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Who Really Uses Cultural Appropriation?

Updated on May 24, 2017
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Celebs Before The Met Gala 2015

Emma Roberts put chopsticks in her hair bun and a carried a dragon on her clutch. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga walked the streets in her sushi shoes before the event.
Emma Roberts put chopsticks in her hair bun and a carried a dragon on her clutch. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga walked the streets in her sushi shoes before the event.

Met Gala 2015 - “China: Through the Looking Glass”

Red Carpet Racism At The Met Gala 2015

Yesterday's Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala was themed "China: Through the Looking Glass".

But how clear is the glass? And, who is looking through it?

It should have been themed another night of cultural appropriation and accidental racism in fashion, art, and film.

There were far too many old fashioned, outdated, insensitive misinterpretations smiling for the cameras around this event.

Singer, Lady Gaga, first stepped out in the afternoon preceding the event wearing sushi shoes.

A mere hour into the big event, Emma Roberts posted a photo of her hair on Instagram that left people questioning if the chopsticks, bun, and dragon clutch were too risky in terms of cultural sensitivity.

And, the red carpet ran rampant with borderline racism. Whether active or passive, there is no excuse for racist antics.

The night kicked off with an interview with Joel McHale who set the tone for the tragic events to come.

Jian DeLeon, of Complex, reported via his Twitter feed last night that Joel McHale was telling opium jokes at the Met Gala and said he prepared by watching all the Jackie Chan films.

According to the exhibit’s curator, Andrew Bolton, the goal of the event was to "recast Orientalism in a more positive light as ‘an exchange of ideas and an honored source of influence.”

But the red carpet turned out to be somewhat of an oriental mess, which left people wondering about the cultural appropriateness of the attire worn by many attendees.

Lady Gaga later hit the red carpet in a voluminous, kimono-style dress embellished with feathers and a headpiece.

Unfortunately, Lady Gaga's custom Balenciaga outfit did not match the theme. It was more of a Japanese and Korean hybrid.

The British model, Georgia May Jagger, was also less than culturally competent as she wore a kimono inspired Gucci gown to the event.

Actress, Dakota Johnson, also rejected the dress code as she wore a checkerboard Chanel Haute Couture mini-dress with a "Chinese" face Chanel bag.

Actress, Sarah Jessica Parker, managed to water down a diverse culture to an offensive "dragon lady" stereotype by pairing a black dress with a vaguely "Chinese", flaming, red headpiece.

Singer, Justin Bieber, wore a custom black blazer with gold dragons embroidered on it, which screamed cliché Orientalism.

Singer, Rita Ora, sexualized the traditional qipao, which perpetuated the stereotype that Chinese women are "exotic," submissive sluts.

Cara Delevingne wore simple black pants and an embellished black bra, which left her skin exposed. Her skin was in fake cherry blossom tattoos.

Cara's sister, Poppy Delevingne wore a tulle gown designed by Marchesa, which was covered in poppy flowers. When asked about the inspiration for her wearing the dress, Poppy told reporters from The Cut that, “I came as opium.”

This statement was problematic for her because she seemed insensitive to China's complicated history in regards to the Anglo-Chinese Opium Wars, in which the British attacked the Chinese in two brutal wars.

This was highlighted in 2010 when David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, caused an international incident when he wore a poppy pin while visiting Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao.

There were much more misinterpretations on the red carpet that night and they made some wonder, how is it fashionable for members of the dominant culture, particularly celebs, to display their ignorance by poking fun at Asians or other minority groups?

Is diluting a culture to mere fashion trends morally responsible?

At the very least, the theme could have been more innovative and less costumey.

Perhaps it could have been streamlined to only promote Chinese designers on the red carpet to ensure authenticity and sensitivity.

You would think that in an age of modern technological advances that this A-list community could simply implement a Google search of what is and is not offensive to others.

Cultural Appropriation: What Is It and Why Is It Bad?

Jonathon Wood
Jonathon Wood | Source

What is Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural appropriation involves members of a dominant group exploiting the culture of less privileged groups — often with little understanding of the latter’s experience, history, and traditions.

Those who “borrow,” or exploit, lack understanding of what makes the culture significant; thus taking the culture out of context.

Despite their ignorance of the culture from which they borrow, members of the dominant group have frequently profited from cultural exploitation.

