By Emma Bowen
Not many people would argue that eating sushi or burritos, taking a Yoga class at the gym or growing corn is cultural appropriation.Yet events such as Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits and many more have come under fire on this issue. Now a days it seems one can expect at least these four things to appear at each festival: amazing music, A-list celebrities, new fashion street trends and, along with that, cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is when one dominant culture adopts certain elements of another, often oppressed culture. Usually the elements are carelessly adopted to be sold for consumer profit in the fashion world. In simplest terms, cultural appropriation is when a special part of a culture is ignorantly used.
Recently Coachella stirred up quite the cultural appropriation storm regarding the traditional Hindu bindis and Native American headdresses that young people have been sporting as fashion trends while ignoring their significant cultural importance.
The bindi is worn by traditional Hindu people to remind them of their daily goal to act in a way that will help them achieve self-realization, and is said to be a “third eye” for the mind to view the universe as one. Headdresses in the Native American culture are very sacred to the wearer, and are made from feathers earned either by achieving status as a man or accomplishing a brave act in battle. The honor of receiving a feather was such that the warrior would prepare himself with days of fasting and meditation. Each feather is considered special, made for a warrior by his friends and close relatives — even the chief of a tribe has to earn his headdress. The Golden Eagle feather, said to be sent by God, can only be earned through hardship, loyalty, and strength.
Street fashion, however, has turned these elements into something used for profit and trends. Celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Pharrell Williams and Gwen Stefani have worn one or both of the items mentioned above, claiming they wanted to revel in the “beauty” of the culture but not knowing the ignorance of their action and the offense they were causing. But does loving a culture excuse one from appropriating it?
The answer sadly isn’t just black and white. Wearing or using religious or traditional elements for fashion or profit is an extremely inappropriate use of a culture and oftentimes is very disrespectful.
However, claiming cultural appropriation all the time can cause more social divisions than it can prevent. Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg raised a point that hip-hop music is a predominantly black artform that is being overtaken by “white stereotypes.”
While some of her points ring true, I believe it is a complete limitation of artistic expression and cultural exchange to claim that a race has a monopoly on an art movement and no one of another color ought to join in.
There is a major difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation, however; and the ignorance about where this difference falls is what gets appropriators and racial groups in trouble. Cultural exchange is the sharing of artistic and social events and movements that can be enlightening or valued between two different cultures. Appropriation comes into play when a lack of respect or understanding of the culture occurs.
Being a rapper or blues singer does not equal an appropriation of black cultural most of the time because many artists, such as Elvis and Eminem, respect the origins of the art and want to bridge the gap between two different cultures in the name of artistic fluidity and exchange.
To figure out when it is appropriate to dabble in a different culture than your own, just remember: to not appropriate culture one must understand the meaning and significance of the item or movement and use it in a productive and respectful manner.
After all, imagine how bland the world would be if the French-originated styles of gothic and impressionist art, many vernacular languages, fusion restaurants and different music styles hadn’t been exchanged. We would all be stuck in our own sheltered sphere of what we know about only ourselves.