what you or any other woman does with her hair. Yes, there are some who gripe about cultural appropriation, because it is a very real thing but in my opinion the insult of it is far more profound than hair. A Black woman wearing straightened hair or extensions is not necessarily trying to “be White”, just as a White woman wearing cornrows is necessarily trying to “be Black.” Riddle me this; was Bo Derek trying to be Black when she wore cornrows? No. She was a woman, working. Was Nicole Kidman, who admitted that she “ruined” her curls by heat straightening trying to be “more White” by straightening her locks? No. She simply preferred straighter hair. As I said above, and I’ll say again, we as women should be able to style our hair as we wish without negative commentary and attacks from anyone, ESPECIALLY other women.
As for your statement regarding Black women walking around with beautiful jet Black hair straighter than yours, and demanding that they stop trying to be White, have you taken the time to consider that perhaps your look may not be the look they are going for at all? In all my years, I haven’t seen very many White women with naturally, jet black, straight hair. In fact, it’s actually a look that is more specific to the Natives. Another fact is that African and Native Americans have shared a rich history, as many runaway slaves were harbored by Natives and intermarried, etc. With that said, consider the idea that many Black women are not thinking about trying to emulate White women at all, and simply find indigenous beauty admirable.
Thank you, Tamika, for letting me use your words! 🙂
Dear America, cultural appreciation is a beautiful thing to experience!
When I traveled to Japan as a Sister Cities International ambassador, I made sure that I was respectful to the native family I lived with; the native students I taught; and the people I encountered by:
- Slurping my ramen noodles (real ramen – not that packaged crap)
- Bathing in a public bath. I embraced Japanese culture even though I was freaked out about bathing where other people could see me! Eeeek!
- Wearing a kimono for parties/celebrations (not pretending to be a geisha)
- Taking my shoes off and slipping my feet into uwabaki (上履き)
- Whatever the family ate that day, I did too. Why? Because I appreciated their culture! I had traveled to the other side of the planet and I wasn’t going to waste my time eating McDonald’s when I could feast on delicacies like okonomiyaki, tempura (which is actually from Portugal, but Japan adopted it to their list of yummy foods). 🙂
- Speaking the language! If I didn’t know how to say something in Japanese, I asked in Japanese, “Nanto ii masuka?” __ は にほんご で なん と いいます か。
__ wa nihongo de nan to iimasu ka? How do I say __ in Japanese? Why? Because I appreciate the culture! I said that phrase so many times, I still remember it to this day.
- I’m still friends with the Japanese couple I lived with!
And that finally bullet is key. I love building connections, cultivating relationships, and making friendships that can last a lifetime. I’m also a xenophile and I love learning about different cultures, languages, and people!
Isn’t that one of the reasons we’re on this Earth?
So, don’t be ignorant! I challenge you to connect with new people on individual levels and learn something!
Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s plain tacky and tasteless!