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Articles > Current Affairs April, 22, 2015

Cultural Appropriation At Coachella

Louisa Johnson
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Every year Coachella rolls around, and with this event comes the angry mob of bloggers, hell-bent on accusing everyone of some societal crime. In this case, “cultural appropriation” is the term which is angrily typed on keyboards everywhere. But personally, I wonder if the people who venomously spit this phrase at whites with cornrows have any idea what it actually means.

What is cultural appropriation?

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The Bull PenCultural

The real meaning of ‘cultural appropriation’ can be neatly outlined by Amandla Stenberg, known for her role as Rue in The Hunger Games. She recently posted a video which has since gone viral, explaining exactly what this term means:

“The line between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is always going to be blurred, but here’s the thing: Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalisations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves. Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture that they are partaking in.”

She cites the example of Hip Hop and other aspects of Black Culture which are commonly misused. In particular, she stresses how often celebrities such as Katy Perry, Kylie Jenner and Miley Cyrus either make a parody of black culture, or use black people/culture as an accessory or fashion statement in their music videos. At the same time, these public figures neglect to show any knowledge of the culture, or demonstrate any support for the daily struggles the people of this background face (very rarely do they promote the “Black Lives Matter” campaign against police brutality in America, for example). She then quotes rapper Azealia Banks to show the impact of cultural appropriation, saying when white celebrities do this, it tells blacks that “You don’t own sh*t, not even the sh*t you created for yourself.”

 

Clearly, this is an issue – an issue which often comes to light during the music festival Coachella. It seems the fashion for this event calls for some form of cultural appropriation; many of its attendees wear headdresses, war paint, etc. Vanessa Hudgens, for example, has been accused in the past of appropriating other cultures while at Coachella. To many, her decorative bindi reduced the symbolic religious adornment to a mere fashion accessory, prompting the hashtag ‘Reclaim the Bindi’ to gain popularity.

While I agree it is right to bring attention to this issue, I find that people on the blogging website, Tumblr, go overboard. Coachella becomes a springboard to accuse everyone of cultural appropriation. The tumblr definition has become: anyone who partakes in other cultures. With this moronic definition, practically everyone is guilty of cultural appropriation. Ever braided your hair? Guilty. Watched Anime? Guilty. Nasty cultural appropriators, the lot of us.

The reason why I particularly like Amandla’s video is because she does not attempt to tell people they should not adopt different cultures, but rather states that this should come with a show of respect and appreciation for the people of this background and their history. With Amandla’s definition, there is nothing wrong with partaking in other cultures. In fact, arguably, the sharing of cultures is the key to racial tolerance and mutual respect, and it is certainly how we have come to live in the wonderfully diverse society we have today. People need to bear in mind that as long as one knows the history and significance of the culture, gives credit to its creators and maintains an admiration for the culture they are adopting, it is not cultural appropriation, and it is perfectly okay.

So my message to Tumblr is to stop screaming ‘cultural appropriation’ at everybody. When you misuse this term, all you really do is undermine the severity of this issue. It becomes a ‘boy who cried wolf’ situation; people will not listen to actual cases of cultural appropriation if you say everything is cultural appropriation – it becomes meaningless rhetoric. Let’s remember the actual definition, and only speak out when it is applicable.

 What do you think? Are these cases of cultural appropriation, or cultural appreciation?

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