Black dance and music styles, Native American fashions and cultural symbols, in addition to Asian martial arts and attire have fallen prey to cultural appropriation by dominant groups.

Cultural Appropriation Guide

Katy Perry's 2013 AMA Performance

Katy Perry At The Met Gala 2015: Learned Her Lesson?

She wore a graffiti gown with a spray can purse by Moschino to the Met Gala 2015
She wore a graffiti gown with a spray can purse by Moschino to the Met Gala 2015 | Source

Elaboration

Cultural appropriation is bad because “borrowing” is exploitative.

It robs minority groups of the credit they so rightfully deserve.

When a minority group's original cultural symbols become associated with members of the dominant group, the dominant group is deemed innovative, while the minority groups are deemed unimaginative.

Negative stereotypes linger and imply that the minority groups lack intelligence and creativity.

Also, members of a dominant group tend to reinforce those stereotypes when they appropriate the cultures of others.

At the American Music Awards in November 2013, Katy Perry performed on stage dressed as a geisha. She described her performance as an homage to Asian culture.

However, Asian Americans disapproved and declared her performance “yellowface.” This disapproval from the Asian community stemmed from her misrepresentation of their culture.

The issue was the inappropriate connotation given to the audience from her stage attire.

It proved problematic for Perry to dress like a geisha and perform her song “Unconditonally” because her song is about a woman vowing to love her significant other no matter the cost.

While Perry can simply retreat to the dominant group, the same is not an option for geisha's.

Therefore, her performance was degrading and damaging to Asian women because it illustrated a power disparity and a stereotype of them as a group of meek, mild, slavish "unconditional" thralls to their men.

Perry is known to "borrow" the traditional dress of marginalized groups for her appearances, musical performances, and videos.

She seemed to remain blissfully unaware of the basis of such attires and the plight endured by those who wear them.

However, she did not wear anything culturally offensive to the 2015 Met Gala. Rather she did not wear anything with Chinese inspiration at all.

Perhaps she hoped to fly below the radar in the gown she chose by Moschino.

Although that graffiti gown may not have offended any group in particular, it does glorify vandalism, which she should be wary of promoting as most of her fan base consists of adolescent youth (e.g., KatyCats).

You are pretending to be a race that you are not, and are drawing upon stereotypes to do so.

— —Adrienne Keene, Ph.D

Miranda Kerr goes geisha for Vogue Japan

There are questions about whether this photoshoot could be considered cultural appropriation, and whether the Nippon team should have used a local model or actress for the cover.
There are questions about whether this photoshoot could be considered cultural appropriation, and whether the Nippon team should have used a local model or actress for the cover. | Source

Cultural Appropriation In Sports

Former Cleveland Indians player Omar Vizquel wearing a baseball cap showing the image of the Cleveland Indians mascot, Chief Wahoo
Former Cleveland Indians player Omar Vizquel wearing a baseball cap showing the image of the Cleveland Indians mascot, Chief Wahoo | Source

Why does this happen?

Cultural appropriation is profitable.

The dominant culture views the objects and traditions of marginalized cultures as exotic, edgy, and desirable, which generates curiosity and translates to profits.

Also, cultural appropriation is a by-product of imperialism.

Imperialism is the creation and maintenance of an unequal relationship (e.g., cultural) based on domination and subordination.

It is the effect a powerful country or group of countries has in the change or influence in the lives of other people in poorer countries.

It functions by extracting all value from the colonized people and territories.

In reference to cultural appropriation, culture is essentially a “natural resource” dominant groups extract from minority groups for the purposes of their self interests and in order to gain profits.

Iggy Azalea and a Culture of Appropriation

by: Shane Thomas
by: Shane Thomas | Source

Put It On...

the last "suit" you will ever wear.
the last "suit" you will ever wear.

Being Black, 'Acting White' In The Workplace

Some black men say they're held to higher standards than whites in the workplace. Wynndell Bishop says he made a conscious decision to speak with a softer voice and present himself in an unaggressive manner.
Some black men say they're held to higher standards than whites in the workplace. Wynndell Bishop says he made a conscious decision to speak with a softer voice and present himself in an unaggressive manner. | Source

What is Reverse Cultural Appropriation?

Forced assimilation is a form of reverse cultural appropriation.

