In the fashion world, trends are so quick to come and go just like the changing of seasons. Designers push up their game looking for whatever is new and exciting, so that audiences comes back again and again. This field is the first one to cross the boundaries of societal norms and self-expression. Fashion has influenced us enormously, but sometimes it can be misguiding. In the process of crossing the boundaries and selling the products, designers are easily using fashion as a vehicle for racism. What happens when we start taking bits and pieces from another’s culture and traditional dress to boost up our outfit? My ignorant friend, you are then engaging in cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is ‘the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture.’ (Frew, 2015).
The actual problem comes up when somebody uses somethings from a less dominant culture in a way that the members from that culture find offensive and undesirable. The worst part is that the marginalised group can’t voice out, they got no say even while their heritage is deployed for fun or fashion by people in a greater privileged position and it’s done with total ignorance rather than knowledge of the culture.
The internet loves to talk about cultural appropriation, specifically the impact of white cultures appropriating aspects of marginalised ones as symbols of “cool.”
The issue here is power. The dominant or normal culture is free to appropriate whatever they like, but the marginalised group and minority are left with significant cultural forms of expressions. In this case by a celebrity – Rihanna at a Masjid in Abu Dhabi. I am unsure if Rihanna cares or even thought about the cultural weight of her photos, or the implications of her actions. This is cultural appropriation where Rihanna is donning a “hijab” which signifies of Muslim culture and its value of modesty, although she’s not a Muslim or have any beliefs of Islam. She imposed her personal twist on the Muslim female garment by adding on a red lipstick and posing with fitting jumpsuit in a seductive way, basically she’s eroticising Islamic culture in a way that is disliked. Where does the fine line between creating “art” and being disrespectful fall within cultural appropriation? Does Western glamorisation of the hijab empower Muslim women or exploit them?
Marginalised groups don’t have the power to decide if they’d prefer to stick with their customs or try on the dominant culture’s traditions just for fun’ (Johnson, 2015).
Mostly marginalised group will adopt aspects of the dominant culture in order to fit in, not stand out. Black women have faced so many criticism and therefore are uncomfortable to leave their hair in it’s natural form. Women are being told by employers that their hair looks “Unprofessional”. (Sini, 2016) According to Huffington Post 2016 reports, some employers even say that they must spend money and time to make it more like “white hair”
Doesn’t this seems to come back to imbalance in power? The black women didn’t choose to adopt this element in their life for fun or even out of choice, but because they want to avoid discrimination by the greater group. Everything, just comes back to 3 points: Cultural power, modern and historic.
We are all different and have different experiences in life. I think it’s important to be educated and understand the history and significance these actions can have on others before doing so. We should discuss these issues so we can attempt to empathise, empower and create change. If we continue to turn a blind eye to casual racism and cultural appropriation, especially regarding beauty, then we will only continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes.
I believe the world would be at a much better place if we loved people from all over the world equally for who they are and not for what we can take from them.
Khan Sultana Nazish
Frew, C 2015, Othering, blackface, appropriation and #blacklives matter.
Johnson, M 2015, What’s wrong with cultural appropriation? Everyday Feminism http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/
Massey, A. (2016). The Cultural Appropriation of Natural Hair. [online] HuffPost. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-cultural-appropriation-of-natural-hair_us_57cf2cb3e4b0273330ab127e?utm_hp_ref=cultural-appropriation [Accessed 1 Jun. 2018].
Sini, R. (2016). ‘Wear a weave at work – your afro hair is unprofessional’. [online] BBC News. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-36279845 [Accessed 1 Jun. 2018].