BUT ITS JUST MAKEUP! And other inappropriate responses to cultural appropriation

BUT ITS JUST MAKEUP! And other inappropriate responses to cultural appropriation
Slaven Vlasic via Getty Images

Slaven Vlasic via Getty Images

"Welcome to the new war on cultural appropriation," Cathy Young wrote for The Washington Post.

At one time, such critiques were leveled against truly offensive art — work that trafficked in demeaning caricatures, such as blackface, 19th-century minstrel shows or ethnological expositions, which literally put indigenous people on display, often in cages. But these accusations have become a common attack against any artist or artwork that incorporates ideas from another culture, no matter how thoughtfully or positively. A work can reinvent the material or even serve as a tribute, but no matter. If artists dabble outside their own cultural experiences, they’ve committed a creative sin.

What's missing from the seemingly intelligent critique is the fact that cultural appropriation involves more than just being "offensive." Like racism, sexism, and many other injustice in this world, cultural appropriation is systematic and can affect multiple facets of our everyday lives. 

As actress Amandla Stengberg put it: "Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated but is deemed as high-fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves."

Furthermore, once a style has been appropriated and seen as "cool," the appropriators can then make $$$ and gain status by emulating said style. 

Lets take the most recent scandal, Marc Jacobs' NYFW SS'17 show, as an example. During this event, Jacobs chose to send an array of models down the runway adorned with colored faux locs made of yarn. 


The immediate response was overwhelmingly positive. Those who attended the show in person, like mogul Nina Garcia, sang his praises. However, once more people began to catch wind of his show, they did not find use of faux locs endearing or fashion forward, they found it repulsive. To make matters worse, Jacobs seemed completely oblivious to the fact that dreadlocs were a style typically worn by the black community because of the texture of their hair and its roots in Rastafarianism. 

Instead, Jacobs' hairstylist for the show told Harper's Bazaar, that the locs were inspired by "certain types cultures, like rave culture, club culture, acid house, Boy George and Marilyn." 

And to The Cut he confessed, "The interesting thing about Marc is how he takes something so street and so raw, and because of the coloration of the hair and the makeup, it becomes a total look. Something that we’ve bypassed on the street and not really looked at, or seen a million times, he makes us look at it again in a much more sophisticated and fashionable way."

This is cultural appropriation in a nutshell. The fact that the style is even viewed as "street," and then is magically "high fashion,"  when placed on a runway by Marc Jacobs, a white designer, who by the way is not "street" at all. (Just compare this to the time Zendaya wore faux locs on an award show runway and Giuliana Racnic joked that she looked like she smelled like week.)

Jacobs continued to dig himself deeper into a hole while responding to the backlash his show was receiving.

Funny how you don’t criticize women of color for straightening their hair,

he retorted. I don't see color or race, I see people."


(I am not sure about you but I've had quite enough of the "color blind" rhetoric as a defense for any type of behavior.)

His comments spared major discussions about what cultural appropriation is and whether or not we "should" be bothered by it. The majority of the arguments for Jacobs can pretty much be summed up into the following categories:

  • "But it's just fashion! (insert makeup, TV, a movie, etc here) It doesn't even mean anything."
  • "But there are SO many other important issues to talk about! Black people are dying! Y'all are worried about the wrong things."
  • "But women of color (aka black women) do it too! They straighten their hair and wear blonde weave!"
  • "But Marc used black models in his show! It can't possibly be appropriation then!"

In my opinion, these comments do nothing more than further isolate and discriminate against the black community, whose style is being appropriated. 

To start, it's extremely dismissive to dictate what someone should or should not be worried about. This act ignores the fact that there are numerous black designers, artists, people who may have faced discrimination for their own natural hairstyles, like locs and therefore would feel some type of way, for lack of better words, when seeing something like Jacobs' SS17 show.

Furthermore, to even try to assert that black women are in any way, shape, or form appropriating by wearing straight hair is nothing short of infuriating. 


Popular beauty blogger, Jackie Aina, communicated the irony quite eloquently on her Instagram page. 

At the end of the day, people can care about whatever they want to care about. And, news flash, people can care about multiple issues at the same time. I can care about Marc Jacobs' SS17 show while still caring about the Flint Water Crisis or Black Lives Matter (both of which Jacobs has never spoken about BTW)

What grinds my gears the most is that instead of being truly apologetic and trying to understand where a certain community is coming from, many accused of cultural appropriation are quick to get defensive and continue to carry on with their offensive behavior. 

At it's core, Jacobs' blatant insensitivity adds insult to injury in a world where many black women simply cannot be as "carefree" and "fun," as the women he sent down his runway wearing locs. They cannot simply exist as their authentic selves without receiving some type of heat or backlash. As stated previously, even Zendaya, CoverGirl's latest poster woman cannot escape the demeaning critiques. Scores of black women have literally been discriminated against, turned away from job, and suspended from school...just. because. of. their. natural. hair.

If you truly want to understand cultural appropriation, it starts with having an open mind. It starts with getting out out of your own bubble and being open to learning. Because the fact of the matter is, there are so many communities across the world that have gone through years and years of suffering due to seemingly trivial things like hair, or body type, or the color of their skin (sounds crazy when you think about it, but racism is alive and well in 2016.)

How would you feel if someone took the attributes that society has discriminated and ridiculed you for and turned them into a "trend?"

Edit: Shortly after this article was published, " The 3-0 decision Thursday by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Commission against a company that refused to hire a black woman because she wouldn't cut her dreadlocks." - WSJ

Coincidence? I think not.