Cultural Appropriation: It’s Not About Kylie Jenner’s Braids

What is Cultural Appropriation: Cultural appropriation is a sociological concept which views the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture as a largely negative phenomenon.

Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg has been particularly vocal in her criticism of celebrities for appropriation, recently making headlines after she called out Kylie Jenner via Instagram for posting a picture with her hair in cornrows. “When u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter” Stenberg wrote. Jenner’s Response “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t” (what she really wrote “Mad if I don’t, Mad if I do”) embodies the attitude many people have towards cultural appropriation as a concept.

The bigger issue that comes with cultural appropriation is the inadvertent effect that it can have in further perpetuating stereotypes associated with the culture being appropriated and reinforcing the imbalance of power between dominant and minority cultures.

The argument that people are ‘celebrating’ or ‘appreciating’ the cultures of their adornments, is one that really just isn’t quite viable. The celebration of a culture is not done through sporting what is often a sacred and traditional cultural element at your local music festival, but the acknowledgement of the significance of the culture itself.

This notion is further expressed at the recent Met Ball, China: Through the looking glass. This theme expressed further stereotypes of China with celebrities ‘celebrating’ this theme through their costumes.  It’s possible to pay homage to a culture without turning it into a costume. Cultures are complicated and intricate. Respectfully celebrating them doesn’t involve cherry-picking disparate elements to spice up a look.

Indeed, many of The Met Ball’s outfits didn’t honor and represent China so much as exemplify Western stereotypes. Beyond being offensive, relying on symbols like dragons, braids and chopsticks to represent an entire culture is simply lazy. “The Met itself is acknowledging that these images have often been inaccurate or even based on problematic racial stereotypes such as the ‘dragon lady’ or ‘China doll’ tropes,”

The difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is Cultural appropriation is the adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another. It generally is applied when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, or military status to the appropriating culture. Where as Cultural diversity is a form of appreciating the differences in individuals. The differences can be based on gender, age, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and social status.

References:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kadia-blagrove-/cultural-appropriation-it_b_7800126.html?ir=Australia

http://mic.com/articles/117444/the-met-gala-was-all-about-cultural-appropriation

https://unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/cultural-appreciation-or-cultural-appropriation/

http://study.com/academy/lesson/cultural-diversity-in-the-workplace-definition-trends-examples.html

http://www.harpersbazaar.com.au/news/culture-club/2015/8/how-to-straddle-the-line-between-cultural-appreciation-and-appropriation/

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