Style

Something Borrowed

An open-ended conversation about cultural appropriation.

MARIE: Show me the person who is offended at Björk’s choice of garb on that Homogenic cover. I feel like that woman can wear anything she wants. Has anyone ever given Diane Pernet shit about wearing a mantilla? Did Bowie get flack for posing as the Sphinx? I went to Beijing and brought back a bunch of these gorgeous silk robes for my non-Chinese friends. Is it offensive if they wear them? I feel like every girl should have these beautiful things in their closet! On the other hand, I can understand why people get offended by the bindis and feathered headdresses. I wouldn’t be offended if any of you came around wearing a barong, but what if suddenly it was the KEWL NEW THANG and every girl was wearing barongs with booty shorts all over Tumblr? I’d probably be grossed out and offended! So I think this argument has a lot of complex gray areas that spread to more and more branches and layers and yes I am now exhausted and more confused. Let me get back to my Channing-thon and watch Step Up and think about it some more.

LAIA: Yeah about Björk. Like, WHY, RLY?

MARIE: Björk is not of this world! She transcends all ethnicities! She is a beautiful alien among us!

JENNY: Laia, I totally understand your feeling of WHEN DOES IT STOP or HOW CAN ANYONE KNOW WHAT IS OK AND WHY DOES SOMEONE HAVE TO TELL ME WHAT’S OK AND WHAT ISN’T. For me it’s not about creating some kind of field guide to what feathers and what shoes and what clothes and what robes and what collars and what headdresses can be worn by which ethnic groups.

ANAHEED: What do y’all think about mohawks? To me those mean “1970s punk” more than “First Nations” (because obviously 1970s punks appropriated them from FN imagery), but I don’t have a problem with someone rocking a mohawk today to be “punk.” Isn’t it inevitable that all culture draws from other culture? Is there really any way to be culturally “pure,” and do we even want to start talking that way about culture?

MARIE: Mohawks mean punk rock to me. (Also, side note, I just Googled the origin of bangs, and they came from cutting horses’ tails straight across, so we are safe there.)

JENNY: I don’t care about it being culturally pure, I care about Native tribes who have been scalped and killed because they wore mohawks. The punk movement and the people in it who have co-opted the mohawk are basically ensuring that every time the average person in America sees a mohawk, instead of remembering that we are living on OCCUPIED, STOLEN LAND, that this country KILLED indigenous people for this land (some of whom “rocked” mohawks)—instead of remembering that, we get to think FUN MOHAWK = punk.

SADY: First of all, I am a white American lady, so I’m writing from that. This might be a totally unfair or even offensive thing to say, and I want to apologize in advance if it’s clueless. But to me, mohawks are an example of how signifiers shift. I don’t think a lot of people even associate them with a history of appropriation from the Mohawk people. They think punk rock. Just like a lot of people don’t think “rock music” in the context of lifting an art form from black musicians and songwriters without paying them for their shit. Those are awful histories, and I think knowing them is important. But I also just think signifier-shift is a fact of how things work, and it’s inevitable. A punk teenager probably doesn’t know about the history of the Mohawks or how it’s connected to his hair. Because those histories have been suppressed and ignored, and that’s fucked up. He’s guilty of not knowing that history, but I don’t know that he would be totally insensitive to it if he knew. But he’s also just…to sound really grad-student-y, he’s partaking of a shifted signifier?

JENNY: Sady, I totally agree with you, and I also thinking being able to delight and participate in the shifting of signifiers is an important thing to be able to do. And I can accept (and really like this idea) that if some punk kid in a mohawk were to learn about the history, he’d be open to thinking about it and whatevs.

SADY: But, I mean, cultural appropriation does have consequences. Rock music is the most obvious example. We’ve all been using the term hipster without even acknowledging that its origins are in cultural appropriation; it started with cool people, usually cool black people, who were into jazz. And then it started to mean “White Negroes” (yeah, I know, yikes) who “rejected” white culture to be more “like” black people, especially in their musical tastes. And now we think “hipster” and we think “white girl in a headdress.” That’s signifier shift. But it’s also politicized, with people with better representation being able to steal from people with lesser representation. In the 20th century, at least, what’s “cool” for white people has usually been lifted from people of color, who are then forgotten or relegated to a second-place status in the history or the “cool” group. I don’t think being upset with having parts of your culture lifted or imitated, given this history, is wrong. The problem isn’t (I think) that some white woman somewhere is wearing a headband with feathers on it; the problem is that if that feathered headband becomes super popular, in 50 years it’s going to be associated primarily with whiteness and not with the culture she got it from. And this is happening all the time, not just with headbands or bindis or what I would think of as “obvious” examples. Nail art has become a really big thing, and I got into it, because I was trying to be more comfortable with being girly. And after a few months of it, I read an article that said “this is a thing that’s being taken from black culture without acknowledging that fact.” And I thought about it, and I thought, Yeah, wow, maybe that’s true, I didn’t see that.

LAIA: That’s all totally true, but as long as there’s black-people stuff and white-people stuff and Indian-people stuff, can we really talk about being seen as just PEOPLE? #kumbaya

ANAHEED: I am really trying not to freak out about the nail art thing. [Editor’s note: Anaheed is really into nail art.] [Editor’s note: Anaheed is also the editor.]

MARIE: I mean, don’t we all know that NAILZ originated from fly-ass black girls? Nail art was trendy in the ’80s, then it became just a normal thing that fly girls (from all cultures) did, like getting a haircut. Then we find out that all the babes in Tokyo were obsessed with nails and they took the trend to a different level, and around 2008 the Japanese style of nail art hit the States—and now this shit is OUTTA CONTROL and everybody is into it. It is beautiful!!! So, let’s look at this. It originated in black culture, then the Japanese took nail art to this insane level that spread to white girls in the States. HOWEVER, if we wanna get rull technical, back in the days of the QING DYNASTY, the ladies used to wear long fingernail covers adorned in gold and jewelz! It was like a status symbol. So I guess they were the true originators of crazy-ass nails!

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426 Comments

  • elise November 16th, 2012 7:28 PM

    I think it goes past cultural symbols, too. I’m not at all religious, and I once wore this rosary to school because I liked the way it looked, what with the Virgin Mary stickers all over it. A rather religious Christian friend of mine seemed somewhat unsettled by it, so I didn’t wear it around her again. However, many of the Latin American students who attend my school wear them, whether for religious or accessory purposes, and people are rarely offended by that.

    • Lea November 17th, 2012 3:06 AM

      I’m not calling you out or anything because your case seems pretty different, it’s just that your comment makes me think of how today Jesus is ” trendy” or something, like UO or Topshop make clothes with a crucifix print or crucifix earrings/ necklaces. I’m not a practising Christian but I think it’s really fucked up, like religion is just a fashion accessory or something.
      I keep seeing religious iconography as a product of consumption and I’m disgusted when people think it’s no big deal because of many factors ( it’s not “trying to be exotic”, and Christianity is present in the US and European culture so it doesn’t really count as cultural appropriation I guess).
      But apart from that, thank you Rookie for this article, you are so great and reading you makes my day! <3

      • sternenfall November 17th, 2012 10:23 AM

        I totally agree with you–I’ve seen tons of people, people that I really love, that are non-christian wearing things like barrettes that say Jesus, and I’m just like, wow, this is pretty offensive, my religion being turned into a fashion piece? Sorry if I offend anyone–I know that Christians have not experienced anything like that of people of color or Jewish people or Muslims or Hindus or anyone, it’s just pretty offensive, in my opinion, that my religion has turned into something trendy, a mere piece of jewelry that is, like, supercute, something to be complimented on, that matches ur shoes

        • Siiri November 19th, 2012 3:00 PM

          I was thinking about this too. I think this has to do with, not just signifiers shifting, but with signifiers going through some kind of inflation. And that probably has something to do with the fact that we live in a culture of images, where each reproduction of an image carries less and less meaning. But religious imagery like Jesus and the cross still DO carry a lot of meaning, which is why there’s a sort of clash of discourses when someone wears such imagery as fashion. And that makes us uneasy. In the end I think (or hope at least) that such strong significance that these images carry cannot be taken away so easily, and this is just some passing trend. Because, even though I don’t identify strongly as a christian, this is WEIRD.

        • joenjwang February 14th, 2013 8:18 AM

          Just a sort of comment on “christians have not experienced anything like that of people of color or Jewish people”…etc. I would have to disagree, especially out of personal experience. I have christian cousins living in North Korea who have recently defected and their stories of torture particularly due to their faith in Christ is horrifying…

        • Meghan Saphire February 21st, 2013 2:37 PM

          I agree with all of this.

          People wear crosses like it represents some hardcore hip lifestyle and fashion sense. I have a lot of friends who do this who are always mocking religion and everything associated with it. I do not have any problem with them not believing in any religion– I could care less. But they try to seem as if they are so open minded, but when they find out someone believes in Christianity, they become so closed minded and assume they’re totally again rights for women, gays, etc.

          There’s a lot of ignorance with our generation.

      • TessaTheTeenageWitch November 26th, 2012 12:28 AM

        I thought of this as I was reading Anaheed’s comment on page 2. We eliminate the religious meaning behind our symbols too, in order to make something beautiful or quirky. For example, I LOVE the look of the Virgin Mary Candles and statues that you guys have on tutorials for room decoration, but I (not being attached to any religion) would feel a little bit uncomfortable having them in my room, in case my very Christian friends were to see them and be offended. It’s interesting to make parallels between our culture and others and understanding what is accepted or allowed in Australia is horrifying behaviour elsewhere.

        p.s. I think a lot of us grow up thinking cultural appropriation is OK because it’s handed to us as children. As kid I went to an art gallery and I got stick on bindis and I thought they were THE BEST and wore them everywhere, and when you think about tonnes of kids dress ups, they aren’t all that great either.

      • Helena K. March 4th, 2013 11:54 PM

        I was just talking about this with my friend Carson yesterday! She is probably going to read this. I have been thinking a lot about cultural appropriation, and why some people think it only applies to only non-white groups. Everyone gets super offended when a person wears a bindi (or some other religious or cultural symbol) that is associated with a non-white culture. I totally understand that Europeans have often been the perpetrators of horrible violence against native peoples: Native Americans, Aztecs, and a lot of other people. We have been learning about European conquest in History, and it is just so sad. I think that culture has been taught to idolize violence and we have been desensitized, but that is a whole other conversation. I was just thinking about, I as a Catholic, maybe not a super-devout one, but anyways- I think that at the heart of ALL religions is love and forgiveness and stereotypes associated with them are not ok. I found it somewhat offensive when I see “Religious Print Skirt”, which is just a piece of polyester with some cross appliques on it, and i just don’t think that is ok. I know that if there was a skirt with the Hindu god Vishnu (I hope I’m right about that) for example, I would find it offensive/uncomfortable to wear. Maybe because in the US Christianity is more mainstream, it seems ok to do this, but I do not think it is. Many people have died/wars have been fought trying to protect religion and I dont think people should think about appropriating religious symbols before saying “I just want to dress like Madonna Hope I didn’t offend anyone

    • Claire November 17th, 2012 8:39 AM

      I think the importance of a symbol such as a rosary is not that of its widely-known connotations; it’s what it means to you. If you’re wearing it as an accessory and you simply appreciate its aesthetic value (you little Lisbon girl, you), I respect that. If others wear the same thing for religious purposes, that’s their prerogative. I think there are definite shades of gray here (like the Pope-hat thing), but as a practicing Catholic, I personally wouldn’t be offended by a nonreligious person adopting a rosary as an accessory piece simply because they like it. Just because I use the rosary as a means of prayer, I don’t expect everyone else to do the same, especially if they aren’t religious.

      • Lea November 17th, 2012 6:39 PM

        I totally get you, people can be into Christian imagery even if they’re not Christian. I respect that. I just think it’s kinda wrong when Christianity is stripped of its meanings and turned into a trendy/ironic thing, religion is not a product of consumption, something you buy off a rack to look cool.

        • camille November 18th, 2012 12:36 PM

          I agree with you on the matter of Christianity (or any other cultural/religious wearable item) being turned into something trendy or ironic. Also, the trendiness of cultural items can turn back on people wearing such items because they are part of their cultural background. My family is Catholic, and although I consider myself to be agnostic (and so do most likely my parents), I still had a somewhat religious education. One day, I had the misfortune of wearing a medal that my grandmother gave me from her rosary on a chain, for aesthetic, religious-superstitious, and sentimental reasons. I got such looks from my Jehovah’s Witness coworker that I took it off during my break.

          What I want to illustrate by this example is that 1)trendiness can rob cultural signifiers from their signification, 2)that people can become quick to judge when they see visible cultural signifiers without even asking themselves what are the reasons for them to be worn; this whole debate can make people overly susceptible, too quick to call ‘wolf’.

          In brief, I mean: if I see someone wearing a medal or rosary (for example), as long as the person knows what a rosary is and means, it’s fine. But if the person sees it as ‘a long necklace with a cross’, wears it for purely aesthetic reasons and has NO interest in consequently learning its signification, that’s wrong.

      • Britney November 19th, 2012 5:01 PM

        Claire-I totally agree with you. I’m Catholic (but I’m not a really strong one) and I think that if someone actually admires something like a rosary and wants to wear it, then they should be able to, even though they aren’t of that religion.

      • youngfridays November 20th, 2012 5:07 PM

        I agree with you, as a practicing Catholic, the only time I find it strange when people wear rosaries or crosses (or upside-down crosses) when I don’t realize the significance of it, if they have knowledge about the jewelry they are wearing (in the case of Christianity).

        Though many young teenagers I know wear upside-down crosses thinking it’s the symbol of the anti-Christ or something similar, but it’s actually (originally) referencing the crucifiction of Saint Paul, as he was crucified upside down because he felt he was not worthy of dying the same way as Jesus Christ. Anyway, yeah.

      • Tiferet January 20th, 2013 2:58 PM

        In Japanese fashion the cross has already become just an accessory or image to be use for its aesthetic value, and it does cause some problems.

        I’ve been given a certain amount of crap by other lolitas because I refuse to wear anything with crosses on it on the grounds that I’m Jewish and the Catholic church tried to forcibly convert our people, stole our children and so on and so forth; I’d feel like a traitor if I wore it.

        So I’d like to say that the use of religious symbols purely for aesthetic value does become a problem when it’s the symbology of the privileged religion, not because Christians are oppressed but rather because people actually say things like “Calm down, it’s just a design, the people who made this didn’t mean anything by it,” even when I’m not complaining at all about THEM wearing the items, just explaining why I personally don’t buy or wear them.

    • Nickysperanza November 17th, 2012 2:11 PM

      That’s because Catholicism is a huge part of some latin@ communities, and wearing rosaries is almost like an ingrained part of their culture. I’m latin@ and I have Mexican friends, and even if they’re not religious, they still practice many catholic procedures

    • V A April 14th, 2013 1:17 PM

      Some of the statements in this discussion bother me. I mean, you guys just suck the fun out of everything. Dictating who can wear what and who can’t sucks the fun and creativity out of life and bars people from all forms of cultural exchange.

      Carmen Miranda became a symbol of Brazil abroad. She was granted fame and fortune in part due to the privilege of her light skin. It’s shameful the extent to which opportunities were limited for those of darker skin back then, but the fact that she represented things that existed in a culture that was rightfully hers was not. Even though Carmen was born in Portugal to Portuguese parents, she was Brazilian and we Brazilians claim her as our own.

      Brazil is a land of mixed races and cultures. The image of the baiana with a turban and a basket of fruit on her head is a strong element of Brazilian folklore. Its roots may be African, but it is undoubtedly Brazilian. Brazilians are too mixed to go around saying who can wear and sport what and who can’t. I know this may upset some people, but the fact that Brazilians and Latin-Americans mixed, however painful the history may have been, is the best damn thing that ever happened to us.

      • V A April 14th, 2013 1:19 PM

        Referring back to the Carmen Miranda example, the shame did not lie in the fact that in her videos, light skinned Brazilians, Cubans, Americans, etc. were sporting elements of mixed cultures, it’s that only light-skinned people appeared in these videos, due to the racial restrictions imposed at the time.

        This debate deflects from what really matters: that everybody deserves to be treated with equality, dignity, respect, and value… that everyone deserves to have access to work and educational opportunities, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, culture, and religion. This debate serves as a distraction from addressing ignorance and prejudice in their ugliest and most insidious forms.

        An example of ignorance and hypocrisy with regard to cultural appropriation would for instance be that of skin-heads who on the one hand ardently defend white supremacy and who on the other, listen to punk-rock and heavy metal, music genres that draw form African-American roots. That’s ignorance and stupidity at their worst.

        None-the-less, the line needs to be drawn somewhere. Otherwise, what’s next? Those of non-Anglo-Celtic heritage will be forbidden to wear plaid because the Irish had to fight for the right to preserve their culture and to wear a kilt?! Please!

  • queserasera November 16th, 2012 7:56 PM

    Super insightful! I don’t know if it’s just the mindset of where I live, but when Asian girls (like me) have straight bangs, it’s considered fob (fresh off the boat) but when white girls sport straight bangs, it’s considered cute and “alternative.” Not really cultural appropriation, but still…it’s unsettling.

    • Claire November 17th, 2012 8:42 AM

      This is so true; I hadn’t even thought about it. A Chinese exchange student is studying at my high school this year, and she has been teased for her blunt bangs, even though many white hipster girls have the same haircut and are told they look like Jenny Lewis or Zooey Deschanel or whatever. Definitely bullshit.

  • jessica j November 16th, 2012 8:02 PM

    http://this-is-not-native.tumblr.com/resources
    http://thisisnotindia.tumblr.com/post/27596287658/racist-politics-of-cultural-appropriation-some-notes

    these are some great resources for further reading about cultural appropriation, specifically centered around Native American experiences and about bindis.

    Reading this Rookie article definitely made me cringe a lot and get frustrated (thinking mainly about Anaheed’s comments here). It was a good reminder that sometimes people are still learning and to be patient.

    And I know I had a long trip (and I’m still learning!) about white privilege, racism, and cultural appropriation. I’m glad a conversation has started here, and I hope it continues. I think it’s super important for white people to take the time to educate themselves on their privilege.

    I hope this article will inspire people to be more thoughtful about how they look at the choices they make that might end up hurting somebody.

    • Anaheed November 16th, 2012 10:26 PM

      I’m sorry I made you cringe, but as I said, I was purposely playing devil’s advocate, and also trying to dredge up the MOST racist & ignorant thoughts I’ve ever had, so we could really talk about them. I think everyone has ignorant thoughts and even bigoted thoughts and that it’s useful to the culture at large if we admit to them and examine them in the clear light of day instead of pretending that we’re oh-so-enlightened. I opened myself up for Jenny & everyone else to school me, and they did, and I’m better for it — and hopefully this piece is, too.

      • georgie fruit November 16th, 2012 11:50 PM

        I really appreciate your commitment to change your understanding of this super difficult stuff, Anaheed. you (and all the other people who so thoughtfully participated in this discussion) are SO RAD!

      • Chimdi November 17th, 2012 12:27 AM

        oh good!

        whenever I read either your comments or Laia’s comments I would scream and I was getting very physically disturbed. I actually haven’t read the entire thing because it made me so pissed off…and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to finish it, every time I read something by Laia I yelled at my computer…lol…I despise u all but I really hope both of you were saying those things on purpose

        • Anaheed November 17th, 2012 12:31 AM

          Well speaking for myself I was totally saying these things on purpose. That’s what I was trying to communicate when I said, “I’ll start by saying that I’m gonna ask a few devil’s-advocate-type questions throughout this conversation. I am not TRYING to be an asshole—I’m trying to push the discussion into new areas.”

        • Tavi November 17th, 2012 12:33 AM

          Hey Chimdi, I’d really recommend finishing it because it’s not like that the whole way through. Anaheed & Laia’s comments weren’t for nothing. I hoped that by presenting those viewpoints, a reader who agreed with them would feel like they’ve learned something by the end, since the other contributors were responding specifically to those viewpoints. Without that, someone this is all new to would see where exactly the other contributors’ ideas apply, and it wouldn’t feel static or intimidating.

        • floyd November 17th, 2012 3:23 PM

          Hey Chimdi, I think your comment may be a little unfair. As a white person of privilege I could actually understand where their comments were coming from, so being able to read the kind of discussion that their comments fostered enabled me to understand this issue so much better.

          I think it’s absolutely necessary for people like me to do our very best to try to appreciate how things we do or wear can be offensive, or think about issues that we’re not forced to think about but others are. However, I don’t think it’s fair to demand that everyone be able to immediately and unquestionably understand everyone else’s own personal or cultural struggles from the beginning. Sometimes we have to work to get there, and the great thing about dialogues like this is that they facilitates the process.

          Because of this article, the way I look at cultural appropriation has changed dramatically. That only happened because the people writing it felt free to open themselves up. If we make people feel like they can’t do that, then misunderstandings and all types of prejudices will only grow.

        • Kathryn November 18th, 2012 5:31 PM

          I completely agree with floyd. As a girl with white privilege who comes from a small town with a huge lack of diversity, I could relate to many of the things Anaheed said, and was enlightened by the other contributors’ responses.
          I knew that many of these feelings and ignorant thoughts were “bad,” but I didn’t know why. This article gave me a much better understanding.

        • Laia November 18th, 2012 5:46 PM

          I’m sorry you feel that way and obviously you are entitled to despise whatever your heart desires, but you should definitely read the whole thing if you wish, if anything so you can see how pretty much everyone disagreed with me.

        • Laia November 18th, 2012 5:57 PM

          also i mean i am not white, so is it still “white privilege” or is it just ignorance or is it me being a hippie and believing in a “global meltingpot”?

          ps. its the last one.

  • mitali November 16th, 2012 8:05 PM

    I loved what Jenny said about skin color and ethnicity! I’m half Indian on one side and also Turkish/Russian/South African on the other and I have a really deep connection to the Indian side of myself, but I have light eyes and tan skin so people tell me I look ‘exotic’ (ew) without being able to tell where I’m from, which leaves it up to me to self-identify. I never know if I really qualify as a ‘person of color’ or ‘mixed’ or anything, and I feel like it would be offensive for me to be overly racially angst-y as someone who passes white. Also, it makes me feel gross when women are sexualized and turned into ‘sexy ethnic princess’ costumes, but I loved when Gwen Stefani wore bindis, which makes me wonder how much I should assert my own Indian identity. On a different note, I definitely think that intentional and obvious appropriation of Native American culture is awful and gross because of the violent history of oppression and conquest behind a lot the symbolism.

    • Zoe with two dots November 16th, 2012 9:03 PM

      I agree with what Jenny said on that point. I’m biracial, I’m half-Indian (second-generation migrant) and half-white, living in Australia. I love being half-Indian, and am proud of it, and yet I don’t “look” Indian – I have darker skin than my white friends, but with blue eyes and freckles. It means people feel ok talking about the “problems” of having so many Indian people living in the city, or how Indians are annoying, and are surprised when I call them out and tell them I’m personally offended.
      When we went to India a couple of ears ago I loved it, because even though it was worlds away from life in Australia, I did feel a kind of connection to the culture there. I bought a shalwar kameez in Delhi, but haven’t yet worn it anywhere, because I know I don’t look Indian “enough” to wear it without possibly being accused of cultural appropriation, or at least being questioned over it.

      • Zoe with two dots November 16th, 2012 9:04 PM

        *YEARS, not ears. Blimey.

      • sleeperfactory November 16th, 2012 9:57 PM

        so weird because as a 1st generation mexican american/english girl i’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and also clothing wise had such a big dilemma in my head. like you too when we went to mexico last year i felt an affinity to the culture and am totally fascinated by it but i don’t know how justified i can be as identifying/expressing myself as hispanic. ultimately i think i’ll feel ok about things as long as i stay informed about what they actually are rather than using them purely decoratively.
        it’s also weird too because no matter how much i KNOW i have the massive privilege of passing as white i still get people asking me “you look foreign/mixed/not english, where are you from?”

        (overshare over sorry)

    • dearmia November 17th, 2012 10:00 PM

      Same here! I’m 3/4 Mexican and 1/4 Scottish. When I tell people I’m Mexican they’re like “well you don’t LOOK Mexican” and all I can think is “AM I SUPPOSED TO!??” I also can’t speak Spanish. Everyone just assumes I do. Even the Mexican kids I talk to think I’m lying when I tell them I’m Mexican, because I don’t look the part or know the language. It makes it really hard for me to identify with either being white or a person of color. And that identity crisis makes it difficult for me to check my privilege. I know for a fact that I have privilege, but how much and what about? That’s my main problem. I feel silly sometimes when I try to be all progressive about racist issues within Latin American groups, since I often feel like I don’t even belong.

      For me, the kind of appropriation that bothers me the most is blackface (because duh), anything involving Native American culture, and those stupid costumes where you get to dress up as a “Mexican” or an “Asian”, etc. Going back to my previous argument, those costumes really grind my gears because they put people into tiny boxes. And they’re supposed to be “funny.” Like, what’s funny about my ancestors? I don’t think my ethnic background is a joke in any way.

  • Terra November 16th, 2012 8:15 PM

    Thank you for this. I have been struggling with this so much lately and of course there really will never be any resolutions but at least I’ve got some more productive ideas floating around up there. As always, Jenny, your perspective and articulation on racism is super helpful to me.

    I read this article the other day by the chair of Native American Studies at Dartmouth about the No Doubt video and it also really helped put things into perspective: http://www.flavorwire.com/344807/what-a-native-american-expert-thinks-about-that-controversial-no-doubt-music-video

    The chunk I quote in my blog (http://theburnoutingenue.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/the-internet-was-good-today/) explains really well that as long as cultural appropriation is tolerated and dignity is stripped from oppressed peoples, there simply cannot be a discussion about bettering there condition– as it’s not taken seriously in the first place!
    Give the Native Americans back their land? Nahh, they’re fine. Everybody loves them! Didn’t you see Gwen repping the headdress in the one music video?

    I am also interested in the “where does it stop” issue– like, am I allowed to order terrible Americanized chinese takeout? Or wear my moccasins? Because I really do care about and actively participate in this discussion, and I truly just like both of those functionally? But they are obviously direct bastardizations of oppressed cultures. I JUST DON’T KNOW YOU GUYS

    • Terra November 16th, 2012 8:16 PM

      *their* condition (OMG I JUST WOKE UP FROM A NAP / NOW I’M ASHAMED)

  • Adrienne November 16th, 2012 8:17 PM

    Thanks Rookie for addressing a really important topic.

    I completely agree with Sady when she said:
    “The problem isn’t (I think) that some white woman somewhere is wearing a headband with feathers on it; the problem is that if that feathered headband becomes super popular, in 50 years it’s going to be associated primarily with whiteness and not with the culture she got it from.”

    Also, I’m basically repeating Jenny, but as a Chinese-American, I do feel a little miffed when a white person wears something (like a cheongsam) and is deemed “chic” while when I wear a cheongsam or attempt to be more in touch with my culture, other kids will look at me as an FOB or dork.

    There’s the other side of cultural appropriation as well. For example I’ve seen these kits for Asian women to correct their monolids so they can appear more western. Apparently, beauty equates to looking white? I don’t know. Blame the media?

    • victoria November 17th, 2012 2:07 AM

      Yeah, the thing about the qipao really resonates with me because it can be applied to lots of different things – like if a white person is into anime or manga it’s hip/cool/”exotic”, but then if an Asian person (regardless of how they culturally identify) is into it then it’s uncool.

    • Violet November 17th, 2012 4:42 AM

      As somebody deeply interested in the history of costume / garb, reading the article and some of the comments kind of made me want to scream. I am unapologetically on Anaheed’s and Laia’s side of the spectrum, and sorry they are trying to say they didn’t even mean what they say. THIS IS NOT A CONTEST OF WHO IS GOING TO BE THE MOST RIGHTEOUS, and by trying so hard to be ‘respectful’ you are actually assigning stereotypes and classifying cultures into things much less complex than they actually are.

      FYI, the Native American Costume’s significance was built up over the years, and a lot of it fairly recently – I was surprised myself to learn that most of the beading techniques and patterns had been invented in the 19th century, that the represented symbols were actually not carriers of traditions but emerged long after America’s colonization by western peoples. Costumes take on significance according to time, political context, and so many different scales of personal intent. NOBODY HAS A MONOPOLY ON ANY KIND OF GARB. To think so is in my mind incredibly patronizing, and assigns costumes to certain skin colors / ethnicities, while dismissing the beauty of sharing and being inspired by the other. Oftentimes garb become the focus of a specific fight BECAUSE a culture is struggling with its identity and existence.

      Some people might wear a headdress because they are assholes, agreed. Some people wear a headdress because they think it’s the most beautiful thing in the world, and by wearing it they express that they would love to be within that culture and show it to the world.

      • Violet November 17th, 2012 4:51 AM

        and btw: Bjork wasn’t wearing a traditional kimono on the cover of Homogenic.
        She was wearing an Alexander McQueen dress inspired by kimonos, i.e. transcended to the point that its shape or layers have NOTHING to do with the old stuff or saying clear about Japan.

        The Homogenic cover is all about hybridization, mixing of cultures, and creating this contemporary aesthetics that says, YEAH, WE ARE MADE OF DIFFERENCE AND LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL IT IS WHEN IT ALL COMES TOGETHER.

        note: I am biracial myself.

        Love,
        V.

        • Runaway November 17th, 2012 2:29 PM

          Violet, I think the same.
          If I wear something from a culture which is not mine I do it out of love and respect for that culture. And, honestly, I don’t agree with the idea that if a white person wears something fron another culture it makes them look cool, but if a person from that culture does the same, they are labelled as weird. My father has a Chinese friend who gave me a beautiful cheongsam as a present. I wore it when he and his family opened a new restaurant and I don’t think I looked any cooler than the Asian ladies there. In fact, I could be considered as the weird-looking one among all of them. However, precisely because I’ve got friends who are Asian, I do think it’s gross when white people dress as Asian people for Halloween. So I guess it’s just a matter of how and why you do it.

          However…I was really shocked to learn that what is considered as the traditional Scottish costume nowadays is a 19th century creation. The same happens with my “traditional” costume (I’m from the South of Spain), which is actually a FRENCH romanticized version of what people from my region wore in the 19th century. People from Scotland had been previously laughed at for their clothes by English people. My region, Andalucía, was in decline at the time, so it became a poorer region as compared to the rest of Spain or other European countries. So, while Andalucía was romanticized by some, Andalusian people were also described as “less-than” by others. By looking back at history, I’m able to understand both postures…But, please, don’t be too hardcore. Enjoying other cultures is good!

        • Runaway November 17th, 2012 2:44 PM

          And the mixing of cultures, as Violet said, is even more beautiful.

        • victoria November 17th, 2012 10:07 PM

          Who said anything about the Homogenic cover not being okay?! Björk is awesome and, as the article says, queen of everything and transcendent of all things human.

          I am just trying to figure out where, out of the previous comments, that came from?

        • Violet November 18th, 2012 4:35 AM

          hi victoria!
          I was actually reacting to the fact that Marie pointed Bjork out as a counter example, whereas I don’t even think it fits into the subject of cultural appropriation.

        • Laia November 18th, 2012 5:49 PM

          but technically, McQueen appropriated the kimono for his high fashion style so whether or not Bjork wore an original one or not isn’t the point, the point was more like, why are we giving her (and I guess McQueen by extension) a pass on the “appropriation front”.

        • awesomenarwhals9988 June 8th, 2013 8:41 PM

          Agreed:)

      • TinaRibena November 17th, 2012 3:23 PM

        Agreed. In our huge cultural melting pot of a world, it’s more important than ever to create unity between the peoples! I think it’s time to stop worrying about offending people, and go out wearing that bindi, and chances are, traditional bindi-wearing types might be delighted that a white kid’s embracing their culture! (If not, you can always sincerely apologise).
        I’m British by birth but I live in New Zealand. A friend of mine who is also an immigrant wears a greenstone necklace, which are very sacred to the Maori culture here, and he is treated with utmost respect for it.

        So yeah. Cultural appropriation might bridge the gap between people, not widen it! Hopefully. Share the clothes, share the love :)

        By the way, Rookie rocks! Love you to bits. Sorry if none of this makes sense, I only just got up.

      • julietpetal November 22nd, 2012 4:35 AM

        Yes, thank you, this is everything I was thinking but could not put into coherent sentences!

