5 Ways You Were Raised To Culturally Appropriate — And How To Fight It
A lot of articles have been written lately — and rightly so — about the cultural appropriation that took place in Hollywood and the fashion industry in 2015. White models walked Marc Jacobs' runway sporting "twisted mini-buns," which are a blatant copy of Bantu knots, a style worn by women of color to accent the curls of their natural hair. Emma Roberts caused such a stir when she put chopsticks in her hair for the Met Gala this year that she ended up removing them before she even set foot on the red carpet. And Bindis, which singers like Selena Gomez and Gwen Stefani love to wear on stage, have recently gained notoriety as a fashion statement rather than the profound aspect of Hinduism that they really are.
Not everyone who culturally appropriates does so knowingly, but that doesn't make cultural appropriation OK. Hand-picking certain aspects of a minority's culture, with little or no knowledge of the trend's cultural significance, shows a lack of respect for the culture you're borrowing from.
Cultural appropriation doesn't only live in fashion, though, and it isn't only something that white people of privilege are guilty of. There are people from virtually every demographic who were raised in homes that unknowingly promoted cultural appropriation.
Here are five ways you might have been raised to culturally appropriate, and five ways you can fight it.
1. You Saw Racist Halloween Costumes
It's pretty common to see blonde toddlers dressed in beautiful Native American headdresses or saris on Halloween. You might have been that kid — and that's not your fault. But you're not a kid anymore, so it's important for you to see how these ensembles can be offensive.
How To Fight It: Educate yourself on the background of these fashion trends, because there's actually some troubling history at play here. Like the West's history of imperialism, and the hyper-sexualization of women of color that has stemmed from that. The more you educate yourself on the true meaning of the Indian bindi, for example, the quicker you will understand that these "trends" are not trends at all. They're a significant part of someone's culture.
2. You Witnessed Black Slang Being Used As A Joke
My dad always thought it was funny to toss out phrases like "Holla!" and "This is the bomb!" in front of my friends in an attempt to embarrass me. He thought he was just being silly, and your parents have probably done the same thing.
Unfortunately, though, adopting another culture's slang is actually one of the earliest forms of cultural appropriation. Zeba Blay explains it well in her article for the Huffington Post called "12 Words Black People Invented, And White People Killed." Countless traditionally black phrases have been taken over by white culture, but the true meaning of them often gets butchered. The misuse of these slang terms makes black people "feel indignant, even insulted."
How To Fight It: Be mindful of what you're saying and where the phrases you're using actually come from. As funny as you might think it is to use these words when you're joking around, it's important for you to consider their real meaning. If at any point you feel like what's about to come out of your mouth is over-the-top or fake, then don't say it.
3. You Heard People Of Color Being Called "Exotic"
Labeling someone "exotic" is perpetuating cultural appropriation and the concept that thin, white women are the ultimate beauty standard. Sadly, I know a lot of people who use this word to describe people of color because they've heard it used in this way since childhood.
We frequently see the term "exotic" used in the media as well. Lupita Nyong'o, actress and Lancome model, has been called "exotic" by numerous publications, including Forbes. "Tropical" is another offensive term used to describe people of color. Last year, Rashida Jones was called "tropical" in an interview. Sometimes you'll also hear "interesting" or "foreign" to describe women of color in Hollywood. Conversely, white women in Hollywood are merely dubbed "gorgeous" or "beautiful."
Hearing "exotic" and "tropical" being used habitually to describe people of color leads us to believe, perhaps subconsciously, in a standardized kind of beauty that isn't applicable to people of color. So we come up with new terms to describe their unique looks. But this is not only culturally divisive, it objectifies minorities.
How To Fight It: This one's really simple. Just don't use the word "exotic," or anything close to it. Just say "beautiful," "gorgeous," or even "hot" instead.
4. You Might Have Been Primarily Exposed To White Hip Hop Artists Growing Up
Many people of color have spoken out about the whitewashing of hip hop culture. Hip hop is more than just music; it's a culture of pain that stems from years and years of white oppression. This makes it incredibly difficult to see white people dominate the industry, win the awards, and receive the praise for an art-form that rose out of black suffering.
The first rap song to ever be featured on MTV, and reach Billboard Top 100, was Debbie Harry's 1981 hit, "Rapture." Two decades later, Eminem was on top, and some say this is the epitome of white supremacy taking over hip hop. On top of that, some of today's most famous hip hop artists are Justin Timberlake, Macklemore, and Iggy Azalea.
If you grew up in a household that followed mainstream music, it's not unlikely that the majority of the hip hop you listened to was performed by white people of privilege. This could mean you missed out on learning about the origins of hip hop and have never really celebrated it's founders.
How To Fight It: Nicki Minaj put it best in her interview with the New York Times Magazine : "If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us." There's nothing wrong with liking the music that you like, but you should try to learn more about the roots of hip hop. Also, be aware of how often the media puts down women like Nicki Minaj, and denies them the coverage that they deserve.
5. As A Kid, You Never Witnessed An Adult Ask Where Certain Trends Came From
Often, when people culturally appropriate, they think they're simply appreciating the beauty in something that's foreign to them. Usually, they have no idea where it came from, though, and they don't even think to ask any questions about it. It's not surprising that so many people of privilege don offensive Halloween costumes without a second thought; because their parents and grandparents probably never expressed any genuine interest in the origin of these outfits when they were kids.
Without asking these questions, we leave people out of the conversation who belong to the very culture from which we're borrowing. Plus, if we talk to someone about, say, the significance of a kimono, we'll stop seeing it as a costume.
How To Fight It: Broaden your perspective. Read authors of color and watch films created by people of color. Also, if someone calls you out for culturally appropriating, try following Kerry Washington's lead. When someone called her out on Twitter for using "spirit animal" in an offensive way, instead of getting defensive, she gracefully tweeted about how grateful she was for the opportunity to learn.
Images: STARS; Giphy (4)