6.4.11

SEMIOTICS

nativeskins:  nasublime:  bionicpocahontas:  urbannativegirl:  mycultureisnotatrend:  suckafuck:  I’m in love with this portrait of Ivey that my friend Jane Cole shot for a photography class.  I am not. What people don’t seem to get is that wearing another culture’s stereotypical attire and pretending you are one of them etc is akin to blackface.Consider for a moment, what the reaction would be had this young lady donned blackface, posed with a watermelon and made a gang sign with her hands.  By wearing the war-paint, posing in a headdress, and making those ludicrous gestures, this is the Native American equivalent. Racism is never sexy.      cheers

I've been thinking a lot about marketable trends lately. . . and after following a link from an anonymous reader (who was complaining of Pamela Love's obvious cultural appropriation) I started contemplating the popularization of Native American culture in fashion. I wanted to brush up on my knowledge of what cultural appropriation actually meant so I bopped on over to . . . wikipedia!

I feel like this sums it up pretty well: "Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion,language, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held." (wiki) . . . In most cases they are stripped of meaning all together.

I think the trouble begins when you are "borrowing" from a historically oppressed culture. The element of disrespect is inherent when you take a cultural item, artifact, or way of dress and use it in a trendy/superficial way. The whole Native American trend fits perfectly into this description. Native Americans have had so much of their culture and beliefs taken, twisted and distorted by outsiders (not to mention they were massacred/stricken with disease when Europeans were colonizing America).

I actually had a waitressing/work nightmare last night in which I was accused of being racist/ignorant by a Native American customer. In my dream I found myself totally flustered and defensive as the customer and his family stormed out of the restaurant. I have no doubt that the dream was directly linked to my recent thoughts on whether i'm ever guilty of cultural appropriation. . . though I've never dressed up in an Indian headdress at a music festival i do like Native American textiles. I also like to use feathers in my jewelry. So what is ok to borrow from a culture and what isn't?

There are many aspects of the Native American culture that non-Natives may admire and want to incorporate into their lives. . . Their strong relationship with/respect for nature (it's pretty obvious by now that everyone should respect nature by the way). But nonchalantly wearing a headdress is pretty fucked.

"You can’t just take a cultural sign and act as if it has no history, as if a headdress or dreadlocks just exist ‘in itself.’ Because if you do, you’re doing a very real kind of violence. Culture lives in the signs, so when someone tries to deny the meaning of signs, they’re trying to kill that sign and so try to kill a little bit of culture." -(fuckyeahculturalappropriation.tumblr.com)

I know i'm touching on some insanely complex/complicated shit here. . . (And yes, I was a Sociology major in college). I'm sure i've been guilty of cultural appropriation and i'll probably continue to be guilty of it in the future. I'm just trying to bring some awareness to the subject. Hopefully you'll think twice the next time you wanna dress up as a Native American for a costume party. . . because there is just so much meaning and history that you are walking all over when you do that.

**While writing this post i discovered fuckyeahculturalappropriation.tumblr.com. Although it's a bit in your face, it's a great place to check out if you are interested in this subject matter.


itsnoteasyisit:  fuckyeahtattoos:  spiritguide:  Indian Chief BG.JPG (by Jeff P) DIGGING THIS SO HARD. AHHH.   this is so so so so so cool  YOU ARE SO SO SO SO SO DUMBburzyum:  thesevessels:  gpoy - drunken blood. best party ever.  For reference  WAY TO BE PANRACIALLY OFFENSIVE, DUDE! seriously though, kill whitey
These two are covering all their bases!! Indians, Mexicans, and Bloods. C'mon, make up your mind!

Tumblr_le19xfygil1qcuuqyo1_500_largeHalloween1_large
Craft store crap. Looks like something your kid sister made in Kindergarten class.
Tumblr_kvl4ifh0251qzj6oko1_400_large(via jerilene) - HEY THERE KIDASAURUS, HAVE YR PARENTS TOLD YOU OF THE STOLEN GENERATION? RESIDENTIAL SCHOOLS? NO? THEN NEXT TIME YR FOLKS WANT TO DRESS YOU UP AND MAKE MONEY OFF YOU, WHY DON’T YOU TELL THEM TO GO CHOKE ON IT?


