Inappropriate appropriation

The fad of cultural appropriation should be recognized as insensitive

Supplied by The Huffington Post
Vanessa Hudgens at Coachella 2014.
Vanessa Hudgens at Coachella 2014.
Supplied by Saska- Prieto-Sacro

Tania Nguyen, ArtSci ’18

Cultural appropriation — and what it looks like — is a good thing to be cognizant of before dressing up this Halloween.

Cultural appropriation is the act of thieving specific aspects from other cultures and framing them as your own. This trend has become pervasive within our society, and takes its form particularly within clothing.

Although some celebrities feel the need to wear clothing with symbols that have strict religious meaning, or clothing that trivializes a violent history of oppression and discrimination, we don’t need to submit ourselves to the same behaviour.

The grey area between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation must be addressed. The former bases itself on disrespect, while the latter is about respect and truly wanting to understand a culture other than your own. Appropriating a culture is to wear those symbols without having any understanding of its history or the people to which the culture belongs, in order to turn it into a consumable trend.

Culture isn’t a trend. Culture isn’t a costume. It contains symbols, metaphors, religions and stories that are meant to be personal and sacred.

Unfortunately, some celebrities have caused cultural appropriation to become an everyday occurrence by constantly using culture to add to their fashion sense.

Examples of these celebrity offenders of cultural appropriation include actress Vanessa Hudgens, who posted pictures of herself at this year’s Coachella festival on her Instagram in an Indigenous headdress and a bindi. Supermodel Karlie Kloss wore a headdress in the 2012 Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

Indigenous headdresses can mean different things for different groups of Indigenous peoples. Often, it’s considered a sacred piece of headwear that must be earned.

Both these celebrities faced backlash online for their choice in clothing. Instagram users posted comments on Hudgens’ account, including “loveanddream112”, who said, “No piece of religion should be used as a fashion statement”.

Victoria’s Secret and Kloss, meanwhile, apologized for the outfit after online criticism.

Culture isn’t a trend.Culture isn’t a costume. It contains symbols, metaphors, religions and stories that are meant to be personal and sacred.

This sporting of bindis, Native American headdresses and “tribal” prints for reasons other than cultural ones would fall under the category of cultural appropriation. It’s inappropriate to wear these articles for the mere purposes of being perceived as cool or “boho”.

Doing so undermines the history of oppression that many people of colour have faced — oppression that often stemmed from the refusal to renounce their culture.

For example, Indigenous peoples in Canada have been stripped of their rights since foreign settlers arrived on their land.

Historically, the Canadian government has used horrific methods to coerce Indigenous peoples to assimilate to “Canadian” culture. In the residential schools of the 19th and 20th centuries, children were punished if they showed the slightest hint of Indigenous cultural knowledge.

The Indigenous community as a whole was also punished for embracing their culture. The Canadian government forbade them from wearing cultural garments and conducting cultural rituals, such as the Potlatch ceremony. They struggled for the right to retain their culture and the right to survive. Some Indigenous people died to defend this identity.

European colonists were the ones responsible for the colonization and assimilation of indigenous populations and of numerous other groups within North and South America.

In the 21st century, though, their descendants walk out of their homes decked in the clothes of the people they oppressed — because they have the privilege to do so.

This sporting of bindis, Native American headdresses and “tribal” prints for reason other than cultural ones would fall under the category of cultural appropriation.

People of all backgrounds, of course, have the ability to appropriate culture. In the end, it comes down to this: don’t steal history.

Cultural appreciation is a different story. Learning another peoples’ language, history and traditions would fall under this category. This allows a true understanding of a culture without minimizing its significance or erasing the history of a people.

This Halloween, don’t take another culture’s history and make it your own. You shouldn’t place yourself within that culture because you want to look fashionable.

Having knowledge of a culture doesn’t mean you can take whatever you like from it. It’s wrong to make a spectacle out of what’s meant to be sacred for the sake of looking pretty.

Before you think of dressing up like an Aztec warrior or Hindu god this Halloween, remember the definition of cultural appropriation.

Tania Nguyen is a first-year student.

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