Oh to Be a Muse | Bay Area Fashion Blogger Inspiring Style: Cultural Appropriation in Style

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Cultural Appropriation in Style

2/19/2016

PLEASE READ THE ENTIRETY -- IT'S WORTH IT
It took me a while to write this post. I usually like to keep everything on here light, fun and related to fashion, beauty or some sort of review. But so much of this craziness has been happening lately, that I really just wanted to add my two cents. And this does have a style angle so it's still sort of in tune with what I like to have on the Muse.

I'm sure you all have heard of cultural appropriation right? It's really just when one culture adopts and uses the elements that belong to another culture. This happens all the time -- from culture to culture, but it seems as though cultural appropriation has been really affecting black culture in a negative way lately.

I'm all for the enjoyment of various cultures. I really don't know how anyone can truly get to know anyone from a different culture without experiencing elements of said culture. I also don't think there should be such thing as acting black or acting white because people are complicated creatures and there's no one way in which someone should act. But I feel like people keep missing the point...

Bantu Knots
Did you hear about the Marc Jacobs Spring 2015 fashion show? At this show, his models wore Bantu Knots and called them mini buns. The issue here is that black women have been wearing Bantu Knots (and calling them Bantu Knots) for centuries, dating back to the Zulu tribes of Africa. Many famous black women have worn them as well (including Uzo Aduba, Lauryn Hill, etc.), but the Marc Jacobs' team was quick to credit Bjork as the inspiration while re-naming a hairstyle that's been around for way too long to not be aware of as someone in the industry. And did I mention that his team also said that "mini buns" go best with African and tribal makeup...
The lesson here: It's absolutely cool and OK for any designer or model to wear a hairstyle based in a culture that's not their culture. The problem is not calling it what it is or giving credit to its culture.

Twist Outs
Here comes another hair story. Seems like there's a bit of a hair obsession [like how Cosmopolitan magazine recently tweeted that "hair tattoos" were the latest trend...black people have been putting lines in their hair for decades -- just visit your neighborhood barber shop. And the same has been said about baby hair and cornrows], which is kind of interesting. Recently, a vlogger did a hair tutorial on her YouTube showing how you can get curly hair without the use of heat. She called it the rope trick. Her video got picked up and practically went viral. Here's the issue: the style she's imitating is called a Twist Out, and black people with natural hair have been doing it for years. And, no offense, it looks a lot better on natural hair. Again, I have no issue with this vlogger re-creating the style. But she wants people to believe that this trick is all hers. I especially love when she says it's perfect for "unruly hair".
The lesson here: It's absolutely cool and OK for anyone to wear any hairstyle they like, no matter the culture. But please, please, give credit where credit is due.

Twerking
A trend that you might have noticed here is that black culture actually comes up with a lot of elements that become pop culture. And that's wonderful. But it seems as though many things that black culture creates are taken without being credited. I'll be the first to say that I'm not a fan of twerking. I can't do it and I don't think children should be doing it, but I'm totally cool with it being used by dancers. I see twerking as a dance move. Note, it's not the only dance move in history that I'm not a fan of, but it has become quite popular lately. 

The issue here is that so many people seem to think of Miley Cyrus when they think of twerking. The dance move has been around since at least 1993 (when Miley was one). Recently, a black twerk instructor wanted to work for a UK studio that offered a twerk class once a week. She shared her experience and a video of her twerk workshop with the studio. The studio declined her, stating that her twerking style was too basic. And their website even says that Miley Cyrus made twerking popular. Now, the studio has all rights in the world to turn down an offer. They don't have to hire anyone they don't want to hire. But I saw a video of the studio's twerking class (they've since removed it) and I couldn't give you an example of anything more basic in my life. And I also saw a video of the black instructor's twerking class (below). There is NOTHING basic about that. I've known how to shake my ass for years, but it would take more classes than I'd like to admit to achieve this level of twerkdom.
The lesson here: If twerking is your thing and you can twerk, more power to you. I know that twerking started in black culture, and I'm totally fine with any and every culture twerking if they can twerk. But know where it came from and appreciate it.
Rihanna
My current jam right now is Rihanna's Work from her new album. I mean, it gives me life. And one reason why it does this is because it's so inherently Caribbean. In case you forgot, I was born in Jamaica (and Rihanna is from Barbados). I don't think she's made a song with this much island style in years, and some people are giving her criticism for that. People are calling it gibberish because there are parts of the song that they don't understand and a line or two where she cuts off the last sound of a word. Coming from a Caribbean person, I can tell you that this is a dance hall, reggae, island style. It offends me because it takes two seconds to Google the lyrics and read that you can clearly understand 90% of the song. It also offends me because instead of calling it Jamaican patois or another form of native tongue dialect, people are calling it gibberish.

