Am I Objective Or Ignorant When It Comes To Cultural Appropriation?

As I scrolled though my Instagram news feed this morning I came across a post by @hypebae with a picture of two models from the @marcjacobs SS17 runway and found myself in a four hour debate about cultural appropriation.

The designer chose for his models to wear colourful dreadlocks in a big messy knot on the top of their heads, accompanied by his equally colourful collection and the internet has gone nuts over it as a theft of black culture and black women’s identity being made ‘cool’ by white women.

In recent times there has been a big backlash when it comes to fashion and white celebrities sporting dreadlocks, corn rows, big buts, curvy figures and weaves, things that have previously been the ridicule for black women and strongly associated with their culture and heritage now being made ‘fashionable’. This is not a new concept, theft of black music, style and culture has been well documented and debated over the years and in no way do I mean to discredit this, But;

This particular case did not sit well with me (yes me a young white girl who has never had my own image or culture brought into question, i know).

For years I have wanted dreadlocks but only recently have doubted the idea. I grew up and am still currently living in New Zealand and my exposure to black women or culture is fairly minimal. I have Scandinavian heritage and for my child hood was surrounded by the surf culture of Mount Maunganui, so the relevance of my own personal dreadlocks inspiration has been ancient Vikings and some of the free spirited surfer girls and guys in my area. So if I were to adorn my head with dreads, would I be culturally appropriating black women?

My Instagram debate followed the lines of how dreadlocks have been noted in just about every culture over the centuries, and that no one culture has a claim to them over the other. Thankfully it was one of the rare online debates that did not get out of hand, but was very objective on both sides (and you’re welcome to take a look for yourselves).

I recognize the issue with cultural appropriation world wide, with examples such as American Indian headresses being worn by festival goers, the Haka being used in foreign media or film, Pasific Tattoos, Bindi and Hena, the list goes on. And also recognise that hair is a very important part of a black woman’s identity and that wearing ‘nappy hair’ making a come back is a big deal within black culture.

However in this particular case the inspiration to me looked more like 90’s Harujuku girls in japan, the pastel colours paired with colourful clothes just screamed Tokyo Street style, a well documented movement. But a clear offense and assumption of the theft of black women’s hair has been drawn in the media…

My question is this, if a curvy figure, corn rows, dreads and weaves being worn or promoted by women or designers who are not black themselves is seen as theft or being offensive, would the preferred path be to not use them at all? To not put an image not associated of one culture onto another? to remain in your own box?

This is an unpopular opinion to have but one day and even currently we will have to recognize that everyone genetically is becoming more and more mixed, a clear culture becoming more blurred, a cultural identity more diverse so is this that messy in between phase ?

Governments who are currently dealing with the repercussions of segregation, colonialism and mis-representation of minorities or the aboriginal people of their countries which have all faced objectification, should continue to do so, there is no “i’m sorry” which will fix these tragedies, past and present.

But at what point will we stop pointing the finger at what women should and shouldn’t wear? When it is and isn’t it okay to take inspiration from another culture, but can be a celebration of it? As long as they make it clear where their inspiration comes from it should be okay right? This years New York Fashion week also saw a runway where models wore hijabs the collection by Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan was celebrated and given high praise, but the same can not go for dreads?

I agree that the fashion industry has it’s flaws, and there should be better representation by all cultures with it’s models, which i believe is happening. (Kanye West’s Yeezy runway is not a good example of this)

I have no clear opinion on Cultural appropriation because I believe each case is different, and I am trying to keep an open and objective mind on each case the media presents me with. I want to keep learning and hearing what people in forums have to say, not the headlines but real people on both sides, I feel it is a more important voice.

But i have to ask am I being objective or ignorant when it comes to cultural appropriation?

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