A few months ago the internet blew up in outrage at Kylie Jenner’s braids. They threw around a terms like “cultural appropriation” and “racism” and the sudden attention to a historical problem took me by surprise. So what exactly is cultural appropriation? Cultural appropriation occurs when someone adopts a practise or style from a different race without fully understanding the cultural significance or history behind the practise. For example, cornrows are a popular hairstyle among black women because of how their hair naturally grows. However, many black females get mistreated because the hairstyle is predominantly African-American and is an easy target for insults. So, if you want to braid your hair like an African-American female, are you also accepting the history of discrimination and insults that come with it? It is also most likely that the braids will be accepted on someone who is not African-American because people think they look “cool”, which sets an unfair double standard.
Cultural appropriation is not simply adopting another culture’s style, but it’s taking someone’s history and making it a trivial fad that will be insignificant in a few months time. When someone who is not Aboriginal dons a “Native Headdress”, they’re sending the message that Native culture is a disposable fashion statement that anyone is allowed indulge in without full knowledge or respect. It is not a way of appreciating another culture, because the wearer is too ignorant of the practise and its implications to actually “appreciate” the culture. Taking something that is not yours without asking for permission and without fully understanding what it is about is highly disrespectful.
As with any debate that goes on for more than a few days, the argument can be made that we’re all to hypersensitive and “just need to chill”. However, what if the issue is that we were too insensitive this whole time and this wave of sensitivity is actually what is normal? If being hypersensitive means that I don’t disrespect someone’s struggles and history, I don’t think it’s a bad deal.
So this Halloween, please try to avoid the “sexy Pocahontas” costumes and weaved wigs. If it’s not yours, don’t take it without understanding the significance and the long history of discrimination that comes with it.