Cultural appropriation: a term that can have several definitions. According to Urban Dictionary, cultural appropriation is “the ridiculous notion that being of a different culture or race (especially white) means that you are not allowed to adopt things from other cultures.” Another describes the term as “the act of contaminating white culture with outside influences.” It is apparent that depending on where you fall on the race-spectrum, cultural appropriation is a fluid term – changing its meaning, relevancy depending on circumstances.
In an age where social media rules all, or a 45 second video can spark heated debates – cultural appropriation may not be at the forefront of these mediated massages, but is definitely the foundation. What is hip, cool, fresh and trendy, just may be someone else’s stamp of heritage. An innocent Instagram post, just may call into question how strong your ties are to a community that, in reality, you don’t belong to.
To discuss this controversial and heavy topic, it is important to look at both ends of issue.
Chelsea Anderson: I think we should start off by saying what are our own definitions of cultural appropriation. So to me, cultural appropriation is when the White community takes something – it doesn’t really matter what it is – and claim it as their own. So they will take something that is – say trendy – and they stay that they started it. Or they try to make it popular, when it really wasn’t theirs in the first place.
Alli Whitt: I don’t think the White community, just does it, ethnicities do it as well. But yeah, just taking something that is innately part of a different culture than yours? Just acting like it’s some new idea. You like took it from someone else.
CA: Right its been there longer, really, than what people may think. I know I always think of Miley Cyrus and the whole twerking trend. When she had the video “We Can’t Stop” and people were like ‘Oh my gosh Miley is twerking!’ As if she invented twerking. And then twerking became so mainstream. But people fail to realize, it was really a dance that started in the Black community – and was so heavy and popular in the Black community for years and years. And I think that’s just one simple instance of cultural appropriation and how the Black community felt extremely offended. Seeing how people could just so easily take a piece of culture – something that is precious to us [Blacks] and just take it and make it as their own.
AW: Yeah I definitely feel like Miley definitely made people more aware of this happening. Because she did it often.
CA: Let’s talk a little bit out style and how we see that being appropriated. For me, more than anything, I see hair and different hairstyles being adopted by different people today. For instance, the controversy of boxer braids and cornrows. Particularity, the Kardashians have gone to the limits with the braiding trend. People are praising them and glorifying them for making this hairstyle popular. But its important that people understand, the Kardashians did not invent this hairstyle, or invent what you may consider boxer braids. This hairstyle – cornrows have been in the Black community and Black culture since day one! [laughs] Yet, now that White girls have picked up on it, its super trendy now! You can see it at fashion shows and on the cover of Vogue!
AW: Yes, I agree.
CA: Kylie Jenner recently claimed that she made wigs popular. I think this is completely outrageous! I think she said that she started them actually! That is cultural appropriation at its best. Wigs, while I know are worn by Blacks and Whites, are pretty special to Black women. Black women may not be the only ones who wear wigs today, but they are definitive ingrained in the culture. Wigs and weaves are extremely popular in the Black community. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry thanks to Black women and the money they invest in hair. It’s laughable and almost ignorant of Kylie to say she started something that for years has been a staple in the Black community. But that’s cultural appropriation for you.
AW: Yeah, celebrities have always worn wigs.
CA: And recently, Justin Bieber has been called out for cultural appropriation when he debuted his latest hairstyle. He has been rocking dreads lately! And for me – I will admit that I am a fan of Justin. I like his music, I like his style. I do indeed see where he just borrows some of his style and demeanor from Black culture, but never did I think he abused this culture and ever misrepresented the culture. He may be an appropriator, but at the same time, I respects and appreciates the culture. But him having dreads, I’m really on the line. He should be careful, because in the Black community, having dreads is more than just a fashion statement or a hairstyle. It is truly a lifestyle choice. So, for me, Justin should take into consideration what his style choices are saying about him as a person. He needs to think of the message his style choice is putting out there.
AW: I think that through almost all of his career, with his style and music, he has been displaying characteristics of black culture, and for a long time, his mentor was Usher. Justin changes his hair pretty frequently, so I don’t know, for me, it’s not really that big of a deal. Maybe when the media gets all hyped about it as a ‘new trend,’ that pisses me off. I don’t think the dreads will last that long, he has a history of what I would call cultural appreciation, and if it is a big deal, I would hope Usher would call him out on it, as his friend and mentor.
CA: We can even discuss the whole issue with Zendaya that happened a while back. She chose to wear locks on the red carpet and was highly criticized for it. People and reporters were saying pretty rude things about her. I think it’s interesting because, say if someone like Jennifer Lawrence were to wear dreadlocks and go and the red carpet, she would probably break the internet. She would be praised for being edgy, a fashion risk taker. I would bet money that she would never get the same criticism a Black girl – like Zendaya – would receive. As Amandla Stenberg once discussed, America loves Black culture and often try to take it, but when it comes to loving and accepting Black people – it’s an entirely different story.
