Preface: Why are we having this conversation? Despite this being a very difficult and sensitive conversation to be having, I think it is *so* necessary to be having it in *this* space. This blog is, after all, a part of the fashion industry--aka one of the largest players in producing inappropriate cultural appropriation--therefore, it must be identified and called out. Silence is complacence. Moreover, this topic has been requested by many of you for the longest time (my bad) so it's obviously also a conversation that is lacking and needed in spaces like these. 

Alright. We good? Let's do this~

cultural appropriation, hijabi fashion blog, hijab fashion, cultural appreciation
Photo: Rihanna's Instagram

What is Cultural Appropriation? 
Cultural appropriation is, in its simplest and most basic form, the act of an individual from a particular (usually privileged or dominant) culture adopting cultural/religious elements of a marginalized culture, insensibly. 

This is most clearly articulated when a dominant or oppressive group takes from a culture that it is oppressing (ex: white people in the USA wearing a white-washed play on traditional Native American headdresses as sexy costumes, etc), and more complicated/difficult to identify when one marginalized group takes from another marginalized group (ex: Beyonce appropriating Indian culture in Coldplay's music video).

Both are definitely forms of cultural appropriation, but for different reasons, and in different ways: Many Native/Indigenous tribes of North America wore headdresses if they were men who achieved a particular honor/achievement (according to Apihtawikosisan) so non-native people wearing a headscarf first and foremost is an act of cultural appropriation because it totally ignores the significance of the headdress. Another layer of cultural appropriation is added to this when white Americans wear Native/Indigenous cultural objects--The United States was built on the genocide of Native/Indigenous Americans, forcing them to dress like a European subject (or slave)--so, the act of white Americans--whose ancestors are responsible for the annihilation of Native/Indigenous American people and culture and now enjoy the benefits of the society they created--wearing Native/Indigenous American cultural objects is very much wrong and culturally appropriative.

A major key here (non-intentional reference to DJ Khaled--who, btw, will not be getting anotha' one chance in my snapchat feed because I'm not a fan) is that cultural appropriation plays on historic themes of oppression and domination and does not respect the significance/value of the cultural/religious object.

Cultural appropriation, black culture, what if america loved black, racism
Photo via The Maroon Tiger
Ready for another example? Remember that time Rihanna went to Dubai and posed in front of a Mosque? (first photo picture) Super rad and cool right!!??!!!!
Mmm, how about not.

We're going to file this one in the Cultural Appropriation folder right next to the file on Dolce and Gabbana's lastest "collection for Muslims" that I've ranted about in a few interviews (and will also be discussing further at the Chicago Humanities Festival April 30th! *cough* Chicago fam should #turnup *cough*). Why? Both of these do not constitute appreciation--they clearly don't even know enough about Islam to be able to appreciate it: Rihanna's hyper-sexualization of a garment made for modestly; her disregard for the religiosity of a particular space; and Dolce & Gabaana's throwing around expensive, glamorous fabrics to act as headcovering made to reject excess superficiality is a form of  appropriation, culturally and religiously.

Not to mention that another way to identify cultural appropriation is when a cultural/religious object suddenly becomes "cool" when someone from another culture adopts it.
Many of the same people who were commenting "omg!!!! so cute!!!!" under Rihanna's photos covering her hair and skin are calling Muslims terrorists and asking Muslim women if they are oppressed. (P.S. we're not).

Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry wearing cornrows is another example: "cute" or "edgy" when white people do it, but looked down upon when Black people introduced it and continue to pull it off beautifully. But don't take my word for it--let's ask Katy Perry.

Hey, Katy, do you culturally appropriate??

Well, there you have it folks.

This is not to say that you shouldn't be wearing *anything* that belongs to a culture that is not yours--people around the world are beautiful and are wearing/practicing wonderful things that everyone can partake in, but it is *so* important to be doing so with acute understanding of the relationship between your culture and the one you are trying not to appropriate, the significance of the cultural/religious object/practice, and constantly challenging yourself and questioning your intentions, purposes, and goals.

And for those skimmers aka millennials aka seriously why is your attention span so low this article is only a little more than 1000 words seriously people where is our world going, here is your TL;DR:

  • The act of a dominant/privileged group adopting cultural elements of another (most likely marginalized/oppressed) culture in an insensible manner
  • Plays on historic themes of oppression, domination, and privilege 
  • Ignores the value, significance, or meaning of the object/practice
  • Does not give credit to the original culture/religion/ethnicity/etc
  • Looked down upon/mocked when practiced/worn by the original marginalized culture but becomes "cool," "trendy," or "edgy" when done by the oppressors/appropriators.

  • Understanding the significance of a particular practice/object/tradition and not undermining or destroying its significance or value. 
  • Understanding histories of oppression and marginalization surrounding the particular object/practice/tradition and gauging the appropriateness of your actions in relation to this history
  • Being invited by an individual of that particular culture to participate in/wear their culture's traditions/clothing for a specific event or occasion (weddings, religious rituals, etc)
    • But word of caution here: getting a "go" pass from one of your friends doesn't mean that other people from their culture won't be offended. Just like you can't use your token Black friend as an excuse to be racist, you can't use the invitation of one Muslim to wear a headscarf for a day as an excuse to expect that the rest of us are all going to be jumping up and down and applaud you for your bravery. (Because I'm not/didn't).
  • Ask yourself: Why am I doing this/what are my goals in doing this/can I achieve my goal without doing this?/why is this necessary/is this even necessary/no it is not necessary/alright awesome then we good.


There are also a few particular questions via comments and email that I've received about appropriation and appreciation, which I will save for pt. 2 of this post (because like you I also have a short attention span but mostly I am craving a cupcake and need to go acquire one asap)!!!

If this successfully managed to confuse you even more, please feel free to shoot me an email or drop a comment (or tweet or snap (@hodakay) or Facebook or dm me on the instas or honestly at the rate this is going you might as well just come over or something and we can chat over Persian tea).

Talk to you in the comments!


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