Can I just tell you that I'm pretty sure people would call this the greatest thing since sliced bread if Miley Cyrus did this. It's like how Bo Derek in cornrows equals sexy and exotic, but black women in cornrows equals prison inmate.
[note the Bantu Knots in her hair]
The lesson here: Ask around if you don't understand before belittling and writing it off.
Slang
You know words like bye Felicia, on fleek, bae, swag, etc.? Yes, those are slang terms that a lot of millenials are saying these days. And like all slang, not everyone will like them. I'll even admit that I'm pretty tired of many of these slang terms, myself. But I think it's quite funny that a lot of young black kids came up with these silly phrases that have become so popular that they're all over T-shirts, coffee mugs and beanies -- and worn by practically everyone from every culture. But as soon as one of these young black kids gets shot for no reason, then people turn a blind eye.
It's like the world is saying, "Look bae, your swag is on fleek, but if you get shot by a police officer then you and your entire race are on your own. But I'm going to keep saying bae...because coffee is bae AF."

Beyonce
When Beyonce performed at the Super Bowl halftime show, I kept scrolling social media and seeing a ton of positive responses about her performance. So many people even declared that they were only watching the game for Beyonce. But just a couple hours later, I read some articles (and saw some interviews) about how many people were offended by her performance. They said that she shouldn't use a football game to make a political statement because her dancers had a sign calling for justice for an unarmed black man who was slain by police officers. They said that she was racist because her dancers dressed like the Black Panthers and that they all got into an X formation.

Remember when I was scrolling social media and saw all those people loving Bey's performance? Well 90% of those people were white. And I honestly believe that those people didn't take any issue with her performance of Formation. But I truly hope that they understood the message in the video and song (and I'm not just talking about the Red Lobster part).

The lesson here: It's absolutely cool and OK to love black culture -- from our Beyonces to our slang. But listen to what biracial Amandla Stenberg said and try to love black people as much as you love black culture.

I didn't even say anything about big butts and big lips (like this post on MAC's IG that caused a lot of racial divide on the beauty of big lips when on other people)...this post was long enough already. Please leave your thoughts in the comments. I REALLY want to know what you have to say!

More Musings

29 musings

  1. i need a swag tee in my life
    keep in touch
    www.beingbeautifulandpretty.com
    www.indianbeautydiary.com

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  2. Girl, that last line. Love black people as much as you love black culture, nailed it. I agree with your thoughts and sentiments 1000%. Worth a share.

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  3. What a thought-provoking post, Cheryl. Thank you for this. I'm going to be honest...I think a lot of these issues come from people just being not knowledgeable enough of other people's backgrounds and cultures, myself included :( A lot of the "trends" that have been picked up and that I loved or loving right now....I didn't know the origin. I just thought, "Oh hey. That's pretty cool." I have no intention of offending anyone, but sometimes, it just happens because of my ignorance. The bottom line: knowledge is indeed power. We should all try to be more aware.

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  4. I agree, and have seen a lot of cultural appropriation, by fashion and by everyday people. And, yet there is so much racism in the world. It's a topic that many people want to ignore but it needs to be discussed, as I said in my earlier post. How about we learn to love one another, + black culture. :) Have a good weekend.

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  5. Wow - amazing post! Thank you for sharing this, Cheryl!! I agree with Emmy Lou above ^ on picking up trends and not thinking about the origin. I am guilty of this. We need to educate ourselves, myself included.

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  6. Completely loved this!! Though LOL to the first comment. These are things that have been rattling me for a long time now. Any time one says anything about them, your seen as complaining or being 'racist' yourself or stirring up trouble. But, it's so important and happens to so many cultures. I dislike when people dress as geisha and stuff like that. We really need more educating when it comes to these issues because most people don't have a clue at all. Super post xx

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  7. I love this post! It was very insightful and I agree that if people are going to use cultural aspects then they should credit them!
    and that last line- so so true!

    Have a great weekend!
    XO Sahra
    Que Sera Sahra

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  8. I love this post! the history of fashion and trends is one of my favorite topics! totally agree about Ri. I was sad for a while, because when she left the island, she swore she'd never leave her roots in her music. at least it is back!
    elle
    Southern Elle Style

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  9. I became really familiar with twerking when my brother worked on the first season of Big Freedia's show on Fuse. He just loved being around all of the bounce music in New Orleans. I had no idea about bounce until he started working with Freedia and then I dove into you tube videos of him and he is fascinating (and a super sweet person). After all of that, then Miley Cyrus comes on and "twerks" and I was like, um no, that's not even how you do it - my eyes rolled the whole time. Freedia has a lot to say about Miley's twerking and offered to give her lessons so she could do it properly - lol. He basically wants everyone to twerk all over the world, but at the same time to acknowledge where it came from. Can't argue with that! ("Excuse" is my favorite Big Freedia song)

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  10. Very profound post. I agree with you, When something black goes mainstream then it is suddenly cool, but if retained in the black community, it's seen a thuggish or ghetto.

