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I look around and all I see are white girls in cornrows and dreads next to white boys playing Kendrick Lamar and saying “deadass.” Gigi Hadid is wearing an afro in a three-page foldout cover for Vogue Italia and a hijab in Vogue Arabia. Lucy Hale is calling her bangs “baby hairs” and laying them like edges. Every Kardashian ass is four times larger than it was 10 years ago.
People call them trends — the pop culture of this generation — but while white people indulge in what’s “new” and “hip,” people of color continue to be stereotyped for the cultures from which those trends came.
Our lifestyles aren’t trends, and the word for consuming other cultures without valuing their histories and people is appropriation — cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is ubiquitous in our society, trickling down from high fashion and celebrities to everyday people. Fashion designers like Valentino and Marc Jacobs as well as white women like Lena Dunham, Miley Cyrus and Fergie have co-opted hairstyles like cornrows and dreadlocks, which originate from Africa and the Caribbean. These icons take black hairstyles that have been degraded and condemned as “bad hair” by white America and turn them into the hot, new craze for that same group.
The argument from appropriators is that we should all be able to share our cultures, that we should be color blind and see each other as “equals.” That is the exact argument Jacobs used when confronted about his incorporation of dreadlocks into the fashion show for his 2016 spring collection. Jacobs denied the existence of cultural appropriation and went on to say, “I don’t see color or race — I see people … Appreciation for all and inspiration from anywhere is a beautiful thing.”
The problem with that argument is that you should, in fact, see color and race. Color and race are important, and so is culture. To say that to have equality you must not see color or race is to assert that you cannot see two people as equals if they look different or are of a different background. Can we not give people equal rights while still acknowledging and respecting their culture?
And respecting their culture means not stealing from it. White people “take inspiration” from other cultures and are lauded for discovering or creating something new (reminiscent of how America was built on the land and backs of people of color). These styles are quite literally exoticized when they have been around for centuries.
While white women are praised for these styles — protective styles that are meant to prevent breakage in black hair — black women are called “[n]appy headed hoes” for wearing them. White TMZ reporters were baffled to find that The Weeknd is able to wash his hair because of the misinformation about dreads circulating — a direct result of the popularity of the hairstyle among white people (despite the fact that the hairstyle was not meant for their type of hair). This is not the “beautiful thing” Jacobs presents it as.
White people defend their cultural appropriation by citing typically white hairstyles that women of color have “appropriated.” Jacobs said, “funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair.” Women of color have been pressured by white society to straighten and lengthen their hair in any way that they can — be it relaxers, hot combs, straighteners, weaves or extensions. Even today, curly hair is seen as unprofessional. People of color often consume white culture because we are pushed to; black girls have to straighten their natural hair or have mixed hair or get weaves to have “good hair,” people of color have to code-switch to be perceived as educated, and some people even bleach their skin to fit European beauty standards.
Adopting the culture of the oppressor is not the same as taking the culture of the oppressed.
White people use black/Latino slang, they listen to our music, they draw on our lips, buy our asses, spray on our skin, wear Timberlands, wear fake nails — but they do so from the throne of white privilege. They consume our cultures without the consequences of stereotyping we face. When a person of color does any of these things, they’re seen as “ghetto” or “ratchet,” words we know are coded for too-black or too-brown.
Women with large breasts and butts have been sexualized since white people saw black women in Africa; Sara Baartman was famously taken from Africa and displayed as a freak show around Europe for her “exotic” body type. Large booties were not mainstream until they were accepted by white media — white girls now aim for the fake Kylie Jenner body that Jennifer Lopez and Serena Williams have always had. Men have made the “white girls are evolving” meme popular because they want the ass but not the black or Latina girl that comes with it.
I have seen, first-hand, black people being turned away from parties under the guise of the venue being “at capacity,” while rap blares in the background and white people enter minutes later, slinging the N word. My friends were too dark for The Hill.
White people want to look like us and consume our culture and say the one word they really shouldn’t — a word that is rooted in hate and oppression and has been taken back by the black community — but they don’t want to give up their privilege.
White people want the black aesthetic but not the black reality.
Similarly, men and women of color are often fetishized by white people. Black, Latino and Asian men and women are objectified and diminished to stereotypical personality traits like sassy, fiery or intelligent. Or, my personal favorite, strong.
White people refer to skin colors as food: dark skin is chocolate, light skin is caramel. Black men become a tool for white women to have “cute babies”; black women, an accessory for white men. In this manner, fetishization is a form of cultural appropriation itself.
I am in no way against interracial dating — I myself am the product of a white and Japanese mother marrying my black father — but that relationship was built on a deep understanding of each other as people and for one another’s culture.
Often times, white people have an idea of what dating a person of color would be like, and this is when the fine line between having a type and exoticizing a race is crossed. When white people like the idea of a person of color but do not seek to understand the person, it becomes problematic.
That is the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation: cultural appreciation is honoring a culture and valuing its history and its people. When white people consume other cultures at the same time they devalue people of color, use white models for otherwise stigmatized black styles, say appropriation does not exist and are ignorant of the history of the hairstyle, music or word, it is not appreciation — it is appropriation.
Please, stop taking our culture if you won’t accept our people.
Contact CU Independent Opinion Columnist Lauren Arnold at email@example.com.