By Adebimpe Adenusi
Throughout 2016 we have seen many stars becoming socially ‘woke.’ From Beyoncé’s Lemonade album to the Black Lives Matter movement, people of colour have been more open about the issues that they face each day and one of these issues is cultural appropriation. Cultural Appropriation is the use of popular elements from one culture by members of another culture without recognition to the creators. Many infamous stars such as Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez have been accused of appropriating multiple cultures with the use of cornrows, grills, bhindi’s and native headdresses. While many believe cultural appropriation is offensive, others claim they instead are just inspired by the culture that they are mirroring. So why is cultural appropriation such a big issue?
In the black community, it is very important for hair to be taken care of to induce growth and healthiness so styles such as cornrows and braids are necessities for its upkeep. The 90s and early 2000s introduced us to many stars who wore their natural hair such as Alicia Keys who wore cornrows in her music video for Fallin’ and Brandy who rocked box braids for her main role in Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Also Hip Hop became very popular and rappers such as 2Pac, Missy Elliott and Nelly could be seen in their music videos wearing gold chains, grills and over-exaggerated hoop earrings. These became things that were ingrained in black culture but as black culture became coherent with popular culture through Hip Hop and T.V. we saw many Caucasian celebrities copy the trends and begin to braid their hair and wear gold chains which had been popularised by the people of colour. Stars such as Ke$ha, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake were wearing and popularising these fashion statements made by people of colour without any recognition for the originators.
In this day, it’s all about the Kardashians who are often accused of taking from other cultures with Kendall, Khloe, Kim and their model friend Gigi Hadid angering fans by wearing hijabs as a fashion statement when they are worn by Islamic women to practice modesty in their religion. A study by YouGov shows 40% of British Adults have a negative impression of Muslims and many Muslim women have been attacked and had hijabs ripped off their heads due to islamophobia while celebrities like these are protected by their white skin from racist attacks and abuse. Designer Marc Jacobs also came under fire in early September for using faux dreadlocks in his majority white model fashion show. He defended himself on his Instagram saying ‘Funny how you don’t criticize women of colour for straightening their hair’ which just added fuel to fire as users responded saying ‘People of colour who straighten their hair are ASSIMILATING to the white dominant culture because we’re never allowed to wear our natural hair in schools and jobs.’ Another user said ‘‘Until girls here can wear their Afros and locs to school without being kicked out… stop saying “hair is hair” and other nonsense quotes.’ This refers to the students at Pretoria High School for Girls in South Africa who protested in September as they were told they may not be able to sit their exams if they didn’t ‘fix’ their natural hair. Likewise, Rachel Sakabo was fired from her job at an upscale hotel because her dreadlocks were seen as unprofessional.
Tumblr user habi-bah made a video and said ‘I am criminalized because I practice my own culture so no I am not flattered…when I see you making a mockery of my culture and not recognizing your oppressive context and history’ and I think we all get where she is coming from. The Kardashians take cornrows which are called ghetto or ratchet on black skin and turn them into ‘boxer braids.’ Muslim and Indians that wear bhindis or hijabs are called terrorists or ‘freshies,’ while on white girls it is Coachella fashion. Black people are made fun of for having big lips but on a popular white face like Kylie Jenner’s they are all the rage and get her a lipstick line. From society and the media, we can see that our culture seems to be only beautiful on white faces. Trends are taken from cultures and called a new name leaving people of colour in the background. Celebrities seem to not know that appreciating the culture would be using their position of power and vocalizing their disdain for the killings of innocent black men and women by the police or the amount of xenophobia in their own countries. Appropriators forget to be politically active and use their voices to put an end to normalized hatred and harassment of people of colour. There needs to be an understanding of the difference between appropriation and appreciation and this can only start by giving credit where it is due regarding the cultures of people of colour.