Cultural Appropriation continued:
Rachael Ray
Rachel Fucking Ray. gross on so many levels.
yourlyricsisbutt:  humantrampoline:  I just love how poor children from developing countries are used as  props in high fashion photo shoots! Don’t you think they provide a great  contrast? Their dirty faces juxtaposed with her 200 dollar sequined  pants? Too chic. Fucking classy.  Dear Christ…UGH


Some of my sources: Wikipedia, racialicious.com, newspaperrock.bluecorncomics.com, http://www.amptoons.com, blogs.denverpost.com, http://fuckyeahculturalappropriation.tumblr.com/

17 comments:

dan.s said...

Great post, Molly. Really.
It's nice to see someone actually putting a little more thought into what they are wearing than usual. I usually don't do that, and your text sure inspired me to do so.

Personally, I fell in love with native brazilian patterns/body paiting/art/ways of dressing quite recently. Sometimes, I paint my face with a commom pattern in a certain tribe here in Brazil. It is a painting for boys who, for some reason, are not warriors yet.
This is too an example of cultural apropriation since I don't live the native brazilian reality... but since we brazilians come from a huge mixture of different cultures and races, I wear them in a proud way. It is more like a tribute, a way of remembering them and saying out loud that I'm a part of them as well and, although I was not born in a tribe, I probably have a brazilian indian as one of my ancestors.

It is a very complicated matter, for sure. But I love the unpretentious way you treated it. Thanks.

Patricia Ann said...

Well, unfortunately appropriation can't be avoided. In fact, I think a large bracket of new ideas and things fall under appropriation and bricolage; nothing can be truly considered original. That said, I don't believe that taking words, ideas, slogans, products, etc., and juxtaposing it into a new context necessarily or should be considered automatically disrespectful.

However, there is a fine line. A time when I would find it disrespectful is when someone appropriates an idea or in your argument, a look, and not caring to know its history. Which, is why despite the multi-billion fashion industry that is more often than not considered superficial and greedy, I still have great respect for fashion designers. They take it upon themselves to remain inspired and more importantly, educated. Which, is completely frustrating because on the other end of the spectrum are the results of their work: trends--fleeting, momentary lapse of excitement for the new. This of course plays a major role, as to why despite how technology is making it extremely easy for us to be resourceful, most simply can't care to credit their images or find out where feather headdresses originated from because of this common ideology that it will be old news by tomorrow.

On a positive note, I actually am entertained and even thankful for culture appropriation. It's still one of the strongest influencers that promotes drastic and shocking change (e.g. Lady Gaga). It helped me to acknowledge ideas and people beyond its face value. Appropriation constantly puts us at the edge of our seats so we can avoid not questioning or blindly accepting cultural ideologies. It makes us want to be unique and accept those who are.

Patricia Ann
www.theshapesofthings.com

Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

As Americans, we have very little history or consistent culture of our own to 'dress as'. Pretty much every trend is appropriated from somewhere else and I don't think that automatically means disrespect to those with that actual heritage. It is possible that you have to investigate your intent when wearing things from other cultures and this is where we as consumers need to be educated or at least possess the slightest amount of common sense when purchasing anything.

I think the the real evil is in the idea of trends and the fashion industry capitalizing on it. If your intent is to take some thing from another culture, reproduce it as your own and charge an extraordinary amount of money for it, I think we can all agree that the intent is negative, even if that is your own heritage. Honestly, what right does anyone have thousands of years down their bloodline to sell out their culture? It does seem quite a bit worse to sell out someone else's culture though, doesn't it. On the other hand, if you take a vacation to Morocco and buy some of their traditional jewelry to wear, your intent would be admiration of its beauty and appreciation of their culture.

I don't think that cultural appropriation is always a negative concept and quite frankly impossible to avoid entirely. We as human beings are always seeking knowledge from the unknown and receive inspiration when that unknown becomes close to our hearts after discovery. With our history as explorers, expanders, etc. I mean, the concept goes a lot deeper than just fashion.

I think the moral of the story is not to be a shithead and think about what you are doing before you are doing it. Examine your motivations because eventually you will have to justify your actions, even if it is just to yourself.

raboKarabekian said...

