Over the past year, there have been so many accusations of cultural appropriation towards celebrities that the issue almost seems tired. Although it has been a problem for years, the issue of cultural appropriation seemed to gain a ton of attention this past summer in particular. This largely had to do with the fact that Amandla Stenberg called Kylie Jenner out for wearing cornrows. But then, as with most things in Hollywood, it went right back to being a non-issue.
It is extremely important to not let something like this fade into the background and to make sure that everyone knows that the constant misuse of someone else’s culture is never okay. There are still people who believe that the only way to smoke pot at a music festival effectively is to wear a bindi or a headdress. I think we all need a nice refresher on the difference between fashion and appropriating an entire culture before we eagerly seek out the lineups of summer festivals. So here it is:
If you want to get technical, cultural appropriation is defined on wikipedia as:
“…the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture”
But cultural appropriation goes much deeper than just that. I think Amandla Stenberg said it best when she stated that “appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed high fashion, cool, or funny when the privileged take it for themselves”.
The population that doesn’t consider cultural appropriation an issue are the ones who say things like “it’s just a fashion statement” or “black people should be flattered” as a way to justify their actions. These are the same people who likely have no idea why appropriating a culture is so offensive, due to their privileged upbringing in a society that is pretty much only tolerant of white culture.
The act of appropriating a culture is messy itself, but it becomes even more of an issue when people aren’t seeing the problem with it. It gets even worse when people begin believing that the white celebrity appropriating a stolen fashion is the one who made it popular in the first place.
In case Kylie Jenner made anyone forget, big lips are universally known as an African feature. Black women have often been known to embrace this distinct feature (as they should). And black women definitely do not need to be told that a feature so distinctly theirs, now belongs to Kylie Jenner.
Turning the appreciation for another culture into a fashion inspiration is fine, flattering even. What’s not okay, is when the culture isn’t given the credit it deserves. Not only are celebrities rarely crediting the source of their fashion inspirations, but the celebrities that tend to appropriate are also the ones that show no interest in the actual issues of the same culture they are appropriating (ex. Kylie Jenner not using her fame to support the #blacklivesmatter movement but wearing cornrows and grillz for fun).
When the privileged culturally appropriate, it leads to the discrediting and erasure of a culture. Plain and simple. Caucasians literally have no right to take bits and pieces from cultures that have been oppressed for the exact features or fashion that we intend to make our own. We all remember the little girl who was punished for wearing dreads to school, right? But when Kylie Jenner does it, it’s considered trendy? That’s definitely not right.
The next time you idolize a white celebrity wearing cornrows for Instagram or a headdress at a music festival, think about the disrespect behind it. It is so easy for the privileged to turn a blind eye and pretend something like this is fine. Of course it doesn’t affect us, it’s not our culture that’s being appropriated. Stay informed, because there’s no reason for this to continue happening if we don’t let it.
Feature image via Gigi Hadid.