    • Jasmine December 5th, 2012 2:21 AM

      Wow Adrienne, that last part about there being kits to “fix” Asian women’s monolids literally made me shout at my computer screen.

      I am a white American girl but that kind of stuff makes me feel so disgusted about our society and our standards of what’s “beautiful.”

      *cringing*

  • spudzine November 16th, 2012 8:22 PM

    I really like this article because, being both a Native American and Muslim, people LOVE to stereotype these groups and wear traditional headwear or religious wear for the amusement of others. To poke fun at “ridiculous” garments. And this is not OK.

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/

    • Abby November 17th, 2012 1:00 AM

      I agree with that… the Muslim religion wasn’t really brought up at all but that’s one of the things that’s always bothered me with this kind of stuff… I’m not Muslim… I was raised Christian and I am now an atheist… and I won’t pretend to know a ton about Islam, because I don’t… but it really bothers me when people stereotype Islam… like I keep seeing photos of people’s “terrorist” costumes… which usually consist of some kind of turban and a beard. Umm… that’s racist and religion-ist (Is there a word for that?) as hell. And yet, somehow, people think that’s okay. There are terrorists from all religions, races, and cultures. Just because some of the most publicized terrorists are Muslims does not mean Muslim=terrorist or terrorist=Muslim. Okay, uninformed soapbox over.

      • Libby November 17th, 2012 6:03 AM

        There is such a huge stereotype here. In my RE class, we discuss many different denominations of Christianity but my teacher never brings up the idea of Shia and Sunni Muslims, or of denominations in any religion apart from Christianity really. He’s never even mentioned the differences between progessive and Orthodox Jews.
        Basically, this leads to kids in my class saying, “Well, the Qu’ran basically tells Muslims to be terrorists” and my teacher not saying anything about this.
        It’s like he doesn’t even realise himself that, as Abby said, ‘Just because some of the most publicized terrorists are Muslims does not mean Muslim=terrorist or terrorist=Muslim.’
        It’s so frustrating.

  • lilblucherrygrl November 16th, 2012 8:25 PM

    The best way I learned about what upsets and offends the oppressed was by actually talking to the oppressed, not the oppressor. I accepted that the world is goddamn huge and that essentially we are not just “all human”. You can’t go from a racially charged world to peace on earth. I learned to put away my wishful thinking and take a good look at what the world really is. What my privileges truly are. And to own up to them in whatever way possible. If other people don’t wish to do that, that is for them to live with. But I also refuse to have other people around me remain ignorant and blatantly asshole-ish.

    I was actually just in an argument with my dad about culture appropriation today. I specifically made it clear to him that intention doesn’t mean a damn thing sometimes. As people we ALL intend to do generally the right thing. But intention does not change reality. When I’ve said something racist to a person, and I see the pain in the eyes, that is the reality. My feelings and intentions matter but do not take place over theirs in that moment. Because I am the one that, whether I meant to or not, hurt them. From that point on in the conversation the only thing that should be intended is my apologies.

    So if another white person does say something questionable I try to, within boundaries, educate them or lead them to someone who might know more then I do. All I can suggest is try to remain humble. I know I am an intelligent woman but there are some things I clearly don’t know shit about. I stay grounded and open to the possibility that I am wrong.

    • kitterfly November 17th, 2012 6:09 PM

      i disagree with you on the racially-charged-world-to-peace-on-earth matter…
      it’s important to be aware of the past (and, currently, the present), regardless of how awful it may be.
      however, i think it’s a little silly to be aspiring towards anything other than “world peace”. shouldn’t the goal be to reach a point of acceptance and harmony?
      if that’s not it, i certainly can’t think of anything else.
      there’s certainly an issue when the notion of peace is blurred with that of forgetting the past or letting really awful history slide away, but it’s certainly possible to reach acceptance without losing sight of those horrible things.
      in fact, i’d say it’s more likely to achieve “work peace” through education on ignorance/generally disgusting behavior

  • bewarethejabberwock November 16th, 2012 8:25 PM

    I might come back with a more intelligent comment later on because it’s gone 1am here and I’m still figuring out my thoughts, sort of, but I wanted to say before I forget that I really admire you guys for talking about this, and I especially think Jenny’s comments are really awesome and insightful and I basically love everything you write.

    I’m increasingly aware of how much privilege (white, middle class, straight, cisgendered) I have just from discussions like these. I’m also aware of that knee-jerk reaction when someone calls me (or people like me) out on our privilege, to interpret it as them saying I’m deliberately being hurtful and a bad person (and I’m all: ‘but I don’t MEAN to be hurtful! I’m not a bad person! You must therefore be wrong I don’t want to listen to you lalala’).
    And I think being aware of one’s privilege, fighting off the kneejerk reaction and listening and talking about stuff like this is super super important. Yay for discussion and learning!
    So thanks again.

    • Chimdi November 17th, 2012 12:31 AM

      yeah I wouldn’t have been able to tolerate this convo at all if it weren’t foe Jenny’s comments…seriously I really hope all the staffers are being disgustingly honest here because if not…

      • Anaheed November 17th, 2012 12:34 AM

        I think honesty is the only way we’re gonna make it through this stuff. I think if you’re a white, privileged person, the best thing you can do is expose your privilege and its effects and benefits to the world.

        • Erykaneisha November 17th, 2012 2:02 AM

          I think this discussion was brilliant. Thank you for including different view points even though a lot of people are giving you guys shit for it. Although our brains get orgasms when reading or listening to things that we personally agree with, it is vital to acknowledge other opinions on the matter.
          I am slightly more inclined to be amicable with Jenny’s argument, but I didn’t brush off or was completely outraged with what you or Laia had to say.
          As you said, “honesty is the only way we’re gonna make it through this stuff” and if people honestly believe something that we don’t, that should be brought into the convo too. Thanks again :)

          • Anaheed November 17th, 2012 2:06 AM

            Aww thank you for saying this! Seriously it means a lot. It means that I wasn’t totally opaque in my intentions.

        • bewarethejabberwock November 17th, 2012 10:35 AM

          Yeah I agree with you Anaheed, I think it’s super important to look at other people’s opinions and stuff, and ‘expose your privilege’ (v good way of putting it).
          I come across SO MANY people who are privileged in various ways and are unwilling to talk about it / get HUGELY defensive about it so I think it’s great that you (and the other peeps) showed a willingness to understand and be open-minded. That is what I strive to emulate. I think everyone in the discussion was willing to learn from it and listen to each other, and that’s the important thing.

      • Claire November 17th, 2012 11:40 AM

        There’s a big divide between what people have been trained to say (i.e., political correctness) and what people have come to believe, whether subconsciously or otherwise, throughout their lives. Honesty isn’t “disgusting” in this conversation; it is what it is. I am currently taking a course on social justice, and one of the first things we learned was that simply saying “I’m not racist” doesn’t really do the topic justice. There are many facets to this, and discounting them by claiming you’ve never been ignorant about subjects like this is what’s truly frustrating.

  • xin November 16th, 2012 8:26 PM

    I thought this was an interesting read,by one of my fave bloggers on this subject:http://jeangreige.blogspot.com/2012/01/150-short-and-long-of-it.html.

    • weetziebatcoolcat November 17th, 2012 6:07 PM

      Jean Greige is one of my favorites too! Totally agreed with everything that blog post had to say. Madeline Pendleton is an exquisite arguer/writer. Now I don’t feel half as bad about adopting the bindi trend or wearing a kimono jacket. Thank you so much for that.

    • Alvie November 19th, 2012 10:15 AM

      That pretty much sums up how I feel. I don’t actually appropriate many cultural things. I do wear a kamino as bath robe as my mother bought it for me in China. I also wear rosary beads occasionally. I was raised as a catholic but I hate the Catholic Church for the evils it has wrought on the world and thn horrible scars and lingering mind control it has left on Ireland and elsewhere so I wear it as a way to fight my continued internal Catholic guilt and maybe intend to be a bit offensive as a result. But I also think it looks cool. Jean Greige sums it up well for me, if we start to develop a preciousness towards culture and cultural mixing, it is endorsing the dominate culture even further. I am from Ireland and there is far too little mixing of cultures leading to ignorance and even hatred of other cultures. I notice it when I go home, people STARE at women in sarris, hijhabs or any traditional garb that is not part of the dominate style in Ireland. I think a lot of the girls who write for Rookie are used to living in a place that is very multi-cultural. Not all Western or predominately white countries are like this and many, like Ireland, have little racial diversity. Having said that Irish people travel, a lot and are more aware of culture as most people have University education but still it would be useful for tolerance and educational purpose to mix our culture with other cultures. Also are all culturally significant garbs off limits. I understand that cultural appropriation does exist and do not condone the use of culturally sacred apparel but kaminos, kilts, saris, which are the everyday clothing or traditional clothing of a people. Why would wearing one of these be a denial of the suffering of some of those cultures, surely it is a celebration of culture. Also there seems to be this common theme running through out this thread that white culture is homogenous. It is not, you guys often come from a very, very US centric standpoint. The traditional garbs of white minorities (of which there are many) are also mixed into dominate culture. I wouldn’t give a damn if people started wearing traditional Irish hats or Irish dancing costumes. On the contrary I would see it as a celebration of Irish culture. I also wouldn’t be offended if they modernised them, god knows they could do with some modernising. And I completely disagree with some of the suggestions in some posts that fusion food could be cultural appropriation. Unless of course you are going to start using the sacrament or halal meat or sacramental wine etc in your dishes to make it trendier. Ain’t nothing wrong with updating traditional dishes or even referencing traditional clothing.

  • bellagirl November 16th, 2012 8:32 PM

    This is super interesting and a REALLY touchy topic. I think there is a line somewhere between being offensive and being inspired by other cultures because, lets face it, if we didn’t take inspiration from other things and all had to stay in our own cultural bubble things would be boring. Plus I think that would just enforce more racism.
    Religious and very meaningful cultural symbols, in my opinion, shouldn’t be treated lightly, whatever culture they come from! I mean I see upside down crosses every where and Native American headdresses all over the place and it’s just frustrating!
    But I have no idea where the line really is and I think this is a huge controversy that’s going to continue for a while. I think being aware of it in the first place is the first step to changing it.

  • amy h November 16th, 2012 8:33 PM

    Great discussion, it really has opened my mind a lot more from what I’ve already read in the past! I also agree with the comment that was made about it being sort of ‘acceptable’ to wear something (e.g. a Bindi) as long as you took the time to research into it and actually find out what its orignal meaning is.

    x

  • India November 16th, 2012 8:34 PM

    Oh my goodness. All Rookie articles make me think, but this one has taken it to new levels.

    I mean, where to begin?! When I think of my own privilege I always have to approach it backwards as on the outside I’m a white, privately educated, middle class British girl – and therefore the at a pretty high risk of inadvertently abusing my privileged position. But then when I was little I lived in Hong Kong, where I was the odd one out…the little blonde child who would be petted, removed from my pram and photographed by strangers because I looked so different. And even when we moved back to England my family still travelled a lot in countries where I stuck out like a sore thumb…whereas my adopted ethnically chinese (but identifying as 100% British) little brother just blended in with every culture we interacted with.

    But then back in the rural, predominately white area we live in now, he’s the one who has to deal with awkward questions and being asked to show the asian new kids around school because he’s a ‘familiar face’. And our family were also guardians for a Japanese girl who used to get so pissed off that everyone at our school just assumed she was chinese.

    But I never really thought about ANY of this in depth until I planned 3 months travelling hand living and working in Mexico a few summers ago with my boyfriend who had never left Europe. I just never even considered how he would react when he experienced, for the first time, being stared out. It freaked him out so much for the first few weeks and I found it so bemusing because that was my default travel experience.

  • wolnosc November 16th, 2012 8:36 PM

    Truthfully, I still don’t see what’s offensive about wearing things from other cultures, as long it’s not portrayed in a negative way but in a way that appreciates other cultures. I find that Saris and kimonos and everything are all really beautiful, and I love learning about other cultures. I’m fine with people wearing stuff from my culture (Polish) if they think its pretty or something.

    I’m not sure where flower crowns originated but its a big part of the cultural dress of some regions in Poland. So could this same argument be applied to flower crowns, wherever they originated? And what about berets? And tribal necklaces?

    Sorry if I sound ignorant, I’m just learning about all this.

    • georgie fruit November 16th, 2012 9:32 PM

      I think one reason that appropriation can be hurtful and/or destructive (and I’m not a huge fan of talking about “offense” because it’s such a personal reaction that often isn’t productive or helpful as the locus of an argument) is because generally the appropriator has a less threatening body (e.g. white, non-poor, etc) and so she can literally take off the style and with it the identity/cultural signifiers, etc. you know? like a woman of color wears something associated with her culture, she has to deal with an both embodying otherness and wearing it–the clothes make her “foreignness” hyper-visible, and even if she takes them off, she’s still markedly “foreign.” basically that’s a manifestation of white privilege.

      and that’s also why parallels to western European cultures, for example, don’t precisely analogize here. full disclosure, I’m admitted Poland-ignorant, but since, crudely speaking, Polish=white, this idea of cultural appropriation works a little differently. I’m not saying that Poland doesn’t have its own rich culture, nor that Polish people have never been oppressed for their identities. just trying to push back a little here on what I think can be misleading comparisons.

      anyways, I LOVED this discussion: I thought it was so thoughtful, and I get so excited knowing there are so many people dedicated to hashing out really tough stuff like this.

      • pialuna November 17th, 2012 1:21 AM

        I love how open and diverse this discussion is.
        One thing I want to mention in the context of your comment is how the cultural appropriation discussion is often centered on the US and pulling the line between white and non-white people or people of color.
        I have spent most of my life in Germany (and some of my life in the US) and just wanted to say that it can be more subtle than Polish=white.
        There can be visible differences between eastern Europeans, western Europeans, southern Europeans etc.
        Because most immigration waves from different parts of Europe are so far in the past, Americans think of all people of European descent as simply white and forget the fact that white Americans originally had different heritages, spoke different languages and were in fact discriminated against (say as Polish, Irish or German) when they arrived in the US.
        That (thankfully) does’t matter much in modern American society, but those differences do still exist to a certain extent in Europe and people are, sadly, still discriminated against in Germany for being, say, Polish.
        I don’t think cultural appropriation is a very hot topic in Germany (it should be, because we are multiethnic and there is a lot of (sometimes unintentional) racist dress-up going on) and there aren’t a lot of people wearing flower crowns, but I just wanted to say that in a European context flower crowns can be seen as an appropriation of certain eastern European cultures (that have been oppressed for their identities throughout history) and aren’t a misleading comparison to cultural appropriation in the US.

      • pialuna November 17th, 2012 1:27 AM

        I hope that didn’t sound like a rant or a lecture. I know next to nothing about most regions and cultures of the world, but I love to learn about them and like to share my knowledge about the regions and cultures I do know something about. <3

        • wolnosc November 17th, 2012 8:45 AM

          You have a good point pialuna. “White culture” can’t be just composed into one thing. There are still cultures within it that are also discriminated against, even if it is not necessarily in the US.

          Although we actually live in the US, and my mom couldn’t get a job until we moved to a different part of the US that was more accepting of foreigners, because the job hiring people would hear her accent and discriminate against her because she was not from the US.

        • georgie fruit November 17th, 2012 10:51 AM

          no, no, I understand and agree with what you said! as I didn’t really say very well, what I was NOT trying to say what that all Polish people are white, and that is the end of the story. I was more trying to gesture at the fact that I don’t think the analogy really works–comparisons like that, I think, tend to collapse the nuances that exist in such situations, and also implicitly (or explicitly!) disregard instances of intersectionality, i.e. occupying multiple identity positions.

          but I really appreciate your response, because it addresses things I admittedly wasn’t thinking about.

        • Runaway November 17th, 2012 3:15 PM

          Pialuna, you’re right!
          White is not a culture. People can be white and still be culturally different. I guess that people from the US (I’m sorry, but I have a problem with the word “American”, ’cause for me people from Canada, Mexico and South America are American, too!) tend to forget that. White people can be considered as foreigners by other white people. I also mentioned that in a comment above yours. Marginalization it’s not always about race…I think it’s got a lot more to do with wealth. At least, that’s my point of view as an European.

  • India November 16th, 2012 8:37 PM

    And then just to add another layer of confusion….my British parents named me India. I don’t even want to think about the post-colonial meaning here because it would probably end up with me changing my name!

    But because I’m British, not American…does that mean I can still love all aspects of Native American culture? Or does my Urban Outfitters dream catcher shirt, 1000′s of feather earrings, fringe boots etc. still count as an un-intentionally racist or hurtful act? xxx

    • Teez November 16th, 2012 10:08 PM

      just because native americans aren’t in the uk doesn’t mean we have free reign to pillage their culture…it doesn’t become not racist just because the oppressed peoples aren’t there to see it. i think it should be more obvious to americans to check their privilege in reference to native culture given their shared land and history, but it doesn’t mean other countries get off scott free!

    • DreamBoat November 17th, 2012 1:33 AM

      I totally agree with Teez.

      You can love Native American culture. I really love Native American culture!

      But, just because you’re British and not American does not mean that the cultural appropriation does not apply to you. All those things are very, very Westernized version of Native American thing and I think a lot of people would find them really insulting.

      I’d try to really research Native American culture and find out what these things mean in Native American ideology. :)

      Also… Urban Outfitters has had many scandals dealing with racism.

      http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/04/23/urban-outfitters-under-fire-over-holocaust-t-shirt/

      http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46574519/ns/business-retail/t/navajo-nation-sues-urban-outfitters-over-goods/#.UKcloIawVHh

  • Claire November 16th, 2012 8:41 PM

    This is a really tricky topic. I, as a pretty typical white girl, personally would never try to reappropriate any cultural symbol (i.e., a Native American headdress) for fashion’s sake. However, I don’t feel like I have the right to judge others on their choices when it comes to this. Also, I’m happy you guys brought up the subject of Gwen Stefani and her Harajuku Girls. Even at the age of 12, when I first got into Gwen and her music, I thought the whole Harajuku Girls thing was kind of fucked up. They seemed like concubines being exploited for their cuteness, or something…not okay.

    • Violet November 17th, 2012 5:02 AM

      Yeah but as far as background dancers go, they are probably amongst those who were given the most exposure, don’t you think?

      Most background dancers are just that, and even worse: just an unidentified female body moving along to the music in semi-darkness.

      At least these guys were going on interviews with Gwen and we knew they were from Japan. Can’t say the same for Beyonce’s or Britney’s (and I love them don’t get me wrong).

      • Claire November 17th, 2012 8:32 AM

        I totally understand what you’re saying, and I hadn’t actually thought about the perception of backup dancers in general – they are merely “unidentified female bodies” most of the time, and I have never seen a backup dancer featured in an interview with someone like Britney Spears. However, I think that this brings us back around to the theory of any exposure = good exposure, which is what Margaret Cho lamented in that piece.

        • Runaway November 17th, 2012 3:48 PM

          Honestly, I don’t think the Harajuku Girls thing is that bad. I think Japan is too powerful culturally speaking to be reduced just to Gwen’s personal interpretation of Harajuku fashion styles. I remember that in her song Harajuku Girls she said that she was inspired by those fashion styles. Those were the actual lyrics. “Inspired”. I don’t know…you have to be too ignorant of the rest of the world to believe that Gwen created Harajuku and that actual Japanese girls behave like her back-up dancers. It’s not so difficult to tell Gwen’s interpretation from the real thing!
          I don’t think she is enforcing any particular stereotype regarding Asian females, either. All back-up dancers, as Violet said, have the same role.

  • soretudaaa November 16th, 2012 8:49 PM

    ” I think it’s important to remember that the crusade against cultural appropriation is also a crusade against real violence and real violations that continue to affect people around the world. ”

    This part Jenny wrote really stuck with me. I think it’s really important to recognise that racism can be really subtle, and maybe white people might not notice they’re offending someone but still, just because they don’t mean to hurt someone’s feelings doesn’t mean the person whose feelings were hurt isn’t allowed to speak up without being called a drama queen or easily offended.

    It’s the same as with sexism: someone who makes a sexist joke might do so without mean intentions, but a lot of times if a girl who was offended by it says something she comes off as a bitch and that is NOT OKAY because that completely invalidates the fact that a girl (or, back to the subject of cultural appropiation, the person of the ethnicity that has been “insulted” or something.. I don’t know how to phrase this) can have valid opinions about something. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is sexism (and racism and ableism and homophobia etc etc etc): when a group of people’s feelings aren’t heard, because they’re thought to be less important than the opressing group’s feelings (well, that’s not ALL it is, but a very important part, I do believe).

    That being said, when people refer to me as “ethnic” solely because I am not white and I don’t have an anglosaxon-sounding name I find it EXTREMELY annoying. I am not “ethnic”, and white is not default!

    • Claire November 17th, 2012 8:35 AM

      The sexism/cultural appropriation parallel is very interesting. Does this mean, then, that a cisgender male who dresses in female drag (i.e., John Cleese in Monty Python’s Flying Circus) should be considered offensive by cisgender females? I’m not trying to be annoying, I’m seriously wondering.

      • AnguaMarten November 17th, 2012 1:21 PM

        i don’t think drag is hurtful, because men who don’t conform to traditional gender roles will be mocked, even if they’re straight and cisgender.

        but that’s different from playing it for laughs. i think if the humor comes from stereotypes of women or feminine men, then yeah, it’s hurtful. i dunno, i think drag is very different from, say, blackface, even though they sound kinda similar–practice used in theater by a powerful group to portray an oppressed group–but since drag was never used to subjugate women, like blackface was for african americans, i don’t think it’s bad.

        • secretdoorprojects November 19th, 2012 2:02 AM

          This question came up in a controversy in our community about blackface and whether racism in art can be forgiven because of “good intentions” or because “artists should have total freedom”. (And yes, someone I know actually did make a blackface video in 2012; no, it wasn’t okay; and ultimately it pretty much split our community…)

          In that conversation, someone asked, “We are okay with drag, so why aren’t we okay with blackface?” Well, drag is okay when it is the classic sense of high camp drag: (usually gay) men, or, sometimes trans women or gender-variant folks, putting their energy and art into channeling what they see as a compelling and alluring (and/or disturbing) femininity, often reaching amazing epitomes of style & glamour (and/or terror). (sorry, I’m sure I’m missing crucial points— drag performers, correct me?)

          But there is a kind of “drag” that is not okay. Think of a college halloween party with “masculine”-identifying men dressed up sloppily as some (usually “sexy”) stereotype of women… disrespectful, huh?

          Like blackface is used by white people, this seems to be done for the purpose of ridiculing a population who is societally less powerful than the person dressing up. Like white people appropriating non-white traditions for fashion (as many commenters have said above), straight cis men can take on the appearance of “women” without taking on the drop in societal status that actually *being a woman* (or a gay man or a trans or gender-variant person) entails.

          The term “woman-face” was suggested for this kind of disrespectful drag… what do you think?

        • secretdoorprojects November 19th, 2012 2:14 AM

          … Just wanted to clarify that I’m not saying that drag-done-sloppily-by-masculine-men is equal to blackface in its damaging effects and hurtfulness… but just that it takes part of the same vectors of power and utilizes the same kind of privileged blindness that cultural appropriation does.

          This quote from Kartina Richardson, from this article (http://www.mirrorfilm.org/2011/02/10/race-in-film-leclisse/) says it better than I can:

          “Even if her actions are in admiration, even if the reasons for admiration are real and not the result of romanticism, they cannot be divorced from historical context. She is still ‘taking’, still feels she has the right to take, and it is that attitude of entitlement, used in the conquering of peoples, that has caused the entire world such pain.”

  • KittyLitter November 16th, 2012 8:50 PM

    Thank you so much for addressing this issue! Jenny, all of your comments are so spot on!!

    Anaheed, re: your comment on the bottom of page 5, I think Jenny responded really well, but you might also find this piece by Andrea Smith helpful in understanding how cultural appropriation can be dangerous and not merely “offensive.” Specifically, she writes about the appropriation of indigenous dress by non-Native people:

    http://loveharder.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/andrea-smith.pdf

    ^ see “Genocide/Colonialism,” p. 68

    <333

    • Anaheed November 16th, 2012 10:35 PM

      Thank you, that piece is great. The idea that you’re disappearing communities/races of people by mimicking them is totally fucking brilliant & true.

    • Anaheed November 17th, 2012 11:25 PM

      I was thinking about that article more today and talking with my husband about all of this stuff and I suddenly had this epiphany which embarrasses me now because like DUH why is this an epiphany, this should have been obvious to me ages ago, but it was that when white people co-opt stuff from other cultures, it seems like we just don’t give a FUCK about the people from those cultures. And then when we’re called out, our general reaction PROVES that we don’t give a fuck. So, like, of COURSE that’s a thing to get mad about. It’s not about one girl in a feather headband; it’s about white people not caring at all about anyone else.

  • 062131 November 16th, 2012 8:51 PM

    “Where is the line?” is probably the big question. To what point can I appreciate & show my appreciation for another culture? Going “you can only wear this if you’re this, you can only wear that if you’re that!” would probably be harmful and enforce racism, wouldn’t it?

    Also, a thing that bothers me when people complain about cultural appropriation, especially on tumblr and the like: THEY GO CRAZY. They reblog this girl’s photo saying EWW THIS IS WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE WORLD, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT [culture] WAS OPRESSED WHEN [bla bla] AND NOW YOU’RE JUST WEARING THIS [thing], CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE, GOD

    Come on. Come onnnnnn. The world would be a better place if people talked more. Say something, you know? That girl wasn’t wearing that specific thing to oppress a bunch of people and show how awesome it is to be a white girl. A simple “hey. did you know that [thing] was taken from [certain culture] and it actually means [something]?” it would be so nice.

    And I’d REALLY really really like to hear from people who are (or could be) offended by this kind of stuff (as I really don’t identify with any “ethnicity”). Their opinion is what matters here, isn’t it?

  • sleeperfactory November 16th, 2012 8:57 PM

    this was an interesting and much needed debate by you guys and i really identified with jenny’s points. although i disagreed with anaheed a lot of the time i think the perspective/view she expressed was still relevant to show because the resulting conversation shows how we could approach/persuade people in conversations like this when they do happen irl

    i am glad this is on the site because one of the reasons i felt uncomfortable/stopped caring about reading it is how a lot of content in a similar aesthetic vein in rookie is often posted on tumblr or other sites by it’s readers or some contributors that can be culturally appropriative. and although no single one of you speaks for all of you, when this sort of thing goes unquestioned it creates a culture where it’s ok to for a white blogger you’ve met to tirelessly wear a bindi because you’re both into kathleen hanna so it’s fine. i hate how addressing these problems is often silenced as girl-hating or counterproductive infighting. how can anything move forward without taking a few long hard uncomfortable looks at itself and assessing where it’s at.

    • sleeperfactory November 16th, 2012 9:00 PM

      btw i’m not saying like you need to take a long hard look at yourselves as in the sense that you’ve done something terrible at all, more like i think that just collectively as individuals especially when creating things that can have such an influence should always be open to thinking critically about them etc.

    • Tavi November 16th, 2012 9:11 PM

      Yeah, I’ve messed up before in sartorial choices, and by publishing photos on Rookie where a white model is donning something appropriated, and I often wonder if I’m too young and uneducated to run something like this or publicly identify as feminist. But then the alternative is to wait until I’m sure I am fully educated on what is and isn’t OK, and only then will I get to say anything, and only then will I never mess up, and I don’t think that’s how this works. It is a process, and it’s tricky, but it will of course never be as tricky for me as it is for someone who actually feels unaccounted for when I’ve worn something appropriated or when I’ve let Rookie mess up. I guess my point is that I appreciate you acknowledging that we have a lot of different voices on here and that it’s OK to go back and address something we’ve made mistakes about before. I think that when these discussions happen, people are eager to call out those who try and address an issue like this as hypocrites, because they’ve messed up before, instead of as people who are trying to reform. And I agree with you that it’s not girlhate to question the decisions of another girl or another feminist. And I agree that Anaheed’s role as devil’s advocate was helpful since I think that’s how one’s brain does work when these issues are introduced because it’s easy to feel attacked, even though no one is attacking them. I was hoping the conversational part of that would make it easier to introduce these ideas for some people.

      • sleeperfactory November 16th, 2012 9:49 PM

        thanks for taking the time to read and reply to my comment, i appreciate it a lot. it’s definitely a big strength of online magazines that we can have such quick and responsive dialogue!

        for quite a few young people learning what cultural appropriation means in this whole kind of feminist context has been quite recent and aided by the internet. unfortunately of course there are others who experience it perhaps as a problem without a name everyday but overall such well known teen sites tend not to acknowledge it so you’re already a big step ahead with this in that respect. also it’s so true that these things are a learning process and unfortunately with well-archived nature of the internet it’s easy for people to assume that you hold the same attitudes with your posts today as you did with your posts a year ago. obviously being perfect is impossible and even the most inclusive and all encompassing feminisits/any sites make mistakes but i guess what’s most important (even if it is a massive cliche) is to learn from/through our mistakes.

        (especially since i am only 16 and constantly having moments where i look back and think ‘man i did not have any idea what i was talking about then’)

        • Tavi November 16th, 2012 10:07 PM

          I appreciate your comments as well!

      • Chimdi November 17th, 2012 12:34 AM

        ok…just to be honest there was a period where I hated you because of that collection Gwen Stefani made out of “African” prints (that’s how you described it in the teen vogue interview idk it was a while ago) and I saw you wearing Gwen Stefani’s appropiated crap and I sort of wanted to slap you in the face with a bell hooks book

        • Xanath November 17th, 2012 2:50 AM

          hey I’m no editor of moderator or whatever but can we keep this discussion free of hitting one another with books? thank you!

  • soviet_kitsch November 16th, 2012 9:06 PM

    “And then I felt fatigued, because I was like, if you identify as a feminist, if you identify as an activist, then you will have to be held to much stricter expectations than someone who identifies as apathetic. ”

    THIS X1000. Also, Jenny, Jamia, and Marie totally nailed it (as per usual). Awesome post.

    • kaylafay November 18th, 2012 11:57 PM

      this one sentence (as well as many other parts) really resonated with me, especially because i’m working really hard on the listening part without the automatic defensive “i didn’t mean to its not my fault omggg” part

  • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 9:11 PM

    This article has opened my eyes in so many ways. I didn’t even know what culture appropriation was until now. As a white, privileged person I can’t fully understand how people who have their culture’s clothes and practices patronized. I definitely could understand how terrible it might feel to see someone being ‘cool’ wearing a bindi while when you wear one it’s considered weird. The things is, with the ‘exotic’ thing, is that sometimes things ARE different, and they are not something I see everyday as I walk down the street. Also, I use soy milk ’cause it tastes better than normal milk. It’s SO confusing; there is no line between right or wrong. It depends on what you know and what statement you are trying to make. I see hair feathers and they look to me like cute little hair things. Now I see them differently, and that’s for the better.
    I know a girl and she always wants to be Japanese. She wears the Harajuku shirts and uses all those adorable little erasers. It’s disgusting, really. And she has absolutely no idea. I admire all of you, and I think that all your points of view helped me understand this subject so much better. Thank you so much you lovely people. And Anaheed, your ignorance was intelligence compared to mine.

    • Anaheed November 16th, 2012 10:23 PM

      <3 I think it's hard to admit your own ignorance, but we're really never gonna get anywhere till we all admit the ways in which our privilege allows us to have ignorant attitudes!

    • Violet November 17th, 2012 1:26 PM

      “It’s disgusting, really.”

      Really? You are judging somebody who likes a culture so much she’s trying to live it – how arrogant is that? Do you know anything more that this person about Japanese culture? What kind of knowledge are we supposed to have before we can do something? Do you know the complete history of the company who made the computer you are typing from??
      Leave the girl alone, if anything she actually has more insight into how an actual girl from Japan feels from being surrounded by similar objects.

      Also, it is an observed fact that some people feel much more at ease within a culture that has nothing to do with their own. This can lead them to speak the language better than natives, and finding their own style + people, the way any person would.

      I seems to me a bit dangerous to push the ‘priviledged white people’ self-deprecating guilt trip to that extent: preachy and judgemental WHILE still prejudiced.