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  11. I agree with your posts in so many ways. I even learnt a thing or two as I didn't know the origin of a lot of those words/trends. However, I feel the same way about a lot of Indian things used in fashion, movies and pop culture without any credit. It makes me mad, because no credit is given and people think it's just cool to wear a bindi, maang teeka etc.

    ∞ © tanvii.com ∞


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  12. This post came right when it is needed. I am done with all this love for black culture but hate for black lives.
    I am done for people saying why can't black people just get over it? Oh well we can't get over it. If you are going to a therapist at 40 for something that happened to you at 4 then you should understand why we all need to address racism, slavery and colonialism.
    We live in a world where we all have to be scared after Kendrick's performance because he sent a message on the value of black lives. A world where the media wants you to believe that all black men are violent, baby fathers, irresponsible and black women are just lazy, dirty and repulsive.
    A world where Tupac's message through rap was too honest, where the actor playing Micheal Jackson is white , as if we have more for the taking.
    A world a white girl will pay hundred of dollars to get lip injection for fuller lips, but bash a black girl that is born with it naturally.
    I hope all human will wake up and realize that this is war and we need to be alleys not enemy.
    I hope all black girls will see themselves in all occupation, will grow to love who they are irrespective of race, class and geographical location.
    I can go on and on but I am actually tired.

    http://www.distinguisheddiva.com/

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    1. While I think you're right on a lot of these counts, I just want to say that it's more than a little unfair to hold the entire world of people responsible for something that happened to you as a child. I think that racism is wrong and needs to change. Issues should be addressed just as slavery - which still exists today in many developing countries - as well as imperialism should be, but to say that people thought Tupac's message was too honest or that a white girl who gets lip injections immediately hates black women born with them? I disagree with that. That said, we have to be allies as you said. We are all human beings and I don't think it's war. It's a painful growth period where we all have to work together for change. Everyone is equal and sometimes I think some people don't want that. They want to be better. They want special treatment and to be entitled. And I hope all girls, no matter their race or nationality, can see themselves in any occupation in any place and that there can stop being so much separation. All it does is perpetuate the divide. And I think it's important to note that racism exists on both sides. We all have to work together than change things.

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  13. Wow!! Cheryl, you hit the nail on the head! How amazing of you to take on this issue; great job. You are absolutely right in all the comparisons and analogies that you highlighted.

    So much double standard and racial inequality is still so prevalent in our society. God help us.

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  14. Great read!!! Spot on with the comparisons!

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  15. Thank you for sharing what a lot of us are thinking. Keep up the awesome work!#

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  16. I agree with Emmylou , I think all your points are extremely valid but can honestly say I don't always view things with there hidden connotations- or obvious for that matter. With social media being so prevalent in society- I think a lot of things are looked at for face value rather than true intentions. Your blog inspired me to stop and think before I claim my opinion on something I only know a little about

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  17. Interesting post!
    Have a nice evening!
    Gil Zetbase
    http://gilzetbase.com/

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  18. To say this post is interesting doesn't do it justice. I loved reading your thoughts on this and very much agree that it's important to credit the source. I think it's cool how cultures inspire one another, but we aren't celebrating those cultures if we don't acknowledge them.
    I do think a big part of the problem is that people don't think about the source. They just accept what a magazine or celebrity tells them without giving a thought to what has inspired the latest "trend". Knowledge is power, and posts like this one are important.

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  19. This is a great (and informative!) read, Cheryl! I'm with you- it's great to call attention to the customs of other cultures (even if you are not from that culture), but give credit where credit is due- especially when you have a platform, like Marc Jacobs does.

    And just because you don't fully understand the message (because white priv is real), doesn't make it racist- ie, Beyonce's Formation vid + Superbowl performance. She is taking a political stand because she has an opinion + the platform to do so. AND I LOVE IT. We have to, as a nation/race of human beings, stand together and understand ALL our issues, not just the issues of a certain race/class/group.

