Introduction: I wanted to write about a topic that I am very passionate about. Everyone who is somewhat close to me knows how much on a daily basis I talk about cultural appropriation and my views and belief on it. I felt like this was the perfect opportunity to do so. In this essay, I explore the cons of cultural appropriation, as well as explain the parallels of cultural appropriation vs. appreciation. I also included a scene of memory that is a bit personal, but I'm proud in doing so because it is important that people come to know battles that you've struggled with because they may have struggled with those problems too and in return find closure in what you've wrote. As a writer, I plan to grow a bit more by exploring different topics like these and not being afraid to share my opinions on controversial topics such as this.
Suffocated by the soft, downy pillows and encapsulated by the fleecy fabric of my comforter, I lay on my bed engulfed into the images etched onto the screen of my phone. It is a long afternoon awaited; I just got back home from school and my entire body AND brain aches from the daily school-tasks of, writing, studying and thinking, purely exhausting. What better way to relax than to scroll endlessly, drifting off into a hazy cloud of social media? Away I go! “Hmmm, I think I’ll go on Instagram first.” I think to myself. The hazy cold-blue light of the cellular device projects onto my face when suddenly my eyes widen with confusion. Images of people with distorted lips appear all on my news feed. Their bruised abnormal mouths match their painful expressions. Below these images I see in big, bold, blue text:
“Ugh! Kylie Jenner!” I say aloud. I’ve already expressed my disdain for this girl because of her “Kylie Jenner Lips” but c’mon! Now people all over social media are creating entire hashtags in honor of something she didn’t even have a whole year ago! I feel a surge of anger flow through my veins; the prickly heat of rage and disappointment seeps throughout my blood. Why does social media praise this girl as if she the almighty creator of big lips? Black girls are born into this world with big full lips but instead of admiration, we receive mockery.
But why? Because culture that people of color identify themselves with are only seen as significant and appropriate when associated with white people. This can be described as “cultural appropriation”. Society values the cultural objects, identities and items of an oppressed people when it is in the possession of a white person.
As a young black girl, I rarely ever saw any depiction of my features in the media. Even now, it is still hard to see any representation of black women. Because of that, I grew up very insecure and never saw the real beauty in me and people similar to me.
I stand in front of the spotless mirror in the corner of my bedroom. I examine every crevice and curve of my face. I trace the slope of my wide nose, wishing it was slimmer, touch thickness of my cupid’s bows, hoping it would become thinner and inspect the complexion of my skin, wondering why I couldn’t be lighter. It’s ugly, all of it. My eyes pour water out my tear ducts and in them, I bask in the rainfall of self-hate.
That was years ago, when I was uncomfortable with my looks, but now I’ve accepted who I was born as and love myself. But I am not the only black female who has experienced this self conflict. We, as blacks girls were, and still are, teased for our “gargantuan” features. From our broad noses, to our thick lips, to our curvy hips and voluptuous behinds. Cloaks of shame are thrown onto our bodies and our identities. But for our white female counterparts, (and sometimes on other women of color), when sporting our “anomalies” it is “exotic”and “acceptable” on them. They adopt what we identify with and make it into their own.
Cultural appropriation: the adopting of one’s culture as a trend, while simultaneously, ignoring the cultural significance of the object that is being appropriated, and being praised for it. Cultural appropriation is an extremely disrespectful act. Not only are you taking a culture’s object to identify yourself, but the people of that culture that you are appropriating, are completely disregarded. In other words, as described by Twitter user @slytherinpunk, cultural appropriation is like “...working on a project and getting an F and then someone copies u and gets an A & credit. That’s the big problem with cultural appropriation; the appropriator is praised for the adoption of one’s culture while the creators of that culture are criticized for representing their culture. However, there are some cases where the appropriator is unaware of the cultural significance of the item, in which the appropriation of the object/culture is in use of ignorance.
Some may argue that instead of “appropriation” of one’s culture, it is “appreciation” of that culture. The person who is committing the act may not be intentionally appropriating one’s culture to adopt as its own, but to show its common interest in that culture. However, it is still not suitable to do so. For example, a white man decides to grow dreadlocks, with preconceived information about the value of growing this popular black hair-style and the symbolism it represents. He wears them, without undergoing the several obstacles that a black man with locks will deal with. He is not called a thug, he is not looked at as if he sells drugs, he will not be told that he looks like he smells like “weed and patchouli”, but he may very well might fit all of those described. But it is the black man with dreadlocks who will suffer those stereotypes because of his race. The white man will not suffer because of his privilege. So out of respect, even if the perpetrator is showing his appreciation of a culture, it is best that he doesn’t. Because the one who the culture belongs to will be treated unfairly compared to the one who is appropriating it.
Cultural appropriation is a product of white privilege and oppression. When people of color came to this country (excluding Native Americans) they were shunned for expressing their culture. Whites were able to express their culture freely. People of color were forced to accept white culture as a means of being accepted. For example, many blacks were forced to tame their wild afros which held such liberal significance throughout the civil rights movement and instead get relaxers, just so they could get hired for a white man’s job/company. Many other people of color were teased for their vernacular and slang and told to speak “normal” or “proper”. So when a white person appropriates those things, it’s a slap in the face because not to long ago, they made sure that we felt ashamed by the way we walk, talk, dress, look and dance. When people of color explore other people of color’s culture, that is diversity. We as people of color, know how it feels for someone to make fun of our culture, so when we see other people of color exploring and rocking our culture, we see it as appreciation because at least we understand. When a white person does it, it’s somewhat mockery. For instance, Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who passed off as a black woman; complete disrespect to black women everywhere. To walk around pretending to be black is mockery because as a white woman, she’ll never know the ups and downs, trials and tribulations it is to be black AND female. Because at the end of the day, Rachel can straighten her hair and lose the tan and go back to getting all the white privilege she can get her hands on. But it doesn’t work the other way around. people of color can never be accepted by whites, no matter how good their income is, what degree they have nor how well they speak, because we’ll always be seen as a minority.
It is important that people learn their boundaries with one’s culture. Channeling a culture as your own is impertinent. Hopefully, there comes a time where people can learn to embrace their own identities, rather than taking someone else's.
Jabbar, Kareem Abdul. "Cornrows and Cultural Appropriation." Time. Time, 26 Aug. 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015. <http://time.com/4011171/cornrows-and-cultural-appropriation-the-truth-about-racial-identity-theft/>.
Johnson, Maisha Z. "What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm." Everyday Feminism. Everyday Feminism, 14 June 2015. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/>.
"Watch Amandla Stenberg's Primer on Cultural Appropriation." Dazed. N.p., 16 Apr. 2015. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. <http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/24431/1/watch-amandla-stenbergs-primer-on-cultural-appropriation>.