An Urban Perspective: Cultural Appropriation and Society’s Misplaced Anger

Imagine you have composed a tweet. It is comprised of your incomparable wit, knowledge of classic television references, and topped with a gif that embodies the exact message of your words. It’s perfect. Now, imagine someone copying and pasting your exact tweet and posting it as their own. You see this copycat go damn near viral off of your intellect. And, you’re left in the dust knowing that no one will ever know you were the creator of this amazing tweet. They’ll never know just how hilarious you can be. Now, there is a following of people that identify with your sense of humor that you may never connect with. Sad isn’t it?

Take yourself away from that scenario, and imagine growing up as a minority. At home, you are proud of your box braids, your twists, your kinky natural hair, your sari, your hijab, whatever is unique to your culture and has been apart of your life since birth. Imagine leaving the comfort of your home, exposing society to your culture and what makes you proud. Imagine being subject to unsubstantiated prejudice and discrimination. Imagine being called a terrorist. A thug. Ghetto. Imagine being suspended or expelled from school because of your appearance. Imagine being looked over for an employment opportunity. Sure, it is possible that the other candidates are just as qualified. It is also possible that you may have a more extensive resume than they do. Regardless of your resume or theirs, businesses turn you away because you do not fit the “mold” of what that business wants their employees to look like. Because the garments or hairstyles you wear are deemed “threatening,” “distracting,” “dirty,” “ugly,” or “unprofessional.” Then, imagine multiple members of the American majority wearing the exact same hairstyle or garment being told they were “sheek,” “fashion-forward,” ”beautiful,” and being given so much praise for representing a culture they most likely know nothing about. Your culture. Used for quick likes and publicity. No longer associated with terrorism, gang violence, or illiteracy because it is not being displayed by you, the minority. How would you feel then?

From these scenarios, can you understand the issue people of color have with cultural appropriation? Can you understand where the frustration lies? Women of color have been wearing cornrows, box braids, twists, and more for hundreds of years. But, our young girls are not permitted to step foot into educational establishments due to them. Then, an individual belonging to the  American majority wears these braided patterns in their hair, and society’s response is overwhelmingly positive.  People of color and other cultures are losing out on jobs, being stereotyped, and are judged before they even get a chance to speak. Depending on the encounter, our appearance (what makes us who we are as a people) has been a threat to our very lives.

Someone once asked, “What is the difference between appreciation and appropriation.” The response, “Credit.” I couldn’t agree more. There are many individuals that make up the American majority that do not have any malicious intent in wearing certain things and often are stricken with shock and embarrassment when they get flack for appropriating someone’s culture. A missing link (one of many) may just be that they are not giving credit where credit is due. These people are appropriating cultures for whom’s homeland they would never travel. The most they know about said culture, is what was recited to them from their high school’s watered down curriculum. In no way am I discrediting schools that cover other cultures in their lesson plans. However, there are only so many days in a school year. You cannot possibly cover every detail in each culture in that time. And, what is covered most likely needs to be expanded upon, and is not. Still, in a society where the world is literally at our fingertips, we have the ability to take our appreciation for other cultures beyond their appearance and language. If you truly have respect and admiration for a culture or multiple cultures, wouldn’t you be well informed on the people and the customs of said culture(s)? Sadly, that is seldom the case and from this, anger ensues.

their day, these styles do not come with stigma or preconceived notions. You want to wear what a black woman wears, but you do not want to endure what a black woman has to endure. You want to henna your arm, but have no idea what it feels like to be seen as an “alien” in another country. People of color are not able to spin from the wheel of cultures and choose what they’ll be seen as that day. Because we did not have the luxury or option to choose our culture. Unlike the American majority, we were born into it. And, it will never be able to (naturally) be disguised. Things that minorities were teased for, and called ugly for, and were told they should be ashamed of, the majority often uses as a momentary trend or fashion statement.

Now, as I have stated, there are many individuals belonging to the majority that truly mean no harm. They simply find certain things to be beautiful and want to express an appreciation for them. Unfortunately, individuals like these are criticized beyond belief because of some of the other individuals that make up the American majority telling people of color and other cultures to “get over it.” We allow the ignorance of the latter individuals to speak for the entirety of the community. That is not good. I am not saying the anger felt is invalid. Anything of importance to you is valid. I just want us all to recognize that much of the issue lies in the varied responses of society; responses that only vary due to appearance.

Often times, the darker or more different you look, the more negative the response. That being said, I wonder if people of color and other cultures are solely angry at the individuals that take from their culture. Or, are these people angry with society’s bias and hypocrisy? I wonder if these people would mind their culture being “appreciated” if these individuals were on the front lines coming to their defense when these aspects of their culture are costing them employment, enrollment, their freedom, and their lives. Is the anger meant to be directed toward popular individuals like Kimberly “Bo Derek” Kardashian-West, Kylie Jenner, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and Selena Gomez? Or, should it be directed at the people who praise them? Sure, once confronted, these individuals may have been dismissive of the concerns and opinions of people of color and other cultures. Even so, if their initial intent was not one of malice, shouldn’t the blame really be placed on society?  Isn’t it society that perpetuates these stigmas and biases? Isn’t it society whose opinion sways whether you are seen in a widely positive or widely negative light? Isn’t it society that tries to silence people of color and other cultures when they are brave enough to confront and challenge the majority? Isn’t that where the blame should be placed?

But, aren’t we society?

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