A Note on Cultural Appropriation

When a Facebook friend posts something about cultural appropriation, more specifically, “white girls wearing head dresses and bindis at Coachella.”

I had to respond. Again, this is just my opinion. Take it or leave it. 

“Ok, so a few comments on this. Just my personal opinion of course. With regard to “white girls” wearing head dresses and bindis, I think it really depends on what type of ‘head dresses’ you’re speaking of. Head dresses include scarves, which can relate to Muslim women’s hijabs, and by the comment, it also makes the implication that “white girls” cannot be Muslim. Although I don’t think you were referring to hijabs, the argument still holds because hijabs are a form of head dress. Secondly, bindis are normally seen on Hindu women. However, I have seen numerous “African-American” women who have applied them. Moreover, let’s talk about this “septum piercing” or should I say false septum piercing. The septum piercing is rooted in the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca traditions as well as Native Americans, Australian aboriginals, Papua New Guineans, etc. If I walk out of my house right now and go a few streets down to Asbury Park, I guarantee you I can find a whole bunch of “African American” girls who have a fake septum ring. I would be interested if they knew the origins of the septum ring, or simply wear it because they like the way it looks. Also, septum piercings are very common amongst the “punk rock” / “metal” scene, so either way, “African Americans” are in some way, shape, or form, adopting something that was not originally a part of their culture/tradition. Why is it okay for them to wear false septum rings, but not okay for “white girls” to wear a head dress if they so choose?

I am not stating that I agree or disagree with either situations, I am simply pointing something out that seems to be consistently overlooked. In addition, when I was in Cameroon, people from the village that I taught in would make me “traditional” Cameroonian outfits and head dresses all the time. They took my measurements and surprised me with all of these beautiful clothes. Should I have said “Oh wait, I am sorry, I cannot accept your beautiful, hand made clothes, because I have white skin and might be accused of cultural appropriation.” Of course not. That is absolutely absurd. When I put the clothes on and walked out and everyone saw me in them, everyone was smiling, dancing, singing, hugging me because they saw it as a sign of respect and they were so happy to see me wearing them.

Even more, when I was in Morocco, the same exact thing happened to me. I have so many clothes from Morocco that I wear to this day. So tell me, is this cultural appropriation when my husband’s Moroccan family has custom made djellebas made for me that are 100% Moroccan in style/culture? Or how about all the times when I went to the souks (markets) and bought shoes, wallets, purses, scarves, djellebas, and so much more from Moroccan artisans whom made everything from their own hands? Is it cultural appropriation when I try their products on and their faces glow with happiness to see a foreigner appreciating and valuing not only their talents and artisanry, but their country, their culture, their religion, and everything that makes their beautiful country so unique? On another note, why don’t people speak about the way in which ‘traditional’ African clothes are being tremendously altered to fit American standards of beauty and fashion? Look at all of these fashion shows that claim to express “Afrocentric” clothing. The way those fabrics are cut is NOT representative of African clothing. They alter it in such a way that the only thing African about it is the print/colors. If I brought those clothes to Cameroon and gave them to someone and said this is what American fashion thinks is representative of “African fashion” whatever that means, they would laugh! The clothes that they use are extremely provocative (short skirts, low cut shirts, extremely tight) in a way that traditional Cameroonian clothes are NOT.

Is it okay for them to misrepresent simply because they are “African American?” And it is truly sad to say, but out of all of the “African Americans” I have met, I seem to know a lot more about “their culture” than they do, or even care to know. Why should I be penalized or accused of cultural appropriation when I have actually lived in several different parts of Africa simply because my skin appears to be “white” and those Africans whom I have come to love as my own family are the ones who hand made those clothes/accessories for me to wear!? I wear clothes/accessories from different parts of Africa all the time and I do it because I have a passion and an utmost respect for all things related to the continent with the most diversity in the entire world. I do it because I appreciate, and value, and seek to know more about all the countries in Africa, even the ones that are under the radar or countries which hardly anyone has ever heard of such as Djibouti, Eritrea, Lesotho, Seychelles, etc. I wear it because it means something to me and regarding the things that I have had especially made for me, it brings back memories of some of the greatest days of my life. If someone wants to accuse me of cultural appropriation for wearing things “African” go for it, but be prepared in your argument/justification.”

Warmest, Lauren K.

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