Cultural Appropriation or Culturally Appropriate

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In a society in which Donald Trump can spew any kind of hate speech, and be given a platform with a view of the White House, can’t a white girl have dreadlocks?

Can cultural appropriation lead to progress while respect for people’s “otherness” hold us back?

Doesn’t outrage get exhausting?

I look into these questions and more in my latest piece for Fashion United. Have a read of it here and let me know your thoughts.

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20 comments

  1. love what you wrote- and especially the part about crediting and coming together 🙂

  2. I pretty much agree. We do live in a melting pot culture. Thinking more music than fashion, all western popular music genre of the last century are cross-culture pollinations. But we need to give credit where credit is due and not try to rip off someone else’s identity.

    • Absolutely! We’d have no Bowie without Little Richard. And we’d have no Plastic Soul phase if the skinny white Londoner didn’t take the risk of pilfering but with respect…. Oh no, I thought I was over it… :-/

      • I’ve actually been going back and forth – about 2 weeks ago I picked up Scary Monsters, which I hate to admit I didn’t have, particularly since I’m a huge Fripp fan and there is a lot of Fripp and Fripp influenced guitar on it. And so I’ve had another round of 24×7 Bowie listening, which is now coming to an end. For a short time….

      • I’m really appreciating his use of sax throughout his many phases. Soul Love is on a loop in my head as I write this. But yes, when you start to identify the style and work of the musicians he played with, that’s a whole new rabbit hole to plummet down. Good luck!

  3. Awesome piece Jackie. It’s a very thin line, the one of appropriation: where does a designer’s inspiration become appropriation? I am not sure of the decision of shooting clothes that sell for thousands of dollars amongst Masai (who, I hope, were well compensated but will never ever wear even a Valentino belt). On an aside, though, the clothes are stunning, as always.

  4. Very interesting, and thank you for adding to the discussion. It gets difficult to balance traditions-declining-in-anonymity with the often exploitative nature of our consumer culture. I think of all the “cultural” events that other tour companies sell to their members that no local would ever attend, at least not anymore, or worse, the things that were sacred and are now on the rack with a price tag.

    I’m curious, do you have any thoughts on how a consumer/outsider should show respect and gratitude to the Other culture?

    • I suppose if 2 holiday makers out of a coach load of 20 take the opportunity to visit the cultural landmarks and tour’s special events, that’s to be applauded. Locals tend to overlook the beauty right under their noses until perhaps they’ve been away and returned with a new appreciation of it. I know how that’s how I am regarding Ireland. I guess respect is shown through curiosity and sensitivity and paying local businesses for their wares rather than buying from big corporations like Urban Outfitters who exploit a lot of cultures without recognition and have been sued for it. It’s a matter of integrity and if each individual examined his conscience, I’m sure the right decisions would be made more often that the wrong. But then again when a quick buck’s involved, some people lose contact with their conscience…

      • I think the distinction I was trying to make is that a lot of “cultural events” are commodified to the point of inauthenticity. (I’ve seen lots of things labeled and marketed as “American” overseas that had nothing to do with the US, and one would never actually find here. I found them amusing and unoffensive, because: see below)

        But perhaps more important, I think the argument could be made that taking inspirations from somewhere else is qualitatively different when there is a vast power disparity between the Taker country and the (not necessarily even willing) Giver culture. That’s when it doesn’t feel like multi-cultural sharing or homage, and drifts into exploitation and commercialization of the exotic.

      • Agreed. I think there are immense benefits if partnerships are forged between the “Giver” and the “Taker” and that is happening. Even in the obstinate and often belligerently unprogressive fashion industry. But it’s generally small-scale and the large corporations still need to improve their practices. I think as a creative person, it’s a disservice not to look and learn, but not with gay abandon. There must be sensitivity. I’m mourning the loss of David Bowie and can’t help bringing him into this for how many musicians he cited and lifted from but always giving credit. Where would the world be with Young Americans from his Plastic Soul phase? 🙂
        Regarding your overseas Americana, I can fairly sympathize. It might be likened to the dodgy proliferation of “authentic Irish pubs” that litter the planet from Sydney to Swaziland, and the cacophony of madness that is referred to as St Patrick’s Day!

  5. I will be waiting for that Native American exhibition, too. Sounds fabulous!

  6. Brilliant post. Ripe for full-on discussion. I agree completely. How can we not take inspiration from the things we see, even in passing? what is art other than a riff on what we’re thinking about? As long as it’s a riff, and not a copy.

  7. Such labels get on my nerves too. In this era of internet over-sensitivity, acute political correctness and labeling let’s just calm down a bit and think that we may all be guilty of ‘cultural appropriation’. What about the blue jeans, the American heritage workwear, for example? Nowadays made all over the world in all sorts of cheap/crappy fabrics – most of us wear those, am I wrong?

    Being inspired by other civilizations is part of being open-minded, outreaching, culture-sharing, bridging gaps between different cultures. Having said that, I agree that artists and designers should give due credit when they copy entire traditional garments/artefacts/movements for their collections/albums; it’s one thing to be inspired – another to downright copy.

    A Native American fashion exhibition? Totally culturally appropriate and about time too!

  8. I agree, Lia. I think it’s different in Europe. I’ve spoken to some European friends who now live here and we all agree our experience is different here. Our reactions have become more grey, our opinions less conclusive. It does lead to triple-thinking things. Hence the reasons for my article, I suppose! I think it’s because the prejudices and discrimination happen right under the nose here in the US but in a creepy, lazy, unchecked way. It’s less the case in London or Milan where I’ve lived before and probably Belgium I imagine. Although there are problems, of course, the larger picture is different, I feel. The injustices aren’t quite so ingrained into society as here, So people separate and form cliques and then erupt against each other. It’s pretty sad. But I agree with you it also leads to hypersensitivity and people looking for battles where there really shouldn’t be any because the bigger battles are not fightable and their frustration is at an all-time high. In short, it’s a hot mess!
    XO!

  9. What a spot-on comment: “If you are going to lift a direct copy of the garment in question, what is the point of calling yourself a designer?” THAT is cultural theft. I loved this article of yours. (Well, I tend to love your writing in general.) The Native American fashion exhibition sounds wonderful and exactly the kind of cultural appropriation we need to engage in. I also appreciate your sharing about your own fling with dreadlocks, how you had your own reasons for wearing dreadlocks, representative of your age and your environment and your innocence.

    I agree that the US is hypersensitive. The media thrives on it which is one reason why people like Trump and extremists on either end of the political spectrum get the most play, while more rational, reasonable voices are drowned out.

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