      • farawayfaerie November 17th, 2012 5:23 PM

        Yeah I agree with Violet, I don’t see what’s wrong with adopting Japanese street style and embracing their culture. Also, HOW can using ‘those adorable little erasers’ be at all offensive to anyone. I’m pretty sure (please do correct me if I’m wrong) they carry no cultural or religious meaning or symbolism, and that they are literally just there to be cute. I find it difficult to see where to draw the line, especially with Japans street culture being extremely fashionable, with magazines like Fruit. I think it’s slightly different because I don’t think they’re being oppressed for their style, and also it seem new? (as in not an ancient tradition, like headdresses or bindis)

      • Ms.O November 17th, 2012 5:37 PM

        I wasn’t trying to be. . . I’m new to this and I didn’t realize I was being prejudiced and I’m sorry to offend you. Thank you for pointing that out.

        • Ms.O November 18th, 2012 8:42 AM

          I think what I was trying to say is that she was another example of being stylish, while the girls in my school who dressed that way were weird and weren’t ‘accepting that they were American’. And I think that’s unfair. I apologize if I offended you, I actually kind of offended myself as I read over it. My main point wasn’t as clearly explained as I would’ve liked it to be.

        • farawayfaerie November 19th, 2012 6:02 AM

          that’s fine, i understand. i find it interesting with japanese fashion, because it’s often not symbolic imagery, or specific things, but more of an overall look? i’m not sure, but i think it is slightly different from say headdresses.

    • Tiferet January 20th, 2013 2:54 PM

      I think there’s a big difference between adopting another culture’s traditional ethnic garb–particularly if it has religious significance–and buying clothing and mass-produced goods from another culture.

      I wear frilly dresses from Japanese brands like Angelic Pretty. This is one of the many Harajuku street styles: lolita. They are made in a style that emulates Western styles from previous eras. They’re not the white kimono & red hakama of a Shinto priestess; they’re not “sexy” costumes that make fun of the culture. They’re party dresses.

      One important aspect of cultural appropriation we haven’t talked about much here is financial. When a girl buys a $300 Angelic Pretty party dress (or cute erasers from the Sanrio store) money flows back to Japan where these things are designed & China where they’re made. Gwen Stefani’s not wrong for dressing in Harajuku style or encouraging others to do so (although the silent entourage is creepy, sketchy and gross). She wouldn’t even be wrong for starting a brand of Harajuku style clothing, except for the fact that she doesn’t promote or credit the designers and brands who made it all happen in the first place.

      In your place, I would encourage your friend to supplement her Target-Harajuku wardrobe with affordable Japanese brands like DreamV or Bodyline, maybe even a special occasion dress from Angelic Pretty or H.Naoto if she can afford it, and to learn more about the fashion and culture. (My guess is she won’t want the Target stuff after she’s worn the real thing.)

  • rosabird November 16th, 2012 9:13 PM

    I think its great that you guys are opening a conversation about cultural appropriation and informing people that perhaps had not considered its consequences before. However I feel as though you missed the mark a little bit. in the conversation you both kept saying the things that “didn’t really have a problem with” but the point is not really about how you feel about the cultural appropriation personally, it’s about the feeling of the people from that culture and how it affect and offend that culture. I not sure if either of you are Hindu because I don’t think you specified, but whereas to us Gwen Stefani wearing a bindi might seem “not a big deal” or a mild form of cultural appropriation; to someone who is hindu, it might be a big slap in the face. A bindi is a sacred religious symbol, used for protection, opening the third eye and being closer to god. India went through hundred of years of oppression and exploitation from the west, in fact they still are. for a western person to take a bindi and use it for a western fashion statement without any regards for its true meaning is offensive and could be very upsetting for some Hindus. This also holds true for other sacred items form other culture’s such as native american head-dresses. I just think that sometimes these issues need to be thought about from the other cultures point of view on a much deeper level. sorry for being critical, i thought you guys did a great job, i just thought this is an important issue that should be brought up. x

    • victoria November 17th, 2012 10:19 PM

      I kind of sort of/mostly agree with you.

      I can understand that it is/can be destructive/oppressive for a white person to wear a bindi out of pure aesthetic appreciation with no understanding of the history or significance of it. However, I’ve read that many Indian women are now ignoring the cultural/religious significance of the bindi and simply using it as decoration. Is that the same as when a white person uses a bindi for a decoration? Why or why not? Does it depend on whether or not they are Hindi or whether or not they understand the cultural significance?

      I’m still trying to figure out this whole cultural appropriation-racism thing out for myself right now… so… food for thought.

  • fizzydrinks November 16th, 2012 9:44 PM

    Wow, this discussion was really insightful for me. Living in Singapore, I’ve never actually thought about this before. But interestingly enough, in my country, there’s a thing we celebrate yearly called Racial Harmony Day where students are encouraged to come to school dressed in the ethnic costumes (be it an ethnic costume of your race or another race.) So I’ve never actually thought about this issue before but now I finally know something about cultural appropriation.

  • Tayhla November 16th, 2012 9:47 PM

    I live in one of the most white towns in Australia, with very very little cultural variation. For a long time I wasn’t even aware of my privilege. And I have made mistakes, plenty of them – I am still learning.

    Recently my friends and I made the inappropriate decision to “dress up” as Mexicans for a fun day my grade was having. We wore sombreros, poncho type clothing, and moustaches, and looking back on it – I really wish I hadn’t!! All that is truly someone’s culture, and it was wrong of me to make it a costume for fun, and I am sincerely sorry.

    I think that if I hadn’t made that stuff up, however, I wouldn’t have bothered to learn about cultural appropriation and read discussions like this one. From my mistake – I’ve learnt more….

    • Graciexx November 20th, 2012 2:08 AM

      At my school (also is aus), we had to “dress up” as Mexicans too. I found that it was culturally stereotyping but surprisingly no one else did. Coming from a very diverse school in a multicultural neighbourhood I was surprised to find that all of the teachers and students supported it. I was too afraid to speak out at the time, but now after reading this, I will bring it up :)

  • ghostprincess November 16th, 2012 9:52 PM

    I think, in some part, that the problem with cultural appropriation is not that things are borrowed from other cultures (appreciating other people’s creativity is super positive) but that the act of borrowing isn’t acknowledged. If PoC were more recognized in white society, this wouldn’t be a problem. You could look at something and think ‘that’s obviously inspired by culture x’ because white people as a whole would be equally as educated about the histories and cultures of other cultures as they are of their own. Where do we draw the line is an interesting question, but it’s unanswerable. There is no line. It always depends on context. (none of this applies to sacred things like war bonnets or racist bullshit like blackface.)

  • Sphinx November 16th, 2012 9:52 PM

    This is a great discussion because cultural appropriation is such a hard thing to explain to other people.
    I just finished my senior year, and on the last year of high school we have like, an entire week during which we get to wear costumes.
    So this one (white, blond, blue eyed) girl in my class joked about coming as a japanese girl or a black girl on costume day. And I really tried to explain to her why it would be offensive and fucked up.
    Sometime after that the geography teacher mentioned internalized racism, and this girl didn’t know what it was… so I sent her a bunch of texts and the “Fair or Not?: The Snow White Complex” video. She thanked me and all, and said that she had never really thought about how racism still exists today before seeing that.
    But on costume day, she still painted her face, neck, arms and legs black. And spent the whole day acting “guetto”.
    It’s just… so frustrating.

  • angelsandlace November 16th, 2012 9:55 PM

    I really really really love that this article was published here. I actually had a really intense debate on cultural appropriation the other day (specifically Native American culture for the most part, seeing as we’re in BC and Halloween happened recently, ‘sexy Native American’ being a popular and horrifying costume). I’m ethnically white, so it’s kind of iffy for me to try and dictate what is or isn’t okay, though. In my opinion, things like this need to be considered on a case by case basis. I think bindis, for example, are fine to wear. They’ve been secularized and are commonly worn just as a fashion statement in India, and they’re marketed to audiences other than the culture they originated in by people from that culture. If people know the history behind them and they can talk about that instead of just saying ‘i just thought they were pretty’ then that’s fine. But when someone’s dressing up as an Indian for Halloween and wearing a bindi as part of a racist, stereotypical, and demeaning costume, then that’s not okay. Native American headdresses are different, though. They’re not worn in some Native American cultures (because Native Americans aren’t just one homogenized group of people without individual cultures) just because they’re cute or cool. They still have spiritual and cultural meaning and have not been secularized. So when a white chick is wearing them for secular reasons, that’s when it gets a little weird. But my opinions can be subject to change! This is just what I think right now. Let the dialogue continue!

  • garnet November 16th, 2012 10:03 PM

    i think it is a matter of education and personal responsibility. i appropriate — every day. but i try to do so with extreme and careful planning. visuals are not playthings, because signifiers have serious consequences in the status quo. that doesn’t mean i think all appropriation is forbidden, however.

    for example, i am a white/straight/privileged woman. but i am devoted to drag culture (Paris is Burning, etc), and it has shaped my identity as a woman. So am I wrong when I say “werk” and “fierce queen” or when I vogue at a party? Kind of yeah, cause I am not black/gay/or even from new york city. its not my scene and arguably I don’t have any right to that language. Still, does that change how emotionally invested i am in that culture? No. So I take it upon myself to research and to know as much as I can about it and to pay respects to its originators/owners. I don’t profit off it and I don’t claim it as my idea. And I vogue away.

    Gender/sexuality/race are all types of social constructs that we build in order to differentiate between people and maintain hierarchies. If I identify with gay men a lof of the time, why not blur those lines and let myself by masculine in that way/feminine in that way? gay culture certainly reworks and enacts behaviors of straight women all the time. any effort to confuse the prescribed boundaries is rad, but a sense of humility and an effort towards education is totally necessary. don’t just tack it on for aesthetics, cause that hollows out the visual into just another commodity. you gotta care about it enough to educate yourself and others

  • DreamBoat November 16th, 2012 10:05 PM

    I really loved this. I think this is a really fantastic way of introducing people to cultural appropriation, because I feel like a lot of people have never heard of it, and I am even just really learning all about it.

    I used to wear bindis and bangles (and really, really wanted a sari) when I was a younger kid, and I really loved Indian culture. I also researched it, and I wasn’t ignorant about what those things meant. I’m also white, and didn’t know about cultural appropriation. It really makes me mad to see bindis being sexualized and made into a thing white people can do, but Indians can’t. We allow white people to do whatever they want, while other cultures are made fun of for doing things related to their culture. It’s so fucked up and horrible.

    On a side note– I saw a white, blonde girl wearing a short “Native American” costume for Halloween, and I ranted about how effing wrong that was after I came home. The whole “LET’S MAKE OTHERS CULTURES INTO COSTUMES WHILE WE’RE ALL WHITE!” thing is totally freaking awful.

    ON ANOTHER SIDE NOTE– I used to be obsessed with Gwen Stefani during the “Harajuku phase”, and it actually got me into looking at REAL Harajuku and Japanese street culture, and I loved the real culture. I think how Gwen Stefani took it and made it a cute white person thing is fucked up. Plus, her whole entourage of Japanese girls is super creepy and really horrible.

  • Martinapovolo November 16th, 2012 10:14 PM

    I was raised catholic and I have an issue with people wearing priest collars/rosaries and having shrines with our lady and stuff. It especially bothered me when y’all got those Saints candles and glued pictures of celebrities to them.

    • Violet November 17th, 2012 1:33 PM

      That comment is so on point.

    • Runaway November 17th, 2012 4:05 PM

      Well, I was raised in a traditionally Catholic country and I thought it was really funny. It really depends on the person.

  • Riles November 16th, 2012 10:22 PM

    Have any of you thoufgt that you might be assuming too much about white women? I really don’t mean to be offensive in any way, so please excuse me if I am. I don’t know everything their is to know about this issue, but my personal opinion so far is that this entire debate is mildly ridiculous. Many mentioned that when a white person does something from a certain culture it is “stylish” and when a person actually from that culture does it it isn’t. What none of you seem to adress is that most people honestly don’t mean to be offensive. If I ever wore something that was taken from another culture, I wouldn’t be wearing it to be exotic. I would be wearing it because I genually liked it and wanted to wear it because it represented who I am, if you get my meaning. If it was from another culture that I was ignorant about than I would try and figure out if it was offensive before wearing it. Also, most of these replies that heve said that when a white person does it it is stylish and so on and so forth, don’t make it seem like it was the person wearing it who was doing damage, it was the people around them who were commenting on it.

    • Anaheed November 16th, 2012 10:28 PM

      I think Jenny did address that people can be offensive without meaning to be, here and elsewhere:

      One thing that I think is really important is to recognize that having malicious, evil, racist intent is not a prerequisite for racism. I don’t know many people who would openly say HEY I AM A RACIST AND ENJOY BEING ONE TO OTHERS AND DOING RACIST THINGS, and yet I have encountered racism over and over in my life and have seen it every day. Sometimes I see the very people who say I AM A GOOD PERSON doing things that are extremely racist and extremely hurtful. I think once we get over our need to be validated as a “good” people, we can deal with the reality that we can want to be good, we can want to be thoughtful, we can want to never be racist, and despite all that, we can still inadvertently or ignorantly do something that is racist and hurtful.

      • Riles November 16th, 2012 10:42 PM

        I guess my main point is that it isn’t the people themselves who are really offensive, it is the people who are saying that when a white person does it it is more “edgy” or “cool” than when a person of that culture wears or does a certain thing.

        • Violet November 17th, 2012 1:41 PM

          Thaaaaank you.

          To extend that remark, nobody bothered trying to define the words ‘culture’, how it ties into ‘ethnicity’, ‘skin color’, and importantly, the difference / blur between fashion and costume.

  • moonchild November 16th, 2012 10:27 PM

    So I’m super super into cultural fashion… as in I have read a bunch of super thick History of World Fashion textbooks. I know I’m definitely not part of/legitimately educated about these cultures (as a teenage white girl) but as someone who really cares and appreciates these cultures, is it ok for me to make and wear very literal, say, Indian salwaar, henna, and head…thing?

    Like here on my blog: http://under-a-bridge.blogspot.com/2012/08/pants-tutorial.html

    Offending anyone would (OBVIOUSLY) be the last thing I want to do so tell me your opinions! Thanks.

    Love,
    gwen

    • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 10:32 PM

      Yes. . . Kind of. You at least should make an effort to know about the cultures you aren’t a part of otherwise.

      • moonchild November 16th, 2012 10:38 PM

        wait kind of what?
        I mean I have spent a lot of time learning about these fashions…

        also, my family is buddhist so like we watch documentaries and stuff about india/tibet all the time. what are you saying though?

        • moonchild November 16th, 2012 10:40 PM

          wait watching documentaries is NOT what makes me buddhist (just saying) I actually go to a monestary and meditate.

          just clearing that up after i read it over.

        • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 10:57 PM

          It’s not really okay for the henna (and such) thing. Sorry, sometimes I think things I can’t write. Okay. So knowing that this stuff is wrong (because it really is) helps you stop other people from dressing in a way that demeans the culture that originally created the ‘look’. Because you can’t just have fun because you like it. It has meaning in other ways. So if you wore a bindi because you’re buddhist, you would be doing that for religious reasons. Not because you wanted to make fun of Buddhists and go around making the prayer gesture.

          • Anaheed November 16th, 2012 10:59 PM

            Bindis aren’t Buddhist; they’re Hindu. But otherwise I get your points!

        • moonchild November 16th, 2012 11:01 PM

          oh no i never said anything about bindis :)

        • moonchild November 16th, 2012 11:02 PM

          oh sorry anaheed, that wasn’t directed at me…

        • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 11:04 PM

          OOPS. Sorry! I don’t know enough about Buddhism. . .

          • Anaheed November 16th, 2012 11:07 PM

            NBD! I appreciate what you said!

        • moonchild November 16th, 2012 11:05 PM

          But so if i legitimately think that henna looks awesome, I can’t wear it because I don’t belong to that culture? I know that some henna has bridal purposes, but one of my friends that moved from india told me that she and her friends would wear henna like that regularly. So if that is true, do you think it makes sense that I can’t wear it?

          just being the devil’s advocate here.

          • Anaheed November 16th, 2012 11:08 PM

            I think the point is, you CAN do anything you want to do, moonchild. But this article was about being aware of WHY some people might not like certain things that you decide to do. Once you have all of that understanding, it’s up to you what to do with it.

        • moonchild November 16th, 2012 11:11 PM

          ok yeah. That makes sense. I just wanted to see what the reaction might be to someone who is not FROM the culture but is FAIRLY educated about the matter, because i think that may have been one point that wasn’t discussed.

        • moonchild November 16th, 2012 11:13 PM

          also, I highly appreciate this conversation! You are all so so so smart! :)

    • moonchild November 16th, 2012 10:32 PM

      Also, btw, it pisses me off to the extreme when I see things like the girls at music festivals getting drunk in headdresses… in this respect, i think intent really does make a difference to the viewer. And for some reason the thing about mass marketed cultural diffusion really resonates with me.

      And in that way I feel that it is somehow different if you make something than buy it from urban outfitters. I guess I feel that when I make something I really care about it, you know? If this is bigoted in any way then I’m really sorry. :(

      • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 10:46 PM

        No, I think that whatever you think when you don’t know enough is just questions, not statements :) I hardly know enough to have an authority, this is all my opinion. Same, same. Intent, to me, does make a small difference. I think that purposefully being ignorant so you seem like you never, ever have done anything slightly racist is silly and that if you can’t make an attempt to understand then you will pretty much go nowhere in life (harsh, but I feel pretty passionate). I have read your blog and your attitude is awesome. But yeah, headdresses are things that shouldn’t really be used as an excuse to craft. Do something else! :) Urban Outfitters. . . This is a completely other topic but UO annoys me so much. They pretend to be liberal; they are ‘accepting’ of people of all types; headdresses, really, UO?! Anyways, just trying to get it will make up for ignorance.

        • moonchild November 16th, 2012 10:57 PM

          oh no I’m not trying to act ignorant… I just know that this is a super sensitive area, and i want people to know that they can (obviously) call me out on any of it.

          also, do you think i shouldn’t wear that head thing i made? because it’s not really an appropriation of ANY cupture, it’s kind of just a headband with pompoms… i wouldn’t make a native american headdress, but do you think the one i made is bad because it looks sort of ~ethnic~?

          also, thanks and i’m glad you like my blog! :)

        • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 11:28 PM

          Haha, just call it a crown. Or a scraboodletoodle. It’s a product of your creativity and imagination!

    • puffling November 16th, 2012 11:15 PM

      If you don’t know what it’s called, how can you know what it means to the people it belongs to?

      • moonchild November 16th, 2012 11:18 PM

        wait what… the head thing? because that wasn’t actually from a culture. That was just something i created that, when worn with that outfit, looked influenced by some sort of southeast asian headpiece.

        • puffling November 16th, 2012 11:29 PM

          well, i don’t know about the specificities of your outfits or whatever, but my general rule of thumb is that if “is this cultural appropriation? are people going to be offended by this? is this racist?” even crosses my mind, then the answer to all those questions is almost certainly going to be yes.

          if there is a doubt in your mind, don’t do it.

  • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 10:30 PM

    Another thing is, kind of, Disney princesses. I mean, I dressed up as Pocahontas when I was younger and everything about Pocahontas and about the Native American culture was lost because Disney decided, “Hey! This could be a thing that would sell!” I didn’t even know Pocahontas was a real person. I wasn’t even sexualizing her! She was someone who was a pretty singer so I loved her. Same with Mulan (I’m young enough to know their names right off the bat, okay?). If you wanted to be Mulan for Halloween, you would put on a kimono, white face powder and red lipstick. She was so pretty! But that time was the height of foot-binding. It’s almost shocking they got away with not including that in the movie, considering the plot. The more I think about it the more it seems terrible. Nobody knows about it! A lot of people might never know and dress in their headresses forever. That isn’t right and I feel like someone needs to make the message clear. Plus, have you seen the VS Native American costume?!: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/fashion/victoria-secret-cut-offensive-indian-costume-broadcast-article-1.1200747

    Oh my god, I didn’t know about this (really!) an hour and half ago and now it has consumed my thoughts.

    • moonchild November 16th, 2012 10:42 PM

      Oh my god you are so SO right.

      especially about Mulan! I never associated foot binding with that!

      I was thinking about Mulan today and gender roles? what with mulan cross-dressing and then the men cross-dressing? but that’s a whole different topic :)

      • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 10:49 PM

        Haha, well I switched to a different topic on your post so you can do the same. I was definitely thinking about the gender roles thing as I was writing about Mulan. It’s odd that Disney could talk about something that controversial in such an accepting way yet be so racist and sexist.

        Lol, I’m enjoying talking with you so much.

        • moonchild November 16th, 2012 10:59 PM

          omg i know and yeah i am too!

          at the same time, they completely changed the entire history of pocahontas into the *star crossed lover* archetype when in actuality she was just a young girl that looked up to john smith… like gahd.

    • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 11:10 PM

      Haha, and really she married John Rolfe, a completely different guy. What are we teaching the children? That’s why Rookie’s here. To teach us the right stuff, or give us developed opinions so we can choose what’s right.

      • moonchild November 16th, 2012 11:12 PM

        I KNOW! we learned about her in history last year and everyone was like

        BUT DISNEY DIDN’T SAY THAT!

        • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 11:21 PM

          Yeah, I’m actually learning it right now. I hope one day we actually learn the truth. That would be amazing!

    • Emelie November 17th, 2012 2:50 PM

      Just a brief historical intervention: the legend of Hua Mulan seems to have originated in the northern Wei period (c. 300-500 CE). The earliest accounts of foot binding come from the southern Tang kingdom in the 900s CE. The Disney story isn’t a perfect retelling of the legend (I’m pretty sure the original poem didn’t have a trouble-making dragon voiced by Eddie Murphy, for instance :P ) but they had no reason to engage with the issue of foot-binding, because it’s not historically relevant in that period.

      (Puts the historian hat aside. Thanks for bearing with me, folks.)

      The Disney Princess issue is an interesting one, especially considering the ways that Disney has wrestled with creating a diverse group of princesses and their sometimes maladroit attempts to discuss this in public. But I would be very supportive if my hypothetical daughter wanted to be Mulan or Pocahontas for Halloween because she wanted to celebrate and identify with the personal qualities of those characters. But I admit that it’s tricky, and I would probably encourage her to go as Mulan (because people can recognize Mulan as a specific character) and not, for instance, Cixi (the late Qing dynasty Dowager Empress), because there’s a long history of Cixi stereotyping in Western media and because I don’t know how you could make a Cixi costume that was identifiable as Cixi and not a generic (or stereotyped) late Qing outfit.

      • Sphinx November 18th, 2012 7:34 PM

        This might be a useless comment but I totally love Mulan, and would try to imitate her all the time when I was a little kid (I even cut my hair, on my own, so I ended up with a bowl cut for most of my childhood)… I was utterly devastated when I was 4 years old found out she was chinese and I wasn’t (I’m half japanese), cause she was the first asian character I ever saw, and I really wanted to be like her.

  • Martinapovolo November 16th, 2012 10:39 PM

    y’all also forgot to mention lana del rey

    • ICantThinkOfAUsername November 17th, 2012 9:02 AM

      She is actually mentioned in passing in the very first paragraph (though not directly; through a link to her “ride” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Py_-3di1yx0).

    • Yayo November 17th, 2012 1:38 PM

      I totally agree. Although her video for ‘Ride’ was referenced at the start, more could have been said.

      So much about that video infuriates me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a super hard core fan of hers. Her music and style has really really influenced me a lot over the last year.
      But really, even though cultural appropriation is still something very new to me and this article has literally opened my eyes, that video made me extremely uncomfortable when I first saw it (both the cultural appropriation and her so very obvious sexual submission to the male characters, which is not a first for her).
      The sound and visuals are so beautiful, and in a way I brushed aside my doubts because I couldn’t face that someone I admire so much could possibly practice something I see as wrong.
      It goes without saying Lana and her producers didn’t do it to offend anyone. It fits perfectly with her whole glorified ‘Americana’ style. Still, I think it was ridiculously ignorant even as somebody who knows little about Native American cultures (I’m British). However, I know enough that her whining nostalgically about ‘the country America used to be’ whilst dancing around a fire in a headdress is not OK.
      I read this article a few days ago about it which also opened my eyes: http://theflyingv.com/music/dont-be-an-asshole-just-say-no-to-cultural-appropriation/

      • victoria November 17th, 2012 10:22 PM

        oH GOD THAT VIDEO

        I love Lana but…. ugh

        I also read somewhere that she defended herself with something along the lines of “I worked on a reservation so it’s ok” (which is kind of REALLY IGNORANT aaaaaah I just wish someone would take her and explain!!!! MESSAGE TO LANA – READ ROOKIE)

  • Maialuna November 16th, 2012 10:51 PM

    As a privileged white person, can I just say that my knee-jerk, gut reaction is OH MY GOD I’M SO SORRY I DON’T KNOW WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME I’LL NEVER DO IT AGAIN I’M SORRY. Only after that do I ever think things along the lines of ‘why can’t I wear something that I like?’ or “why can’t everyone from any culture just wear anything from any culture? Globalization is a huge part of the world, you know. We can’t all stay segregated.’ I’m not saying that everything is okay to wear, because some things are really messed up.

    I’m so worried, because I am a… considering..? Hindu, and I’m terrified to wear a Bindi, even if I am wearing it for religious reasons, because I’m white. I don’t want people to get offended because my skin and my religion don’t match.

    Oh, as far as the knee-jerking, the only thing I get defensive about right away is dreads. Oh my goodness, I don’t even think about them as a cultural thing most of the time. Both of my parents have had dreads for years, since before I was born, and they’re both white. It just seems normal to me. It’s weird to think about that as cultural appropriation. I mean, if you go back in time, couldn’t anyone from any culture have dreads? It just seems like a very normal thing to do with your hair when people don’t care too much about keeping their hair neat and whatnot.

    • Alvie November 19th, 2012 10:47 AM

      I felt this about the mohawk thing. Anyone could choose to do their hair like this in any part of the world at any time. Just because a hairstyle has been culturally significant to one race does not mean that a person from the other side of the world cant shave both sides of their heads without appropriating that culture, after all, with modern technology such as razors and blades I think it could definitely be a completely self inspired choice. I have also seen people referencing straight style ‘asian bangs’. I really don’t think the Asian culture can lay sole claim to straight bangs.

  • Emmie November 16th, 2012 10:53 PM

    So. Many. THOUGHTS.

    Okay, so for one, I feel like there is contradictory thinking at times here. If something is actually OFFENSIVE (for example, if someone were to wear something bearing a swastika or a yellow star, I don’t even know what I would do, because I couldn’t put my fury and indignation into understandable terms.)

    Otherwise, the soy milk thing? TOO FAR! What is the root of the issue there, is it a cultural “DIBS! We did that first! And I resent you using it!” Because I find that to be the bulk of what’s being discussed here, and that’s petty.

    Oversimplified sports analogy: I am an athlete, and you learn from a variety of coaches. Everyone has their own unique spin, and great athletes are often a combination/mish-mash of all the different things they’ve learned, picked apart and absorbed and processed from totally different styles and sources. Isn’t this the point of cross-cultural exposure? To LEARN from one another for the betterment of humanity as a whole? Or does everything need a citation, or is it a “lets watch from our separate corners but stay different and not adopt ANYTHING from one another because WHAT DOES ME USING A SPICE ORIGINALLY GROWN IN INDIA SAY ABOUT MY VIEWS ON BRITISH IMPERIALISM!?!?

    Also, being “white” (which should allow for infinite backgrounds and definitions), doesn’t have to nor should it be synonymous with ignorance, or malice, or any other generally negative connotation. Which, whether it’s acknowledged explicitly or not, is how it’s more often than not portrayed. All cultures should have equal merit.

    • moonchild November 16th, 2012 11:00 PM

      I literally agree with everything you just said.

    • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 11:07 PM

      I just don’t know if we can do that yet. It’s different then blackfacing, and I agree that it would be great if the world could become this big community of people who wear what they like and accept the meaning of cultures, but we can’t even accept that people shouldn’t have babies they don’t want to have.

    • georgie fruit November 17th, 2012 12:05 AM

      “Otherwise, the soy milk thing? TOO FAR! What is the root of the issue there, is it a cultural “DIBS! We did that first! And I resent you using it!” Because I find that to be the bulk of what’s being discussed here, and that’s petty.”

      well, actually, I don’t think this is what Jenny is saying. I think her soy beverage anecdote was more to illustrate that generally when white people perform certain things (like drinking soy milk) the action is perceived very differently than when a person of color performs the same action, simply (but haha of course not really simply) because of the crazy bullshit that is mixed up with race/ethnicity/skin color.

      so when Jenny brought her soy drink to school as a kid it was seen by (white) students as, “what a weird ASIAN thing to do” because difference of any kind is sort of always already seen as linked with her ethnicity. but when she went to college she saw white people drinking the same soy drink but without that baggage of “Asian weirdness.” because their bodies don’t bear the signs of Otherness, they are free to partake in “strange” behaviors without it having any bearing on their perceived identity. that’s white privilege.

      as Anaheed mentioned near the end of the discussion, even being able to think that something is a “petty” overreaction is probably a good indication of a privileged position.

      • Anaheed November 17th, 2012 12:08 AM

        This is such a smart comment. Especially this incredibly concise illustration of white privilege: “because their bodies don’t bear the signs of Otherness, they are free to partake in ‘strange’ behaviors without it having any bearing on their perceived identity. that’s white privilege.”

      • DreamBoat November 17th, 2012 12:48 AM

        I 100% agree and think your comment was genius.

        I think Jenny’s anecdote was not at all about calling “dibs” on something, but about the fact she, as an Asian person, had to endure ridicule for drinking soy milk, while her white college friends got to drink it and seem “cool” for drinking it, which is a total BS double standard.

        • Emmie November 17th, 2012 1:29 AM

          “as Anaheed mentioned near the end of the discussion, even being able to think that something is a ‘petty’ overreaction is probably a good indication of a privileged position.”

          I think there is an over-emphasis placed on the idea of privilege being inextricably linked with being white, and I don’t feel that this is where the conversation should be going. I think there are all kinds of different factors that contribute to the double standards of our absolutely flawed society.

          As someone whose religion is a key cultural piece of her identity, I have been in countless situations where I have experienced similar double standards, and I can absolutely empathize with the feelings of otherness and alienation described. My anger and moments where I have spoken up stemmed from hateful comments, where people mean to inflict harm. I think these moments are the times where people MUST speak up.

          But you should not resent the people using soy milk, or the people wearing a mandarin collar. mulation or lifting from other cultures in a generally positive way, rather than negative (even if there is a certain level of naivete associated with the act of using or appropriating the culture), does not seem like something that should actively bother you, it’s part of multicultural exposure.

        • farawayfaerie November 17th, 2012 5:42 AM

          With regards to Jenny’s reaction to the Soy ‘milk’, i don’t think it was about:
          hey! you CAN’T do that, you’re not asian therefore it’s racist.
          but more of like a ‘this isn’t fair, i was teased about this because i’m asian and now you’re not even acknowledging where it comes from AND you’re calling it milk?’
          I don’t know, it’s not really an overreaction if she was hurt by it.

      • Alvie November 19th, 2012 11:00 AM

        Was it really to do with you being Asian though Jenny. Did you experience a lot of this sort of, oh thats weird, why are you doing that, because that would be different. My white sister is lactose intolerate and drank soya milk from an early age. I can assure you, she recieved a lot of ‘why are you drinking that’ from her peers when she was little. Children are very aware of difference in general. It is not just to do with race, culture. It is very much to do with their environment, cultural exposure and experience. Many children spend all day with a limited number of people from a limited number of backgrounds and races. That is why i do think that cultures becoming more visible and mixed will stop this sort of childhood reaction which can often be hurtful. My sister was just as upset by it as you. She even started drinking the cartons of milk we used to get free at school to make herself feel more the same and made herself sick on more than one occassion. Shouldn’t we be encouraging multi-culturalism so that more individuals feel accepted in a dominate culture which is informed by many many different cultures.

    • mayamidori November 17th, 2012 10:41 AM

      I totally agree that all cultures should have equal merit, but I don’t think they do, at least not on a global (or even national) level. Until that happens, I think everyone just needs to be aware of others and respect their feelings about culturally specific clothing, make up, jewelry etc. even if you don’t totally understand those feelings or why what you’re doing is so frustrating or offensive.