AW: Yeah, what Giuliana Rancic said about her on Fashion Police was completely uncalled for and inappropriate. She was basically attacking Zendaya and black people as a whole. It was appalling, but Zendaya, who, I’m pretty sure wasn’t even 18 at the time, responded maturely. She did it with grace but also with a meaningful message. And like you said, if it had been a white female, or even Jared Leto, they would have been praised for ‘fashion-forward’ statement.
CA: For someone who wears weaves a lot, I do not think that when a Black girl wears weave, that it is a form of cultural appropriation. I think that wearing weaves is so ingrained in Black culture that it truly is our own. We may try to imitate different hair textures than our own, but this – to me is still not appropriation. For the Black female community, a big part of wearing wigs and weaves is to protect our natural hair. Wearing weaves is a form of protective styling in which our natural hair has time to grow, or gain strength while the weave is in.
AW: Honestly, I hadn’t even thought of that as appropriation before. White women have extensions, so for me, there’s really no difference.
CA: From style we can go on to physical features…
AW: Okay, like a couple weeks ago, for example, on Black Girls Rock, the awards show on BET, when one of the speakers mentioned how generally Black female features are being sold. Especially with the Kardashians, where everyone loves them and wants to look like them, but they definitely – I would say stolen – Black female features. And its being a commodity…
CA: Exactly a commodity!
AW: Like selling! Like doesn’t Kylie have a lip kit?
CA: Yeah, well, she got lip injections too. Which she says they are just fillers that will eventually go down. But I haven’t see any shrinkage!
AW: Right, right! So she’s probably just keeping it up.
CA: Yeah she’s definitely keeping it up.
AW: They umm…they sell pads to put in your pants…
CA: They do sell but pads!
AW: I don’t know how many people buy those.
CA: Umm, looks of people actually buy them. I feel like even lots of Black women even buy them. I just feel like this thing of having a big butt nowadays is being so glorified. You know?
AW: And I first saw it in rap culture. Like Nicki Minaj, if you see pictures of her when she was younger, you can tell that she would not naturally have as large of a butt as she does – naturally.
CA: Well it’s the same with Khloe Kardashian.
AW: Oh right!
CA: Of any of the Kardashians – I feel like Khloe by far has taken on this idea of ‘I want the Black girl features.’ She’s gotten lip injections…She says that she hasn’t-
AW: She wears cornrows a lot!
CA: Yeah she does! She says she- I’m not sure if she’s had any black implants or not – but yeah something is definitely going on. You can tell something is not natural.
AW: Right, right. Especially because when she – like before she lost a bunch of weight, her butt was not that big…
CA: Yeah like her physique was not like that
AW: And like no matter how many squats you do, it’s not going to get like that!
CA: Yeah and you know the family [Kardashians] they are so into the whole waist training thing. Like the thin waist, thick bottom…
AW: Which I recently read an article about people trying to follow that trend and the health risks with that. People have stomach problems, bruised ribs. Like Iggy Azalea obviously…her butt is big. And she’s owned up to a nose job and a boob job, but she hasn’t said anything about her butt.
CA: Yeah and with Iggy Azalea..I don’t know [laughs]. I could go on and on for days about her. She is definitely – I feel – like a major appropriator. Especially with her rapping style and whatnot. She definitely has adopted some things that are not natural to her.
AW: Okay so my question to you – I don’t know if you’ve thought about his or have an opinion about this…But people have been talking about…they tend to marry and date Black men. So what is your opinion if they are maybe trying to fit what they think is the ideal of the men they are pursuing and if that is a factor at all.
CA: I think that is a definite factor. Going back to Kylie Jenner. Pre-dating Tyga and post-dating Tyga you can see two dramatically different Kylie Jenners. Like Kylie before she started dating Tyga – I would say she almost had like the punk rock, almost Emo type style.
AW: Definitely, yeah! Like edgy.
CA: Exactly! And then post-dating Tyga, she’s all into wigs, lip injections, waist training, she wears leggings that make her butt look big and lifted. So I think she is trying to fit in with the culture. If you follow her on Snapchat – which ashamedly, I do – you see most of her friends are Black. You know, she does hang out with a certain group of people who are ethnic.
