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The Dichotomy of Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Appreciation

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Introduction

A series of discriminatory events have brought attention to cultural appropriation in fashion. Many major fashion houses (Gucci, Prada, Dior and more) have been accused at being at the forefront of such appropriation. Cultural appropriation as defined by Cambridge Dictionary states that it is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture” (Cultural Appropriation). Cultural appropriation is often used in academia to discuss the concept as it exists in the realms of many theoretical frameworks. “Often it is used more globally following the issues that arise out of the practice, it equally deals with the aftermath of aggressive colonialism, more specifically power imbalances and race relations” (Cultural Appropriation). In today’s popular culture, the thin line between appropriation and appreciation in fashion is often crossed. Many incidents have recently occurred leaving much to be desired from the fashion industry. Notoriously, an incident within the beauty realm of fashion; popular culture figures like Kim Kardashian and her sisters were seen wearing cornrows rebranded as boxer braids. In other incidents, model sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid, amongst many others, were seen wearing dreadlocks approved by Marc Jacobs in the Spring/Summer 2017 New York Show. Clear evidence of black appropriation within the industry.

As a black female, my position in this research remains neutral. I acknowledge my attachment to these hairstyles (cornrows, dreads, etc.), due to having worn them and understand the potential biases of my attachment. That said, my acknowledgment and acceptance of such hairstyles furthers my understanding of its significance and importance to my community. These hairstyles are more than what meets the eye, they are symbols of resistance, power and freedom. The appropriation of such is too often seen and allowed in the industry without consequence despite its harmful repercussions. This suggests that progressive measures need to be taken beyond the catwalk, but more significantly within executive boardrooms, casting agencies and marketing teams. Moreover, for the purpose of this research, the term ‘industry gatekeepers’ encompasses all parties just mentioned (chief executives, casting agencies and marketing teams). The aim of this research is therefore, to explore how can industry gatekeepers remain at the center of understanding cultural appropriation in black culture, without lapsing into the dichotomy of cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation? Additionally, exploring how can executive powers implement meaningful strategies for avoiding black appropriation (i.e. hairstyles), all the while furthering progressive changes in high fashion (diversity)?

There is an evident disconnect between industry gatekeepers and the runway, subsequently allowing for incidents of cultural appropriation, and even tokenism too occur. While fashion inclusivity and diversity need resolution on the catwalks, exploring and exposing the dynamics in the behind the scenes, can lead to more informed choice, which can influence industry operations. This research serves therefore as a platform to expose such dynamics and spearhead unwavering accountability on the appropriators (industry gatekeepers).

Literature Review and Theory

Theoretical Frameworks

Before diving into the empirical and analytical discussions about black cultural appropriation within the fashion industry, it is important to situate the argument within a theoretical context. First because we will be exploring the ways in which fashion houses appropriate from black culture, subsequently black communities, I will explore theories focusing on the oppression of marginalized groups. Theories within the disciplines of women studies and cultural studies, as this will allow me to regroup multiple facets of oppression. I will focus on the theory of Intersectionality introduced by Kimberlé Crenshaw. This theory can be defined as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups” (Intersectionality). This theory will allow me to frame the ways in which the appropriation of black communities on the runway is detrimental to the progression of fashion and black culture. It will equally allow me to demonstrate the lack of diversity within industry gatekeepers and its impact on progressive change.

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I will also examine theories like cultural essentialism. “Essentialism is the idea that people and things have ‘natural’ characteristics that are inherent and unchanging. Essentialism allows people to categorize, or put individual items or even people into groups, which is an important function of our brains” (Cultural Essentialism: Definition and Video Examples). This theory will allow me to showcase the inherent biases of black culture that industry gatekeepers possess, while contrarily demonstrating the long attachment between the black community and protective hairstyles.

Literature Review

In previous scholarships, there are no discussions holding industry gatekeepers at the forefront of cultural appropriation on the runways. Often the dichotomy between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation overshadows the appropriators. Recent researches have discussed in depth the appropriation of cornrows as well as the impact of media in representation, however, fail to hold accountable the appropriators, in this instance the industry gatekeepers.