      Also, I do understand the difficulties of giving EVERY culture “equal merit” (which would probably need to be defined more specifically before having that discussion) but I think addressing and acknowledging at least SOME of the cultures as a society is not too much to ask.

      Loved, loved, loved reading this discussion, Rookie! Wonderfully done, as always.

  • lexallnight November 16th, 2012 11:00 PM

    i really liked reading this, and seeing the variations in opinions, especially cause i’ve been under fire in the comments section on jezebel for saying that i like feathered headdresses and would like to wear one sometimes. i consider myself to be understanding of the issues of it, but i’m still lost as far as my opinion goes. i don’t really know what it is, but i do think that it’s not necessarily fair to limit feathered headdresses only to native american chiefs. cultures all over the world have worn feathers in their hair for numerous reasons, right? and with the argument of them being reserved for war heroes and such, well, i wouldn’t object to say, a canadian wearing an old american army pin on his jacket. does this make sense?

  • ladylaurenia November 16th, 2012 11:03 PM

    You guys don’t even know how much I appreciate this.

  • maemae November 16th, 2012 11:09 PM

    Every time this conversation happens, the question comes up of where the line can be drawn, and of course that’s impossible to do. When you really start tracing the origins a lot of things we don’t take to be cultural appropriation, you’ll find that they are. For example, women abandoned corsets because orientalism was popular, so not wearing a corset is basically a form of appropriation. I don’t point this out to say “everyone should just get over LDR in a headdress because then where do you stop and we might as well all go back to wearing corsets and blah blah blah”. I think it really proves the point that after awhile, like with mohawks, the origin is forgotten. I think it’s worth noting that in that video the headdress is obviously gross and offensive to a lot of people watching but that it’s easy to look past the fringe jackets, which are also taken from NA culture, but have been appropriated for long enough that we now associate them with bikers.

    As a white person I think it’s almost irrelevant to take up strong opinions on exactly what I personally think is appropriate and what is not. I don’t have to knowledge or the experience to make that judgement, but I think that there is a responsibility to be as aware, sensitive and open-minded as you can to whatever issues people might have with something you are wearing.

  • victorianera November 16th, 2012 11:12 PM

    It’s a complicated issue for sure and I’m still nowhere near reaching a very strong opinion about it, but I think I have some feelings to share :)
    I’m brazilian and I recently came back from a 10-month cultural exchange in Turkey. Two or three weeks ago, a new soap opera started here in Brazil. The author – who, a few years back, already portrayed India – chose to show Turkey and it’s culture on this one.
    I’ve been getting A LOT of questions, and still don’t have a position. I do think this is cultural appropriation, given that the author kind of pick and chooses the elements of the culture she’d like to put forward on the soap opera. I view culture as a whole, and while it is impossible to do this in a soap opera, it still bothers me.
    On the other hand… I am happy for the opportunity this has given us, brazilians, to learn. Many people are going to Turkey. Even as turists, I’m hoping that they come back just a little more aware of the world’s diversity, and a little more understanding, too. I myself am trying to expand the discussion sharing my experience, which differs a lot from what the soap opera has been showing. But there are people who just don’t wanna go further in that, and I’m sad that they may end up with some misconceptions.
    Another thing is that during my year I’ve felt guilty of cultural appropriation many times, especially when wearing traditional turkish clothing. Turk people, however, seemed to interpret this most of times as a symbol of the interest I took in their culture.
    I hope this was helpful in some kind of way! I’m still lost. Any thoughts?

    • Isil November 17th, 2012 4:27 PM

      Hi, victorianera. I am from Turkey, I born here, and my mother and father is from here, too. You said in your comment “Turk people, however, seemed to interpret this most of times as a symbol of the interest I took in their culture.”

      It’s totally true. I didn’t read the whole article because my eyes are too tired right now to read it, but I read some of it and some of the comments above, and I didn’t get the racism in other people wearing traditional clothes of others. I think it’s like a compliment. Maybe that’s because I’m racist and I’m unaware of it, I don’t know. Or because Turkey considered as kind of an undeveloped country, or maybe that’s because I’ve never been abroad and I’ve never heard what people think about my country. The problem is just stereotyping and prejudgement. If a person does “belly dancing” and animate a harem scene about my country, or they wear some turbans just because most people on my country are Muslims, I take them as racist acts. It’s about knowing what you do. Although a person can do the things I listed as racism about my country above, but they must know what they do, they must do researchs about what they are wearing or doing about different countries or different people, they must have answers to these people.

      I think I’m out of the point and I couldn’t write a good comment about what you say, but if you ask a more spesific question about something (I think you already have some Turkish friends to ask questions about it, though) I can reply them with love.

    • Sphinx November 18th, 2012 7:58 PM

      Hey, I’m from Brazil too, and I also went to Turkey recently!
      The soap opera is horrible, cause while it does show some of the beauty of the country (and is probably helping tourism), the way they pick and choose what is shown distorts reality.
      This author always does this. She did this before with another soap opera set in India. Instead of portraying the culture of these countries, everyone just dances. ALL. THE. TIME.
      So I think it’s definitely culture appropriation. They just pick a country they want to visit (all paid by the network) and them make a sloppy storyline full of stereotypes about the people who live there.

  • Anaheed November 16th, 2012 11:12 PM

    I just wanna say how much I love you guys. We haven’t rejected a single comment on this article, and look at how sane and respectful this dialogue is. So much more thoughtful and mature than it would have been on any other website. You Rookies are honestly the best, most open & honest & self-examining, group of people I have ever known.

    • moonchild November 16th, 2012 11:14 PM

      <3 YA ANAHEEEEED

    • Ms.O November 16th, 2012 11:19 PM

      Awww, Anaheed! <333
      Rookie is like that. It has the greatest people working on it and has the greatest people reading it! This comment has made my day.

    • Tavi November 16th, 2012 11:46 PM

      I AGREE THANK YOU PEOPLE

      • Kathryn November 18th, 2012 5:46 PM

        this is my fav place on the internet <3

      • purrr November 19th, 2012 4:33 PM

        Just saying – when I first found out about Rookie (around winter last year) I was SO amazed at the comments section – this is a public place where no one acts like an asshole. It’s amazing. A lot of people try to use good grammar. At first I thought that it’s either very strictly moderated or just plain fake. Also it was strange to find a place where no one was interested in showing off to be the coolest and no one was telling ME what to do. I wish the whole world was like this. Thank you Tavi (and the whole Rookie team) for creating such a place. <3

        • Anaheed November 19th, 2012 4:43 PM

          I am amazed by it too! We are not very strictly moderated — 99.999 percent of the comments are approved. You are all just really awesome people.

        • Tavi November 19th, 2012 4:55 PM

          It IS amazing! We’re lucky our readers are so thoughtful and courteous. Once we had a Just Wondering with a question about abortion, and I swear I’ve never seen an online discussion about that topic where people were so respectful and willing to hear about other people’s beliefs. I mean even on like super sophisticated news sites people are way catty. Thank you, all o you, for being rad.

  • breakfastblues November 16th, 2012 11:15 PM

    uuuuugh, it breaks my heart (in such a good way) that young people (young girls especially) are talking about this kind of thing. reading this discussion and the subsequent comments brought a tear to my eye and reminded me of how powerful we all are. articles like this remind me that rookie is more than a just a fun online magazine. rookie is resistance! it’s resistance against patriarchy, racism, and all kinds of oppression. thank you, rookie!

  • maemae November 16th, 2012 11:20 PM

    Also, Urban Outfitters has been one of the most outstandingly terrible companies for making money from incredibly insensitive cultural appropriation http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46574519/ns/business-retail/t/navajo-nation-sues-urban-outfitters-over-goods/#.UKcOyaDhATE

    I know Rookie needs money to keep running, but having so much of what you do sponsored by UO when you are smart and aware enough to make posts like this is a bit depressing.

    (Here are a few other examples) http://theweek.com/article/index/220370/racist-navajo-attire-and-7-other-urban-outfitters-controversies

  • weetziebatcoolcat November 16th, 2012 11:22 PM

    Don’t judge me, but i’m one of ~THOSE people~ who wears bindis. Yes, it also makes me feel guilty because i’m the whitest, most non-religious person you’ll ever meet. I only know so much about the Hindu religion, so when people ask me “So why are you wearing that weird gem on your forehead? Do you have a fascination with Indian culture?”, I kinda just shake my head, although I am interested in Hinduism. I don’t want to say those slimy words: “I think it looks cool, so, yeah.” Cause I know people like that, and damn, I wanna rip that Nirvana shirt right off them every time i see them wear it.
    On the topic of Gwen Stefani, I TOTALLY AGREE with Marie:
    “…when she had the four SILENT Harajuku Girls following her around everywhere it was strange. Like, OK, here’s four Japanese girls (I don’t even think they were all Japanese?!) following around this white woman and not saying a word. GWEN, DO YOU LET THEM SPEAK? And now I bet if you did some word-association about Harajuku with a random white American person they’d most likely respond, “Oh, you mean the line at Target?” first and not the area in Tokyo. So, shit like that feels weird and wrong.”
    SO TRUE AND WEIRD BUT ALSO HILARIOUSLY PUT. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS, ROOKIE!

  • allknottedup November 16th, 2012 11:29 PM

    I enjoyed reading this but felt sort of detached (a little ashamed to admit this, but I’ve never thought about cultural appropriation much, mainly because I wear things traditionally “American” and live in an extremely privileged white town). UNTIL I read the first comment of Christian crosses, which got to me immediately. I am a Christian and it always bothers me when I see nonreligious acquaintances walking around with crosses on their necks. Like, THIS IS MY PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH MY GOD, AND FLAUNT THAT AROUND YOUR NECK AND YOU HAVE NO FREAKING CLUE ABOUT WHAT THAT RELATIONSHIP COULD EVEN MEAN. So, thank you Rookie for really opening me up to this. I know people don’t mean to purposefully be ignorant (again with the “intent” of something here), but it just grates on me.

    So basically, I think being aware of what you’re wearing and taking time to learn about it and learn to respect the culture it comes from would be a HUGE step to fixing any kind of cultural appropriation.

  • boror November 16th, 2012 11:47 PM

    i think it’s interesting to google about kitsch-kamp for this subject. of course it won’t iluminate anyone about the appropriating issue, but even though, i’ve been thinking about this issue and kamp for a while now, i never related them, but i just realized when you talked about carmen miranda. i related those ideas this way: kamp is the resymbolizing of kitsch. when someone takes something kitsch and gives it a new significance, it becomes kamp. so it’s the same thing but with another intention. of course, kamp is very sectary, because not everyone can do kamp, only those who wouldn’t be categorized as kitsch. so if you’re kitsch, you won’t be cool being it, but if you’re kamp, you’ll be cool being kitsch.
    applying it to this case, kitsch would be the original cultures who had this particular item and kamp the ones who take it afterwards, so i personally think there are two options:
    a. mocking the original culture (even if you don’t know you’re doing it)
    b. re-significate it for YOU (not to be in fashion, not to make it a sales object, but because you felt inspired by it) AND not only informing yourself about what it actually means, but also it would be your job (and you wouldn’t be alone) TO SHARE ITS MEANING, so anything that happened, any opression this culture had to suffer (or still does) wouldn’t be lost. i mean it would be very different if today rock reminded people of its actual origins right?

    then, no two options, it has more shades than sasha grey’s book (ha), but that was the way i found to explain it

    ps. sorry if this is suckily written but i speak spanish!

  • rhymeswithorange November 16th, 2012 11:48 PM

    Really interesting article, thanks for having such an important, thought-provoking discussion! I was just wondering what you guys thought should be done to deal with cultural appropriation. Like, that 16 year old kid with the mohawk, is it his fault he doesn’t know where it’s from? Whose responsibility is it to educate him/everyone about its history and connotation?

  • bluemeanie96 November 16th, 2012 11:50 PM

    Well I guess racism and the appropriation of people’s ideas, ways of life, and culture keeps being brought up because it is obviously a big deal (if you identify as that specific cultural group). But in my eyes it doesn’t really matter because it’s a fact that over time ideas are taken and recycled it’s bound to happen people. The anger on some level is justified given that culture is usually like an extremely personal thing and you grew up with it and to see people just wearing something because it is cool is beyond irksome. Personally, I don’t really care because I would much rather meditate on the inherent meaninglessness of life than pay attention to fleeting everchanging things such as “culture”. Not to demean anyone who is strongly connected with their culture but when you think about why it important to YOU why should other people’s ignorance matter?

    • olive November 17th, 2012 5:25 AM

      I agree with this, while also making sure people know that their feelings are always justified.

      Meaning is a VERY personal thing. And it should generally stay a personal thing, rather than trying to dictate how others should define things themselves.

      Things are never going to mean the exact same thing to one person as to another, and that’s just part of being human.

      If you feel offended, definitely speak up and tell the person why, and educate them on thing about your culture that they may not be aware of. But always remember what most important is what it means to YOU, and that others aren’t always going to be able to relate.

  • polythenelucy November 16th, 2012 11:54 PM

    While I’m happy that you are discussing cultural appropriation, as a woman of color, I found myself triggered just from reading the first page. I realize that y’all are learning (all of us are). But I can also tell you (plural) aren’t too familiar with topics concerning people of color since you’re struggling with boundaries between ok and not ok. I mean, how far do you want to push that line, if it even exists? This article is for a white audience, really.

    I just clicked the “racism” tag and found only four articles, all from the past couple of months. I’m glad Rookie has started to post more articles about race but for the future, I think you should find a staff writer who specializes in ethnic studies/critical race theory. Rookie definitely needs more articles on racism.

    Also, I wouldn’t say wearing a feather headdress is “in between” blackface and door knocker earrings. It IS cultural appropriation and to say it exists in a grey area implies a hierarchy of oppression.

    About Gwen Stefani wearing a bindi, it’s not that the act itself that’s bad, but you’ve got to question why a white person would wear a bindi in the first place. White folks need to be mindful about the ways they objectify Asian cultures.

    This article highlights how white privilege is made obvious through cultural appropriation; the West will accept white folks wearing bindis, but not Indians:

    http://www.passtheroti.com/posts/388

    • Anaheed November 16th, 2012 11:57 PM

      I didn’t mean that wearing a headdress is a “gray area.” But I do believe it’s not as obviously unacceptable as blackface (when was the last time you saw someone using blackface in a video??), and not as ambiguous as door-knocker earrings.

      This was meant to be an introduction to this concept. It’s awesome that your understanding of cultural appropriation is so advanced, but a lot of people need to catch up to you; maybe this piece can be a step in that direcrtion.

      • Teez November 17th, 2012 8:52 AM

        not trying to nitpick but actually blackface is still an issue. in the new die antwoord video the lead singer is in blackface, in lupe fiasco’s new video ‘bitch bad’ blackface is performed, also in upcoming films ‘nina’, a nina simone biopic, zoe saldana is kind of blacking up (to much controversy), as well as in the lana wachowski film ‘cloud atlas.’
        admittedly, from what i can gather none of these uses of blackface are meant to be used with their original intent (though the die antwoord video is very close if you ask me), but are clearing trying to make some pseudo-intellectual commentary on blackface/racism which to be honest is coming up short. these people clearly think their intended irony is smart but actually to many it’s just plain offensive and damaging.

        die antwoord being south african with its history of apartheid i think is trying to be like ‘oh hey look how post-racial we are!!’ which completely blows in my opinion, because obviously that is not the case in sa.
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/global/2012/oct/22/die-antwoord-blackface-south-africa

        lupe is trying to use blackface to hold up his mansplaining argument about the use of the word ‘bitch’ in a bid to come across as a ‘conscious rapper’ and failing miserably.
        http://www.spin.com/blogs/lupe-fiasco-mansplains-some-more-in-the-video-for-bitch-bad

        there is no ‘smart’ ironic reason for zoe to black up in ‘nina’ at all. in fact this whole thing makes me mad.
        http://www.ebony.com/entertainment-culture/nina-simones-daughter-on-her-mothers-real-legacy-133

        • Teez November 17th, 2012 9:01 AM

          and lastly from what i can gather ‘cloud atlas’ is trying to do the whole ‘we all bleed red’/'we’re all part of the human race’ bullshit argument that doesn’t fly with me (though i think this problem may lie in the book as well as the film), that reduces difference in culture to superficial features and therefore leads to quite a bit of erasure when it comes to oppressed races.
          http://www.racebending.com/v4/blog/cloud-atlas-conversation-yellowface-prejudice-artistic-license/

        • farawayfaerie November 17th, 2012 5:53 PM

          With regards to Die Antwoord, I think they were really just reacting to a whole lot of blackface criticism, with a kind of fuck-you attitude – albeit in bad taste. I really don’t think they are racist, or at least mean to be racist, because one of the thing they put across a lot, is the idea of dropping racial boundaries and stereotypes. but i am open to other opinions.

          Also, fairly recently in the news for Blackface was Beyonce (who i absolutely love but DAMN was this a bad decision). http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2011/02/beyonce-covers-french-magazinein-blackface/ Here we see her as an “African Queen”, with darkened skin, face paint and ‘tribal prints’. Others, however, have called this art: http://music-mix.ew.com/2011/02/23/beyonce-magazine-shoot-blackface/ but I’m not buying it.

        • cruachan November 18th, 2012 2:02 AM

          i totally disagree that there is blackface in the die antwoord video. yolandi is painted black… yes. nothing more. they weren’t reacting to anything. they explained it themselves; street performers in south africa often paint their bodies different colors and dance and perform music as a part of their show, and they wanted to honor that. she was not in “black face” she was just painted black.

        • Teez November 18th, 2012 8:20 AM

          as Jenny mentions in this article

          ‘One thing that I think is really important is to recognize that having malicious, evil, racist intent is not a prerequisite for racism.’

          and let’s say either they were doing it as a ‘fuck you’ or yolandi was ‘just painted black’, the fact remains that when i saw this video i did not see these intentions, all i saw was a white woman covered in dark paint wearing animalistic contacts in a video that is parodying how the west sees sa. and the fact is as a black person, when i saw this, it made me feel initially annoyed, then a little sad and overall nauseous and my mind automatically linked it to the traditions of blackface.

          i think the article i linked to makes some very good points in this respect.

        • farawayfaerie November 19th, 2012 6:20 AM

          I’ve read that article before, and many others like it. that does seem to be the view of most of south african media as well. But Die antwoord aren’t trying to improve other peoples perceptions of SA, most of the things they do are extremely ironic – most american rap music/music videos flaunt money and fancy cars and fetishize women, whereas they are kind of the opposite – they have openly said in interviews that they don’t care what some intellectual thinks, that they are making music for the people – and we see that they have millions of followers worldwide.

          Regardless, it is a conclusion that one can easily jump to, and i’m sorry if it offended you, or anyone else. i don’t think it was good that they did that, but i don’t know if it was really bad. i don’t mean to offend you, as i’m sure they don’t either, but obviously i can’t change your gut reactions or emotions, and your frustration is valid.

    • polythenelucy November 17th, 2012 12:00 AM

      For Anaheed who asked “where is the line?”:

      http://thesadnessofpencils.tumblr.com/post/3485124248/do-you-have-any-guidelines-on-how-a-white-not-english

      (There isn’t really a clear line. If you’re even questioning whether that ____ can be considered cultural appropriation, just don’t wear it.)

      Anyway, I know I’m being a bit rough, but I do want to thank you all for being honest and sharing your thoughts with us. I also really appreciate how you’re reading comments and taking it all in as a learning process.

      • Anaheed November 17th, 2012 12:02 AM

        Awesome link, thank you.

    • la fee clochette November 17th, 2012 10:43 AM

      I grew up in SoCal, and I am a white 24 year old girl who grew up with the majority of my friends being Mexican or Asian,and my school and even family often appropriated their cultures for not just costumes for Halloween/”fun”, but we celebrated holidays (Chinese New year, Cinco de Mayo, etc).

      I am SO white, pale as can be, brunette blue eyes. Whitey. But sometimes that because I privileges from just being white, that anything I say can be misconstrued or snarky when it comes to racism.

      And I liked thinking about what Anaheed had to say, in regards to anyone who is culturally appropriating something from say your family’s Egyptian background, yet you haven’t been there or really researched their culture, so wearing something “Egyptian” maybe equally as silly as just any ol’ person wearing something ignorantly.

      My boyfriend is CONSTANTLY making fun of things that are “white”, and calls everywhere from restaurants to bookstores “Crackertown” because the majority of the customers at these places happen to be white, and also annoying too. But what if you are annoying and not be necessarily white- if something gets on your ‘nerves’ why relate it to a person of color or to Whiteness? I know this isn’t quite about cultural appropriation, but I do feel bad about myself when he and some of his friends call many things they don’t like “white” or “cracker”. Also, none of them are back and they use the word “negro” or the N word itself, in “jest” they say. Yet it is okay for my boyfriend to say these things because he is neither white nor black? Thoughts??

      • Runaway November 17th, 2012 4:34 PM

        My point of view is different from yours and many people here ’cause I’m European, but here is what I think: Your boyfriend and his friends are being a bunch of racist jerks. Unfortunately, racism isn’t something exclusive of any race. It doesn’t matter if he isn’t white or black, he’s not showing respect towards black or white people. If he is being disrespectful towards people who don’t belong to his race, he is being a racist. It’s easy.

  • ivoire November 17th, 2012 12:13 AM

    I was waiting for this article, because recently I have been really frustrated and confused about cultural appropriation.
    Cultural appropritation is heavily embedded everywhere! I could say that a nose piercing is cultural appropriation, body paint, yin and yang on t-shirts etc. The list is actually endless. Like Laia, I wanna know where the line is drawn? My father is of chinese origin but he owns a Taekwon Do school; is that not culturally appropriating? Is this hurtful? When we teach a white person, are we allowing offensive appropriation to spread?
    When will we see everyone as just, human and not dividing and sub-dividing people into different categories and types of human? I probably sound terribly ignorant, and I apoligize in advance. But how do we fight something that has lost itself way back into history? Is it really that bad to let cultures mingle, because when will we ever achieve an egalitarian perspective if we constantly acknowledge the fact that there is a hierarchy in cultures (wow I think I said something really ignorant just now, I am sorry)?
    I need my mind to stop being so confused somebody help me out.

    • ivoire November 17th, 2012 12:47 AM

      Also, can we please have a discussion on Lana del Rey and Marina and the Diamonds? They used Native American headresses on (presumably) white people so…
      Oh and sometimes when we see ‘some white chick’ wearing a bindi or etc, how de we know for sure she is white and identifies as white? Arn’t we judging based on appearance? This makes everything even more confusing because then we cannot say ‘hey that is possibly an offensive thing to do’.
      I want more than anything to be able to dismantle this whole racial system, and I am so so glad you guys did this article. It may be a small step but at least its a step.

      • T.L. November 17th, 2012 1:38 AM

        Wy is it offensive for a white woman to where a bindi- she may be a practicing Hindu or be a yogini that has knowledge and interest in the chakra systems and is protecting her 6 th chakra with a bindi. Spirituality should be open to ALL people.
        We all need to recognize we are one human family. <3

      • Graciexx November 20th, 2012 2:20 AM

        love this comment <3

  • angelsandlace November 17th, 2012 12:25 AM

    (second comment cuz i have lots to say :P) First of all, all these comments are rocking my socks off. DIALOGUE IS GOOD. And also, I think it’s ESPECIALLY BAD when a major corporation co-opts something from another culture for their own profit. With the headdress thing: not only would that company be taking something that is SPECIFICALLY spiritually important, but they would also be making a ton of money off of another culture.

    Example: http://fashionfinder.asos.com/womens-Bitching-andamp;-Junkfood/Bitching-andamp;-Junkfood-Rio-Headdress-Assort-1154078

    (note that the headdresses made by this company are sold by Urban Outfitters. They’re no on the site right now as far as I can tell, though).

    • Violet November 17th, 2012 4:06 PM

      (gosh, I am sorry I am commenting so much, but this is all so interesting)

      I totally agree that when corporations do it for the money, I’ll point a much more convinced finger. (Rookie, I am still advocating for my ‘accept reader donations instead of corporate money’ system – if we all gave you $3 for the next trip a lot of us would be happier AND choosing to invest in the causes/people you want to support is a healthy thing to do in life, just my humble two cents).

      Anyway. On the headdress issue: just wanted to point out that also one reason why it’s used so much in advertising, film, etc. is because it’s one of the most beautiful headgears ever created. I sewed one entirely by hand for a play, and it was an incredible experience to MAKE it (lots of trying to understand the technique from photos and old artefacts), and then WEARING it was an incredible experience as well – it’s so tall, and noble, and the feathers move with your body in an awesome manner. So there. It’s not always a story of exploitation.

      • angelsandlace November 19th, 2012 3:27 PM

        I totally agree with you on the whole aesthetics bit! It is super beautiful and lovely and I understand why people would want to wear one, even if it’s not part of their culture! However, I think when people do that, they kind of forget that, in Native American culture, the headdresses aren’t worn (solely?) because they’re pretty; they’re also spiritually important to the culture. It’s not exploitative, though, which is good, because at least they’re not benefitting commercially from it.

        But I’m totally not trying to fight you on it and I understand what you’re saying! I can’t stop commenting on this either :P SO MUCH INTERESTING CONVERSATION!

  • Abby November 17th, 2012 12:28 AM

    That awkward moment when the comments make up 95% of the page… I usually like to read all the comments… but… yeah… it’s like after midnight… AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT.

    But anyway… I really liked this. As a privileged white person… some of this is hard for me to understand, and that makes me sad… I do understand a little bit though. My family is Scottish, and when people make fun of the traditional Scottish kilt, it really pisses me off… my dad wears his for special occasions a lot. One time he and I were at the hair salon and we were talking about this thing he was going to wear a kilt to, and this girl working there… she was probably 23 or so… was like, “a kilt… is that like the skirt thing that guys wear? Ugh… if I ever saw a guy in one of those… I think I’d like… throw up. It’s gross.” I was… enraged, to say the least. I wanted to yell at her that that was racist and nasty… if she had said that about a traditional, let’s say, sari, she would have had people jumping down her throat saying she was racist. But for whatever reason, no one said anything but me… none of her coworkers, none of the other people there… I was pissed, and I told her so… I told her she was rude and that she shouldn’t disrespect another culture like that. She just kind of scoffed and ignored me… I think my consensus is that I try to let it go when people aren’t being intentionally racist… but when they are rude and truly being racist and nasty… then I get pissed. Anyway… great article, you guys!

  • allycatzandra November 17th, 2012 12:32 AM

    I live in south africa, where we have a huge crisis happening at the moment with mine workers killing each other and being massacred by the police. Our country has not recovered from its terrible past of racism, and I know that if cultures adopted practices from other cultures it would be a huge step forward. I feel that rookie is re-iterating this idea of “white privilege” by discussing culture in such a privileged and pretentious way. Some people have to fight for acceptance of other culture’s practices. Y’all should be grateful that you live in a country where kids think that other cultures are cool.

    • Abby November 17th, 2012 1:11 AM

      I agree with you… in some ways. I think that we do need to remember that as you said, “Some people have to fight for acceptance of other culture’s practices.” But I also want to say that I don’t think Rookie is trying to do what you said… “discussing culture in such a privileged and pretentious way.” Sometimes, it’s hard, because we are privileged. I, for one, won’t pretend to understand that I know how hard it is to live where you do, because I don’t. I live in America, where I will admit that I am privileged. I don’t know a ton about every culture/race/religion/etc. out there, because I was raised in a very sheltered place. I guess my point is that I don’t think Rookie was trying to reiterate “white privilege.” It might seem privileged and pretentious to you… but to us it’s all we know. All we can do is have conversations and try to educate ourselves.

    • Stienz November 17th, 2012 5:06 AM

      Haaay I’m not the only South African :D
      I get what you’re saying, I’ve found that articles on rookie generally deal with a different kind of racism than what is found here. We’re far behind them and like, white people are the minority yet also the privileged – if that makes sense.

      I feel like, if you’re inspired by something another culture does – embrace it, as long as you’re making sure you know what it means and appreciate that.

      Also, perhaps a better way to deal with this issue would be not to judge people wearing traditional clothing. Jenny spoke about the “soy milk” thing and the issue there (to me at least) isn’t that white people drink soya milk too – but that white people make fun of an Asian person for doing that.

      • farawayfaerie November 17th, 2012 6:19 PM

        Also from south africa, i get what you’re saying about the whit minority being privileged – i think in this way we differ a lot from america. What is very prevalent is that Racism isn’t always from a white-to-coloured/ perspective – as i’m sure is the case all around the world.

        Also, Abby you mentioned that you wouldn’t pretend to understand how hard it is to live where we do. the thing is, neither would I, because although I live here, i live in such a privileged bubble, that i am never confronted by violence that is common in the poorer areas. I try my best to always be educated in what is going on around me, and to help where i can, but generally it’s difficult because i feel so detached. I don’t know if that made sense?

        • allycatzandra November 18th, 2012 1:46 AM

          I too come from a privileged background and racism is prevalent in my social circles. People treat each other like dirt. If a girl brings a packet to school with her lunch in it, it’s referred to as a “nigga packet”. If a “white” person does anything that’s considered “non-white” they are teased and told that they’re “black on the inside”. My darker friends often speak to me about their experiences with boys who have simply said “sorry, I don’t date blacks.” I don’t know what community/town you live in, but politicians in South Africa are sickeningly racist. Not trying to be mean, but do you read the news? What I’m trying to say, is that any kind of acceptance is what our country needs. We seriously don’t need people creating more divisions between cultures.

        • farawayfaerie November 18th, 2012 8:13 AM

          I’ve never heard of the term ‘nigger packet’, and the only time white people are teased is for being ‘too white’ (I think all of these terms are problematic, I don’t think someone can ‘act black’ – it’s a colour, hardly an identity). I also think that it depends how you were brought up, and what school you go to, because i have heard terrible stories from friends at other schools about the racism that goes on.

          Also i do read the news and many of our politicians are extremely racist, and it’s often directed at the ‘cape colourds’, and not at white people. I live in Cape town so i hear about this a lot.

          An other thing that is important to mention is that here, there are structures in place to try and ensure equality, like lower marks required for black/coloured people to get into university. This is so necessary because our education system is so unequal. I am not oblivious to the racism in our country, but i definitely don’t feel like I get directly affected by it, because of my privilege.

        • farawayfaerie November 18th, 2012 8:19 AM

          wait i take that back about ‘being black is hardly an identity’. because i suppose it is. it’s just that (as we all know) stereotyping black people into just a colour is really wrong, and it comes with culture, not skin tone..

        • Julia November 22nd, 2012 6:21 AM

          I’m kind of thinking out loud, so call me out on any bullshit you might smell, but I live in South Africa too and I think this is such an important article for us too – although as with anything you’ve got to cut and paste from your/our perspective. But it’s really cool to see other people from SA!!

          I’ve totally experienced the “nigga packet” thing – and even more so the “nigga bite,” and let’s not forget the black person/fried chicken connection. And I’ve got a ton of friends who say that they would NEVER date a POC, and then cover it up with “like I’m not racist I just don’t find it attractive.” I think here, even more than in the US, people have a tendency to share their prejudiced thoughts under the pretence of calling out “reverse racism” – “look at the percentage of white people in power WE ARE BEING OPPRESSED” (which of course is ridiculous because whites are the – privileged – minority).

          (That had little to do with cultural appropriation BUT I think my point is that, in SA as everywhere, changing the way we look at race is always totally relevant. It’s about educating yourself and appreciating and sharing, but being careful not to trivialize or mock or “steal.”)

          (And of course there are still tons of South African girls who wear bindis or saris or american indian headdresses or whatever, and it’s just as important for us to address that even if we live across the world from the people we’re borrowing from.)

  • Chimdi November 17th, 2012 12:37 AM

    whoa…after reading these comments I actually just screamed “I hate you” at my computer…peace out at least you guys were honest!

    • christinachristina November 18th, 2012 2:17 PM

      I’m sorry if you are offended and don’t want to be a part of the conversation anymore, but you have to understand that we are all trying to work together. Rookie is such a safe haven for conversations like this, and it’s because of that that people feel comfortable sharing their opinions, even if they may seem ignorant—we are all trying to figure this out. Like Anaheed said, it all needs to be put out there so we can figure this out together. I hope you continue to read the article and its comments with a more open mind. No one is trying to offend.