AW: Yeah I think she’s friends with like Jaden Smith…
CA: Yeah, she was friends with that whole group. We are who hang around. And she has changed herself to “keep up with the Jones’”, keep up with the crowd that she’s around. Same with Iggy Azalea…
AW: Yeah, isn’t she engaged to…
CA: She’s engaged to Nick Young. And I feel as though she may be with him because she’s in the rap culture. She in a field dominated by African american people. So it’s kind of like she has to prove herself in the industry. She has a Black fiance, she has a big butt, she has a “blaccent,” she’s trying to be in the crowd. So I definitely think that that has some factors – whoever you are dating does. And just going back to when you brought up Black Girls Rock – I loved when they brought up the idea of everything being praised when it’s on a white girl, but it’s instantly judged when its on a Black person. I love that and couldn’t agree more. And we can go back to like lip injections. For years and years, going back even to the era of Minstrel shows, Black people were often criticized and mocked and ridiculed for having bigger lips. Yet today having bigger lips is so in! Like with the Kylie Jenner lip challenge, people were literally hurting themselves to try to get these bigger lips. It’s just really interesting to see how a feature that’s on one person can be deemed as bad or ugly, but once it’s on someone else, its instantly a hot commodity.
AW: Ok…fashion… We’re both into fashion, obviously, but within the fashion industry, especially high fashion, there is a lot of cultural appropriation, and it’s definitely not appreciation. They’re not giving credit where credit’s due, and especially with so many designers using mostly white models. There was a period of time in the 90’s where they used more black models, like Tyra…
CA: …Naomi Campbell…
AW: And then for a decade, they just stopped. But people have tried to make them more aware…and they do have more culturally- ethnically- diverse models, but it’s definitely not up to what it should be. So, with runway shows…I…there was a designer at Charleston Fashion Week. I didn’t see his whole collection, but part of it was, umm…it definitely was supposed to be–it was Asian-themed, like geisha makeup, and he used white models. But, like at the show-I worked backstage…there were multiple, like, Asian and Asian-American models he could have used, but…umm…he used a white woman for ‘Asian’ fashion, and he used makeup to try to make her look like…like a geisha.
I know we’ve talked specifically about…umm. It was- it was like a two or four page spread that Gigi Hadid was in, in Vogue, a few months ago, where…I believe it was Chanel? I’m not exactly sure the designer that it was, but she [Gigi] was wearing different colored Afro wigs and it was just her in the ad, like doing jumps or whatever models do for photos. So, like, appropriating Afro wigs…and, I guess they were trying to put a spin on it by using different colors, like they were pastel colors, but that’s an issue.
Recently there was a lawsuit against Urban Outfitters, where, um…because, I mean, off and on for the past few years, there’s like ‘aztec’ print. Um, Aztec print has been popular in clothing, but as far as I know the issue had been that Urban Outfitters had clothing designed that was from a specific tribe [of Native Americans], so there was a lot of upset about that.
CA: Speaking of Native American culture, how do you feel about Coachella and stuff like that?
AW: Umm, yeah, so [laughs], everyone…they don’t take me seriously when I say this, but both of my dad’s grandmothers were Cherokee. Umm…they had…they were from North Carolina, I think? And they had married white [or partially Cherokee] men in Virginia. But…so I’m 1/16 [laughs] Native American, which, a lot of people are like ‘that doesn’t count,’ but anyway…I take Native American culture and stuff like that personally.
CA: Yeah. I think for me, since I’m not really tied to the Native American culture in any way, it doesn’t strike up as much as a fire in me, as some people, but I can definitely see where the culture can be appropriated. You know, when people wear the headdresses and stuff, and girls think, Oh, it’s trendy!
AW: –Even like Lana Del Rey with the chief headdresses, um, and it just being like, oh, a fashion statement! But in that culture it was and is very rare and like a thing of respect. There aren’t that many chiefs left in tribes, because it’s an older tradition, and…most of them…are dying. Because with reservations, and things, and the Native American population is dwindling
CA: Yeah, so like, just to wrap up this conversation and put a shiny, little bow on top of it, I feel that cultural appropriation will never, ever stop. People will keep borrowing cultures and ideas, and saying that they’re their own, you know. In a perfect world, though, how would you say we could make this stop? You know, would you say appreciation is the key? Rather than appropriation?
AW: I feel like sometimes it can be a grey area. Like, white people…say, like a hippie or surf lifestyle…dreadlocks being attacked or…like that’s like the culture of those things. Which as far as I know, dreadlocks were also in India, centuries ago, and then [in the U.S.] in the 60’s and 70’s…with, like the hippies…they would not be, like regularly showering [for various reasons], so it was easier for them to have dreads. So, I think it’s just about awareness, because like so many people are ignorant [on this issue], and like white people are just stubborn about it. And i would say that sometimes it’s two-sided.
CA: Yeah, um, I think it definitely is two-sided, and like you said-awareness- like lots of people are appropriating and they don’t understand or they don’t understand the magnitude of the issue. You know, it goes further than music and style and culture, you know, like these are things that are near and dear to some people and stuff like that. So, doing something like braiding your hair, you should really think about like what are the cultural repercussions of something simple [like that].
AW: –It’s mindset and consideration and being respectful and all of that, yeah…