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!