Recently, an exclusive Live FAST editorial received some major heat via social media. The use of headdresses in Scarlet Mann’s “What Dreams May Come” walked a fine line between inspiration and appropriation that left many of our readers offended and outraged. Cultural appropriation is a constant debate – from Lana Del Rey to Iggy Azelea to Taylor Swift, the question of cultural sensitivity has been become incredibly prevalent in popular culture. In an attempt to be transparent with our readers, please understand that I am not a scholar nor am I an expert on cultural appropriation by any means. For these reasons, I will leave this post heavily embedded with links I found insightful for your continued reading.
During my first attempt at addressing this issue, I felt as if I should define cultural appropriation for our readers. As I filtered through academic sources summarizing the fundamentals of cultural appropriation, I realized that cultural appropriation and cultural exchange are separated by a fine, oftentimes naked to the blind eye, line. It is not my responsibility, nor any other blogger’s responsibility, to define what is and is not appropriation. Rather, I believe it is a writer’s responsibility to stimulate a critical conversation.
There is an element of respect that must be kept in mind whenever voyaging into another’s culture. Western civilization has a long-rooted history of taking pieces of a culture that seem appealing and forcing newcomers to assimilate the rest of their traditions to match Western ideology. To bank off a group that has been historically marginalized ignores the foundational pillars of said culture, thus robbing them yet again. Perhaps the politically correct and culturally sensitive way to appreciate a culture is to research into their history. Learn about the wrongs they have endured, the roots of colonialism, the resilience and strength shown through their traditions.
I’ve noticed that many have taken the term ‘gypsy’ to be synonymous with one who indulges in wanderlust. However, it is important to note that the word gypsy in itself is culturally insensitive, as the word is a racial slur used to describe Romani peoples. It is still common, despite backlash and raised awareness, to see the feathered war bonnets used in fashion. From Pharrell to Alessandra Ambrosio to gaggles of festival attendees, the appropriation of the headdress in American culture is quite alive. I found this man’s narrative to be a great jumping point for those interested in understanding the sacred and spiritual connotations the headdress holds to the Native American community.
To be interested in another’s culture is not the issue. It is when one attempts to capitalize off of sacred tokens from a culture. When one uses another group’s cultural symbols as a form of fashion expression, they are exercising their privilege. When one dips their hand in a world they are ignorant to, taking only what looks attractive to them and ignores the rest – this is where cultural appropriation comes into play and the issue lays.
Racism, appropriation, the line between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is all intimidating. We are prone to human error and I believe education is an equalizer. I feel it is important to keep this conversation stimulated – feel free to shoot me a response to firstname.lastname@example.org