Cultural “appreciation” or Cultural “appropriation”

In this specific era, there has been sparked up conversations on where to draw the line when it comes to “borrowing” cultures. Recent examples have been Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner sporting cornrows, or when Gucci decided to dress their white models with turbans on. The people in return apologize or defend themselves saying its a “fashion statement.” In 2016, Marc Jacobs, a designer, used dreadlocks mainly on his white models and his response was “to all who cry ‘cultural appropriation’ or whatever nonsense about any race or skin colour wearing their hair in any particular style or manner – funny how you don’t criticise women of colour for straightening their hair.” But the problem beneath all this is bigger.

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It’s when culturally significant items are appropriated for fashion rather than as a celebration of that culture which is what the picture above demonstrates.

Cultural appropriation is defined as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society” while cultural appreciation is “when elements of a culture are used while honoring the source they came from.” The original African Dashiki is a representation of black power, and its colorfulness and traditional print serve as a reminding refusal to fit into Eurocentric standards of fashion. The Dashiki began as a way to give power to African-Americans in the U.S. during the 1960s civil rights and Black Panther movements. African-Americans wore them to represent their black pride through the struggles they were going through. According to encyclopedia.com, the Dashiki is a West African Yoruba(Nigerian language) word meaning “underneath” and can be seen in “Dogon burial caves in Mali from the twelfth to the thirteenth centuries.” The color and patterns of the Dashiki are meant to tell a story and introduce motifs of spirituality, peace and fertility among communities. For someone to wear it as a fashion statement, when truly it is used to represent pride can come off as a domination of the white race to the African culture. It also represents the ignorance from the people wearing it because they don’t have any ties to it.

In comparison to the Dashiki is the Jewish Yamaka. The Jewish Yamaka is a deeply religious and spiritual symbol to the Jewish religion. Jewish men wear this to cover their heads but also as a sign of respect and to “honor God.” No one has tried to wear the Jewish Yamaka as a fashion statement which makes one wonder what the difference is between the Yamaka and the Dashiki.

On the other hand, it is understandable if someone wears this cultural wear to show their appreciation to the African roots. It is indeed phenomenal so see how different cultures are beginning to blend. I believe there are different ways we can go about the distinction between cultural assimilation and culture appropriation. Rather than drawing a line that can create a separation, people should explore the work that these designers are bringing to the table and extend their support by engaging ourselves more in their culture. This is just an example of a way one can educate themselves more. If individuals want to wear clothes that knowingly hark back to colonial oppression, no-one will stop them but they might expect to be asked about what they were thinking and they should be able to provide an answer. Open dialogues for discussions about why it’s wrong to blatantly wear cultural wear as “fashion statements” are necessary to today society so that these people can be pointed in the right direction and show respect for the culture in other ways.

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