Ahh, Black Culture, so rich and influential. In history, the relationship between fashion, music, and overall aesthetics has been multiplex. From hair to clothing, the media industry has caught onto these trends and has exploited and misused them. Many brands and corporations profit from exploitation, whitewashing, and cultural appropriation of black culture and not giving credit where it is due. To fully grasp the extent of these actions, let’s break it down:
Exploitation is taking advantage of someone or something to benefit and/or profit. It is selfish and seen throughout media from people who are not of color.
This slang term (also metaphorical) is used to describe the censorship of something. It is commonly known and seen throughout Hollywood but extends farther than that.
Coinciding with the idea of appreciation versus appropriation, cultural appropriation takes an element from culture and uses it in a disrespectful and/or incorrect way. Appreciation refers to when someones seek to understand and gain knowledge of culture, race, etc., to broaden perspective. Appropriation is taking a culture (that isn’t your own) and using it for personal gain. A common example of this is white women getting box braids or sew-ins while African American women who do the same are ridiculed and joked about in media as “baldheaded” or too over the top. Or, in other words, “extra”. The fact of the matter is it’s extremely harmful and can be detrimental to said culture.
Most pop culture today is rooted in black culture. It is especially prevalent on apps such as TikTok and Twitter. Well-known celebrities such as the Kardashians, what a shocker, Katy Perry, and Iggy Azalea, to name a few, but I think you can see the theme going on here. Even condescending remarks such as “Just because I have box braids, that doesn’t make me racist” or “just because I’m appreciating a style, all of a sudden I’m racist?” Well… it might not necessarily mean you’re racist, but remarks such as these are very telling. It shows you understand the connection between the braids or style, but you’re dismissive. And let’s not forget about Black content creators making significantly less money on social media than white content creators exploiting their ideas and profiting from them. Typical, but sad.
How can we become more aware?
For starters, listen and observe. Listen to what people have to say about their culture and observe the things taking place within that culture.
Understand your own culture. Yes, this may seem like a given, but it is pertinent to utilize self-reflexivity to understand yourself and your background better. This can aid in better understanding other cultures in comparison to yours.
*Ask yourself: Would I be offended if someone used an important symbol from my culture without understanding what it truly means?*
Coinciding with understanding your own culture, share your culture with others. But of course, do so at your discretion. Make sure the exchange of appreciation is mutual. You never know what you might learn or teach someone. Vice versa. Ask yourself questions such as “Do I feel comfortable sharing my traditions?” or “Am I interested in learning about a culture that is not my own?”
This disrespect we feel comes from people of other ethnicities being praised for partaking in a certain style, while black people are constantly ridiculed for doing the same. Even if the style originated from black people, white people are being praised for the same hairstyles people of color get, but somehow we’re told it’s too bold or over the top. Ultimately, this shows that the people partaking in the exploitation and appropriation of black culture can and will continue to do so, but when it comes to speaking on black issues, its crickets.
All it takes to stop cultural appropriation, exploitation, and whitewashing is education and empathy.
Source (s): White, C. C. R. (2018, February 6). How African Americans Have Influenced Style and Culture. Time. https://time.com/5134486/how-to-slay-black-fashion-influence/
Balanda, Marisa E., “Bodies without the Burden: White Appropriation and Exploitation of Black Appearance and Culture” (2020). Student Publications. 857.https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/student_scholarship/857
Line, T. B. (2017, February 22). The Double Standards of Cultural Appropriation. The Bottom Line. https://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2017/02/how-black-culture-is-exploited-in-memes-copy-headline-plz
Team, B. (2020, June 29). A Brief History of Trends That Originated From Black Communities –. BRICKS Magazine. https://bricksmagazine.co.uk/2020/06/29/black-culture-in-fashion-a-brief-history-of-trends-that-originated-from-black-communities/