    -Ashley
    Le Stylo Rouge

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  20. I say cease and desist. Do not hide behind the cover of ignorance and feign knowledge without, well, doing your homework. I can completely relate to everything you're saying, Cheryl, because a version of each point you've listed has happened to Asians as well, albeit in varying degrees. People appear to appreciate only that which has been commercialised and/or made popular by whomever is currently trending. Many of us tend to circumvent the issue. Much more can be achieved if we all made our thoughts known, in a civilised and informed fashion. Thank you, Cheryl, for turning on the spotlight.

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  21. I really love how eloquently written this post is. I don't know if I agree with all of your points however. I don't think African culture can realistically take credit for every bun in existence, but the Marc Jacobs show was a pretty obvious rip from Banut Knots and it's kind of a shame that they didn't give credit or note the influences they took from it (which was apparent to everyone). Also, as an Italian/Sicilian/Irish girl with seriously unruly curly/wavy hair, I don't think finger waves or curls can be credited to anyone. I think that's a bit much. Twerking, however, and all the slang you mentioned (however annoying it might be) have clear roots in black culture and I agree that there's a lot of people who enjoy black culture without appreciating the source which is so wrong. At the same time, I want to mention that I've loved Beyonce since I was young and I get that she was trying to make a statement, but I think it was kind of wrong to dress as black panthers and do the whole X thing (if that was a reference to Malcom X). Black panthers were extremely violent historically and so was Malcom X. In fact, you could say Malcom X was kind of racist in some of his views even. I'm not saying that makes Beyonce a racist or anything like that, but I certainly don't think it promotes equality, unity, or love for all the different people in the world. It has much the opposite effect and starts to seem more about "us v. them" which I think is pretty counterproductive if we're trying to promote unity and fight against racism. As for black lives matter, absolutely agree. It's more than wrong some of the things that have happened and it does need to change. We all have to work together to bring that change to manifest itself. And as for Rihanna, how can people not like her music? I don't get it. Screw those people lol. Anyway, I hope you're not offended by my words because they come from the heart. Racism is an issue on both sides and we need to treat is like the disease that it is. The only treatment for which is love, acceptance, peace, and unity. I'll be sharing this post ♥

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    1. Hey hun! Thanks so much for your comment! I just want to clarify a couple parts:

      I don't think African culture can stake claim on every bun in existence. What I said was: "black women have been wearing Bantu Knots (and calling them Bantu Knots) for centuries, dating back to the Zulu tribes of Africa"

      So Bantu Knots aren't buns...they are a specific hair style where hair is parted all over and wrapped into small knots. This specific hair style started in Africa, and it's PERFECTLY awesome for EVERYONE to wear this style. Just credit it to its proper origin instead of crediting it to Bjork and renaming it.

      Also, I think anyone can "own" finger waves or curls, but I wasn't talking about finger waves or curls, exactly. I was specifically mentioning a no-heat method of creating curls. This method is called a twist out. And the hair/beauty vlogger was using the twist out method to create a curly look but not calling it a twist out, and instead, re-naming it. All I ask is that she finds out where this method originated and then do it on her hair. I have absolutely no issue with her doing it. The issue is re-naming it and not crediting the original source.

      Totally get your perspective on the Beyonce/Super Bowl performance. The same can be said about rock bands who have performed on large stages with the confederate flag as backdrops. There should always be a way to put the issues to the forefront without creating a divide.

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  22. Hi Cheryl,

    Thanks for your reply! I think I worded what I was trying to say wrong. I was simply trying to say I agree with what you wrote. I just meant it would be one thing if it was just a bun - obviously it wasn't. That's what I meant. Also for the twist outs, I'm not familiar with this YouTuber - can you link me to the video? When you say twist outs, I'm thinking of the curls I did with my grandmother as a child so maybe I'm thinking of the wrong thing. It's totally possible. And of course credit should be given where credit is due. We should all be more educated on the cultures of the world so we can fully appreciate them. And that includes European and Indian cultures which nobody ever credits, I might add.

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    1. Thank you for writing about this. I really think it's so important for us to have a dialogue about these things so we can all learn and grow together :)

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  23. Thank You Thank You. Thank You for this Blog Post!

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  24. YES! Bravo for writing this post. Vogue also recently showed models with du-rags on and they called them "silk caps" lol like c'mon... and don't get me started on crediting the Kardashian with these braid trends. I definitely think it's important to call it out and give credit where credit is due. Especially since in the beauty industry not everyone is represented (i.e. a lot of white ladies lol).

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  25. absolutely agree with you, I think it's fine if people borrow stuff from different cultures as long as it's in a respectful way and they NEVER forget where they took it from. There's a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Awesome post! xx

    - Tabitha Beverlin
    www.larimar.com

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♥ Thank you all for leaving your comments! ♥ Remember to find inspiration in everything! ♥