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Articles > Current Affairs April, 22, 2015

Cultural Appropriation At Coachella

Louisa Johnson
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7.36 / 10

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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  1. Erin Dalrymple-Rockett

    Culture is something that people should share.
    I don’t see it as a bad thing that people are embracing others way of life. If anything it’s a positive. As people are more aware of different cultures the more accepting others will be. Saying that you can’t wear or do this because you are not part of that culture will just make situations worse. People have fought hard for others to be treaded fairly… for other reasons, yes, but segregating the smallest things could upset the balance of equality that’s been achieved so far.

  2. Thomas Rickard

    You’re allowed to like stuff.
    You know why we have jazz? It is the result of lots of mixes of culture, with seperate cultures adopting traits of another culture, and then jazzing it up a bit and changing it. Their own spin. And that’s fine. Not just because Jazz is cool, but because it is a piece of something beautiful formed from something else beautiful, but it’s not destroying or mocking it’s origins.
    You haven’t patented it.
    No. You can’t do the toddler thing and say, “wait, you can’t do that! I did it first.. no, stop it, that’s completely my idea!” Various cultures will participate in various activities, share various beliefs, dress in certain ways, etc. But this does not mean someone else can’t do it. You have no right to restrict how someone else might adopt these things. And it would actually be racist to assume otherwise. Let me give you a few examples;
    “You can’t do rap, you’re not black”
    “You shouldn’t participate in christmas, you’re not christian”
    “You mustn’t wear a dress, you’re not a woman”
    .. see. I don’t think they’re fair comments at all.
    What is wrong is that people use appropriation in a harmful way occaionally. This can happen in a number of ways;
    -some people have no respect for the origins of a cultural activity, or have a distorted veiw of these origins
    -some people ignore the ‘derogitory history’ attached to the activity (e.g. we only see black-facing as bad because it used to be done way back just to provoke and mock and segregate)
    So go ahead, wear your bhindis, watch your animee, dance to your garage pop, celebrate those ancient celtic festivals, be western, be eastern, be northern and southern, be who the heck you want to be, but don’t be a dick about it.

  3. ashley

    It is naive to think most people are simply “embracing others way of life” when they are taking chunks of others cultures and turning them into temporary high fashion accessories. If you want to experience another’s culture, visit their country, eat their food, talk to THEM… ask about their history and show respect. Of course it will be offensive if someone wears a bindi to coachella and then forgets all about it every other month of the year. If you actually engage in other people’s culture however and give credit where its due (and yes passively accepting credit for being “innovative” when you copied the thing from a different culture is just as bad as claiming it as your own) then that’s fine. Cultural diversity is amazing, but its the treatment of it that is not good.

  4. Catherine Thompdon

    I think that people are allowed to embrace other cultures, you may buy a Buddhist because you like it. this is ok. you may wear cultural clothes because you like the way they look. you embrace different cultures by doing so and can embrace it by doing so .

  5. yasmina esteri

    i dont know how i feel about this topic, i think that its sort of disrespectful that people are putiing hindu gods onto shirts and placing buddhist statues in their gardens just for the aesthetics because people actually worship and pay huge amounts of respect to these items, theyre not tropical accessories. but at the same time i feel like people are just more open to other cultures they just need to watch how they use these items so that no one gets insulted or offended, that way everyone can be happy.