Controversy around cultural appropriation is taking place across American society and surfaces many questions: What is cultural appropriation? Why is it significant, and what message does it leave behind?
At the core of cultural appropriation is the idea that it is appropriate for one group of people with social power to take on elements -- cultural, religious, or historical -- of another group with less social power. It is particularly demeaning for that ‘dominant’ group to take factors of that marginalized culture. Especially when the supposed superior group oppressed them for centuries.
It seems that everywhere in the media, culture is being used as a form of entertainment, rather than being used to learn from and educate. This controversial issue is fueled by celebrities who often wear clothes, hairstyles, or recreate dances that are not their own. To many, these celebrities are stealing from a culture they may have little knowledge about. On multiple occasions, the Kardashians have worn culturally African-American hairstyles as their own. Their fans praise them for ‘acknowledging’ the culture, when in reality they are only wearing these styles as a fashion statement.
Cultural appropriation is especially degrading because those ‘borrowing’ the culture may be praised for it, while those of that culture are shamed for it. Notably, when a black woman wears African or black hairstyles in a public setting, they are deemed as unprofessional or less beautiful. When white individuals wear these same exact hairstyles, they are often praised for it, to the point where it becomes normalized in society. During a Marc Jacobs’ fashion show in 2016, his models were styled in faux dreadlocks. This sparked criticism from the black community, citing claims that African-Americans are discriminated against for wearing the same style. In the same year, a federal appeals court decision maintained that it is legal for employers to ban dreadlocks at work, even legally firing employees who do not comply. This speaks volumes about the society we live in today, where credit is not given where it is due.
When a black girl has to struggle for acceptance wearing the same styles that a white girl would be praised for, the message sent to them is that their beauty is not enough, and will never be enough; that their beauty will never truly be accepted as their own in a white society; that their culture is not good enough until it is in the hands of white individuals. Simply put, cultural appropriation is hypocritical and represents our society’s lack of respect for underrepresented minority groups.