Blurred lines between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation.
By Sara Almalla, Staff Writer
Festival season is upon us and what does that mean? You guessed it! Concert goers in offensive headdresses and bindis everywhere.
America is a melting pot, no doubt, and the diversity of cultures and traditions is something to be proud of. It’s almost impossible to not have different cultures rub off on each other when they’re all within such proximity. But there is a line between appreciating different cultures and appropriating them, and the blur between the two causes a lot more harm than some may expect.
“Cultural appropriation” is when a privileged or dominant group adopts customs typically carried out by minorities or disadvantaged groups, that are deemed stereotypical or are ridiculed when practiced by the latter, but fashionable or cool when practiced by the former.
Let’s break it down. Dreadlocks and cornrows, a hairstyle originated by Africans as a means of maintaining their naturally coarse hair, have long been associated with negativity, unprofessionalism and a lack of cleanliness.
However, in the early 2000s, when hip hop (which originates from black culture, with roots in blues, which in turn came largely from songs sung by black slaves) was becoming mainstream, white artists such as Fergie, Katie Perry, Kim Kardashian, and Riff Raff began to adopt the music and hairstyles created by black people.
Many argue that minorities should be flattered by the sudden interest and imitation of their culture. However, this not about flattery.
It is about the privileged people who are revered and admired for their hairstyles and music, while black people, the creators of both those things, continue to suffer from the harmful stereotypes that surround these customs.
In fact, many schools still have a ban on dreadlocks, afros, and cornrows. Deborah Brown Community School in Tulsa, Oklahoma actually sent a 7-year-old home for sporting dreads, as well as South Plaquemines High School in Louisiana that suspended a Rastafarian teen for wearing his hair in dreads due to the school dress-code policy. There are several other schools as well as universities that have a ban on these traditionally black hairstyles.
Zendaya, a young black Disney star, was a prime example of these harmful stereotypes when she wore her hair in dreadlocks to the Oscars this year. Giuliana Rancic from the show Fashion Police made the offhand comment that she thought Zendaya “smells like patchouli oil. Or, weed.”
Meanwhile, Kylie Jenner was being praised for wearing her hair in “edgy” dreads for a “rebel-themed” photoshoot by popular media outlets such as Cosmo.
Although Azealia Banks was talking about Iggy Azalea winning a grammy when she voiced her opinions in a Hot 97 radio station interview, she could have been talking about all the black appropriation in the media when she stated “all it says to white kids is: […] you can do whatever you put your mind to. And it says to black kids: you don’t have sh*t. You don’t own sh*t, not even the sh*t you created for yourself”
Unfortunately, the appropriation does not end at dreadlocks.
In the late ’80s, a hate group called “Dotbusters” attacked, threatened and killed South Asians and Indians in New Jersey. Indians continue to face discrimination and racism even today.
However, recently, wearing a bindi has become a trend among the non-Indians. The same people who ridicule Indian girls for the way they smell, dress and look, glue crystals and dots (purchased from Forever 21) to their foreheads and refer to themselves as “hipsters” and “gypsies”.
As Asishani Jasmin put it in her article “You can wear it, but I can’t”: “Funnily, I can’t wear it. I can’t wear the sari, the lengha or the bindi, even now, without someone looking me up and down with disgust. ‘Get out of our country’; ‘dothead’; ‘Paki’; ‘lousy immigrants, running our healthcare systems to lock us out’; it’s all the same to me. […] I have somehow been locked out of a culture that I want to be proud of.”
The privileged deem what is acceptable and not acceptable in society. They also get to choose which parts of other cultures to associate themselves with. Minorities do not have the same privileges.
It is due time we learn to how to appreciate these cultures rather than appropriate.