A model dawns a blue and green flannel buttoned only at the top, exposing her abs and a lace bralette. With the picture only showing black low-rise trousers, one can probably imagine what lies above the image’s cut off; big hoop earrings, red lipstick, and two french braids. Although the earrings, lipstick, and braids were not in the image, those details were so easily imagined because we have all seen this outfit before -- this outfit is typically used as a “ghetto latina woman” stereotype in movies. However, a stereotype commonly used to degrade and attack Mexican women is now being used to profit two white women.
This new ad for the Kendall and Kylie collection has stirred up a lot of controversy regarding the appropriation of Latinx culture. Cultural appropriation controversy is all too familiar not only to the Jenners, but to the entire Kardashian/ Jenner Empire. In fact, most celebrities can attest to the fact that they, themselves, have stirred up cultural controversy from at least one of their outfits or posts.
If you ask any given person how they feel about cultural appropriation, chances are, their immediate reaction will be a dumbfounded expression and a pause to gather their thoughts.
In reality, none of us really have a black or white standard on cultural appropriation. It is almost unavoidable to use something that is of another culture; whether it’s hanging up tapestry in your dorm room, wearing braids, or getting a tattoo in a foreign language. Even just small aspects of our lives in America are deeply rooted in various cultures, religions, and nationalities that are not our own. However, the line at which the exchange of cultures verges onto the offensive and disrespectful territory is incredibly blurred.
As a black woman, I have felt offended by some celebrities’ outfits, aesthetics, and videos that irresponsibly portray aspects of the black culture. It appears that being “black” while not actually being black is the trend today (#whitegirlsdoitbetter). When I was a child, I was too embarrassed to wear my braids to school because everyone would treat me as “THAT black girl”. I was always insecure about my butt being bigger than everyone else’s but now that Kim Kardashian has a big butt, it is now the trend. A lot of styles did not become “acceptable” or “cool” until white women started wearing them -- and before they wore them, those very styles were used to racially profile or stereotype people of color. I always feel slightly offended and, quite frankly, bitter when I see white women wearing anything that originated in black culture (cornrows, synthetically kinky hair, dreadlocks, dashikis, and bamboo hoops), because while those women are viewed as “cool”, “trendy”, and “superior than black women”, I will always be viewed as “ghetto” or “too black” if I wore any of that. Although everyone has the right to wear what they feel confident in, I cannot help but feel that cultural appropriation speaks to the racial inequality that our country still struggles with today.
With gentrification and social pressures, it’s hard for me, a black woman, to feel that I have something to myself; something exclusive to my culture and identity. Take Beyoncé’s Album, Lemonade, for example; I am perfectly okay with everyone enjoying the album, but it also intended to create an incredibly intimate and unifying space among black women, that I feel needs to be cherished. When I see white women getting praised for things that I previously used to show pride and unification for my culture, I feel robbed.
Cultural Appropriation is not only committed by white women. A non-Scottish or non-Celtic man wearing a kilt can be a form of appropriation; as is a non-Indian black woman wearing a lehenga choli; a non-Japanese Latina wearing a kimono. If you are using or wearing an important piece of a foreign culture without knowing its significance or importance -- a.k.a attempting to strip the culture from the object because you just like the “aesthetic” or think it looks “cool” -- then you are probably appropriating that culture.
The exchange of culture ultimately strengthens us as human beings and allows us to discover a world outside of ourselves. To live a life without interacting with other cultures is to live a fruitless life. However, I do believe that there should be room for people of a similar culture to bond over an aspect of their culture; you can visit your neighbor’s houses, but you mustn’t overstay your welcome.
My main problem with cultural appropriation lies mostly in society’s treatment of other cultures; however, Khloe Kardashian cannot control the fact that her braids are shamed when worn on a black woman. While there needs to be an intimate and exclusive space within cultures, there must also be a warm and welcoming space for others to learn about other cultures.
No one has a stern opinion on cultural appropriation because we all do or enjoy certain things that someone may be offended by. Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to not offend someone. The heightened sensitivity to potentially offensive acts has created such a strong stigma around cultural appropriation that the idea of “culture” has now become a triggering and taboo topic.
Cultural Appropriation is incredibly subjective. Most of us can identify a purely offensive act -- such as blackface, dressing up as another culture as a costume, or “acting like” a culture. However, respective cultures have every right to feel offended, shamed, robbed, or imitated when others wear or copy an aspect of their culture, even if the act seems negligible to you. A person outside of the culture cannot get angry at someone within the offended culture for feeling that their culture is not being treated with the proper respect. I am sure we all get frustrated at the so-called “social justice warriors” because they seem to get offended at everything, but we need to respect the fact that everyone is adjusting to the increasing interactions between cultures.
We are all still learning about this topic and we are all still trying to establish the lines between cultural appreciation and appropriation. Just because we may, at times, get confused as to why a certain thing is “offensive” but something else is not, does not mean that we should completely abandon the idea of cultural sensitivity. Just mere compassion for others’ thoughts and opinions can help one further understand the importance of pointing out and stopping cultural appropriation. We, as humans, should be able to enjoy the cultures that other people celebrate. We should be able to unite in the fact that, although we have many differences, we can still come together and enjoy similar things. However, we must also be conscious of the fact that some cultures and races need and deserve a safe space in which some aspects of their culture are exclusive to them.One Latina woman may find the new Kendall and Kylie collection offensive, while another Latina woman from the same neighborhood may find no problem with the collection. While it is great to be able to label a situation as “good” or “bad”; “permissible” or “forbidden”, there are some issues that, for the time being, will just be controversial. We have to allow ourselves to debate on these issues, or else we will never be able to grow as a planet. We have to allow people to be offended, and we have to allow people to not be offended. We have to keep calling celebrities out on their actions so that we can receive clarification on our interpersonal interactions. We also need to give celebrities space to grow and make mistakes along the way. None of us can be perfectly politically correct without first learning from our mistakes. While it may be annoying to constantly see the words, “Cultural Appropriation” on social media, the ignorance of this topic will only allow its controversy to spread into a helpless clump of hatred and offense.