    • christinachristina November 18th, 2012 2:19 PM

      I’d also be curious to know why you hate these comments and what specifically is offending you. Perhaps we can all talk it out.

    • kaylafay November 19th, 2012 11:01 PM

      I feel. Its so frustrating that after ppl read the article they still don’t get it

  • Thecardigankid November 17th, 2012 12:53 AM

    This article really bothered me because I borrow bits and pieces from other cultures. My IB art class is all about exploring other styles of art from different times and different regions. Just yesterday my art teacher was teaching us about mandalas. She explained to us the culture it was from and the religious significance, and then let us start making our own paper mandalas using any designs we want (I used a circuit board/roboty pattern I’ve been working on). Is it wrong to be inspired by other cultures?
    Most of my friends are asian, and they haven’t been offended when I make origami or put hair sticks in my hair or burn incense with an incense holder I bought from a Buddhist temple. My egyptian friend wasn’t mad when i wore a scarab bracelet with hieroglyphics on the back. My friends from Nepal and afghanistan haven’t gotten offended when I do henna. Are you saying they should be offended or they’re dishonoring their culture?
    If I do a drawing inspired by the renaissance, should I be shunned because I’m not an Italian humanist?
    If this is all because I’m some misinformed white gal, let me know, but I’m thinking we need to stop speaking for the people who are supposed to be offended.
    One final thing. Do I need to feel guilty for being white? I sometimes come to my school’s unity club (a club for celebrating different cultures) and have a nagging feeling everyone’s mad at me. It somehow almost feels racist to have white guilt, you know? History shouldn’t be ignored, but we need to be able to move forward.

    • T.L. November 17th, 2012 1:02 AM

      you took the words right out of my mouth lady.

    • Thecardigankid November 17th, 2012 1:12 AM

      Also, my friend and I just did a photo shoot, one shoot of her with Bat for Lashes (a really amazing singer if you don’t know of her) inspired Indian headdress and face paint. She shot pictures of me with day of the dead inspired makeup. Should we burn the photos on the spot because we were interested in other forms of art, and were inspired by other cultures?

      I know I’ll get crap for this, but being offended by other people using/being inspired by elements of other cultures feels like the hipster (if I’m still allowed to use that word) attitude of “it was my thing first, you can’t do it.” Please don’t rip my head off for that, but that’s just what I’m reminded of when reading this.

      • ivoire November 17th, 2012 3:05 AM

        Okay, hold on. The thing is nobody is trying to ‘claim’ anything first. Yes you can use the Indian headdress etc, but being first in line is not the point. The point is that the headdress Bats for Lashes wears will be disposable and a one off thing for a music video, whilst for some people it is something that is embedded in everyday life. Don’t you think that is a little bit disrespectful? To use something sacred as an ‘inspirational’ ornament for visual aesthetics?
        You don’t need to burn those pictures, or delete the music video or whatever. You can do anything you want because you have the privilege of being white. You just have to acknowledge that and tread carefully. Now you know that people CAN be offended by your actions, it is up to you.

        • Violet November 17th, 2012 4:14 PM

          If you were a ballet dancer and saw some non-dancer girls wear tutus as a one off thing for a party, or even in the street as regular clothing, would you feel they are disrespectful to you?

          If we follow a lot of this extremely PC reasonning, then most of the fashion items loved on Rookie and elsewhere can be trashed (tutus, flower crowns, etc.), because we haven’t ‘earned’ them or because we weren’t born in the right ‘culture’??

        • kaylafay November 19th, 2012 10:55 PM

          Since when have ballerinas been systematically oppressed?

    • ICantThinkOfAUsername November 17th, 2012 9:31 AM

      I think you bring up a really good point about how the people you surround yourself with can affect your views on issues such as this. I don’t think it is too common for POC in general too address issues like appropriation with their white friends (when the aforementioned friends may have been guilty of such acts) unless they want to get into a huge conversation that they may not necessarily have the tools for. A kind of relevant example: I am part Chinese, and a couple of years ago my friends would make regular racist comments (in the vein of “Hipster Racism” -http://www.racialicious.com/2012/05/02/a-historical-guide-to-hipster-racism/) about this that hurt and offended me very deeply. Though I was so upset by their actions, I never asked them to stop because I didn’t know how, and I didn’t want to lose them as friends. Now I don’t know whether or not your friends are actually ok with your decisions to wear chopsticks in your hair and scarab bracelets – and they may totally be, because these are not very extreme examples – but I don’t think you should use your friends as templates for everybody whom they share a common background/ethnicity with, or their expressed opinions as interchangeable for the opinions of everybody who looks like them.

    • Isil November 18th, 2012 5:57 AM

      I am thinking the same thing as you, actually I said above that if a person tries to wear my country’s traditional clothes I don’t get offended, I take it as a compliment and sharing. If I get mad at people that elaborate on other traditions, I think the racist one is me because I differ people from each other, it’s like “you are american and you can’t wear my turkish clothes, they’re mine.”

  • spree November 17th, 2012 12:54 AM

    First of all, I just wanted to say thank you so much for this insightful and really wonderful article. This is the first rookie article I’ve ever felt the need to comment on, so thanks for that, you guys!
    Personally, my feelings on this topic are definitely very layered and jumbled and mixed-up. My parents are both from India, and I was born/am growing up here in the U.S. I’m still trying to figure out where I stand, since I tend to associate with american culture more than indian culture, and I recognize that some of my feelings are definitely hypocritical- but they still exist.
    When I see white girls (and I know this isn’t at all limited to white girls, because anyone of any race can appropriate cultures) wearing bindis, I usually do feel somewhat offended, and, to be honest, it’s hard for me to articulate why. Sometimes it’s this sense of loss- like I’m losing my “claim” on this one thing that is culturally significant to me, or that I’m losing pieces of my heritage. Other times, I feel kind of frustrated that I’ve had to deal with shit (like people making fun of my indian name or the foods I eat) and being “othered”, yet these girls of other ethnicities can wear these things without dealing with all of this baggage or appreciating the greater meaning behind the bindi (I think once rookie published some photos with girls in bindis or hindu gods and it made me feel uncomfortable for these reasons).
    I know that I definitely don’t speak for all people of similar backgrounds to me when I say this- but anyway, I really love this article and the discussion it’s prompted.

    • spree November 17th, 2012 1:10 AM

      (my side note: I want to make it clear that I don’t think I/we/people in general can “claim” cultures (which, to me, it sounds like I was doing earlier (parentheses in parentheses! this is like inception!)). Also, I don’t think that people should shame/ hate on other people who are generally interested in different cultures/dressing in ethnic clothing, etc. Basically, it’s easy for me to feel a lot of different, sometimes conflicting things about all of this.)

    • Adrienne November 17th, 2012 4:08 PM

      That is exactly how I feel!

  • Kennedy Jones November 17th, 2012 1:56 AM

    About the whole cross wearing thing? I recently purchased an old black t shirt of off Etsy that has the words “I’m Blessed” hovering over a cross in rainbow lettering. I got the shirt because I thought it was funny that someone had the ballz to wear a shirt that declared how blessed they were. Now, I know that wasn’t the point of it AT ALL, and I had some apprehension of getting the shirt because I guessed it could offend people who are religious. I’m wondering, if I wear the shirt is that completely cultural approriation, I mean me thinking that it might be must mean it is right? Thats why I’m asking, because I mean…how can I put this…does it make it alright to wear it if I know it can offend people and that I can be like sorry about it, or does that in fact make it worse? Because everything is so subjective I mean, and the intent with which I’m wearing it is like “Hey I like this shirt because its funny to me and it feels comfortable and I JUST LIKE IT OKAY?!?!”I know I’m going to wear it eventually and I shouldn’t care but in this case I should because I do care a lot if it might hurt someones feelings, but I don’t at the same time? I just wanna live in a world where yes i’m wearing this cross t shirt and I know about religious atrocities and salvation and Jesus but I’m not wearing it for those reasons and you are with your rosary and I understand you do too and its okay and can’t we just watch Heathers and eat pizza please?!?! I’m like that Cake girl from Mean Girls. This article was amazing : )

    • Anaheed November 17th, 2012 2:05 AM

      I think the question is: since you know that the T-shirt can offend people, are you OK with their being offended? I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer (and this is just me talking — others will disagree). I think you have to figure out for yourself if it’s worth offending people.

    • Isil November 18th, 2012 6:10 AM

      I’m kind of a muslim, and most of people in my country are muslims, and I want to wear a bracelet with crosses. At first I thought people will think that I’m elaborating Christian cultures and I’m betraying my religion blablabla… But I didn’t care what other people think and I decided to wear it, then I think “there is Christian people in Turkey, wouldn’t it offend them?” But actually, if a Christian person wants to wear something about Islamic culture, I wouldn’t get offended.

      There is LOTS of people in the world. Lots of. And they are all different kinds. If I try not to offend every of them, I should wander around naked and do nothing. Because everything we wear, everything we do is a mixture of other traditions and cultures.

  • victoria November 17th, 2012 2:10 AM

    This article is awesome!!!

    but GUYS I HAVE A QUESTION

    I feel like whenever I call someone out on their privilege or some culturally appropriative/oppressive action that they get very defensive and angry and end up entirely denying the validity of what I am saying to them (esp. when I am talking to someone who is white.)

    FOR EXAMPLE – I pointed out to one of my friends how something that she had done was kind of disrespectful and reductive, but she got extremely angry (ie: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m3qjhaRyfk1qejoxbo1_500.jpg ) and we ended up having an argument about it.

    How can you get people to accept the fact that they have privilege and just recognize/acknowledge it??!?!!?!?!!?

    • Anaheed November 17th, 2012 2:16 AM

      That’s such a hard thing to do. I think the best thing is not to accuse someone, like “YOU ARE BEING RACIST” or whatever (even when they are) — but to come at it from your personal feelings, like Sady suggests in the article. In other words, instead of telling her that what she did was “disrespectful and reductive,” tell her how that thing made YOU, personally, her FRIEND, feel. Maybe that will help her understand?

  • Maybe November 17th, 2012 2:25 AM

    So, I have a question for you re: anger. That has been the one thing I just can’t get on board with, the idea that you can just go full-on dragon on anyone if you’re offended, because:

    If you think of a society made up of people who are all differently (dis)privileged, if everyone went around yelling at someone else if they are offended, especially if we’re thinking about allies who obviously have tried to do “the right thing” – where would that get us? To me, this sound like survival of the fittest. Not nice.

    So can’t we find better ways to vent our anger instead of directing it at people we know nothing about? What do you think about that?

    • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 12:05 PM

      Thank you! This is definitely a conversation that needs to happen. Unfortunately, today, unbridled anger is a response that is glorified thanks to reality TV. No dialogue can happen if everyone is screaming at each other all the time. Both sides in any situation need to be humble and open enough to have a discussion and to listen to the other person’s point of view.

  • marineo November 17th, 2012 2:43 AM

    I understood you, Anaheed!
    (i thought this article was really great.)

    “LAIA: As a person raised Catholic I would actually love it if Pope hats caught on ☹”

    Preface: I was raised Catholic
    At first I totally laughed at this but then i started really thinking about how this would make me feel ie i get pissed when i see girls at school with giant crosses and rosaries and crap.

    and then i was like oh ho ho i see what you did there, rookie, made me come to my own conclusions.

    thanks <3

  • sophiethewitch November 17th, 2012 2:48 AM

    I’m a girl with a mohawk. I knew that the Mohawks were a tribe, but not the history behind it. Could someone educate me? I really don’t want to be disrespectful.

    • puffling November 17th, 2012 4:08 PM

      A couple of links:

      http://www.makezine.enoughenough.org/mohawksdreads.htm

      http://web.archive.org/web/20080419045104/http://www.confluere.com/column/20030619-anen.html

      The second one is pretty macho but I do think it’s useful.

      In my mind, if even one person from the originating culture is offended by something I’m doing, that one is too many, and it’s not something I want to continue doing.

      • sophiethewitch November 19th, 2012 1:24 PM

        Thanks so much! I was already thinking about cutting it off, so I could wear hats/crowns/headbands, and you’ve convinced me. Do you know if having half of your head shaved and the other cut short is appropriated from anyone?

        I think punk can sometimes do the worst cultural appropriation, because they’ll do things just for shock effect without thinking about their implication. Which is sad, since I think the point of punk should be to rebel against problems in society and the world, not to rebel for the sake of rebellion. Like, this isn’t exactly the same since it was appropriated from something horrible, but there’ve been punk musicians who’ve worn swastikas, not even in support of naziism, but just for shock effect. That’s pretty fucked up. Things like this are why I stopped identifying as punk.

        Anyways, sorry about my rant, and thanks for educating me on why something I was doing was offensive.

  • bigbird November 17th, 2012 2:50 AM

    Hi, I hope you don’t mind me wading in on this, but I’ve seen several well meaning girls very badly bullied on the internet,
    Please remember when you call people out on stuff on the internet that even if someone is white and speaks English does not mean they have the same cultural tropes and expectations as someone raised in America of whatever ethnicity does.
    Also, as an English person, I remember being absolutely heartbroken as a child when my favourite book, A Little Princess, was made into a film with American actors set in the US, with the plotline substantially changed, and then furious a few years later with what Disney did to The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
    Around the world in quite a lot of countries the American media is seen as guilty of cultural pilfering and stereotyping on a massive scale and has been for years.
    It is good that it seems to be an issue that is finally being addressed, but when you say things on the internet about ‘white people’ and things like attitudes towards people of Latin American origin, please do remember what you are talking about is an American phenomenon.
    Which is not to say in any way that people from other countries are perfect, but its something it would be nice to be given the space to figure our own rules out about on our own terms.
    The problem I’ve been noticing is any debate I’ve seen on these issues has been so American lead and assumes so many American cultural tropes in the first place, that sometimes girls from other cultures are getting slammed on the internet for stuff that is perfectly normal in their own country.

    • Runaway November 17th, 2012 5:02 PM

      I agree with everything you said, bigbird.

  • blackcat November 17th, 2012 2:56 AM

    This was a really interesting article. I have heard many times people criticizing others-especially when it comes to “indigenous styles” about their dress, but I didn’t really understand it. Honestly I thought they were getting upset over something that wasn’t really important. I agree that people need to be more aware about what their clothing and even more than that “style” as a person (behaviors, preferences, etc.) really means. Especially when it comes to items that are secular to others and not necesarily the person who is reimpodying it in fashion.
    Here’s my only question, and I appologize in advace as it comes off as offensive in any way because I certainly do not mean that, but through out this article we keep refering back to white people as being the offenders. Like everyone else has it so hard, and white people have it easy. Being ethnically white maybe this sounds weird but we get crap too. Kind of rediculous crap like the automatic assumption that we get everything easy and like this article suggests and “ignorant” to other cultures. I’m not saying we aren’t, there definatley are a lot of ignorant white people out there. Howeber, there are also a bunch of ignorant mexicans, asians, indians, etc. that also practice this habit of adopting aspects of other cultures.
    Like you guys said, a lot of things are no longer “pure” if you will, in their meaning. Time and unfortunatley society has changed their meaning to represent something else entirely. I just want to point out that… (I am running out of space so will continue in another comment)

    • puffling November 17th, 2012 4:13 PM

      There are stereotypes for all races.

      But if the worst we get as white people is that they’re “ignorant” then we’re pretty lucky.

      Imagine being from a race where stereotypes and racism have caused people to believe that you are likely to be a criminal, a drug dealer, a terrorist, a sex offender, a domestic abuser…

  • blackcat November 17th, 2012 3:00 AM

    Continuation from previous comment… “white girls” aren’t the only offenders. Is it fair to only accuse a white person of appropriation, if for example they are wearing a sari, meanwhile be fine with someone who maybe is ethnically Indian but not culturally to be wearing the same sari? I don’t really want to get into skin color because that’s touchy, but when were looking at two people doing the same thing, in this case both being ignorant to a particular cultural aspect, I don’t think it’s fair that the white person is always called out. But is that just how our society works? I don’t know…

  • SweetSarahO November 17th, 2012 3:33 AM

    This is such a wonderful and relevant conversation to have. I was actually talking with my dad just last month about how I felt about other people “celebrating” el dia de los muertos. I was born here in the U.S., but both of my parents were born in Mexico. Spanish was my first language and I was raised Roman Catholic with Mexican traditions, el dia de los muertos being one of them. In middle school it was easy to explain it to other kids as a “Mexican Halloween,” but as I got older I changed. In high school I started to feel really offended when people would paint their faces like sugar skulls for Halloween. There’s only so many times you can explain that it has nothing to do with Halloween. Even now at 20 I’m still reconciling my feelings about it all. I think at the moment I’m so protective over my culture and traditions that I brush peeople off as ignorant and not worth my time and energy, but after reading this I think that I should step up more and let people know why it bugs me and how it can be offensive. Opening up the conversation and trying to educate people about my traditions seems like the best bet.

    • SweetSarahO November 17th, 2012 3:53 AM

      I forgot to mention my best friend Roshan. He brings back bindis for my sister and I every single time he goes to India. They’re pretty and colorful and have glitter on them so we love to wear them. :) His sister is practicing how to do mehndi (henna) and also includes us by practicing on us. I never thought of this as rascist or anything, it’s all always in an attempt to feel closer to them by sharing the culture. They do explain to us their traditions and what it means to wear a bindi or mehndi so I feel at least a bit educated when I do wear them in public. I’m trying to figure out how this relates to my feelings about dia de los muertos. I think that if I talked to them first about what the day represents for me and my family, I would love to paint their faces too.

  • ometembe November 17th, 2012 4:12 AM

    this has really resonated with me, because I struggle so much in my daily life to avoid “lecturing” my friends and boyfriend about cultural appropriation. Indian art on an album cover, or bands called “Om” or “Prince Rama”? I find it to be blatant appropriation, especially because it’s used purely for aesthetic reasons and without any personal connection for having it as the album cover for a band that plays pop-rock music in the states. My friends have argued that if someone finds something beautiful and powerful from another culture’s art they should be able to incorporate it into theirs. I don’t agree, but also understand why they would argue that point.

    Tonight I was at a party where a few (white) people were wearing bindis. I wasn’t angered by it as much as I was a little depressed – I’m full Indian yet would never consider wearing a bindi to a party for the same reasons Jenny said that children of Chinese immigrants would feel demarcated as “FOB” for wearing culturally appropriate clothing in the US. But more than that, I wouldn’t wear a bindi because at this point, in Seattle, Washington, to wear a bindi is to be trendy, yet also run the risk of being offensive (we’re a mixed crowd…hip kids and hip, culturally sensitive kids) and I know wearing a bindi would put me in the category of “trendy, Grimes/Gwen Stefani/90′s revival hipster” instead of Indian girl, which is what I really am. How disappointing to know that what is decorative, albeit commercial and widely used, body art in India can now get me in “trouble” within my own group of peers.

    • la fee clochette November 17th, 2012 10:59 AM

      Your comments hit right in the spots of what I was thinking about!! Prince Rama are friends of mine, and I was just thinking too, that they can be seen as just appropriating from the Hare Krishna religion & culture, but then they were part of that community. But Taraka & Nimai weren’t exposed to it until highschool, and before then had no idea what it was really about. So the argument that your friend said comes in to play — about someone being inspired by another culture so much, to want to take part in it somehow/ use it for art– and in many ways, i agree with your friend — and also, the whole Grimes/Gwen Stefani/ Prince Rama “style” of the revivalist 90s fashions, I am ALL UP ONS. i love that stuff. And just like them,though, I am a White American! But perhaps I am being ignorant by wearing that stuff.

      Also, I have a problem with the word hipster– another discussion, but I tend to have the same view that Tavi has (or had?? Tavi?) about it being an arbitrary term nowadays, and that it seems to imply animosity among young people. But when its applied to problems in racism being so prevalent still, i can see why it would still be relevant. but still. My boyfriend says girl who wear glasses suddenly are automatically HIPSTER. I said i must be hipster, for wearin glasses, having vinyl, etc. yet he claims I am not, because i am ‘sincere”. but the people he judges are kids our ages that he sees at concerts and doesn’t talk to or approach. HOW DOES HE KNOW IF THEY ARE SINCERE OR NOT? and should sincerity be the only factor??

  • Edb1994 November 17th, 2012 4:17 AM

    I think it is really important to realize that huge assumptions are being made by saying people are taking things that aren’t their culture. I’m aware that many people wear things that aren’t from their culture but:
    1) a Native American or African can appear to have white skin. I know many actually. I know a Latina who looks African American. I know a red head pale skinned girl who is African American. So we are making huge assumptions by saying “it’s not about intent because its about how the viewer feels”. The viewer may think someone is being racist or insensitive but the wearer may in fact be from the culture. It is not something we can judge as strangers on the street. And if you aren’t strangers, then you would be able to assess correctly their intent by speaking to them.
    2: many people do not know the cultural significance of many of their own cultures music art food or clothing. Therefore while it may be insulting to wear something that isn’t from your culture, is it just as insulting to wear something from yours that you don’t comprehend? The argument about Mohawks/etc seem to suggest that some of you may believe that because you said that they are forgetting a key component of the trend/tradition/cultural trademark and that it is horrible not to know it so I was wondering your take on not knowing your own culture as well as your opinion on the judgement of those who don’t seem to fit stereotypes of their culture which they seem to need to fit in order to not be insulting if they showcase their culture

  • olive November 17th, 2012 4:18 AM

    I actually have a completely different POV of cultural appropriation as a girl that was constantly made fun of for her race/culture, the daughter of immigrants, and was practically the only girl in school of an Asian background.

    Seemingly, the only reason it’s become such a hot topic of today is because other cultures are actually viewed as “cool” and “interesting”, not “ew gross that’s foriegn and weird, i’m ABOVE THAT”. THIS IS A RELATIVELY NEW CONCEPT ON A LARGE SCALE!

    I actually see it as beneficial in a way, it represents an ethnic power shift. In the US, it has always been like, “oh, you’re not white? well, you better assimilate to white culture, or you’ll be seen as ghetto, FOB, or generally a degenerate of OUR society that’s ruining OUR culture!!!”. But you know what cultural appropriation could be seen as in another light? White people assimilating to non-whites in the US. Learning from their culture just as immigrants have done so when they moved here as well. My parents tried so hard to assimilate to western society. They didn’t understand their customs, nor its significance (or lack thereof), but they still put a christmas tree up every year.

    (cont.)

    • olive November 17th, 2012 4:22 AM

      You know what people first thought about jazz music? That it was nonsense. Degenerating America’s (white people’s, in essence) culture and music scene. But it grew, and grew, and of course those outside the black community then joined in, playing in THEIR style. Is this offensive? It should be by your fundamental logic. The atlantic slave trade brought people from West Africa and the Congo River Basin, and they brought their music along with them. Jazz, to a large extent, had its beginnings in slave gatherings.

      Ragtime became popular after the abolition of slavery, and it was viewed by many as a “low-class” form of entertainment. But then it finally became more popular, and white musicians and composers like William Krell adopted this style of music. And you know what? I have a feeling that the community was happy that in a society that was so incredibly demeaning and condescending towards them, that they had gained some form of acceptance. Not because it was such an “honor” or anything, but because it showed positive social change.

      I’m glad that people can see how cool my culture is, because every culture truly is FREAKIN COOL. Even after day after day some kid that I didn’t know would yell ching chong and lift the corners of their eyes mockingly, or put “made in china” stickers on me when I wasn’t looking. One person even said I should go back to Asia. But you know what’s pretty cool? People thinking that other countries and other cultures than their own is pretty cool, and instead of telling people to “go back to where you came from”, accept them with open arms.

      • olive November 17th, 2012 4:37 AM

        I also can’t seem the piece the few together– I think we’re all on the same page about gender/sex. That your biology doesn’t always translate to your identity, and that it is perfectly OK! But why do we throw these ideas out the window in this case? Especially when culture is largely affected by the country you live in (like in the US).

        Someone who was very much into advocating against cultural appropriation condescendingly addressed me as a “white-washed Asian” because not all of my friends were Asian. I just really can’t wrap my head around the logic. Just because my parents are Asian does not mean I HAVE to have to follow their customs and their culture entirely, that I can only associate myself of people of the same race, etc.

        I MEAN?? You see where this is going? Biology, something that you have no say in, should never dictate anything. That’s just scary and dangerous.

        We shouldn’t be concerned about whether or not what their wearing matches their skin. We should be concerned about their knowledge.

      • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 12:02 PM

        I really doubt that they were happy their music was taken by white people. It was much too soon after slavery, and they were still dealing with immense prejudice and fighting for their civil rights. It did not show positive social change, it just showed once again that white people saw black people as a novelty.

  • stardustcoyote November 17th, 2012 4:36 AM

    Okay guys I have a question for you all.. As a white lower middle class girl, white privilege is something that is real and if you pretend like its not well that’s just totally ignorant, but my question is does my “white privilege” cancel out the instances of racism or racial stereotypes I’ve experienced from others in my life? Just wondering.. I want to educate myself here.. I highly value individualism so when I get lumped into a category of things I get pretty sad. I feel like I have experienced racism pretty regularly or what feels like it to me, but is it not racism because of my “white privilege”? Examples: I like dancing so much, and at work one day I was jamming to Beyonce when my African American coworker said “white girls shouldn’t dance”, or when I worked so hard and saved and saved and saved to buy a $300 purse that I had been coveting and a Latina coworker said “oh look at the rich white girl” or probably the worst was in 6th grade when we learned about the Holocaust and my teacher made me stand up and said “this is what a White Arian looks like”.. All these things made me feel sad and singled out. I’m sure they weren’t trying to be racist but let’s be honest here if my teacher had made the Jewish student stand up and said “this is what a Jew looks like” I don’t think they would still be teaching. I’m not trying to be like boo hoo poor white girl but where is the end of racism? Do you guys think that having white privilege means I can’t experience racism? Just wondering!! Thanks guys!

    • Sorcha M November 17th, 2012 6:14 AM

      I think the difference is that single instances towards white people aren’t part of a system that treats white people as second class citizens. Therefore one-off slightly insulting comments are nothing compared to the ignorance and often hate that people of colour face as a result of white privilege.
      Religious hate is a different matter… and I have been stood up in class as a Jewish girl in a lesson on the Holocaust a few times, and faced other instances of anti-Semitism to different degrees of ignorance or hate, but then again, it’s not going to make my life significantly harder being Jewish, generally. There isn’t systemic religious hate towards Jews in the country I live in, whereas I have seen institutionalized racism and hate in schools and the media towards Muslims. (I live in the UK, btw.) And cultural appropriation of things like hijabs, which are apparently okay for white people to wear over here but it’s oppressing women when a Muslim woman chooses to wear one.
      As for your original question- I understand your frustration at being lumped into a group of privileged people. But we kind of have to be. As I said, we have the upper hand because of this awful history. I wasn’t too eloquent here but I’m struggling.

      • Sorcha M November 17th, 2012 6:16 AM

        -and therefore we can’t focus on stereotypes of white people because they’re not going to significantly affect our lives.

    • Libby November 17th, 2012 6:41 AM

      As a white person, I don’t think a white English/American/Australian/New Zealand/Canadian-born person can experience racism.

      Prejudice? Yes.
      Racism? No.

      My thoughts are still confused on this and I’m still trying to figure it out, but basically…

      RACISM is when a whole group of people are oppressed for their race. They have less opportunities, it is harder for them to get jobs, they are not represented in the media. Racism means you potentially experience violence or harassment. You will often be from a less well-off background because of the oppression that you as a PoC have. Massive generalisations here, but I’m just trying to do a textbook explanation here.

      but PREJUDICE is when people think certain things about you, which can obviously be hurtful, but that you aren’t actively being oppressed. There’s not a history of slavery and genocide against white people. And the stuff your coworkers say is upsetting, yes, but I personally can’t call that racism.

      But then there is the racism that my friends face. I am not sure what to call this though. They are white but they or their parents come from European countries. For example, my friend moved from Russia a few years ago and people regularly ask her if she has any vodka, or make nasty jokes about Russian stereotypes. Or another friend; her mother is German and speaks fluent German, visits her German family regularly, celebrates holidays with German traditions, and is generally very proud of her culture. But then people still joke about Hitler to her.

      Just thinking aloud here really…

      • lilblucherrygrl November 17th, 2012 1:00 PM

        Completely agree. As a white girl I can experience prejudice but I cannot experience racism.

        As for your question in regards to your friends, since they are racially white, they are experiencing prejudice. Russian or German is not a race. They are being ethnically stereotyped but not being racially oppressed.

      • Maybe November 17th, 2012 1:43 PM

        I would say that what your European friends face is probably “just” Prejudice, but this does lead to an interesting train of thought. Whiteness in itself is a very finnicky thing, and certain people over the time have been in- or excluded from whiteness, depending on when they were living in which society. So for example, the Irish in the US were long excluded from whiteness, as were the Italians in the US. Some people would still not consider Italian-Americans “white”. In the same way, Arabs were long thought of as white, and only after 9/11 was there a “de-whitening” of Arabs (this I have read, I could not swear on it). Similarily, some folks “read” Eastern Europeans or the Jewish or Spanish as white, while others will not. It really depends on your society and era.

        So while light-skinned Germans typically are considered “very white/Aryan/not colored at ALL” some people might exclude them from whiteness. Same with Russians. Still think it’s more Prejudice though.

        On a sidenote: Please stop with the friggin Hitler jokes. To some US-Americans, this might just be a weird dictator from far away, but to me, living in Austria, this is VERY REAL. This is something I have to live with daily. The aftermath. The guilt. Neo-Nazis. Six million people dead. My heritage is very tangled up in WWII and none of it is funny.

        • ICantThinkOfAUsername November 18th, 2012 8:54 AM

          I’m really interested in the concept of “whiteness” and how it shifts according to time and place. I’ve recently been reading up on some Tim Wise, who has some very interesting theories on the matter, but he tends to focus specifically in whiteness in America. Does anybody know of any other authors/speakers that deal with this subject? Thanks :)

        • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:57 AM

          Thank you for mentioning this. When Eastern European immigrants came through Ellis Island, they were not considered white. Their names were often butchered or “Americanized” by the officials registering them. Once they got here they lived in ghettos and were ostracized by “white” people. It is pretty ridiculous that their descendants face prejudice today for having privilege when they actually had the complete opposite of privilege.

      • ladyjenna November 18th, 2012 2:40 PM

        My family is Jewish.

        My mom does not like Germans, b/c of the Holocaust. I think this is wrong. Thoughts?

        And also, for the midnight showing of a HP movie my friends and i dressed up as death eaters and painted our arms with ‘dark marks’…she made me wash mine off, b/c arm tattoos were too ‘holocaustish’.

        BUT BUT BUT

        A while ago i read an article in the NYT, can’t remember what it was, but it was about mezuzahs in apartment buildings that people had left, and what the new tenants did with them…there was a Roman Catholic woman, and basically she said ‘I like the mezuzah! Whenever I go by it I touch it and say a hail mary” or something like that.

        I thought that was wrong…….

        THOUGHTS???

        • Maybe November 19th, 2012 1:32 AM

          Actually, I kind of get it. Not liking Germans. You can’t expect people to “get over it”. As a society, Germans/Austrians are still struggling to work through their history. It took so much effort just for people to acknowledge the Holocaust happened, for Prime Ministers to own up to this. For it to be taught in school. You can find remnants of the Holocaust everywhere, if you look closely enough. It took so much work, discussions, books… and still today, it’s just so very very complex. My head’s just literally exploding.

          But I do hope that in a generation or two, maybe the healing can start. I really do. Also, while there aren’t many, Jewish people to exist in Germany/Austria. So maybe, one shouldn’t dislike all Germans collectively.

          And I totally get being uncomfortable with some symbols, some looks, some hairstyles even. Some visuals just freak me out, especially because I’m sensitive to looking for underlying meanings.

    • ICantThinkOfAUsername November 17th, 2012 10:01 AM

      I think that racism as directed towards white people is a very complicated issue. I think that as a white person, you can experience racism to an extent, however it is not the same kind of racism that a POC will experience. This is because (I am assuming from your comment) that you live in a society where white is the dominant race, where every other race is perceived as abnormal or “other”, and where racism has been used over the course of centuries to create a system of power and oppression so as to assure that the white folks remain on top. So, in the society that (I am presuming) you live in, racism directed towards POC can negatively impact the course of their entire life (in that they are less likely to be awarded jobs, loans, etc), while racism directed towards a white person does not usually have any implications more serious than seriously hurt feelings. For this reason, many people have argued that racism towards white people does not even exist at all, because true racism comes from a place of power, however this is really up to how you define the term.