Great post molly,
I was once sternly questioned by a Native American about my tattoo, and after a long conversation we came to an understanding. I learned something and he did as well. It turned out to be a great experience, but I think it was the exception rather than the rule these days. Very touchy topic indeed.

Nicole said...

I think you raise some very interesting points in this post. I think the idea of cultural appropriation is not as black and white as it may first appear. There are both positives and negatives to the whole business of appropriation from other cultures. For example, the pictures of girls in skimpy clothes, drinking from red cups, and wearing a Native American headdress completely eradicates any cultural significance that the headdress once had. However, is it bad that it takes on a new form of representation? I think that the key here is if you are appropriating symbols from another culture, especially one that has been oppressed in the past or currently, you should know the background and significance of the item and the history of the people that utilized it. Cultural appropriation is everywhere, and that is due to the ever increasing connectivity of human beings, which I don't see as a bad thing. Technology and the ability for human beings to get across the world in a matter of hours not in a matter of months has formed a whole new type of cultural understanding. Is it the bad kind of cultural appropriation if I buy a fake Native American headdress from K-Mart but not if I went to a Native American village and purchased it from a true Native American artisan? Then it just comes down to a matter of access which many people do not have. I think the whole matter is entirely complex, but am really happy that you have brought it up since fashion gets a major part of its influence from varying cultures.

Old Banana said...

As Americans, I don't think we can really help but borrow from other cultures, since we're such a (I hate this term) "melting pot"... what is really, truly, get-down, pure American? It's hard to put your finger on something that would qualify. I think that as long as we borrow in a respectful manner, there's nothing wrong with it (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery or however it goes)... however, I did see Hot Topic selling headdresses and I kind of threw up a little internally because that seems just wrong, somehow. Good post, Molly. Gives us all something to think about when we get dressed. I know I would feel awful if I inadvertantly offended someone by using special elements of their culture in a disrespectful manner (and I think trotting around in a headdress would definitely qualify as that!)
<3 Kati
www.illegitimatezombie.blogspot.com

ariane said...

this is really interesting! i hadn't really thought much about it before. i'm curious... what do you think, then, about people wearing rosaries as necklaces, or any cross (in some cases, upside-down) ?

Anonymous said...

I was that anonymous commenter, and I just wanted to thank you for bringing up this subject.

I believe the vast majority of people donning the headdress (or war bonnet) just aren’t aware of the offense. And why would they be? We’ve been brought up in a culture that nullifies the Native American experience, a culture that demands we dress up as pilgrims and Indians at Thanksgiving, and recite bogus, glossy accounts of unity and turkey.

This subject is worth the debate, because right now, there are far too many pastie-wearing, white “Indian Princess” hipster girls. 1 in 3 Native women will be raped in their lifetime, and a huge percentage of that violence is committed by non-Natives. So, with that in mind, perhaps we should be practicing both mindfulness and sensitivity.

Eso Meliae said...

thank you!

cecily said...

THANK YOU so much for this post. I have been saying this and you said it just right! I styled a native american photo shoot with my cousin and we have Navaho and Cherokee ancestors. I sent it to all the cool and major blogs and not once saw the pictures up. It could have been b/c they didn't like it... but I always see photo shoots being posted of white “Indian Princess” which I think are beautiful, it's just ironic that no one embraced my mildly real native american photo shoot... but I feel like everyone is guilty of cultural appropriation especially americans.

check it out

http://www.landoftheloud.com/?page_id=2933

Ivania said...

very interesting. yes dressing up in traditional clothes from a culture you are not even from is pretty ridiculous. I've seen a documentary about American families dressing up in ' traditional dutch clothes' because their ancestors supposedly were Dutch. But funny enough they got it all wrong and looked more like traditional Germans. Though Dutch and German cultures are alike there are differences, but when generalizing northern Europe all these subtle yet important cultural differences dissappear. It was a very sarcastic and funny docu though. I can imagine native Americans having just as much fun watching 'fashionable' people covered in their prints and feathers as I did seeing Americans in German-gear.

Anonymous said...

