A lot of times, instead of respecting and understanding the cultures behind the fashion choices, the people who are choosing to wear the bindis, nose rings, or feathers are actually participating in cultural appropriation.
What is cultural appropriation? A great article by Katie J.M. Baker at Jezebel breaks it down:
“Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”
In the case of Kendall, she wore a hoop nose ring like those used in traditional Indian weddings, even though she is not Indian or getting married. The differences among cultural appropriation, honest homage to culture, personal taste in fashion and regular culture changes, and can sometimes be tricky, but it is always important to consider how your fashion choice might impact someone’s feelings — especially when you’re drawing from a sacred aspect of their culture, like a wedding or a holy ceremony.
As Jezebel said, it’s usually considered cultural appropriation if it’s taking something from a culture that’s been oppressed and it’s being used without respect or understanding to the original culture.
You might be asking yourself, “well, don’t other cultures emulate Western culture all the time?” Sure, but that’s not cultural appropriation.
A 2008 Racialicious article by Tami laid it out pretty clearly.
“A Japanese teen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a big American company is not the same as Madonna sporting a bindi as part of her latest reinvention. The difference is history and power…It matters who is doing the appropriating.”
In other words, if a person takes a single object from an oppressed culture and gives it a new spin without honoring or acknowledgment, people from the culture might say, “We’ve had to live through oppression and we’re still facing oppression now. This particular object is very sacred to us, but it’s being used as entertainment and something non-sacred by a group that may have historically hurt us and who are taking away the sacred, cultural meaning to us.”
Vanessa Hudgens has also caused some anger by wearing a bindi and Native American headdress at Coachella, and Selena Gomez upset some Hindu religious leaders when she wore a bindi while performing last year.
While different people will give different answers on where to draw the line between culturally appropriating a culture or paying homage and respect to a culture, we can give you some tips when it comes to how to stock your closet at say, Forever 21.
Generally speaking, think about the background of the cultural object in question, including its true meaning and the history of the people behind it. Many people accused of cultural appropriation don’t intend to cause any harm, so talking about the subject can also bring about dialogue and understanding. There is a big difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, and educating yourself and learning from your friends will only help you to see the important nuances.
And the bottom line is, if you have to ask yourself if your fashion choice is insensitive and might be offensive to another culture, is it worth wearing it?
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