I once had a conversation with my teacher where she complimented my hair and explained how she missed my braids that I previously had. During this conversation she jokingly brought up a conversation she had with another student and how that student said that my teacher should get box braids and do her “edges.” My teacher’s response to that was, “I’m white, cultural appropriation!” My teacher didn’t hesitate in giving this response because she knew that by getting braids it was essentially another way of taking a part of a culture that wasn’t her own — a culture whose history she knows little to nothing about. My teacher’s mindset isn’t one that everyone has and the question we have to ask is, why? Why is something so vividly wrong like cultural appropriation still happening?
Cultural appropriation is a very complex term. The definition of cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture, and it doesn’t always fit every instance due to double standards that lie within the idea. A double standard is essentially when a set of rules don’t apply to specific people or often times groups of people.
Last year during Couture Fashion Week in Paris, fashion designer Zuhair Murad, was accused of cultural appropriation. Murad sent his models down the runway wearing head garments imitating Native American culture. According to the Huffington Post, his set included “large painted poles arranged to look like teepees without coverings.” The teepee more commonly known to Native Americans as “tipi” means “they dwell.” It was a place where family dwellings would take place and sometimes even used for ceremonial purposes and the headgarmets, or headdresses, also hold a lot of importance to Native American culture.
For Murad, a Lebonsese fashion designer, to take two aspects of a culture that hold a lot of meaning and use them for popularity is incredibly rude. How ignorant do you have to be to send models in lingerie down the runway wearing something that is very valuable and has meaning to another culture? That simply shows his lack of respect for the group’s culture he is appropriating. Murad did credit Native Americans, as he got his inspiration from that culture, but it was all a little too late because he gave credit after he had received backlash for culture appropriating to begin with. When asked about cultural appropriation, LeRhonda Manigault-Bryant for the Huffington Post said, “It [giving credit] shouldn’t be an afterthought.”
I completely agree with this statement because you shouldn’t first have to receive hate or negative attention for appropriating someone else’s culture to then give credit to the culture. You give credit where credit is due and it’s crystal clear that Murad gave credit to combat all the negative attention, and it’s completely absurd to me that he was let off the hook so easily. Now, I’m not saying throw the man in jail and ruin his life, I’m saying that what he did was such a big slap in the face to Native Americans.
This isn’t the first time a person with fame has used another group’s culture as a way to get attraction or publicity. Similarly, last year Kim Kardashian made headlines after she posted on her instagram story that she had gotten Bo Derek braids. In the video, Kardashian wore what is commonly known as cornrows. She credited the style to a white woman, Derek, who she had seen wearing the braids in the movie “10.” Derek is not the creator of the hairstyle as these braids go back centuries. According to Byrdie, braids were worn by African American women and men to indicate their tribe. Each hairstyle was very intricate and important. Kardashian is giving credit to a white woman who, quite honestly, was appropriating culture to begin with. Of course, when Derek did this for a movie in 1979 cultural appropriation didn’t really have much meaning, and maybe didn’t even exist, but Kim did this last year and it wasn’t her first time doing it. She also wore braids back in 2013, similarly crediting Derek. The first time Kardashian did this she messed up, but everyone messes up sometimes. However, to do it again after she received backlash the first time is almost as if she’s telling the world, “Yes, I’m cultural appropriating, yes I know it’s wrong, but who cares?” Changing the color of your braids from black to blonde does not mean you aren’t cultural appropriating, Kim.
Although Kardashian received a lot of backlash, mainly from the African American community she received many compliments for her hairstyle. People recognized the appropriation as a trend, and people said she raised the standard for the beauty community and what it means. But why is it okay for Kardashian to appropriate another culture while people within that culture who do the same thing are stereotyped and criticized? Time and time again we’ve seen African Americans targeted for the hairstyles that they wear. According to People, two years ago a high school in Kentucky received a lot of negative attention because they banned hairstyles such as cornrows, afros longer than two-inches, dreadlocks, and more. As you read the list the hairstyles seem to be more and more oriented towards the African American students. Why is something so minor as a hairstyle being called into question at a school? They don’t affect anything at all. However, Kardashian can wear hairstyles like this, post it on her instagram, get some hate, but overall have a very positive response? The high school lifted the ban, said People, after parents complained and it made headlines. It shouldn’t have to be that way at all. It shouldn’t have to take people telling you that something is clearly discriminatory for you to change it. As a school you should strive for an environment where everyone feels included, students and staff. That’s as if someone commits murder, is given the death penalty, and only after being punished realizes that what they did was wrong. Murdering the person was wrong to begin with and getting called out for it wasn’t what made it wrong. You should be able to differentiate wrong from right regardless of potential consequences.
Likewise in 2015, actress Zendaya Coleman attended the Oscars wearing dreadlocks. Some people weren’t fans of the hairstyle, but others were more adamant about publicly sharing their unwanted and ignorant comments on it. Giuliana Rancic, an American-Italian reporter, made a snarky remark on E! Fashion Police about the stars hairstyle stating that she [Coleman] probably, “smells like patchouli oil or weed” this was obviously a racially-motivated comment and Coleman had a lot to say on her twitter to Rancic. It’s incredibly disheartening that a 40-year-old felt the need to comment on an 18-year-old’s hair in a negative light. If someone like Derek or Kardashian wore their hair like Coleman’s on the red carpet, would Rancic have a snarky comment? Or would she think the hairstyle was “cute” ? Would these two actresses probably smell of patchouli oil or weed, as well? Probably not. We’ve invested time into creating ideas and beliefs, but they’re always twisted. What’s meant to aid in stopping an existing issue simply creates another unwanted and unnecessary issue. I personally believe that the idea of cultural appropriation was created to prevent others from using aspects of a culture in a negative light and to bring positivity and acceptance to different cultures that are either underrepresented or disrespected. Thus far, cultural appropriation has not been like that at all. People are bringing in their own prejudices into the definition, therefore completely destroying it. Cultural appropriation has become such a complex and, some may argue, problematic ideology, but we have to think of why it’s seen in this light. It wasn’t created to be a complicated concept that doesn’t have a clear and concise definition. Why does the definition have to be ambiguous when cultural appropriation is so clearly wrong?