Cultural appropriation is what makes the world go round. We have sedintary societies because of cultural appropriation. The Rolling Stones and Beastie Boys exist because of cultural appropriation. Iranian metal bands are appropriating American culture. Israelis have hummus because of cultural appropriation, and people in the West are primarily Christians because of cultural appropriation.
I think it goes all wrong when you have a dominant culture taking symbols from a subservient culture. But then, the problem with cultural appropriation at that point is that its just another example of one culture's dominance over another.

It just comes down to the relationship of the two socities to begin with. It could be homage, it could offensive or it could just be silly. But, the appropriating culture will be using those symbols based on its relationship to the appropriated culture.
I guess my point is, getting rid of cultural appropriation itself is meaningless because the meaning of the appropriation is entirely based on the relationship that already exists between the two cultures.

olivia said...

yes and yes. these comments are fantastic. i read the comment that you referred to in your post and also followed the link to their page discussing the disgrace associated with cultural appropriation.

frankly yes, the fashion industry walks a fine line at times, but honestly i don't find the use/inspiration of a culture to be such a negative thing. what products/style/personal views on the world are truly original today? culture has evolved continuously just as people have migrated, countries have been occupied, times and society has developed. it is rare to find a culture unaffected by outside influences and i feel that this is only natural, if not something to be encouraged. i find that it is through this "exchanging of ideas" that people progress.

i find inspiration in many cultures and certainly adapt this to my jewelry and personal style. it is never with intention to bastardize what that culture may hold sacred, but a reflection of my knowledge and interest. that being said, i do think it is important that if one is to be "inspired" by culture it is also crucial that one educates themselves as well.

thanks...and love the blog! : )

olivia......skinnandbone.blogspot.com

Miss M said...

great topic to bring up, i was thinking about this as well. i dont think there is anything very wrong with expressing love for a beautiful culture through art and fashion. i mean, as long as your not a total asshole about it. think about back in the 90s when eastern Indian style was so hot, as seen in the last pic you posted, everyone was wearing jeweled bindis. no culture is more sacred then the other.

+Miss M+

Katie said...

Wow this post has brought up alot of discussion!
It's amazing that you would be thinking about cultural appropriation as, for my degree's final year major dissertation, I'm writing about fashion designers cultural appropriation. For exmaple, how British designer Matthew Williamson took inspiration from India to inform and inspire his first collection 'Electric Angels' but only took the aesthetic elements of colour and craft, not functionality or the imbued spirituality that Indian people associate with their sari's etc.
Again, really interesting topic to discuss! Thanks!

Katie M

katy said...

YES. i have been hoping more & more bloggers will start to discuss appropriation in a way that isn't merely - BUT I'M NOT STEALING, I LIKE IT IT'S OK. IT WAS SO LONG AGO. i've done a few entries on appropriation, mainly of social demographics & the homeless & the response has always been rather "oh well, we can't help it." WE CAN HELP IT. we can help it by educating ourselves. i am all for taking inspiration from different cultures & societies, but we should KNOW why these people might get offended. do all of those hipster girls know that each feather of a warbonnet is earned? that it is sacred? i doubt it. i am learning bit by bit about native culture through some amazing sources on the internet. sheena at Love, Georgia (http://lovegeorgia.blogspot.com/) is a Native journalist who keeps up with appropriation trends. she turned me on to http://nativeappropriations.blogspot.com/ which is the great big bible of finding native appropriations on the internet. http://iamnotamascot.blogspot.com/ is another good source.

thanks for bringing this up! :D

Margaret said...

Man oh man I love you for this post. I've actually worried about the same thing quite a bit (Are my arrowhead earrings wrong? Is it belittling to post myself wearing a Tibetan bag?), and I think you are right on the money. Borrowing from other cultures is ok if you recognize where you're borrowing from, unless that culture is historically or currently oppressed. However, I feel quite guilty wearing the trappings of other religions as "fashion". Being Catholic, I don't see a problem with my rosary necklaces or saint bracelets because I try to attach real meaning to them. However, when I was about ten and bindis were all over Claire's (thanks, Madonna and Alanis!), my mother absolutely forbade me from buying them. We actually spoke about this recently and her anger regarding that trend was still palpable. A bindi has religious significance to millions, and it is unbelievably crass to wear one "cause it looks cool". This whole situation is very complicated, but I can definitely agree with one thing: wearing a full-on Native American headdress is fucked up.