This happens when a person or group must adopt the practices of another culture, such as adopting the dominant group's language, religious traditions, lifestyle, skin tone, etc.

This does not equal the appropriation of another person’s culture either.

For example, “business suits" tend to be an inescapable uniform to acquire access into the white collar workforce.

This yields ideology that the “native dress” of a minority culture is devalued and “uncivilized.”

So, in order for a minority group member to have a white collar career, job, or trade they must wear a business suit on a regular basis and conduct themselves accordingly.

This could infringe on the person's cultural identity or bring up other stereotypes (e.g., "oreo", "whitewashed", etc.).

Nevertheless, this is a social and cultural interpretation of success in the US.

There is a general understanding that, in the US, “business suits" equate to employment.

However, we often fail to recognize the cultural roots of this ideology and what it truly means for those forced to assimilate.

Question

Have You Heard Of Culturally Appropriation Before?

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13 Racist College Parties That Prove Dear White People Isn’t Exaggerating At All

About recent racist parties and get togethers college students have hosted.
About recent racist parties and get togethers college students have hosted. | Source

How To Avoid Cultural Appropriation

Tips to avoid this:

  • Study other cultures and locate information from original sources
  • When studying other cultures, pay attention to details about the culture and why things are done in a certain way.
  • Cultures are not monolithic. They are very complicated so, study more than one area (e.g., languages, dialects, food, rituals, customs, etc.).
  • Most things learned about other cultures via TV tend to be stereotypes so, study directly from the culture.
  • If you want to do something from another culture, learn its meaning in that culture, and inquire if it is disrespectful for you to do it.
  • Do not pretend to be an expert on the culture. Remain open minded and inquisitive.
  • Do not treat the culture as “exotic” or "edgy". Don’t make people feel strange for doing what is "normal" to do in their culture.
  • Don't embarrass or insult the person. Don't make them feel awkward. Treat them like every other person.

Julianne Hough: Cultural Appropriation Mishap

Julianne Hough dressed up as Crazy Eyes from 'Orange is the New Black' using "BlackFace" as she attended the Casamigos Tequila Halloween party in Hollywood on Oct. 25.
Julianne Hough dressed up as Crazy Eyes from 'Orange is the New Black' using "BlackFace" as she attended the Casamigos Tequila Halloween party in Hollywood on Oct. 25. | Source

Hallowed Costumes: More Examples of Cultural Apprpriation

Costume
Description
Racial Stereotype
Vato Loco
This mask caricature is mixed in with ghosts, ghouls and demons and is pitched as being among the most frightening of images
It denigrates Latinos to being that frightening using a Gang Banging stereotype
Pocahottie
Sexy dress w/ Indian beading, fringe hem, and matching feather headpiece
Shows native women as trivialized sexual objects
Kung-Fool
Black and white (Japanese) kimono, belt, vinyl half-cap, and rubber mask -- a buck-toothed, squinty-eyed caricature donning a headband with the Chinese character for "loser" inscribed
Even the name denotes negativity and racism toward Asian Americans and martial arts
Trayvon Martin
Bloody Hoodie and Black face
Riff on the slain Black teen by a vigilante member of the dominant group

How to Avoid Cultural Appropriation in Your Halloween Costume

By Lauren Nace
By Lauren Nace | Source

It's Not Cool

About Cultural Appropriation
About Cultural Appropriation | Source

Final Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation reinforces oppression.

It invalidates marginalized groups.

It also:

  • Commodifies: puts a monetary value on something that should not be sold or purchased (e.g., sacred headpieces).
  • Reinforces stereotypes:oppression, racism, & colonization.
  • Distorts images & customs: inaccurate and offensive caricatures.
  • Romanticizes cultures: depicts people as mythical or mysterious; something to be, not something that is.
  • Dehumanizes culture: Eroticism.

Cultural appropriation replaces the authentic with a copy created by the dominant culture. It dilutes the original, removes its value, and replaces it with a new, inaccurate meaning.

It is another form of colonization because it removes the original group responsible for the culture and reinforces the stereotypes about that group while monopolizing off of it.

When objects are taken out of context like this, much of their meaning is lost, so cultural appropriation is seen as a cheapening of the culture which has been “robbed.”

REMEMBER: Take time to study other cultures. Learn about "Cultural Exchange" and "White Privilege" to formulate a deeper understanding of this issue.

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