My Culture is Not Couture

Nia Caldwell

Is imitation really the best form of flattery?

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]ornrows, eagle feathers, Native American jewelry, cultural appropriation in America runs rampant. Companies steal pieces from Asian, Native American or Black cultures and market them to us as new and trendy. Cultural appropriation is taking an item from another culture without respecting or understanding where that item comes from.

English teacher Ms. Casey Fleming describes cultural appropriation as, “when one culture borrows from a more marginalized, oppressed culture and turns some element of the culture into a mass production.” Many times, Americans culturally appropriate without realizing they are not respecting other cultures. This is personally problematic because often times, the culture of blacks is more appreciated than black people.

Growing up, I was constantly asked why my hair was so oily, so kinky, all while people put their fingers in my hair, unwarranted. I grew up hating my hair, classmates hid pencils in it and pried their fingers in the curls to find them. This is why I am curious as to why there is a sudden interest in trying to emulate blacks’ hairstyles. A recent Allure magazine article taught women how to “get an afro,” with a picture of a white woman with curly hair. Chinaza Ndee (11) had a problem with this article. Her disappointment with the recent article leads her to say, “The word afro literally has Africa in the name. And the media is turning our natural, beautiful, nappy hair into something trendy for them to exploit and profit off of. While black women are getting fired from jobs and suspended from school for their dreads, braids or natural hair, some white women suddenly adapt this part of black culture as a way to be edgy or trendy when for black people, it’s a constant struggle.” In fact, a Black woman was allegedly fired from BP for going to work with an ethnic hairstyle; a meteorologist for KTBS 3 News was let go after responding to comments that she should change her natural hair. “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?”, Actress Amandla Stenberg asks. A valid question, due to media selling our culture but lacking awareness of the mistreatment of Blacks in this country. During the recent unjust killings killings of Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and others, many people took a stand to march for these lives. Pressing the movement of “Black Lives Matter”, the same White celebrities and Americans so interested in black culture were nowhere to be found.

Black culture is not the only culture taken advantage of, Mrs. Fleming has observed an example of cultural appropriation in fashion: girls wearing necklaces that look like meditation beads. This trend makes her feel “a little uncomfortable that it has turned into a fashion statement, when those are sacred objects for some people. It is one thing for you to take objects from a mainstream thing; it’s another thing when you take objects from [a culture] that’s not mainstream and misunderstand it and use it superficially.” The stealing from Native American beads is so troubling because this is a culture that we have treated horribly in history.  Americans want to profit of off the work of a culture that has been oppressed for years.  

Recently, during Kinkaid’s first Commencement ceremony, Dr. Trusty introduced the concept of giving an eagle feather to someone honorable and trustworthy. Dr. Trusty shared that this tradition comes directly from Native American culture, and that it is the highest honor that can be received. In their culture, feathers symbolize honor, wisdom and power. They are extremely sacred and special. Dr. Trusty  was appreciating the culture rather that appropriating.

He claims, “If I thought anyone would be offended I would have scratched the whole idea.” He continues saying how he did a lot of research and did it out of respect. This is a wonderful example of knowing the importance of something and using it. As Ms. Ellis said “Although it may be done thoughtfully, we still have to be careful about what we take.”

Understanding can help in eradicating the ignorance that causes appropriation. Hopefully with more teaching America can help respect the black, latino and Native American people as much as the cultures they love to emulate.