      I’m not really an expert on the issue myself, however I don’t usually count such comments/actions as directed towards white people as racism, but just people being asses. Either way, the things you have experienced are totally gross and not ok.

      • kaylafay November 19th, 2012 10:25 PM

        From my personal understanding of racism and how I’ve seen it defined by people like beverly tatum, I think you can be prejudiced towards white people, not racist.

      • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:59 AM

        I disagree. Racism is being singled out and treated differently, negatively, because of your race. It doesn’t matter what race that is. Prejudice is being treated poorly because of a difference like class or clothing style. Racism is a form of prejudice based on ethnicity.

  • Blythe November 17th, 2012 4:52 AM

    It’s weird, reading these comments, to see that I seem to have somehow subconsciously figured this out? Like, gosh, that sounds so pretentious. It’s just I’m really wondering how I figured it out, because while I was raised pretty accepting, it’s not like my parents educated me about this stuff (I mean, very few people think to). And I’m by no means perfect about it, like, I’m eyeing my five or so Chinese-esque shirts and my two vaguely Japanese robes. But it’s just weird and I guess I wonder how I got it. Like, even though I’m an atheist, I’m kinda “grossed out” by crosses and such as fashion and it just makes me go “???”. And my mum was all “Let’s celebrate Dia de los Muertos!” and I just stared at her. I was like, “Mum you don’t even know what it means culturally, and we are whiter than something very white, even if we are part Native American.” And I’ve always thought it odd that Joanns carries sari fabric and such.
    But at the same time, I kind of want everyone to be able to share? But I think “share” is the important word here. Like, people shouldn’t TAKE stuff, they should SHARE it you know, and the really big stuff (war bonnets) should be left alone. I think a big problem is that not enough people think about this, which is sort of corroborated by my Rich White Girl Privilege which is screaming that I’m over thinking things.
    Anyway, it is 2am and I have the flu, and there is no way this is coherent.
    You know what we need, Rookie? We need to be able to save comments as drafts. Now that would be cool.

  • saramarit November 17th, 2012 5:08 AM

    As a kid I went to a school that had a fair few Pakistani pupils. Every year we would celebrate Eid together with them. The parent would come in and paint our hands with henna (mendhi) and show us how to put on saris. They’d bring in some of their homemade traditional food and we’d have a party.
    I’m not saying this solved the problem of racism and prejudice but it did help us to understand their culture. It is worth your effort to continue to educate people about your culture but I can understand the frustration you feel when faced with sheer ignorance.
    I get pissed off when I see big companies making money off other cultures, particularly ones that have been marginalised for generations. When the Navajo Nation stood up to Urban Outfitters I was glad and hoped that it would make more people think about the meaning behind what they were buying.

    • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:51 AM

      That’s so great! I wish that was more widespread. Education is the best weapon against ignorance.

  • Pearl November 17th, 2012 5:09 AM

    I’m Indian & my mother (or every grown woman for that matter) wore bindis for decoration (those stick on bindis) but the vermillion ones(usually worn on the middle parting) was a sign of marriage. Like a wedding ring is in Western cultures. So I was really bummed when Gwen Stefani & Madonna wore bindis & mehendi/henna just to look cooler. Also, I don’t mind certain Indian things being worn by white people, like our beautiful fabrics or jewellery but there are certain types of clothing & jewellery which hold a particular significance in our Culture. Like the nose ring- attached to the hair made popular by Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel show called Bombay-Paris. They’re specifically worn during weddings. Also, Kurtis or kurtas & Kolhapuri sandals have become so commercialized that I remember seeing a pair of Kolhapuri chappals on an American online shop for $30 & I’d buy mine for a mere Rs. 200 ($4) from my neighbourhood market. It definitely is absurd how small things have been used for greater commercial purposes & by buying things like that we’re supporting that very harsh fact. Those sandals were probably made in India & sold to the middlemen at throwaway prices. It is really sad that stuff like this happens but it won’t stop for a long time. We appreciate that many people are aware of our religion, culture & symbols but there comes a point when a person wears Hare Krishna saffron robes without knowing what it represents.

  • whodatgal November 17th, 2012 5:56 AM

    wow guys. I think this was a really delicate topic to handle and you guys really tackled it very well. I’m happy to see so many different veiws and I love that this has stirred up so much discussion between us worldwide <3

    I definately get what you're saying Marie and I don't hate Anaheed for trying to push things forward and Laia for just really honestly voiceing her opinion. That's what I love about ROOKIE. Everything is just so real.

    Anyways, great article, real deep and it's really made me think more about this kind of topic

    Ophelia xx
    http://www.opheliahorton.wordpress.com

  • Sorcha M November 17th, 2012 5:59 AM

    I’m so sorry if I sound really ignorant here, but I’m trying to educate myself as much as possible:
    I never really thought of appropriation of Christian religious iconography to be harmful, because Christianity has been used with and alongside white privilege to oppress and change (mildest possible word for what white people have done throughout history) other cultures.
    So my question is how is this harmful? (Going only on what I’ve read in the comments.) I really can understand why Christians would be offended at iconography that means a lot to them being trivialised for fashion, but I honestly don’t see how it fits into this argument about cultures that have histories of oppression being exploited by white people and it being okay when white people do it.
    Could someone help? I’m trying to sort my head out about this. It’s an ongoing debate and while I think it’s hard not to wear or eat something that’s from another culture, I am going to think a lot more now about my privilege and what it means. So this article has been effective in that respect, thank you.

    • Libby November 17th, 2012 1:28 PM

      I’m an agnostic girl raised in an atheist family, so no first-hand experience with religions, but I think it’s just a general thing regarding major religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism & Hinduism) Basically, religious objects/iconography are sacred. They’re about the relationship between the god and the person; they’re not a fashion statement.

      So it’s not cultural appropriation as such, but it *is* taking something sacred from another culture/belief and using it purely for aesthetic reasons.

      I definitely think it fits into the discussion here, but Christianity as a religion is much more understood, in the UK for sure and probably in the USA, than most other religions and therefore it’s a lesser issue. Still an issue, of course, but I personally don’t think it’s the main one when we’re talking cultural appropriaton.

      Because like Sady said, ” The problem isn’t[...]a headband[...];the problem is that if that feathered headband becomes super popular, in 50 years it’s going to be associated primarily with whiteness and not with the culture she got it from.” But there is already such a wide understanding, in my opinion, of Christianity in the western world. So this has a place in the discussion but it isn’t the only thing.

      Does that make sense? I’m so tired right now (work was exhausting!) so that might be a bit incoherent, but hopefully it makes a bit of sense.

      • Sorcha M November 17th, 2012 1:54 PM

        Thank you for clearing it up a little. It did make sense.

    • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:50 AM

      I think the conversation isn’t about who was oppressed by white people, but about cultural sensitivity. Christians do have a history of oppressing others, but they also have an even longer history of being oppressed. Christians are still oppressed in several parts of the world today. Christianity is such a widespread religion that has been part of many countries and races, and unfortunately as such it has been the excuse for a lot of unspeakable behavior, even today. But for people who relate to the torture, genocide, imprisonment of Christians, it is painful to see the symbols being trivialized or used to represent the bad history rather than the sacredness and the good and love that is supposed to be behind those symbols.

      • Tiferet January 20th, 2013 2:24 PM

        Speaking as a Jewish person, I don’t think you can claim an even longer history of oppression, because oppression of Christians has not been continuous.

        Christians were oppressed in the Roman Empire for a very brief period of time compared to the time that Christianity had complete control of Europe and was used as a tool of colonialism in every country Europeans took over. From the time the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, all other religions were more or less abolished. The Jews were driven out of country after country or forcibly “converted”.

        Also, in some countries where Christianity is singled out for special oppression, it’s because of the history of Christianity. For instance, the Shogunate suppressed Christianity in Japan because it was very obvious at that time what happened to your country if you gave the Christian missionaries of that era free rein–you ended up becoming a client state or colony of some European country. I’m not saying that it’s ever right to oppress people, but I also don’t think that it was wrong for people to make that connection and determine that this was not going to happen to their country.

  • farawayfaerie November 17th, 2012 6:56 AM

    Sometimes I feel like I have no culture. I’m white and I live in South Africa, so i am definitely part of an extremely privileged minority. I think part of borrowing (or maybe it’s stealing?) from other cultures is that we live in such a diverse world, surrounded by so many beautiful cultures, and so often they are oppressed, which is really disgusting.

    Also, within my country, there are so many different cultures, and because we come from such a terrible past with apartheid, so many people tip-toe around racial and cultural differences, which, while is sometimes necessary, isn’t the best way for everyone to learn from each others cultures, because their own culture is not questioned.

    Someone who definitely isn’t tiptoe-ing around anything, is the Afrikaans rap group ‘Die Antwoord’ (meaning The Answer). They are in fact not all that Afrikaans but are representing Zef Culture, as well as gang culture in the townships. So many people I have met have such different opinions of them I hardly know what to think. in their latest music video “Fatty Boom Boom”, Yolandi Visser LITERALLY painted her body black, in response to many ‘blackface’ accusations they had recently received. Some people think they’re really racist and are completely offended by them (though these are often white upper middle class intelectuals) while others think they are the least racist people, and are pushing boundaries that nobody is willing to talk about. Personally i like their music and I think they are really fascinating, and i haven’t met anyone who is actually personally offended by them.

  • hannamade November 17th, 2012 8:32 AM

    Really great that Rookie is opening up a space to talk about some of this stuff. I think cultural appropriation isn’t just about taking things from other cultures, but perpetuating damaging existing stereotypes. I am half Japanese, and every time a white person dresses up ‘Oriental’ it is to look more ‘exotic’, more sexual. So many fashion spreads make references to geishas and the like. Those girls can go home, take off the dress and the eyeliner and forget about it. Asian girls, however, have to then live with this existing stereotype of being hyper-sexualised, exotic creatures. Almost every time I am sexually harassed on the street – something Anaheed mentions in the conversation – it is in a way that points out my ethnicity. ‘China girl’, ‘Love me long time’, ‘konichiwa, nihao’ etc etc. I see acts of cultural appropriation as feeding directly into my daily experience of sexual harassment and racism, and that is one of the reasons why it matters to me.

  • GorillazFangirl November 17th, 2012 8:40 AM

    In South Africa, we have so many different cultures all mixed together (like everywhere in the world!) and each has their traditions, heritages and so on. It’s beautiful to see everyone come together as proudly South Africans, but, there’s this one thing that really bothers me is that, generally, South Africans are becoming more and more Americanised (possibly it’s always been this way and I’m now becoming more aware of it?) It just saddens me to see people disregard their heritage, especially in a country where there is so much acceptance of all cultures! (okay, I’m probably being too positive) For example, linguists (?) fear that in the future some African languages are going to die off because people choose to speak English instead :(
    The way in which we seem to latch onto USA and British movies/celebrities/tv shows/fashion realllly worries me, that’s why I’m thankful at school we all learn (atleast) the basics of 3 national languages :) (I do English and Afrikaans only now but i used to do Xhosa as well and i really miss it :( )

    Glad I got this off my chest. I thought Rookie would be a good place to let it out without it ending in a screaming match (I don’t like drama) because everybody here is so accepting and eloquently mature <3

    • sophiethewitch November 20th, 2012 4:19 AM

      This isn’t exactly relevant, but I like your username.

  • MickeyMickeranno November 17th, 2012 8:59 AM

    I’m so glad this conversation took place! I was constantly wanting to intervene while reading it jaja Anyway thank you so so much for this!

    PS: Jenny num1 fan here!! <3

  • Megann16 November 17th, 2012 9:15 AM

    This is so important.

    Thank you every single contributor. Actually, for me, especially thank you Anaheed, I think its so brave to talk about and acknowledge thoughts and feelings we are not proud of. How else can we effectively learn. I get that it’s not popular and it’s privileged and entitled but the discussion is important and the responses are really helpful.

    I learnt so much.

  • Alexx November 17th, 2012 10:15 AM

    I guess I understand why people might get offended by someone wearing something from their culture, but honestly I can’t see it like that, because like mentioned above, isn’t banning or looking down upon people who wear things from other cultures kind of messed up on its own? That in itself would lead to another sense of unfairness or cultural separation. I mean, it sounds ridiculous to say that just because someone isn’t born an Indian they can’t wear bindis, especially if someone who’s Indian can wear one just for fashion and not be shamed for wearing it (they might be shamed by someone who’s racist, but that’s a whole different story and won’t be stopped by shaming EVERYONE who wears one).
    And I also don’t get why people can’t just wear something for fashion’s sake. No matter how asshole-ish or ignorant this may sound, I honestly don’t think it’s a huge problem if not EVERYONE knows where EVERYTHING came from and its history. Isn’t it fine to just like something or wear it without knowing why someone else had worn it. Like, with the “Pope hat fad” comment, I’m Catholic, and when I first heard it I’ll admit I found it slightly offensive, but then after thinking about it I realized that it actually wouldn’t be offensive, because the people wearing it wouldn’t be trying to say that they were the pope or anything, they would just be wearing it because they liked it. And isn’t it fine to separate the meaning of things like that? What means one thing to somebody will always mean something diefferent to somebody else, so isn’t it fine to just keep it like that?

  • Alexx November 17th, 2012 10:24 AM

    And on a sidenote: Can’t someone not know what something from their own culture means, just as much as a person not from their culture can? I know that some people probably also believe that even if someone “white” knows about the significance of an Indian headdress, it isn’t the same because they haven’t gone through the same pain to wear it. But, really do people absolutely HAVE to go through the same pain as someone else to do or wear what they did? That would be like saying that the rich can’t support the poor just because they haven’t gone through the same suffering. And of course not everyone’s going to go through the same pain or effort, but does everyone really have to? Can’t someone be able to just support something or like it?
    Wow, this ended up way longer than I expected :s Sorry for the really long badly written comment!!

    • kaylafay November 19th, 2012 10:15 PM

      I think it’s just that if someone who is from a culture wears something without knowing its history, they are not erasing/trivializing it or making it into a trend the way that a white person wearing it does

  • la fee clochette November 17th, 2012 10:46 AM

    I remember Gwen Stefani saying in an interview that she wore bindis at the time because her boyfriend then (Tony Kanal)’s mother was/is from India and wore bindis regularly, as part of her culture, and Gwen liked learning about it and also, for the decoration. I can see the frustrations behind it now- I currently have a pack of “bindis” I bought from a nearby town that sells them, and i just thought they were cute and never thought of the racial undertones/overtones that they perpetuated, before.

  • Elizabete November 17th, 2012 11:09 AM

    What do you, rookies, think about this : http://cphpost.dk/news/national/how-one-local-decision-created-national-‘war-christmas’

    Basically, there are a lot of Muslim living in Denmark and in the town of Kokkedal it has been decided not to get a Christmas tree this year because Muslim do not celebrate Christmas and it would offend them.

    I think that this is cultural acceptance gone too far and it’s disrespectful towards native Danes.

    • ladyjenna November 18th, 2012 2:43 PM

      At my school, they put up this huge Christmas tree….I kinda want to stick a menorah up with it, but it would be smaller and dominated by said tree….

      PS What’s up with Kwanza? Can somebody explain?? Is it a legit holiday?

    • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:44 AM

      I agree. Christmas trees are a Pagan symbol appropriated by Christians, anyway. I think if they are just decorated with lights and nothing religious, then it is not offensive. If Muslims are really offended, then instead of foregoing a tree they should be allowed to put up some small celebration of their holidays. How great would it be if there was a display with some information about Islam and Muslim holidays? I wish we could all celebrate our differences instead of fighting them.

  • wanderluster66 November 17th, 2012 11:16 AM

    I guess what I was thinking throughout the whole article was that, doesn’t telling people that they can’t wear something from another culture make you racist? I agree that it’s important to respect people’s cultures, but does wearing them and making them a part of your life make it bad? I bought many items of clothing from Peru, because it’s so close to my heart and I admire it so much. But does wearing it then make me insensitive. I don’t get it. I also play the accordion, realizing it has a culture significance to my Eastern-European descent. But it’s also an instrument that is infused in cultures worldwide, which only strengthens my love for it, as I’ve seen, it brings all kinds of people together. I think culture a lot of times is an art that should be shared; it wants to be. What is America, then? Although it’s important to understand history’s sad moments, it’s also important to go beyond them, or else we’ll be stuck in a perpetual place of misunderstanding. Can’t appropriation be a good thing? Because now, I honestly feel like I’m not allowed to like any culture because I can’t directly apply myself to any of them because of my mixed descent as an American.

    • WitchesRave November 17th, 2012 5:14 PM

      I agree with you.

  • wanderluster66 November 17th, 2012 11:25 AM

    And I apologize if I am sounding ignorant, but I really do want to understand this. I would hate to have offended ANYONE by doing something that I thought was a good thing.

  • cancercowboy November 17th, 2012 11:37 AM

    maybe part of the problem is that mainstream America (and mainstream Europe) tends to be somewhat ignorant, indifferent and uninterested about origins, context and history of their societies and its deeds, inner workings and impacts. many people sport a mindset that subconsciously assumes the whole world started with their individual birth. if people could be arsed to inform and question themselves and not just accept the predominate cultural narrative and take it for granted…
    well yeah, if the moon was made of cheese…

  • unicorn November 17th, 2012 12:59 PM

    I know that there are people who will disagree with me, but even though I am white, (pale skin, blue eyes, blonde hair, whole deal), I still feel like I’ve experienced forms of racism and cultural appropriation because of my German heritage.
    Where I live, it’s generally understood that on Halloween, you don’t dress up as a Mexican, or Chinese, or Native American, because that’s offensive, and people who do dress up like that will get called out. But, when someone dresses up as the sexy German beer girl, it’s okay. It doesn’t make sense to me how it’s okay to appropriate my culture because I’m white. To me, the girl who skips around in a skimpy, polyester “dirndl” is just as offensive as the girl who wears a “kimono” minidress, but if I say anything to the girl wearing the “dirndl” it’s ridiculous and I’m making a big deal out of nothing.

  • allie.x November 17th, 2012 1:03 PM

    I agree that wearing things like indian headresses, sombreros and crucifixes is cultural appropriation. However, to say that white people wearing door knocker earrings ( an accesory which holds no cultural symbols) is racist, is that not stereotyping black people and racist in itself?

  • itsRAEdiculous November 17th, 2012 1:16 PM

    I haven’t read through all the responses, so maybe someone already said it, but maybe a way to spread information on cultural symbol’s significance/history of oppression/etc. is to just tell the person wearing it? Like in a “hey, did you know this fun fact?” sort of way. And then the person with the bindi/mohawk/hair feather/etc can go “wow!” and then think about it on their own time and decide if they’re okay with wearing that style anymore. This way, all the important background information is spread more.

  • FossilisedUnicorn November 17th, 2012 1:23 PM

    I understand why cultural appropriation can be experienced as offensive, but I don’t think that should be a reason to say or think it’s intrinsically a bad thing. It’s not the same as being offensive.

  • allie.x November 17th, 2012 1:26 PM

    For me, one of the problems that arise when we “borrow” things from other cultures is that we lose part of our own. However, in saying that, more and more immigrants are coming to the USA and the UK(where I live). What we have to do is not to copy these other cultures but to accept them, embrace them. Yes, we can join these cultures but we should’nt steal their believes and make a mokery of them. In summary yes embrace other cultures but just don’t go to a fancy dress party in a sombrero and poncho “dressed as a mexican”.

  • saramarit November 17th, 2012 2:30 PM

    I just realised…as a Scot if there was no cultural appropriation I might have to spend my life in a kilt, eating haggis and listening to the bagpipes OH NO! I mean how do you think I felt watching Mike Myers play Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers movies?

  • Yayo November 17th, 2012 3:28 PM

    Thanks Rookie. I really appreciate this article. I feel like I’ve spent days reading all the comment and link haha.

    My views about this are still very very jumbled. One thing which particularly bothers me is the whole issue of cultural segregation, which naturally, cultural appropriation raises. It’s already been mentioned, but surely a lot of this totally goes against individualism, and just combines skin colour/race/ethnicity/religion/culture into one simple concept.
    Like, what about those people who don’t have clear cut definitions of any of those things.

    My cousin (she’s 11) for instance, has a white-atheist-British mother and Indian father from a Hindu background. She goes to a Christian school, but doesn’t identify with any religion. She’s growing up surrounded by British culture. Her skin tone is ‘Indian’ looking, to me as white person, yet to her father’s family she looks more ‘white’. Her culture/race/religion/skin colour do not ‘match’ just like they are expected to.
    When with her father’s family she wears a sari and a bindi. Is this validated purely because of her skin tone, even if she does not identify as Hindu? She knows no more about Hinduism than I do, yet it would be seen as cultural appropriation to dress like that since I’m white. But I mean – IS it more appropriate for her to dress like that? She does have Indian-Hindu heritage after all, even if she doesn’t practice it.
    And I can think of LOTS more examples of people with mixes ethnicities.

    I think it’s sad that we can’t all dress how we want whilst having respect and understanding of others.

  • WitchesRave November 17th, 2012 4:32 PM

    My school is putting on an all white (i live in an extremely white european country) version of Hairspray the musical. I find this incredibly racist and impossible to understand HOW anyone thought it would be a good idea, it goes against the whole storyline of the play!!

    witches-rave.tumblr.com

  • WitchesRave November 17th, 2012 5:16 PM

    I wear saroul trousers in the summertime as it is very hot and also extremely comfortable. These trousers often have sanskrit writing or indian patterns on them. Am I not allowed to wear them because im not from India? It’s the same with Sari’s, I struggle to find the racism with a non-indian person wearing one. Its like if Scottish people turned around and started calling anyone who is not scottish racist for wearing a tartan skirt because it is not a part of there country therefore they cannot wear it. Is it not the same thing?

    • WitchesRave November 17th, 2012 8:26 PM

      Jesus H Christ!! I apologise for the DREADFUL grammatical and spelling errors in my post!!

    • kaylafay November 19th, 2012 10:09 PM

      Scottish people are not systematically oppressed because of their culture. I cannot tell you what to wear and what not to wear, but just be aware that wearing that clothing is trivializing the cultural significance of it if you 1. Did not get permission from that culture 2. Do not understand the significance if there is any and 3. Are wearing a knockoff version

  • Mars77 November 17th, 2012 5:19 PM

    I’m not sure if I’m guilty of anything reprehensible or not here:

    Is it negative cultural appropriation if you have a genuine interest in a culture and immerse yourself in it, not to look cool but to learn?

    I’m a white Jew who is fascinated with Hispanic culture, particularly from Mexico and the Dominican Republic. I am learning Spanish and I listen to merengue and bachata and the like, and I hope to someday be well-versed enough in the specific cultures of a country or two so I could visit them and not stick out like a sore thumb.

    Does me being white and American make this wrong?

    • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:37 AM

      Absolutely not. You are being respectful of the culture and are genuinely interested in it. I think the problem is when someone wears the bindi then makes fun of the Indian girl in her class, for example.

  • spookgrrrl November 17th, 2012 5:35 PM

    we watch movies from other countries, we eat sushi, we meditate, we do yoga, we listen to world music. so why is it the clothes we wear that is such a big issue?

    It’s a tricky subject. a large number of Indian women now wear bindis for fashion. But a native american headpiece is something very sacred and something that is meant to be earnt and now we can simply buy it from urban outfitters. maybe it’s fine for us to wear native jewelry and stuff but rather than buying it mass produced online we should buy it from actual native americans who are trying to earn money.

  • Amanda C November 17th, 2012 5:37 PM

    Something that I’m wondering about and would like to hear other folks’ thoughts on is the role of sexualization in cultural appropriation. Because with Gwen Stefani and with most white girls on tumblr posing in war bonnets, they’re not just wearing them, they’re POSING and it’s often highly sexualized. Like, how many photos have gone around of white women in their underwear or naked in a war bonnet with their faces painted? I’m a white American girl, so that is wear I’m coming from, but seeing that and also knowing that WOC are often portrayed as hyper-sexual is really shitty and problematic for me. This is not to say that cultural appropriation on its own is not problematic and racist.

    I think the sexual aspect that often accompanies cultural appropriation is highly, highly problematic and, for lack of better word, heightens the racism in a way? If that makes sense? Like, it’s not just the appropriation of something not of your own culture which is undoubtedly racist, but it even further exotifies people of color, and all while still being part of the bodily “ideal”, i.e. white and thin. Or it further exotifies the things white people like about people of color, without actually crediting or recognizing POC, and without having to be a POC and so not having to be the subject of racism. Because at the end of the day–or the photoshoot–those white women can take off the war bonnet and they are still the bodily ideal, and they will not have to face the racism and the violence that POC have had to face.

  • kitterfly November 17th, 2012 5:43 PM

    some fragmented thoughts on the issue:

    in jenny’s soydrink/soymilk story, the conflict begins with the kids who are ignorant and make fun of her. then, she gets to college, and people have accepted/normalized the same thing she was mocked for.

    and i think it comes down to constructive vs. destructive behavior, and the conflict that occurs when there is a shift between them.

    like, it’s super unfair that jenny was teased for her soydrink and then, suddenly, it was okay, and had a new name that symbolically normalized it.

    and it’s ridiculous that the people at her college were able to normalize it, and she wasn’t.

    and then there’s the privilege to deal with. if we’re going to call it privilege (which we should because it is), then… we have to think about using privilege? and what’s up with that in general.

    continuing with this example… the acceptance of soydrink is a step forward. away from the initial ignorance, and preventing further cases of it.

    so, soymilk? progress. the connection to bullying/intolerance? awful, because of the preceding bullying/intolerance.

    and the name shift. important to think about, because it does separate the thing itself from the culture it was tied to, and differentiate it from the drink the ignorant kids called “bad”

    so: education? elimination of ignorance? the way to go. the conflict occurred in the first place ‘cos of it, and because of the shift/specifics of the shift as a response.

    (and, while doing so, it’s important not to alienate/divide people who are trying to help/learn. if someone uses inaccurate/offensive terminology, co

  • kitterfly November 17th, 2012 5:46 PM

    rrect them instead of attacking them. creating further conflict is not beneficial to anyone, and distracts from the problem you’re both probably trying to solve…

    basically, be considerate. nice. whatever you want to call it, do it. put thought into your words and actions.)

    seems like the right note to end on.
    be respectful to each other! teach! avoid meanies! heart symbol! smiley face!

  • kitterfly November 17th, 2012 5:51 PM

    ooh, and: think about how your actions affect others. in regards to cultural appropriation, be aware of how your representation/interpretation can alter the mind sets of those around you, and how you can perpetuate/demolish stereotypes based on how you present yourself.
    know what your appearance says without any disclaimers or subtext.
    don’t be ignorant about stuff.

  • kitterfly November 17th, 2012 5:55 PM

    oh god, more thoughts.
    it’s important not to be too reactionary, or “fight fire with fire”
    the best way to stop really terrible things like racism, sexism, etc is to raise awareness, not to aggravate the issue.
    it’s challenging, because the conflict itself is something that makes people really, really angry, but it’s important to step back and acknowledge that acting purely out of passion/anger rarely works out well, just because the enraged individual has less control over their communicative abilities, and, regardless of intent, is far more vulnerable to misinterpretation.

  • smellygirl November 17th, 2012 6:05 PM

    I have never found non religious people wearing crosses offensive. I mean, the cristian religion is probably the most significant example of cultural opression I could think of.
    here in Australia, Aborginals were taken away from their families and given to nuns and white families and forced to be white and christian. they were forced to pray and were laughed at for their old beliefs.
    so knowing this I am very scepticle of the existance of opression towards christians since the original beliefs held by them were against gays/blacks/women.
    as a boy my dad traveled to england where we attended a christian boarding school and had a traumatic time being abused and taunted by the nuns and being forced into baptism.
    so i find the concept slightly ironic.

    • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:34 AM

      Unfortunately, the “original” Christian beliefs have nothing against gays, blacks, or women. In fact, the early Church was very inclusive of all cultures and of women. The “Christianity” of oppression that everyone knows is just another example of white people taking something and bastardizing it to get what they want.

      • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:35 AM

        Sorry, I should have said all ethnicities, not cultures. Cultures is not the same thing.

  • Indigoblue November 17th, 2012 6:33 PM

    I would like to say something witty and thought provoking as a mixed raced feminist girl however I think all my emotions have already been summed up so I’ll say this. Another amazing and thought provoking article! Well done and thanks! <3

  • sophiethewitch November 17th, 2012 6:55 PM

    What does everyone think about witch or fairy costumes? Because those cross just about every line most of you have drawn, and yet I’ve seen lots of educated, progressive people wearing them, and Rookie even has “teen witch” and “witchy style” posts. Wicca and other forms of withcraft and paganism are real religions, and the origin of the myth of fairies was to spread fear among Christians about pagans. The legend was that pagans were fair folk, or fairies, tiny people who kidnapped children. And for centuries, people were persecuted both for actually practicing witchcraft and for being suspected of practicing witchcraft. Things like pentagrams and “witch hats” have religious significance and power. But I’m pagan, and I don’t take offense at witch or fairy costumes (though I would understand why other people might), and I would definitely miss the Rookie teen witch posts if they were removed. So…thoughts?

  • Tangerine November 17th, 2012 9:19 PM

    This is great and all, but what are white people “allowed” to wear after all cultural appropriation is identified and ceased? Jeans? T-shirts from target? Scrunchies?
    IT’S JUST CLOTHES MAN.
    I LIKE my flip-flops, buying snacks from the carniceria, plaid shirts. I like tequila, sushi, and Bollywood movies.
    What happened to America the melting pot? Who the hell wears feathers to make FUN of Native Americans? I’m pretty sure one only rocks feathers to look good.
    If it makes you feel uncomfortable, than make sure you buy native jewelry/etc from Native people. Then, even if you’re an ass in a headdress, you’ve put money in a Native Americans pocket.

    • Maya Chimera November 18th, 2012 2:55 PM

      There were a lot of different views featured in this discussion, but I think the overall message could be summed up as: IT’S NOT JUST CLOTHES!

      I just spend a few hours going through it and reading every single comment, while I should have been studying for my upcoming exams. I’m so happy I did! This is the first time that I have been confronted with the issue of cultural appropriation (it’s not really a hot topic where I live).

      I used to have a pair of dreamcatcher earrings. One day when I wore them to school, my history teacher was staring at my ear lobes and mumbled “huh, dreamcatchers”. I was like, eh yes how observant of you. Now, I wonder whether he might think of it as inappropriate ear embellishment. If so, I wish he said something!

      Thank you, Rookie people, for speaking out and sharing your discussion with me! It’s probably much more valuable than the stuff that I’ll come across in my revision. Thank you!!!!!

    • kaylafay November 19th, 2012 9:52 PM

      I’ve been hearing this sentiment a lot and honestly, if you’re worried about the now small narrowing of your clothing options, then you’re missing the point. There are so many different types of clothing and styles that do not perpetuate racism and the trivialization of oppressed people’s cultures

    • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:29 AM

      I agree. I don’t actually think anyone should wear headdresses considering, at least as I’ve been told, they were mostly ceremonial and sacred. But certainly buying jewelry from actual Native Americans is better than buying some crap from Urban Outfitters or something that just goes to a corporation. I assume anyone who wears Native or Native-inspired jewelry does so because they have an interest in and respect for Native culture, so why not give money to the artists whose culture you care about?

  • cruachan November 18th, 2012 1:55 AM

    nobody has pointed this out but.. gypsies??? hello? gypsy, or the Romani ,(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romani_people) are an actual ethnic group that were systematically murdered by nazis during the war. dressing up as a “gypsy” or being “gypsy chic” is so nauseatingly offensive to the people with ancestors that survived GENOCIDE! people like this -http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gypsy-Soule/58020472375
    think its “cute” or “Stylish” to dress up like an oppressed people (this site has come under fire for responding to people asking for sensitivity with straight up racism and a “f*** you” attitude.) using the name of a culture (gypsy is sometimes considered a racial slur) to make a profit is a prime example of what racial appropriation is in america. it would be like someone making a clothing brand called (excuse my language) “Nigger Couture.” so please think about it the next time you think dressing up like a “gypsy” would be “totally adorbz”

    • NotReallyChristian November 18th, 2012 1:05 PM

      I genuinely think that Travellers are the last frontier in terms of racism. Here in Britain we have a complex relationship with our Traveller population, which is partly Roma but primarily Irish Traveller (which is a nationality distinct from Irish). People who I know would never dream of expressing racist views about most races seem completely unconcerned about stereotyping Travellers in the most horrible ways, and the government’s attitude to them is just terrible. And it’s the same all over Europe – no one gives a crap about them!

