Life > Cultural appropriation, is it an issue?

Posted on September 4, 2017

Priya Vadgama discusses how we can tastefully celebrate diversity

Cultural appropriation also known as ‘cultural misappropriation’ has become a controversial topic. It is the use of elements from one culture, used by another culture. “Sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture.” – Wikipedia

This can occur in the form of fashion, hair, and music, when often the original meaning behind the cultural elements become lost. Celebrities are often criticised for their disrespect of what is thought ‘appropriate’, and members of the effected culture see their actions, or use of the elements as disrespectful.

However, everyone has different views about what’s right, and what’s wrong when talking about cultural misappropriation. To some wearing a sari if you’re not Indian may come across rude, but to others it might be seen simply as appreciating Indian culture.

As a young Indian woman I have mixed views about the whole topic. However, I do find it most offensive when people don’t appreciate the meanings behind elements relating to my culture when using them. For example, people have taken to wearing a Bindi as a decorative piece for festivals. It’s not meant to be a fashion statement; you can buy stick on jewels for that. A Bindi, meaning dot or point, is usually a sticker that you place on the forehead slightly above the middle of your eyebrows; they come in a wide variety of colours, shapes and sizes.

The different colours worn, are for different occasions and stages in life. Married women always wear a red coloured Bindi, as this shows true love and prosperity. A widow, or someone who wants to ward of the evil eye usually wears a black Bindi. Though most Indian women no longer follow the rules of colour anymore, the idea of the Bindi is to remember that all the things you are doing are dedicated towards the achievement of a supreme goal, of self-realisation.

I find it most offensive when people don’t appreciate the meanings behind elements relating to my culture

Cultural misappropriation in fashion:
In 2013, Rihanna posted a picture on Instagram posing in sultry poses at a mosque in Abu Dhabi, while wearing a Niqab (a veil/cloth that covers the face as a part of sartorial hijab), captioning her images with comments such as ‘B**** stole my look’. Rihanna was then removed from the ‘forbidden grounds’ for being disrespectful of the Muslim faith.

Writer D’Ariel Myrick, says, “Cultural appropriation is like working on a project and getting an F, but then, someone copies you and gets an A.” She says this happens when the “dominant group” takes the minority groups identity and “makes it trendy.”

Cultural misappropriation through hair:
Most recently Patrick Starrr, a Filipino make-up vlogger wore an Afro wig to impersonate singer Solange Knowles. Angry Twitter users stated, “Black women are not a costume.” This caused Starr to apologise for any upset he had caused. The Kardashians have also been criticised frequently, most notably when Kim Kardashian was credited for starting a new trend of “boxer braids” historically known as cornrows.

Cultural misappropriation in music:
Dating back to the 1950’s, when black music became popular in America, white musicians started to recognise their music. Record labels then chose to record and market black music in the form of white musicians. As a result, musical forms like rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, and the blues were associated with white musicians even though black musicians were the people who created these genres. As a result, black musicians were not financially compensated for their contributions to those genres.

Cultural misappropriation in magazines:
Kendall Jenner was accused of misappropriation as the cover model for Vogue India’s 10-year anniversary alongside Bollywood actor, Sushant Singh Rajput. Vogue defended themselves by saying, “India has given the world so many beautiful faces to admire. After all, we are Vogue, an international brand, and we want to give the love back by featuring some of the best international celebrities on our covers. Occasionally!”

People often don’t take into consideration, how their actions might affect someone

However, the public took to social media to display their disgust. “In a culture where girls are encouraged to use skin-whitening creams and bleach, picking Kendall Jenner for #vogueindia is a step backwards” Another person said “Remember when Kendall spoke about how Indian food was so disgusting, and now she’s on the anniversary cover of #vogueindia #levels”.

People often don’t take into consideration, how their actions might affect someone from another culture. London is a city full of diversity, with a great fusion of cultures. We should be encouraged to learn more about our neighbours.

When you are wearing or doing something connected to another culture, you should understand the background or the meaning of it. Use it properly, and don’t use it as a decorative piece, or manipulate the way it’s worn or done. It should be more about appreciating it, rather then misappropriating it.

Image by Priya Vadgama
Showing an example of cultural misappropriation

Priya Vadgama
Priya enjoys art and listening to music, and is interested in the creative industry.



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