By Ariel Bowen
With social media as our medium, the younger generation is becoming increasingly vocal about racial injustice nationwide and is now beginning to recognize the issue of cultural appropriation. This concept is nothing new, but it has become more prevalent in today’s digital era.
What exactly is cultural appropriation? Many find it difficult to give it an exact definition, but to put it in layman’s terms, it’s basically “borrowing” some element specific to a culture and misrepresenting it and/or taking credit for it.
Miley Cyrus is a great example of this, as she has been accused of it countless times with her attempts to incorporate hip-hop culture into her image. You may be familiar with the pop star’s performance at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. While on stage, the former Disney star began twerking, a dance style known to have originated within the African-American community.
Her performance, along with many of her other efforts to “be black” in 2013, led many of us to see her as making a mockery of African-American culture as opposed to paying homage.
More recently, I found myself scrolling through my Twitter feed and every day, finding new tweets attacking cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation which was usually in the form of young white women in traditional dress from Asian cultures or in hairstyles like cornrows or dreadlocks, flaunting it as “exotic”.
At first, I praised this, it was refreshing to see people my age take charge and expose this very serious issue. However, I began to notice a trend in these “attacks” and that they were just that: attacks. I thought to myself “Okay, the problem’s been exposed (rather harshly, but exposed nonetheless) now what?
The incident that specifically led me to realize this was when Zoe Reeves (@Zoe93 on Twitter), tweeted a picture with her hair styled in cornrows captioned “Sorry if anyone sees it as cultural appropriation… I know it looks better on black girls and don’t mean to offend”. As expected, this elicited a great number of responses and some were not very positive, which did not sit well with me.
For the record, I am not trying to sympathize with her or cultural appropriators in general. I mean, after the oppression we as a community have been through and are still going through, a simple slap on the wrists won’t solve the problems that years of institutionalized racism have created. BUT in a society in which we’re trying to push for tolerance and equality, I feel that there is a more productive way to go about fighting this injustice and I just can’t see this harassment veiled as social justice as a reflection of what that could be.
Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg, made a video in April titled “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows”. In the video, she explains cultural appropriation and how celebrities’ exploitation of black culture is actually hurting it.
She revisited the subject in July after reality star Kylie Jenner, posted a selfie of her in cornrows on Instagram. The child actress commented,
“When u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter”
This is what I imagine when I hear about someone taking a stand against the effects of institutionalized racism in our society. We should be informing those who don’t know any better instead of pretending to try to gain support for the cause through insults. Because let’s be honest, it’s only effective if your goal is to gain retweets and laughs, not actually making people aware of the problem.
So, the next time you decide to “drag” a white girl flaunting dreadlocks in a selfie, don’t try to make it out to be this warped form of social justice. Remember to also keep educating your peers. Spread your knowledge and help others understand the difference between appropriation and appreciation so that we can leave a better future for generations to come.