  • Moxx November 18th, 2012 7:40 AM

    I just think there is a difference between wearing something with no regards for the culture it comes from or even to make fun of it
    And including something into a mix of personal style while understanding to item and respecting where it comes from

    I mean, what I always feel like is that I come from brazil, whose culture is a mix of the indigenous peoples’, that of the Portuguese people who colonized them, and that of the people from certain colonies of Africa like Angola as slaves.

    It has seriously melded to an extreme point
    And although there are still some tensions and injustice linked with that (and it has been a long and difficult process), it has helped unite brazil’s different peoples into a more united body of brazilian people.

    The various forms of music, for example, are complete cultural appropriation. The mixing of styles of music and accommodation into other styles is what made Scottish-inspired Xote. True, “root” samba was music of the slaves, then mixed with other things to make different styles and different ways of dancing.

    Appropriation seems like a very vague term, because it could come from and result in so many things. I feel like sometimes it can be a disrespectful thing, but sometimes it’s how things evolve.

  • Lillypod November 18th, 2012 8:36 AM

    woah, every one of these comments is incredibly smart and thoughtful. I don’t have much to add..but what really bites for me is the IGNORANCE– wearing something that clearly references another culture without being able / unwilling to acknowledge the enormous heritage and history (for good and bad) behind a certain garment.
    My aunty wore a beautiful sari to my other aunty’s wedding a few years ago. She is white + British. It was a present from a close Indian friend, brought back from her home country of Mauritius. Although she wore the traditional garb of another culture (a culture that was not her own), she wore it with pride and full knowledge of the beautiful and meaningful history of such a garment.
    PLUS, it was GIVEN to her by her Indian friend.
    To me, this is respectfully donning a garment of another culture, not cultural appropriation.

    • Graciexx November 20th, 2012 6:15 AM

      Sorry, this has nothing to do with anything really but…

      MAURITIUS!!!!!!!!!!!! I desperately want to go there and have a friend who is from there and she is really beautiful :)

  • a-anti-anticapitalista November 18th, 2012 8:38 AM

    I think when talking about cultural appropriation one thing that bothers me is when one person (be it a person from that group or not) pretends to represent an entire group, as if they are all the same and have the same thoughts and agree on everything. This not only applies to aesthetic style but also language and not only about “ethnic” groups but also things like sexual/gender/etc groups. For example, the word Indian being used to refer to native Americans in general, many white people get offended when this is done, and many Native Americans probably do as well, but when a survey was done of what they call themselves they said Indian. Not that there aren’t valid arguments form Native Americans on why the word Indian shouldn’t be used, but sometime’s people assume the whole group sort of had a consensus and elected whomever is getting offended as a representative. Recently Lee Tiger, a Muccosukee leader came to my university to speak, and he said that when he went to Europe and discovered there are many subcultures and festivals dedicated to Native North American culture he was actually ecstatic about it, and when they met him and were afraid he was offended he said that even though it was nice of them to be concerned he actually loved what they were doing and was really flattered

    • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:25 AM

      I took a Native American culture class, and the teacher said he calls himself Indian and doesn’t care if white people do too because they all have their own tribal names in their languages that they refer to themselves as anyway. I still think as an outsider it is more respectful to call them Native Americans, but it was helpful to hear his point of view.

  • Ree November 18th, 2012 8:48 AM

    I’m a second generation Indian (and I’m also half Greek) living in England. One time, we had a ‘Wear Your Own Clothes’ Day at my school and the theme was to wear your favourite outfit. I wore a traditional Indian outfit and a bunch of Indian girls called me out and asked me why I was wearing it when I wasn’t even Indian and that hurt a lot.

    In addition to this, my friends seem to think it’s fine to talk about how a new girl is ‘fresh of the boat’ or the fact that they hate how many non-whites there are in our community and then act surprised when I call them out about it.

    But I would call them out if they talked about any race in that way so I think the main problem here is in fact casual racism. In many ways, casual racism and cultural appropriation are so so tied up, which makes it incredibly confusing to know who is right, who is racist and who is offensive and I can’t see an end to it because people cannnot start policing people’s skin colours. It’s a tough subject.

  • Aoife November 18th, 2012 8:56 AM

    This article is fantastic. It’s a topic that’s been bothering me for awhile, particularly in the aftermath of Halloween and the feelings certain costume choices stirred.

    I really appreciate the honesty of all of you involved here, and Anaheed particularly as you voiced some views/questions I had myself that have now been changed. Thank you!

    I also agree with what a few others have said about the use of Catholic imagery…trendy crucifixes and rosary beads being sold in chain stores REALLY bothers me. I hate the trend of crosses on clothing.

  • Aliceboo November 18th, 2012 11:00 AM

    I enjoyed reading this whole discussion so much. It almost seemed like fate when straight after reading it, I logged into facebook to see this photo…. https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/535541_478902418828180_896238881_n.jpg

  • NotReallyChristian November 18th, 2012 12:58 PM

    Considering the Papacy’s immensely damaging history of oppression and repression, I can’t find much sympathy for those offended by Pope Hat Culture!
    (I’m not saying regular Catholics are bad, obviously – but I’ve been reading a lot about the Popes recently and some of them (including the current one) are SO AWFUL OMG).

    • angelsandlace November 19th, 2012 2:46 PM

      Aaaah see this is what I was thinking when I was reading about appropriation of Christian cultural markers. I mean, I don’t know exactly how I feel about it, but I think people should take historical context into account, like how Christianity was (is?) the dominant oppressive religion in the past kind of like how white people are the dominant group in the Western culture. But at the same time religion is different from race because religion is a choice and race isn’t…So I definitely think your view is super interesting and stuff!

      • Graciexx November 20th, 2012 6:25 AM

        I don’t want to start a whole other argument, and this isn’t directed at anyone in particular but…

        not all Christians are Catholic! I am part of the Uniting Church of Australia and we are quite different to other denominations of Christianity. We are very racially accepting and have many female ministers, and I know at least one of them (maybe more, I don’t know) is openly lesbian.

        I guess what I’m trying to point out here is just because some people are of a certain faith, does not mean they have the same views as all the others of that same faith.

        • angelsandlace November 20th, 2012 12:21 PM

          Oh yeah, I totally wasn’t trying to imply that all Christians are Catholic! I know there is a TON of variation within the Christian religion, so I’d never try to say that Christians are one homogenous group. I was just pointing out that Christianity on the whole has been the dominant religion in the Western world (or at least America). Obviously I have nothing against religion or Christianity; I was just bringing up another interesting facet of this conversation. Like I said, I don’t really have any strong feelings on the topic, so it’s all cool and stuff :)

    • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:15 AM

      I kinda agree with this. In a punk movement way, if people wanted to wear Pope hats, I would see them as rejecting the Pope’s authority and decisions regarding women, gays, etc. But mocking everything related to Catholicism would be offensive, since a lot of the people who do great humanitarian work (including fighting modern-day slavery in the US and foreign countries) are Catholics, or at least many of the organizations were founded by Catholics or Christians, so it would hardly be justifiable to hate on them.

  • ladyjenna November 18th, 2012 2:54 PM

    What about Christian kids wearing kippot (or yarmulkes, whichevs) at their friend’s Bat Mitzvahs? I know some are respectful and all, but some aren’t…so should we say they shouldn’t wear them at all??

    And this made me think of an issue in Israel right now, where women have to pray at a separate section of the kotel (wailing wall) and cannot pray out loud, read torah, or wear tallit, or prayer shawls. Interestingly, though, they can wear them if they flip the ends over their shoulders like a normal shawl, but not hanging like a tallit, which I think is ridiculously ridiculous.

    What really interested me was, do cultures have rights to patterns? Do we have to be scottish to wear plaid, indian to wear paisley? Is it okay to wear a dress that has ‘african-style’ prints? What if designs look like religious symbols…stars of david or crosses??

    P.S. ROOKIE WHAT A GREAT ARTICLE! LOOK AT ALL THE DISCUSSIONS! YOU ARE RAISING THE LEVEL OF INTERNATIONAL DISCOURSE!! How wonderful. Applause.

    • farawayfaerie November 19th, 2012 2:36 PM

      I can answer for what i have kind of tried to figure out for myself…let me see if i can make this comprehendible. I would say prints are absolutely fine. When i think about what is not ok, i think of anything which either has to be earned in order be ‘allowed’ to wear it (as is the case with headdresses) as well as anything that has deep personal and spiritual meaning for people, that you do not practise.

      I doubt anyone would get hurt by you wearing animal prints, which have been widely incorporated in western clothing. the same with paisley etc. not sure about stars of david…it depends? open to thoughts..I AGREE ABOUT AMAZING DISCUSSIONS.

    • Tiferet January 20th, 2013 2:28 PM

      If you’re a boy or man, you’re actually not allowed to be in a synagogue or temple without a kippah–that’s why they’re passed out to guests who do not have their own at Bar Mitzvahs and Bat Mitzvahs and weddings. We want you to wear them when you’re in our place of worship. (In most congregations, we’d also like it if you’d cover your elbows and knees, no matter what style of clothing you happen to be wearing.)

      In egalitarian communities, women are expected to wear kippot too, or to cover their heads in some other way.

  • saramarit November 18th, 2012 3:28 PM

    Y’all culturally appropriated Halloween from Scotland by the way. But then you added pumpkins and we appropriated them right back. Because pumpkins are better than turnips obviously.

  • Michelle November 18th, 2012 4:37 PM

    Just a thought, and please don’t bite my head off for it, but:
    Being offended is a choice. People can do things that are demeaning or ignorant, but you choose how you react to them. There is legitimately no way to do anything without it offending someone. That’s just a side effect of the diverse nature of humans. If the goal is not to offend people, then people wouldn’t do anything at all. That’s not a world I would want to live in. I think that, if you are offended by something, you have every right to explain why that thing offends you and request that the person doing said thing refrain from doing it, but that person also has every right not to stop. As the Avett Brothers (and I’m sure other people too) once said, “You can’t make everybody happy all of the time.”
    This is my explanation of why the concept of privilege doesn’t make sense to me. I am by no means saying that it is the only right way of thinking about it, I’m just sharing my personal perspective.

    • Anaheed November 18th, 2012 5:07 PM

      Having privilege is not a choice, or else everyone would just choose it!

  • karastarr32 November 18th, 2012 5:28 PM

    Perfect timing for this, as a girl at my school has just been expelled for (among other reasons) racism. She bullied a girl because the girl was Jewish. That’s just messed up.
    On a different note, thank you. I never even thought of wearing feathers in my hair, etc as cultural appropriation. I’ve lived in a very white town for most of my life and went to a Catholic school. One day, my friend (who is Hindu) came into school with henna patterns on her hand from a religious festival. She was told if she wore heena again she would be sent to the principal. About 2 years later two blonde, blue eyed white girls came into school wearing (smaller) henna patterns. Nothing was said about this. Thoughts?
    Finally, just wow. I have never, ever really thought about cultural appropriation this much. I have now made a resolution to never, ever abuse my white privilege.

    • Anaheed November 18th, 2012 5:57 PM

      God, I am loving ALL of the comments on this piece so much. To respond to something in this one, I think when the white girl did it, it seemed like a “fashion trend,” and when the Indian girl did, it was seen as something “foreign” and therefore disruptive. Right? That story perfectly encapsulates SO MUCH about what Jenny talks about in this article, about white privilege and what it allows you to get away with.

  • audreysometimes November 18th, 2012 5:48 PM

    I really like how this topic was presented as a conversation between people with various customs, backgrounds , and ethnicity.

    I think because people today are so fearful of being called racist or offensive that having conversations on things like cultural appropriation are almost counterproductive. I’m not sure if that makes any sense but, if anyone is interested in learning more about “Modern Racism”, check out
    Eduardo Bonilla-Silvia’s “Racism Without Racists”. I read it last year and it discusses the the unintentional and subtle racism in contemporary America.

  • izzabounce November 18th, 2012 6:02 PM

    I mean the thing is if you think about it every single thing we touch and see and listen too has been drawn from multiple cultures, from Van Gough creating paintings of Japanese prints to white rappers every element of culture around us has been borrowed and changed and that creates good and bad things.
    I just think it’s silly to stick all of this energy on Native American and Indian imagery (bindis, feather earrings etc.) when there are so many other elements of cultural appropriation around us. Rookie uses lots and lots of Catholic and Mexican imagery which could just as easily be considered offensive!
    Especially music, personally I think that for a white musician to create interesting music there almost always has to be some borrowing from non-white cultures because historically these cultures have more melodically and rythmically complex music.

    • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:08 AM

      Yes! The key is to do it with respect and reverence for the culture you are inspired by, and not to ignore the people who belong to that culture.

  • Tarantullette November 18th, 2012 8:52 PM

    I just love how girls in Japan can wear dolly kei to their hearts content, but if I wear a kimono people start shitting themselves.

    • Anaheed November 18th, 2012 10:01 PM

      Well, to be fair, dressing like a doll is not the same as wearing a traditional garment worn by human beings from a different culture. Dolls aren’t a culture! No one would object if you decided to dress like Raggedy Ann or whatever, you know?

  • howlingm00n November 19th, 2012 12:29 AM

    I find this recorded conversation and posted comments ignorant in themselves. It’s silly to think that it is not okay for a white person to want to wear a ‘non white’ cultural garb. Just typing that sounds awkward in itself. We are living in a continuously growing globalized world. Cultures mix, get pulled out of context and are turned into something else. This is is how culture advances and evolves. Also, we live in a time were individuality and self expression is an important part of growing up. If someone can connect her/his self by wearing a bindi dot, Mandarin collared shirt, and lederhosens as a fashion statement, let by all means, let them! At least they can appreciate these garments, since they feel proud and advantageous enough to wear it. Many people turn to cultures outside of there own because they feel constricted in the traditions they are brought up in. Why should we be so overly analytical and sensitive? Fashion is an admixture of cultural aesthetics. This website wouldn’t exist if cultural appropriation was prevented. Tavi’s blog would just be her in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt—wait let me correct that– only a dress, because she’s a girl and we can’t let her be wearing any male indentified clothing. All her readers would be white girls, and anyone that is not white could not be interested because it be wrong for them to wear European identified dresses (or tee shirts and jeans) because they would offend white people??? What most of you are basically saying is that you want segregation. Get my drift?

    • Anaheed November 19th, 2012 1:10 AM

      I understand what you’re saying, howlingm00n, but to call someone (or a big group of people) ignorant just because they disagree with you is inaccurate at best!

      • Rae0320 November 19th, 2012 3:42 PM

        I don’t understand, Anaheed. In the article, you said:

        “I think I harbored some vague and dumb idea that it was about RULES and the PC POLICE and what you are ALLOWED to wear or not, which is so ignorant of me.”

        So you call your initial opinion (and one that I am sure many people with white privilege (or otherwise) share/did share) ignorant? You suggest throughout the article, and in the comments section, that people that DON’T understand why people will be offended by cultural appropriation ARE ignorant people – on the sole basis that they don’t agree with the consensus that was reached in the article.

        That seems slightly hypocritical – you generalise and collectively call white people ignorant (e.g. “when white people co-opt stuff from other cultures, it seems like we just don’t give a FUCK about the people from those cultures. And then when we’re called out, our general reaction PROVES that we don’t give a fuck…It’s not about one girl in a feather headband; it’s about white people not caring at all about anyone else.” = ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE IGNORANT???)

        I don’t necessarily think that’s actually what you were saying, but just proving its easy to jump on stuff and twist it.

        I think what howlingmOOn may have been trying to was that ignorance goes both ways? Which basically (to me, anyway) is summed up by saying – we can ONLY have our own personal viewpoints – we are ALL ignorant in some ways, because this topic is so many-layered and multifaceted and whatnot, and we can never understand every viewpoint, every case, every situation. Hope this makes sense, I’m tired.

        • Anaheed November 19th, 2012 4:31 PM

          No, I wasn’t saying all white people are ignorant. I was saying that I was ignorant. And that the thing I was ignorant of was WHY it is a big deal to some people when white people appropriate their cultures. Now, because of this discussion, I believe that I understand a lot better. Ignorance doesn’t mean you’re stupid — it literally just means there is something you don’t know.

          I don’t think anyone who appropriates culture is ignorant. I think a lot of people make the choice to do it, knowingly. And that’s their right, obviously.

          Of course we are all ignorant of something or another. A lot of somethings and others. But isn’t it better to try to learn, when we can?

        • Rae0320 November 19th, 2012 5:20 PM

          Of course I agree that it’s good to learn :) and this conversation has been really interesting. That’s why I think it’s so important to take on these other viewpoints – it just seemed a little bit like you were critiquing hm’s comment for the sake of it because his/her opinions differ quite drastically from your own, though maybe that’s just my grouchy tiredness talking.

          I don’t think hm’s use of the word ignorant – by your own definition – is bad then? He/she is merely stating that your conversation and the comments still had a few holes in it – fair play, of course, you can’t cover it all – and then expressed his/her own opinion.

          Anyway, like you say, people can be willfully ignorant. But what if you take on these facts, but you still disagree with the principle – for example, hm mentions she thinks the furore around this can actually reinforce segregation. If you don’t see cultural appropriation as inherently bad, what are you then? Does it make you bad? Uninformed? Ignorant? A horrible person? What if you can understand the viewpoints but don’t agree?

          It’s just really interesting to me. I’m not even quite sure where I stand on everything to be honest with you, but it seems like things could easily get quite judgemental when discussing stuff like this, and that immediately turns me off if you know what I mean.

          • Anaheed November 19th, 2012 6:11 PM

            I am not expressing myself very well — sorry! What I meant was that just because someone doesn’t agree w/ you, doesn’t mean that they know less than you. Maybe they know more than you! Especially when you’re saying, basically, every person who doesn’t agree with me must not know as much as I do. If you make a sweeping statement like that, you’re probably wrong.

            I went into this conversation knowing that I knew less about cultural appropriation than, say, Jenny, and that I disagreed with her. I came out of it realizing that it’s not about “agreeing” — I personally still don’t feel the effects of it, and it doesn’t bug me personally (and obviously privilege plays a big part in that) — but about my understanding WHY someone who doesn’t feel like me might feel the way they do. Like, in the past, a small, secret part of me felt like, “if that bothers you this much then you probably don’t have any REAL problems in your life.” I mean, how dismissive and awful! And ignorant! Now I get it! FINALLY.

            I don’t feel judgmental of hm at ALL, and I’m sorry that I wasn’t more careful with my words. I used to feel more or less the same way. I’m saying, hw, don’t dismiss people who don’t agree w/ you as ignorant. I think you might get something out of trying to learn something from someone who disagrees w/ you. If you end up not changing your mind about anything, that’s OK — but at least you gave it a chance, you know?

        • Rae0320 November 19th, 2012 6:42 PM

          Oh good, thank you, I understand now! I’ve realised its actually really hard with topics like this to get across what you want to say – plus everything is marred for me because I know I have white privilege and therefore I second guess what I am saying/thinking: am I saying this or feeling this because of my privilege? But I guess its accepting that and using it for the good that makes all the difference.

          For me the idea of a world without so much wonderful and beautiful (shared) culture would be so so sad, but I would say that I have learnt from all these comments (it seriously took me like 2 hours to read them all) how damaging it can be to others to see their culture twisted into something they can’t recognise, or exploited by celebrity culture, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. It’s so easy to dismiss it when it doesn’t affect you. The worst that could happen to me (as an atheist Brit) is for someone to culturally appropriate like, the Queen, and rock some mini crown jewel earrings (okay now I want these). Jokes aside, that’s not exactly affecting my religious or cultural heritage or making me feel weird about myself. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. It does make you feel a bit guilty and self-absorbed I guess.

          Since commenting before, I decided to do some outside reading on the subject. I feel slightly more informed about it all, and therefore more positive. Thanks anyways for bringing all this up, its been really enlightening, and certainly made me examine some aspects of myself that I never had before.

          • Anaheed November 19th, 2012 7:46 PM

            Ah I’m glad I expressed myself better this time! I totally feel you on the second-guessing. I want to be totally honest but I also second-guess myself all the time. Like, even in this discussion, where I was purposely being provocative and playing devil’s advocate, I found myself so worried about people’s reactions to every word I typed. (And some people did get mad at me! But I expected that.) I don’t know what the answer to that is, except, I feel like, it’s not bad for people with privilege to worry that they might be offending someone when they say something! It’s probably, on balance, better all around. But I also like when there’s room to really examine the stuff that’s not so pretty — I think that is super important. I don’t know how to balance those two impulses and healthy desires.

            Thank you so much for being so awesome and thoughtful and open-minded. I have so much respect for you, Rae.

        • Rae0320 November 19th, 2012 7:35 PM

          Oh god, so in my search, I dug up this whole thing about No Doubt’s latest video (Looking Hot), which No Doubt have pulled for it’s blatant cultural appropriation of Native American culture.

          I found this video on YouTube of these people discussing it, and it made me so, so mad to hear what they were saying. It’s rammed this home for me now, how ignorant and rude people can be.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymUhCFcTLwI

        • Rae0320 November 19th, 2012 8:23 PM

          Thank you, Anaheed :) its testament to the inspiring power of your magazine that I’ve spent all night reading about this, so I think its you guys that deserve the respect.

  • SweetSarahO November 19th, 2012 12:32 AM

    Can I just bring up Ke$ha’s performance at the AMAs tonight? I’m watching it now with my mom and sister and we’re disgusting and appalled. Her dancers had candy skull painted faces and she was standing on a pedestal with a mantilla veil and a starburst design like the Virgin Guadalupe. It was textbook blasphemy and cultural appropriation.

    • Moxx November 19th, 2012 6:17 AM

      Not to be blunt but are you seriously going to be offended because some pop act is blasphemous?
      You will be offended forever. :(

  • Lauramv11 November 19th, 2012 12:09 PM

    As a woman of mixed heritage, I also have a real problem with cultural appropriation being associated only with physical whiteness. Throughout my life, I have been faced with the question “What are you?” Although I have fair skin, I have dark eyes and thick dark hair, and a healthy, albiet curvy physique, more similar to my Abuela, Tias, y Primas, then to my Grandma, Aunties, and Cousins. But does my fair complexion mean that I cannot don my huaraches y huipil? Would you give me a second a look if you saw be wearing this breezy, cool atire on a hot summer day? I am light skinned, so maybe. A trained eye might spot the hint of otherness, but to what end? Personal intent means alot in this situation. Before we make such broad generalizations about what a person should and should not wear, consider that you do not know where I come from, probably could not guess, and even if there is but a drop of latina, native american, african, indian, or east asian blood coursing through my veins, shouldn’t I be alowed to connect to it, an express it in any (non-violent) way I see fit?

    • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:03 AM

      This, exactly! I can’t count the times I’ve been belittled for trying to embrace my non-white heritage just because I am fair-skinned and freckled. It was enough that I started to refer to myself as just white and resented my other heritage.

  • Steve November 19th, 2012 12:35 PM

    I love the soy milk anecdote because I’ve seen similar, if not the exact same, things happen all the time. I think it’s hard for a lot of middle/high school-age kids to articulate how you have to make choices about everything you do out of fear that something might get you labeled ‘too ethnic’. Skin color and appearance are alienating enough that few (though not all) people will go out of their way to stress any substantial kind of difference. Like I knew kids who did everything short of locking their “embarrassing” parents in a dark closet to hide any notion of otherness – I can’t imagine doing that for 18 years (or longer).

  • carogenous November 19th, 2012 7:45 PM

    I think the conversation is starting to plateau but I kind of just felt like throwing my two cents in and I haven’t seen anyone else comment on this (but it’s kinda hard to read them all because WOW U GUYS <3) Also call me out on any bullshit you might smell.

    I feel like a lot of white girls (especially American, but that's my only experience because I am an American white girl) sometimes find themselves "adopting", "admiring", or "fetishizing" other "more exotic" cultures because of the complete lack of culture in what it means to be white – which while the cultural norm and a place of privledge, really doesn't have any defining factors to it. Being proud to be white just…isn't a thing you do, because it's become associated with the KKK, confederate flags, and eugenics programs.

    It's an incredibly selfish thought pattern, but it's like in Moonrise Kingdom when Suzy says she wishes she was an orphan and Sam replies "I love you but you don't know what you're talking about."

    • kaylafay November 19th, 2012 9:33 PM

      White ppl don’t have a culture/community because we don’t need the support of such because we have privilege. Other races have definite cultures and communities because, well, racism sucks and ppl need support. White ppl don’t have such communities because we don’t experience racism.

      • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 11:01 AM

        That’s not true. Where I live, I’m a minority, and I am white. Or at least I just let people call me white, even though I’m mixed race. I live in an Asian neighborhood. My mother grew up in this neighborhood, but it has since become the place where all the Asian immigrants move, so I often feel like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. I get stared at and pushed and ignored by the Asians in my neighborhood, because I look white. Never mind that my grandmother is an Asian immigrant. So maybe you’re thinking I don’t fit into the conversation because I’m not just white, but I think I do. It depends where you live, of course, but where I live, white people feel more racism than Asians. Black people must feel it more than white people though, since most of them have moved out of the city already. It really depends where you live. But saying that white people don’t need support is racism. That we are supposed to be blind or stronger or whatever because we are white is insensitive. We do need support, even if it is just to talk about our failures to be sensitive to other cultures. I went to a conference about this topic, actually, and a lot of people cried. Being white isn’t necessarily easier than being another race, it’s just different. To reply to carogenous, I agree–embracing your ethnicity and culture is glamorized, but if you embrace your “white” culture you get called ignorant or racist or compared to the KKK. All of my ancestors suffered at the hands of their governments, even the white ones. My family and I have the same pain, and I want to be proud of their strength too.

        • lifinsty November 21st, 2012 4:04 PM

          Ok, here’s the thing: white people cannot experience racism. Period. (sorry, I know you’re mixed but these people perceive you as white so that’s what I’m going to run with) I’m not trivializing your experience or want to; I’m Asian and I’ve been in many situations where fellow Asians trash/exclude white people (in fact mixed people are also looked down upon A TON) so I kinda know how alienating and destructive that feels. But racism is power + privilege. PoC do not have privilege over white people and in the big picture right now, we hold no power over white people. None. We can discriminate and be prejudiced against you guys but we cannot OPPRESS you guys. Do you see what I mean?

        • geneticreconstuction November 21st, 2012 10:04 PM

          WHITE PEOPLE can’t experience racism, it’s about power and privilege etc. Racism is a system created and used to oppress people of color and oppressed nationalities peoples (POC outside of the united states). Please be careful with what you say, check your privilege, research power structures and see how you’re connected to them.

  • geneticreconstuction November 19th, 2012 8:26 PM

    Is there any way that next time there can be a trigger warning at the beginning, some comments on here are triggering and racist as well. I’m latin@ and find it insulting that some might find it okay for cultural appropriation to continue, especially with the history that oppressed nationalities peoples have with anglo-saxon, white privileged, folx. As a latin@ with indigenous roots I find it insulting that some might not take into consideration that the indigenous people of the americas had/have been assimilation into the “white culture” (I put it into parenthesis because here in the USA, particularly the white culture has taken from the culture of those that have been colonize.). As a Latin@ we have been told that we can’t wear our cultures clothing because we’re deemed ghetto, rachet, illegal, etc. but for a white person to do it, it’s inspiring, amazing, great. That’s just wrong. why is it okay for a white privileged person to wear my culture and nothing be said about it, but for me, I have to assimilate into their “culture” because if I wear what’s mine, I’m already targeted as an illegal, same goes to the south asian community, when they wear bindis, it’s wrong, but for a white person to do it, it’s okay. stop appropriation, it’s stealing from a culture. If you really like what that particular culture has, appreciate it, don’t appropriate it. You’re dehumanizing our communities and giving less value to our culture. They’re ours for a reason.

  • VivaViviana November 19th, 2012 9:55 PM

    OMG. As usual Rookie, you talk about ish that really matters and I love you for it! I’m not sure of there’s much else that I can add to all these view points.

    So I’ll just say that I totally get it when Jenny talked about seeing other girls who weren’t Chinese wearing oriental style silk shirts just cause its cute, while her cheongsan had so much more meaning to her.

    I am Ecuadorian American, and have been to Ecuador a few times to learn about my parents history and experience the culture and what not. I always come back with souvenirs; these beautiful Peruvian-style woven cloth bags. They’re special to me, because they remind me of who I am and where my parents came from.

    NOW. For some reason they just became this popular thing to buy at trendy stores in the mall. So I see these white girls walking around with bags that look like mine and it annoys me because do they know what it’s like to be at a crafts fair in Otavalo or Montanita bargaining with the sellers? Do they know anything about South America (where this style bag is common)? Do they know how out of place I’ve felt growing up because whenever I told a classmate I was Ecuadorian and they’d say “eww, what’s that?” I specifically remember a girl who made up a song after learning of my nationality. “Her name is Viviana, she comes from Ecuador, and she’s a whore.”
    And yes, she was white, and totally insensitive, and at the time I didn’t even know it.

  • La La Land November 20th, 2012 6:26 AM

    ***warning: this is gonna be a long, multiple-commets thing***

    At some point in my life I had a conversation with myself, which imho every white person should have. It goes more or less like this: “K, so I’m white. This means that I have benefited/will benefit from the current world system*, whether i want it or not. In order for me to benefit from it, people of other colours have been/are oppressed. On top of being oppressed for my benefit, they have to watch while i wear/use their traditional things, the very same things for which THEY have been tormented because symbols of their being different, and not only I can get away with it, but sometimes I can even be admired for it (as looking prettier and/or being original/exotic/sophisticated). Ultimate slap in the face. SO as a sensitive white person (*ahem*) I will consciously refrain from wearing certain things which I think are really cute, EVEN THOUGH I think they’re so cute that my heart aches with the desire to wear them!!! because this refraining is for me to show that I respect their suffering. And that I don’t think it’s fair that I automatically get the privilege and they don’t, so I willingly give up a little bit of that privilege, which is nothing in comparison since I get to *choose* to do it”.

    *yes, you benefit from it. At the very least your country’s economy has benefited at least a little and thus have you and your family, esp compared to other places. Obviously the degree changes from country to country. A white Pole is not the same as a white American, and loads of other factors come into play…

    • La La Land November 20th, 2012 6:28 AM

      Now, this is my general rule, but I think there are obviously exceptions. If you have a special connection to something, I think it’s ok to think hard about your motivations, all the factors involved in your using it, and eventually decide it is ok if you use it. But think really hard, cuz if the only reason is that you think you should have the right to wear anything that you think is pretty BECAUSE IT’S A FREE WORLD WTH!!! Think again, because it is not so for everyone and that’s not fair.
      In an ideal world where everyone’s equal, cultural appropriation wouldn’t be an issue. Or at worst it could be an issue of “dibs” :P but we live in no such world.
      It’s like, as a woman I’d love it if men decided to consciously stop doing a bunch of dickish things that oppress us (even though for them it would be easier/more comfortable to keep on doing them) and if they went through a tiny dose of discomfort just to be nice to us and not make it even harder, cuz the point is that it’s already hard enough. It would be awesome.

      Anyway because it’s oppression that makes it such an important issue, it is not the same with Christianity ok? Christianity has been a HUGE oppressor. So of course appropriating Christian symbols can offend people, but these people are not systematically oppressed for being Christian, nor have been oppressed in the past for centuries [actually Christians are oppressed in some parts of the world, but it’s a very different issue and they have nothing to do with western Christians…sorry this was my Study of Religions major that had to speak :P].

