Estimated reading time: 11 minute(s)
A few days ago, someone “Dmmed” me and others about their back and forth argument with Marc Jacobs on his Instagram page. They were upset with his use of majority white models in colorful locs at his show. Soon, his comments were spread all over social media. This is a classic appropriation that we see everyday, especially among the fashion world. But does it matter?
Culture is something that people have that expresses their uniqueness and identity as a group of people. In some cultures something could have sacred significance, used in traditional dances, has symbolic meaning, etc. Cultural appropriation is taking aspects of that culture for your own benefit. It’s even worse when people of that culture whose stuff you stole, are mistreated in various societies.
Culture is not “supposed to be shared”, although it can be with consent. When someone says that a culture must be shared, they’re saying that to make sure that whatever people of that culture have is available to them. Headdresses from Native American tribes, Afros, locs, saris, henna, etc., they all belong somewhere. They all mean something. You can be invited to look, maybe to even touch, but you cannot take what doesn’t belong to you just because it looks cool at Coachella or even down a runway. That goes for any race, any people outside of that culture.
Marc Jacobs in his argument mentioned “women of color who straighten their hair” as a defense for white models wearing locs. But it is not the same. There is a difference between assimilation and appropriation.
Women of color in general can have straight hair naturally. South Asian women, Native American women, East Asian women, and some black women can have straight hair naturally. There are Aboriginal people in Melanesia who even have blonde hair! It’s genetic.
Particularly black women straightening their hair is not appropriating “white culture”. Black women were and are forced into a society that says that our natural hair is wrong. Straightening hair is to assimilate, becoming part of society that doesn’t favor our hair. Natural hair is so revolutionary, in America and all over the world, that a natural hair movement had to take place. It’s so revolutionary that black girls in South Africa had to protest to wear their hair naturally in school. We can’t be African in South Africa now??
Locs and braids on black women are often banned in the workplace. There are actual laws against what grows naturally on our head, and how we style it.
In a world that doesn’t see our hair as beautiful enough, some straightened their hair. That’s not appropriation, that’s assimilation. You can’t take our hairstyles that we get fired for and claim that we are appropriating white culture by straightening our hair as a survival tactic in this white man’s world. It does not work like that.
It does matter Marc Jacobs has an article linked in his bio that says we shouldn’t talk about cultural appropriation because “black people are dying in the streets”. To debunk that I’ll say that racism comes in many ways. When you are killing people while taking parts for their culture that you penalize them for, that is insensitive, and yes racist. It’s so convenient to pull up black people dying only as an argument, and not as a general concern.
If you’re a fashion designer and you want a new style of creativity, that’s great, but that does not give a go ahead to appropriate someone’s culture. That shows you don’t really care about the people, you just want to capitalize off of what is deemed ugly on them.
We live in a world where our skin, hair, and culture is wanted, yet we as people are not. Black women are beautiful, even though we are mocked for it.
As The Honorable Elijah Muhammad stated in Our Saviour Has Arrived: “They try to destroy the beauty of Black and have just about done so. And they look at you and laugh. But,still, go out there today – right now- and you will see every color out there looking at the Black woman. They want her! She is the best walking in the Sun! “
(Follow Nzinga Muhammad on Twitter @QueenNzinga13)