Cultural appropriation: Appreciation or Mockery?

Cultural appropriation: Appreciation or Mockery?

Starr Benson

Pocahontas says cultural appropriation is wrong. Check yourself before you dress yourself.

Just take a minute and scroll through your Tumblr or Pinterest account. If you are anything like the average blogger, you have probably been bombarded with numerous pictures that consist of half-naked, skinny girls in weird poses, smoking a cigarette with a Native American war bonnet on. To some, the misinformed and misguided, this sort of image is deemed as “cool”, “edgy”, or “creative.” It’s not. For example, actress Julianne Hough wore blackface depicting a particular character from the Netflix original show, “Orange is the New Black.” She apologized for it two days later. Every year, especially during Halloween, someone feels the need to wear something offensive. It’s utterly ridiculous. Here are the reasons why you should check yourself before you dress yourself.

“It’s just a costume and it’s cute. Chill out.”

My culture isn’t “cute,” a costume or a fashion statement. Do you think people of color wake up and say “Hey, I feel like being (insert culture here) today?” My culture is not a commodity that’s “in” one day and thrown away the next. Clothing stores such as Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters are notorious for promoting “tribal” pattern clothes. The Navajo Nation sued Urban Outfitters for infringing its trademark and selling under the tribal name in 2012. Taking something meaningful and turning it into a commodity is not only wrong but extremely disrespectful.

“I’m just honoring your culture!”

According to the UK daily mail, an online news source, a British tourist was denied entry into Sri Lanka because of a Buddha tattoo. It’s just a tattoo, so why would this be a problem? Buddha is worshipped by the majority of Sinhalese people in Sri Lanka. In this guy’s mind, he probably thought he was “honoring” Buddha through a tattoo but this came off as offensive because he probably didn’t have clue how significant Buddha is considered among people that aren’t like him. If you plan to wear or get something permanent (such as a tattoo) that is not of your culture, please do your research. Look at the significance behind what you’re getting, whom it’s important to and what the appropriate way is to respect it.

“Well, what can I wear?”

If you choose to wear something native, buy it from a native. There are a number of  federal laws that protect native artists and craftspeople who make genuine jewelry, art, etc. Anything native you buy should have a label that says “Indian made” or “native made.” It’s okay to rock some beaded earrings or wear a turquoise ring or two, but don’t go all out in a “costume.” Don’t go walking down the street with a cheap headdress, ripped “pleather” skirts, and war paint. That’s simply tacky and disrespectful. If you ran into native people looking like that, how do you think they would take it? Would you have to justify yourself? Would you feel embarrassed? Ask yourself these questions.

For so long people of color, whether they are African-American, Asian-American, Native American, or Latino have been subject to prejudice and discrimination within the United States. Around Halloween there are “ethnic costumes” such as Dragon Geishas, Indian Warrior/Maiden, Osama Bin Laden, and the horrible “Big Kahuna.” While some people don’t have a problem with these types of costumes and see it all in good fun, it’s not. Many of these costumes or “edgy” pictures are offensive. They mock these particular ethnicities since they aren’t traditional, and many of the costumes are worn to be “sexy” or for laughs. If you want to be different, create your own funky style by using bold colors, animal print, or something that has not been borrowed and watered down from another ethnicity.