      • La La Land November 20th, 2012 6:29 AM

        Also, when we are talking about other white people appropriating Christian symbols for pop culture/making non-religious art/diy/aesthetics/etc, from within a Christian country, then they are re-appropriating their own stuff! Christianity has been an oppressor for people within their own countries. I believe they (we) have the right to reclaim it for our own fun/catharsis. Personally I grew up in a Catholic country (actually not a, THE Catholic country), and the Pope and his friends have attempted multiple times to damage my *rights* as a woman, they keep on damaging my very close relative who is gay, and generally interfere with the making of laws and stuff. They also still get loads of money for nothing, even though the country is going through a really bad economical crisis. Even though most of the population of my country is not even practicing, we all have to pay! So yeah, im very resentful against them!
        That said, im personally not fond of gratuitously offending people, but it has to be stressed that Christian appropriation is a whole different thing from other appropriations.

        So yeah, there are different kinds of appropriations going on, and they aren’t all necessarily the same bad.

        • La La Land November 20th, 2012 6:30 AM

          On a related but slightly different note, I think it’s different when you go to the other country. Anaheed mentioned being ashamed of wearing bindis when in India with Indian friends giving them to her. I don’t see why she should be ashamed? Why Anaheed??? I think clothes etc. are a way of fitting in when you feel vulnerable because everyone looks different than you, or you just really, honestly want to show your respect and appreciation of the *local* culture, since you are “invading” (I mean it in a totally light-hearted way, k?) their place. When I was in India I wore simple Indian clothes and bindis (at least in areas where all other girls were too…like in central Mumbai half of the women wear western clothes anyway). This way I felt slightly less visible, more comfortable and random people always told me they thought it was nice! That said I don’t wanna make it sound tragic, like I wouldn’t have been safe otherwise or had no other choice. I was really just a white chick on holiday and there because I wanted to be. I just mean that, in a general sense, when in a new country it feels more comfy to look more similar to everybody else.
          And especially about Anaheed’s example again…wouldn’t it have been way rude to reject a bindi your friend was offering you to share?

        • La La Land November 20th, 2012 6:32 AM

          Know what? actually I do have some issues with tourism as well, so that “invading” above is not necessarily that light-hearted. But let’s keep things simple for now and pretend it really was :P

        • La La Land November 21st, 2012 1:07 PM

          Hey, sorry but it wont let me reply directly to you, so i hope you see this anyway!

          I ABSOLUTELY AGREE WITH WHAT YOU SAID!! if you re-read my comment there is a parenthesis where i briefly mentioned it. I was thinking exactely about the areas that you are talking about! Together with Iraq, Pakistan is also currently really really bad with persecution of Christians. I encourage everyone to GOOGLE ABOUT THIS and learn, because it’s incredibly sad, especially because nearly noone knows about them in the Western world!
          However, it is as important to stress that the Christians of Iraq and Pakistan and many others are NOT the same as the Catholic and Protestant churches! They are very different groups (Eastern Church, various Syriac Churches, etc etc). If you look into the theology, it can be argued that some branches are really hard to be grouped under the same religion, apart from the fact that they use the term “Christian”! and even if you put the theology aside for a minute, their origins and histories are different. This is especially important to stress because the association with Western Christians has been one of the main reasons for persecutions of the Middle Eastern Christians in the last century or so (especially in Iraq in the last few decades). A lot of shit happened to them because of stuff that Western countries did!

          In my previous comment I was *exclusively* referring to the European and American Catholic and Protestant churches! I should have specified that, sorry! And im really glad you pointed this out, because this is actually something I care about a lot!

        • La La Land November 21st, 2012 1:21 PM

          Also, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman empire with Emperor Constantine in the 4th century; Charlemagne was, unfortunately, already someone who spent most of his career conquering Europe and forcing people to convert.

          As for slavery, it always existed in human history, but up until the traffikings started by white europeans to America etc, it was a much more humane buisness. Im not familiar with Africa at all, actually, but in other areas of the world slaves received small wages and sort of had a few rights. it wasnt pleasant by all means, but it wasn’t half as terrible as what the europens started doing later. So i doubt that was what people were expecting. But, as I said, i’m really not familiar with african history in particular!

          Finally, I personally dont wear crosses! As i said, im not fond of offending people, ever. I just meant that I understand those who do!

        • lifinsty November 21st, 2012 2:47 PM

          I agree with you SO HARD! Can I love you?

          “And that I don’t think it’s fair that I automatically get the privilege and they don’t, so I willingly give up a little bit of that privilege, which is nothing in comparison since I get to *choose* to do it”.”

          Like I’ve decided I would never be comfortable wearing crosses or other Christian-based symbols, but I wouldn’t judge on people who do choose to wear it. Like Bebe Zeva (ftbh.blogspot.com.) I think she talked about it in the past but I can’t find it. ): I can’t believe no one mentioned her yet when they were talking about wearing crosses. :P

          Off-topic but her formspring is SO INSPIRING YOU GUYS HAVE TO READ IT OK (the top answers, but really almost everything is fantastic.) http://www.formspring.me/bebezeva/top

        • La La Land November 23rd, 2012 4:30 AM

          yes love me please ;_;

          on a general note, there used be another comment in between mine up there^ so i didnt just start talking to myself at some point :P

  • Wickedforlife November 20th, 2012 1:39 PM

    Well, I think borrowing from other cultures is inevitable. And as much as we hate to admit it, a symbol from one culture can be turned into a COMPLETELY different symbol by another. I think this is not as much as an event of mocking other cultures as an event of perception changing over time. The swastika was originally a hindi symbol, much like the dharma wheel, for peace and natural order. The germans turned it sideways and made it a nazi symbol. Does that mean we should suddenly wear swastikas on our shirts? No, because that would be mocking the german, jewish, and world culture the swastika was associated with. The Germans thought a swastika looked like a symbol of national purity, while the hindus thought it meant peace. Just how we wear black at funerals and white at weddings, but the Chinese and African cultures see white as a death color. Cultures bleed into each other, and icons change to different meanings.

  • Yayo November 20th, 2012 3:23 PM

    Just another thing – today in History, a girl I sit near to opened a textbook, pointed to a picture of a Native American wearing a headdress and said ‘Look at the hipster’, totally genuinely.
    I wanted to cry. I really regret not saying anything.

    I mean, I actually couldn’t believe after a single very very brief trend, a Native American headdress is already something worn by privileged white teenagers despite the ancient history.

    I’m British, so I was raised in a culture totally disconnected with that of Native Americans, but it still makes me so so sad. I literally feel ill thinking about the cheap brown and red felt ‘Red Indian Costume’ I had as a child. Even more sad that my own parents saw nothing wrong with it.

    • Libby November 21st, 2012 12:51 PM

      Gosh, that’s terrible.
      I’m from the UK too, and I volunteer in a charity shop on the weekends, where all the other volunteers have all these political conversations and have opinions about the Gaza strip and go on long debates about why they’re anti-religion.
      We put out a bunch of kid’s Halloween costumes, and one of them was one of those ‘red Indian Costumes’. I said, “I don’t think our charity should sell this; can we put it in the bag of textiles to be recycled?” and no one — even in this group of politically minded, ‘educated*’ people — understood why it was a bit off, or why I was going on about cultural appropriation.

      *’educated’ as in, they’ve studied things like politics and philosophy and history at university levels, with so much opportunity to learn about cultural appropriaton.

  • allyishere November 20th, 2012 5:30 PM

    This is so relevant to my life, last week I went to a party wearing a bindi and the whole time I was asking myself “Am I being culturally insensitive?”. I still haven’t decided if it’s alright for me to wear one.

  • HolyMoly November 20th, 2012 8:05 PM

    I hate the implication that so-called “white people” are all priviledged and cultureless. Just because a person is white doesn’t mean that their heritage is less rich or valid than anyone elses. (“White People” is not a thing, there are many different cultures being thrown into one here.)
    Also just because someone is white does not mean they are privileged or that they have never been a victim of predjudice.
    Irish people for example have both a rich culture and have been discriminated against and mistreated for most of history.

    That said, I’m not an American so I’ve never had the big question of identity hanging over my head, and also my view may be a little skewed through lack of experience.

    That said, I find the American take on cultural identity to be incredibly interesting. I have never once met an American person who just introduced themselves as “American”, quite often it’s been a run through of their entire family history “I’m Irish, Polish, Japanese”. We tend to find that quite funny, because outside of the states we see you all as americans regardless (which sounds quite ignorant but is the truth).

    The multi-fauceted nature of identity is something we don’t really have here, so it goes over our heads a little bit.

    • lifinsty November 21st, 2012 2:09 PM

      I think what we mean when we state the sort, “White people have privilege,” is that they have privilege over PoC. I can see where you’re coming from – people do group white people as homogeneous most of the time; it SHOULD mean something along the lines of, “Hey, I think you should think carefully of what you say and do and how that translates to people without your privilege.” It’s the world’s opinion and treatment of you based on skin color when we talk about white privilege.

      With your example – yes, there is no disagreement that Irish people have been mistreated for a long, long time, but at the same time, they weren’t at the same level as black, Native American people, you know? Please correct me if I’m wrong here.

      Having white person privilege means being seen as the ‘norm’. It’s the default race. PoC are ‘outsiders.’

      • HolyMoly November 21st, 2012 6:00 PM

        I totally take your point about white privilige. I’ve been thinking over it and due to my personal background I just interpreted it a certain way.

        But I think 800 years of oppression of the Irish counts for something, no? I don’t like the idea of different “levels” of mistreatment. No nation, race or creed has the monopoly on suffering. Every single group of people has their own unique burden from their history to carry with them.

        Actually the Irish and Native Americans have a great affinity. They have both had their land stolen, their culture mutilated and their people killed by settlers. Theres a lovely story about the Choctaw sending the Irish maize during the Great Famine.

        And anti-Irish sentiment is a big thing still. The “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” mentality is still there.

        All that said, I’m not saying “my ancestors were more oppressed than yours!!” or anything stupid like that. I’m just saying Irish people are a group of people, who happen to be white, who have been historically mistreated on an epic scale. Although I don’t blame you for being unaware as to how big of a scale. Irish history is largely ignored outside of Ireland (and possibly the UK) wheras American history is studied around the globe, so the mistreatment of black or Native American people is closer to the front of the collective consciousness.

        • La La Land November 23rd, 2012 4:41 AM

          You have a fair point.
          I remember reading somewhere though, that groups like Irish and Italians were not considered to be white initially. But then they pretty much managed to get into the white circle by turning onto other poc. Which was quite a bit shitty (im italian btw ;) (and im only referring to the american context here).

          I like what lifinsty wrote about white privilege up there. Personally i think the whole white privilege debate is still too much embedded in an american context, where white=white american, and things aren’t necessarily the same or that simple all around the world. However, it is still better than no debate.
          As you say, all races and people have faced oppression at some point, but that doesnt take away your white privilege. But at the same time having white privilege does not invalidate the suffering your people have gone through! The two things can coexist, because reality is awfully complex and complicated ;)

  • pen2sword November 20th, 2012 10:37 PM

    So, I don’t know if anyone will see this comment at this point, but I feel I have to voice the thought that came to me while reading this.

    I have a friend who is part Ojibwe and identifies strongly with that part of her heritage. She gave me some jewelry that she made, and I do wear it.

    I had a neighbor who was from China, and she handed down to me some beautiful, traditonal-style silk dresses. And I wear those, too.

    When I wear them, though, I don’t think of them as mere fashion. I think they’re beautiful, yes, and and I do like the style. But what I think of most when I wear them are friendship and kindness. These things were gifts given with love, meant to be worn and appreciated.

    I guess what I’m getting at is, in my opinion:
    Sharing is OK. Taking is not.

    What I won’t wear are things that have religious or spiritual significance to other people. I don’t want to inadvertently trivialize something that is considered sacred.

    That’s all. I hope I got my point across all right and didn’t say anything stupid by mistake.

    • La La Land November 21st, 2012 4:56 AM

      I think you said something very nice :)

  • leopardplaid November 21st, 2012 10:26 AM

    I’m going to age myself a bit here, but this reminds me of the whole “gay” thing. When I was in high school, people were always calling things “gay.” I know some people still do that, but not nearly to the extent that they used to. I think I even did it, I honestly don’t remember (it was um, a long time ago, because I’m old), until I was in a conversation with a bunch of other kids and some guy called something “gay.” My friend stepped in and told him why it was offensive to use “gay” as an insult. The whole group of about 7 teenage boys listened intently as she spoke, and then when she was done they thanked her for telling them and never said it again. Obviously all involved were really good people, and I get that not every conversation is going to go that way. But I think that, unfortunately, all we can do is be open to listening to someone tell us if we do something that offends them, and be open and humble enough to apologize. If, however, they are being insensitive (people berating me for wearing “Asian” things when, in fact, they were given to me by my Asian grandmother), they need to listen to our explanations and apologize if they were the ones to make judgment. We still live in a society with a lot of ignorance and insensitivity about ethnicity and sexual orientation and, as all Rookies know, about gender. Unfortunately we can’t make everyone change instantly. But things like SBNN and Tie the Knot started with people like my friend speaking up against homophobia. All we can do is speak up when we need to, and do our best to be informed.

  • camille November 21st, 2012 12:30 PM

    I’ve been coming back to this article every day since it was posted in order to read the new comments. I have to say, I was aware of the notion of cultural appropriation before, and this discussion has both opened me to new points of view, but also has blurred even more the grey area between what is ok and what isn’t.

    I am a visibly white, upper-middle-class privileged girl (and most certainly aware of it), of French, Irish, and Algonquin descent. My initial thought on wearing items coming from cultures that aren’t mine was that it could be done if the wearer was keeping in mind the significance of said items, the craftsmanship that goes into them, and avoided sacred items (such as the bindi which signifies a woman is married, by opposition to the fashion bindis). I was ok with wearing moccasins, but they were crafted by an Algonquin company and did not profit senseless corporations. I would wear a Pavlov Posad shawl, or Russian and Ukrainian embroidered blouses, all second-hand.

    But ever since reading this discussion, I have set all those items aside, although I initially thought my usage of them was respectful. I still love those items, and I still marvel at the craftsmanship that went into creating them. But well, where’s the line? Can someone actually wear items from other cultures without it being problematic at this point? I find the idea of so many of them being initially borrowed from elsewehere even more confusing. (End of rambling on subject)

    Anyway, I wanted to thank you for such a thought-provoking piece, although I still don’t know exactly where I stand :)

  • lifinsty November 21st, 2012 1:52 PM

    http://www.racialicious.com/2012/11/12/nothing-says-native-american-heritage-month-like-white-girls-in-headdresses/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:%20Racialicious%20(Racialicious%20-%20the%20intersection%20of%20race%20and%20pop%20culture)&utm_content=Google%20Reader

    “Despite what dominant society and mainstream media say, Native culture is a vibrant and living culture. We are not a relic of the past, a theme or a trend; we are not a style or costume; we are not mascots, noble savages or romantic fictional entities. We are human beings and, despite all odds, we have survived. As sovereign Nations, Indigenous peoples have the right to speak for ourselves and not have dominant Euro-American society project and profit off of an artificial and socially constructed image of “Indian” identity.”

    This whole article is worthwhile reading. Go go go!

    • lifinsty November 21st, 2012 3:50 PM

      I found another link, this time about explaining why Asians feel mad, or sad, or bitter, when non-Asian people wear Asian dress.

      http://this-is-not-native.tumblr.com/post/36041573374/stinkytofumaiden-because-the-anti-ess-jay-logic

      -

      http://thinkspeakstress.tumblr.com/post/36026175582/i-usually-dont-do-things-like-this-but-i-had

      If it seems to you that “no matter what white people do, there’s no way they can interact with a PoC without offending them,” then that says a lot about how you view anti-racist discourse, and it’s time for you to take a step back and try again. Instead of reading it as, “white people fuck up everything” try reading it as “I’m frustrated with white people/white supremacy, and here is why…”

      ^^ I think a lot of commentors are expressing this sentiment?

      “2. Recognize that as a white person, you have white privilege whether you want it or not. You have it. Recognize that you benefit from your white privilege, whether you want to benefit from it or not. It’s not a choice. Recognize that because of your white privilege, you benefit from the oppression of PoC, regardless of whether you think that’s fair or not, regardless of whether you want to or not. You don’t get a choice in it any more than we get a choice in not having those same privileges. That’s not something to feel guilty over, it’s something to be conscious of.” Echoes what La La Land says.

      • La La Land November 23rd, 2012 4:28 AM

        omg, im pretty sure i read that post ages ago (it’s a reblog from the past) and have been paraphrasing it in my mind ever since!! LOL
        They’re all good posts, btw! I hope someone reads them…

        I remember saving a tumblr post with a long list of really good links on racism/appropriation/white privilege etc. If I can find it again I’ll post it too!

  • Julia November 22nd, 2012 6:36 AM

    I want to say again that I think there are so many people who do feel ignorant and suspect they’ve been under- and misinformed. I often WANT to share my – misguided – opinion and hear educated responses, but in my experience that usually leads to an attack on my “ignorance”. (Often blamed on my background or age or vagina – see: “this discussion is for adults”; “you wouldn’t understand”; “it’s nice that you’re interested”.) And this post really didn’t make me feel racist or “unfeminist”.

    (To rant a bit longer, I think standards are much higher for teenagers in my position, and for anyone who openly identifies as a feminist. We’re expected to come to the conversation calm and collected, with articulate fact-checked politically correct arguments or not come at all. And that’s often difficult and also BORING.)

    I wish this devil’s advocate approach was more common, and I hope Rookie uses it in the future. My opinion mirrored Anaheed’s very closely, without any hint of devil’s advocacy, and it was so refreshing and interesting and informative to read replies that addressed MY questions and MY misconceptions (and with patience and insight and understanding).

    It’s important for me to see why certain opinions I have or have had or could have might be hurtful to other people, and it’s so nice that I can have a conversation without being shamed for my contribution. I mean I’ve seen a couple (understandably) critical comments, but I think it’s different if you came into the argument experienced in this area.

    Wish we all went to school together! Rookie <3

  • Alley November 25th, 2012 5:58 PM

    This is all very well and good, but as others have said, where do you
    draw the line? Without cultural approbation, there would have been no
    punk, grunge, and DEFINITELY no hippie movement, all three of which
    Rookie seems to draw inspiration from very heavily.  I’m not going to
    walk around in blackface(which is not cultural approbation, as no
    black has ever painted their face like this, but simply racism) or a
    feather headdress. However, I will continue to wear mandarin collars,
    doorknocker earrings, drink soy milk, and put feathers in my hair if I
    feel like it. The world isn’t static. Things change. For example, the
    works of Goree Carter and Jimmy Preston aren’t really comparable to
    the music that Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd produced. Different times,
    different sounds. Yes, rock was appropriated, but it became so
    different from its original form that its doubtful the first rock n
    roll artists would have even recognized it. Rock evolved, and so does
    fashion.
    Also, to those who consider the oppression that the Irish faced a
    minor evil compared to the discrimination that certain other minority
    groups were faced with, I suggest googling the Irish potato famine,
    the death count for which is somewhere over one million, and is
    considered a genocide by some.

    • LuneSirene February 28th, 2013 2:33 PM

      The Irish potato famine was a terrible thing. Sadly, I only know about it, because I am both Choctaw and Irish, and my mom did some research to see if the two cultures had any connection. During the famine, the Choctaw gave 710 dollars to help men women and children who were starving in Ireland. Honestly, anything like this that happens is sad, and you have to look on your own to learn about it. They aren’t going to teach you this in school.

  • imaginaryfemur November 26th, 2012 12:37 PM

    I’m pretty offended by this entire conversation and a lot of the comments. What were you people thinking?

  • BritishFish November 27th, 2012 4:09 AM

    All I know is I would never want to live in a world without Psychedelic Rock.

  • LalaDT November 27th, 2012 5:36 AM

    I just stumbled across this piece and I love it, interesting read! As a Polynesian/African born & raised in New Zealand, cultural appropriation is pretty hard to avoid. I quickly remember not everyone is aware of things such as privilege and cultural importance – so mostly I just let my frustration towards it go. Where do you draw the line? I don’t think there is some definitive answer to that. But what I do know, is that it all comes down to understanding what respect is to OTHERS. Loving another culture is great – that means unification of peoples and that can only be a good thing. But loving something – does not equal a ticket to entitlement. In my life, I have seen a lot of people – not of Polynesian descent – take a liking towards our traditional tattooing styles and look, and want to emulate it for themselves. The love for our art form is there for sure, but are love and respect the same thing in OUR eyes? No. Polynesian cultures, like many around the world, are cultures built on respect, knowing your place and entitlement. They are things that have been passed down from our ancestors, that is deep rooted in us, it isn’t something that can be learnt in a lecture theatre. People are quick to assume that just because YOU live in a 21st century western society, where everything is melting at a rapid pace, that everyone else is too. Polynesians at least – aren’t. We are clinging onto our cultural items not because we are greedy, but because we are fighting to keep the culture that you cannot see, alive. And that is something you have to be ok with not being entitled to.

  • resonance November 30th, 2012 5:18 PM

    Avoiding cultural appropriation isn’t about being politically correct; it’s about being as least oppressive as possible. If you’re a white person appropriating something from another culture while knowing you might offend, anger, or otherwise upset someone from that culture, is it still worth it? If you’re a person of color appropriating something from another culture, even if you personally wouldn’t mind someone appropriating something from yours, others might be, so is it still worth it?

    Someone here commented not to judge them even though they’re a non-Hindu/non-South Asian person who wears a bindi. I’m sorry, but if you still wear one while knowing how many people you are oppressing, then yes, I have the right to judge you. Your (general you/your) personal happiness does not outweigh the offense/anger/upset that people from that culture may feel upon seeing you wear it.

  • resonance November 30th, 2012 5:31 PM

    I also find it rather presumptuous that some people, both in the article and in the comments, would question whether it’s okay for an Iraqi or Indian American to wear Iraqi or Indian clothing even though they’ve never been to those countries or are only ethnically Iraqi/Indian but not culturally. How do you know that wearing ethnic garb isn’t their one way of participating in their ancestors’ culture? How do you know they don’t do it to try to connect with their ancestral traditions? Do I, as a second-generation Chinese American, not have the right to wear a cheongsam just because I’m not from China, even though I have been there and my mom is from there? You don’t get to dictate that for me. If you’re a person of color, you have every right to participate in your ancestors’ culture as you want, especially in a white supremacist society like the US’ that would rather you assimilate than celebrate your cultural heritage.

    • resonance November 30th, 2012 5:38 PM

      Sorry, I misread the part of the article where Anaheed said her bit about wearing Iraqi clothing. I didn’t realize she is of Iraqi descent, so my apologies.

    • Violet December 1st, 2012 7:41 PM

      Hi resonance,
      I beg to differ with your point of view.
      If I follow your logic, ‘outward signs of ethnicity’ alone are giving one ‘permission’ to wear the clothes traditionally related to that culture.

      Basically, despite the same level of ignorance, one would be more entitled than the other, because they ‘look like something’ or have ‘legitimate ancestors’?!

      Sorry but it just sounds like a very segregating oversimplification of reality. I tend to think that people of ANY color / culture are each unique complex individuals shaped by their histories. Claiming what you think are your entitlements serves mostly to diminish your uniqueness while emprisonning it inside labels and cliches.

      If I can give a personal anecdote: my mother is Chinese and I was born in a white society. As a woman of her time, while in China she herself NEVER wore a cheongsam, but contemporary, western-style clothes. She and me have agreed since forever that wearing any kind of chinese-styled clothing made us look like cliches of ourselves, whereas we genuinely ENJOY seeing it on other ethnicities because the hybridization SOFTENS the ‘folkloric’ aspect and actually makes one appreciate the cut of the garment itself, disassociated from its cultural burden – and therefore being revived by becoming fashion.

      Thought that would be worth telling, as all the previous stories went the other way.

      Love you all,
      V.

      • Violet December 1st, 2012 7:44 PM

        PS: 403 comments you guys!!!
        and people still writing two weeks after the fact !!

        This deserves a part 2 :)

  • Renkomia December 4th, 2012 6:11 PM

    I really enjoyed reading this conversation between all of you and I felt compelled to give my opinion. About me: I was born and raised in Dominican Republic. I’ve been living here in the states for about 5 years. My skin is brown, I currently have a huge afro. In the past I used to wear my hair straight and people would think from the way I looked that I was: Indian, Brazilian, Jamaican, English (I don’t know either) and other. My country being so mixed and having friends that look completely European to completely African, it weirded me out that people would have such a strong concept of what a Dominican person looks like. I would hear things like “you’re too pretty to be Dominican” or “you don’t dress like a Dominican”. This mostly took place in New York where there is a big Dominican population and they definitely have a style, that I did not have, but I had also tons of other friends who did not share that style. It was strange and made me wonder if in a way I was shunning my cultural identity. I always like exploring with different styles from different eras, I think of fashion as a very lively thing that allows me to explore different sides of my personality. Some times people would not be satisfied with me explaining that I was from the DR, they needed to know my race and in line to go into a show, I would have to give a brief history lesson of how the Taino, African and Spanish mixed in my country. I did not understand this and I’ve never experienced people being so obsessed with race until I came here and Canada. It felt like this need to label and identify was in..

  • Renkomia December 4th, 2012 6:26 PM

    continues: part the source for racism. It was new to me and it made no sense. I, personally do not believe in patriotism or nationalism. I think it can turn dangerous very easily. I’ve never thought of my country or my culture as more special than anywhere else. I love where I came from and I’m aware of how it has influenced me, but I’ve always thought of myself as a global citizen. Observing and Absorbing from everywhere I go. It keeps me evolving and I think the nature of culture is that it evolves and that it is influenced by other things. If you go back enough, you’ll find the roots of everything and their meaning. I think knowing history and what things symbolize is crucial, but I don’t think anyone can OWN culture and people should stop being so damn sensitive about it. I think when people where a bindi, headress, african jewerly, whatever as a CELEBRATION of culture and I think people should embrace it. I think people take offense way too easy, without stopping to think the positive side of it. I’m not a PC person, neither are my friends. I think it all comes down to the intention people have when using things from other cultures and in the end, if you know nothing about it, you end up looking sort of silly. The worst case of cultural appropriation is the swastika. I was talking to this Canadian lady the other day who came from a town called Swastika and she said how after WWII they decided to change the town’s name to I don’t know what, but the people from the town would come out at night and paint it back to its former name. I thought that was great…

  • Renkomia December 4th, 2012 6:47 PM

    I think if you keep giving meaning to your culture, that will speak louder than whoever borrows from it and uses it differently, but if cultures didn’t melt and blended together, we’d all be kinda boring and things would remain unchanged.

    It might be a little too progressive of me, but I think if used correctly blackface is not offensive. I think people need to stop setting boundaries too art. I read this awesome quote not long ago that said “Art should comfort the disturb and disturb the comfortable”. If it’s all going to be safe, it will also soon be boring and won’t cause many changes in the viewer’s perception. I feel like I keep talking from so many different angles, that it’s starting to not make much sense. It’s not an easy topic. To end this all I would like to share this video, it’s by a Dominican artist, her name is Maluca, her music and video are very influenced by Dominican culture. She kinda makes fun of it and it’s great. I posted the PG video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2QTAmB7tfc, but if you want also check out her lola video. I don’t think I’d be offended if someone who wasn’t Dominican did the same. I don’t think they could as it uses kids limericks, Dominican slang, street/urban culture and I think you can’t really get the joke unless you’re Dominican, but this somehow seemed relevant to this conversation. I have pneumonia right now, I blame going off on different tangents on the meds.

  • shelley December 7th, 2012 6:28 PM

    I just want to say what a success this article has been. When I first read it I was more on the side that it was not a big deal, but it just suddenly clicked, and now I’m trying to educate as many people as possible about. Also the princess of <onaco wore a native American "costume" urgh for a racing event the other day. Shame on her.
    I think cognitive dissonance could apply for people who don't get this. It's basically the feeling of discomfort you get when you're thought or behaviours are inconsistent with one another, so often you add thoughts that aren't necessarily true, e.g. I smoke + smoking is unhealthy so you add I don't care I might get hit by a bus. But in the case of this it's wearing this could be racist+ I'm not racist- so you add these people are being over sensitive/no one is offended/ I wouldn't be offended if I were them

  • thund3rsn0w December 19th, 2012 10:21 PM

    Hi ok I’d just like to express my feelings on this one. I was called out by my non-Hindu friend for my bindi which she told me to removie because it could offend someone. I wore the bindi because thats the third eye point, where my energey is focused when I meditate. I think that I should be allowed to wear a bindi because I do understand what it means culturally and religiously, and that it also has meaning to me. I feel like I was called out on it because I’m white and immediately because I’m white, my friend assumed that I know nothing of the bindi and that it’s immediately offensive. I don’t know but that seems kind of fucked up to me.

  • constantlycute December 28th, 2012 3:09 AM

    Ok so just read this and to tell the truth I don’t know how to feel about all this. I’m a hispanic female and although my Mexican Culture is very important to me I’m not offended by girls dawning the chola look. Though when the look was I guess theoretically ‘in’ I was only 2-5 years old, it just wasn’t treated that way in my town. Where I’m from, which is suuuuuuper close to Mexico, nobody complains about models wearing Mexican folk dresses shoes or shirts with the vigen de Guadalupe on them, despite the heavy religious and culture association. For me as long as the person wearing such symbolic things isn’t in the act of doing or saying something that offends my culture I could give a rat’s butt about it. In fact I would say that the women of Mexico spend most of their time trying to look like white women that they can’t understand a white person’s obsession with Mexican culture. But even what I just said doesn’t begin to describe my culture. For some Mexicans perhaps it is offensive, I don’t speak for every Mexican, obviously. However, for me my culture isn’t limited to an object or stereotype such as the chola which is a warped view on how all female Hispanic women dressed even in the 90′s. I can understand why someone would be offended, I mean how many times have we already been ostracized or treated differently because of our culture.

  • ella d January 29th, 2013 9:30 PM

    Thank you for posting this! Cultural appropriation is such a tricky subject, thinking about it actually makes my head hurt because I have so many differing thoughts and feelings towards it

  • Cam-D February 15th, 2013 4:35 AM

    I know I’m late in commenting, but it just has to be said that dressing like a “chola” or like any stereotypical Latino (not every “Latino-looking” person is Mexican) from Los Angeles is NOT a part of any Latin culture. That’s really insulting, it’s not as if it’s considered a rite of passage to wear baggy jeans for the first time or as if ALL Latinos are accepting of such fashions. In fact, many fine it downright despicable particularly BECAUSE it just perpetuates negative stereotypes about Latinos (which unfortunately, is a term often used interchangeably with “Mexican”). There’s a difference between an actual culture and a “scene”. As for me, I don’t get my panties in a bunch over a non-Latino person wearing ridiculously long pants and tank tops because I DON’T consider it a part of any Latino culture the same way I don’t consider argyle sweaters “white” or sport jerseys “black”.

  • LuneSirene February 28th, 2013 2:25 PM

    What Marie said reminds me of my mom. She is not Hispanic, but she grew up in California in the 70s. A lot of the people she was around were Mexican and she learned Spanish from them, just by being around them. If you grow up in an environment like that, some things just happen. Another thing about my mom is that she is extremely obsessed with all the different Native American tribes. She is part Choctaw, but her mom never wanted to talk about it, because she hates her own father who is full-blood. So, my mom wears feathers, beads, makes dream catchers, loves bears, totems, reads about the culture and is trying to learn the language. Yes, she is part Choctaw by blood, but she did not grow up in that environment. She also has never met her father, so in some ways I see her doing this as a way to try to identify with something and figure out who she is. She never gets crap from other people, because she “looks Native.” So this is where things get confusing for me. I went to high school with a girl who was half Chetco, and when she found out that I was 1/8th Choctaw she tried to get me to go to Pow Wows with her, and would tell other people I was the only person allowed to touch any of her traditional grab she brought to class, because only I would understand. Isn’t that just as bad and exclusive? I did not grow up in that environment, and knew no more than the other kids in our school did…

  • decemberflower March 2nd, 2013 12:48 AM

    I just want to express my thanks to all the contributors on this post for bringing such an important topic to light on Rookie. Being an 80 year-old-woman at heart, despite the fact that I have grown up with the internet, I still find myself regularly amazed at the opportunities it can provide. This is a great example. 25 years ago, a white girl growing up in a predominantly white suburb (like myself) would probably not have been exposed to a such an important, thought-provoking conversation from such a diverse group of women. Although there is clearly a lot of work to be done in overcoming this issue, I think that in itself is huge. I really appreciate having access to all of these thoughts and ideas. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I believe they will change my life. Thank you all so much.