Cultural appropriation. It’s arguably the most exhausted word in recent years when it comes to conversations of cultural currency: from music to fashion. It’s easy to say that naysayers have used the debate to point fingers at anyone whose imagery, symbols and/or language are associated with a particular ethnic culture or subculture— what about good old cultural appreciation?
This piece is an excerpt from an article written for Ethical Style Journal, available for pre-order here.
But it’s important to remember what cultural appropriation is. With cultural appropriation comes a disconnect between the original culture and the manner in which it is used, represented and interpreted by
Most of the world has been traumatized in some form or another by European & American imperialism. The central question shouldn’t be whether someone can wear or say or do a certain thing, but whether that choice disenfranchises other populations who do and live those things as part of their lifestyle, and are penalized by a (white) majority for doing so.
COMMERCIAL APPROPRIATION: CO-OPTING REPRESENTATION AS TOKENIZATION
In an increasing politically and racialized polarized world, it feels like communities of color (and their cultures, specifically) are the next hottest things. In their February 2018 issue, Nylon celebrated Black History Month by touting that everyone they hired for the February cover story was a woman of color.
Should this be something to celebrate?
Big businesses are notorious for taking shortcuts to co-opt the language of representation and empowerment in the name of profit. That’s not to say that the promotion of women of color in the creative industry should be undermined, but will the active hiring of women of color continue after this issue? Will they be paid at the same price as their white and male counterparts?
When your marketing and PR campaigns are rooted in promoting how diverse you are, it isn’t inclusion and diversity. It’s tokenization.
True inclusion is authentic and organic. If you focus on diversity, you will question who is in the room. If you focus on equity, you will question who is trying to get into the room, but can’t, and what factors are at play to systemically undermine their voices.
And our ideas of minorities, especially women of color, should transcend palatable narratives. Everyone loves the indigenous woman who talks about peace, love, nature, and spirituality. Not everyone loves the indigenous woman who talks about genocide, racism, colonialism, and justice.