Furthermore, few scholars explicitly define the term “cultural appropriation”. In the article, From cultural exchange to transculturation: A review and reconceptualization of cultural appropriation by Richard Rogers, cultural appropriation is defined as “the use of a culture’s symbols, artifacts, genres, rituals or technologies by members of another culture” (Rogers, 2006, p. 474). Similarly, in the article Is Cultural Appropriation braided into Fashion coverage? by Laney Alspaugh, cultural appropriation is defined as “the use of culturally laden images by people with no association with that culture, [that] occurs across the fashion industry. Such appropriation can be practiced without an understanding or appreciation of the originating culture, thereby cheapening the underlying heritage.” (Alspaugh, 2018, p. 6). Rogers definition depicts this idea that cultural appropriation can unilateral, without considering imbalances of power (predominant group taking from a marginalized group). While, Alspaugh definition constrains cultural appropriation within the lens of editorial.

Furthermore, many researchers have conducted their work using framing theory. Framing theory is defined “as a theory of mass communication, [which] refers to how the media packages and presents information to the public.” (Framing Theory, 2001). This meaning, that “the way the topic is presented, the angle chosen, creates a frame for that information. Framing theory [therefore] expands on agenda setting research, as it includes the media telling the audience what aspects of an issue to focus upon” (Alspaugh, 2018, p. 8).

This study will focus on the role industry gatekeepers play within appropriation in fashion. The research will serve to expose the behind the scenes of the industry, while steering away from the dichotomy of appropriation and appreciation. While protective hairstyles worn by black women, and its appropriation have long been studied, there is little insight on the roles industry gatekeepers play in this form of oppression. Additionally, there is no insight on the measures taken to create change on this matter. In order to create change in the fashion industry, change must come from the top down.

References

  1. Alspaugh, L. (2019). s Cultural Appropriation Braided into Fashion Coverage? An Examination of American Magazines. Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications, 10(1), 6–14. Retrieved from https://www.elon.edu/u/academics/communications/journal/wp-content/uploads/sites/153/2019/05/01_Alspaugh.pdf
  2. Bradley, C. (2019, April 12). What Does cultural appropriation Mean? Retrieved from https://www.dictionary.com/e/pop-culture/cultural-appropriation/.
  3. Cashmore, E., & Jennings, J. (2001). Racism: essential readings. London: Sage.
  4. CULTURAL APPROPRIATION: meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/cultural-appropriation.
  5. Cultural Essentialism: Definition and Video Examples. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/cultural-essentialism-definition-examples.html.
  6. Demopoulos, A. (2018, October 31). Inside Fashion’s Big Problem With Cultural Appropriation. Retrieved from https://www.thedailybeast.com/fashion-has-a-big-problem-with-cultural-appropriation-but-not-yet-a-solution.
  7. Framing Theory. (2012, November 1). Retrieved from https://www.communicationstudies.com/communication-theories/framing-theory.
  8. Green, D. N., & Kaiser, S. B. (2017). Fashion and Appropriation. Fashion, Style & Popular Culture, 4(2), 145–150. doi: 10.1386/fspc.4.2.145_2
  9. How Inclusive is the Fashion Industry of Today? . (2019, July 16). Retrieved from https://fashinnovation.nyc/how-inclusive-is-the-fashion-industry-of-today/.
  10. Intersectionality. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intersectionality.
  11. Rogers, R. A. (2006). From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation. Communication Theory, 16(4), 474–503. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2885.2006.00277.x
  12. Wilson, E. (2013, August 7). Fashion’s Blind Spot. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/08/fashion/fashions-blind-spot.html.

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The Dichotomy of Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Appreciation. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-dichotomy-of-cultural-appropriation-and-cultural-appreciation/
“The Dichotomy of Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Appreciation.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-dichotomy-of-cultural-appropriation-and-cultural-appreciation/
The Dichotomy of Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Appreciation. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-dichotomy-of-cultural-appropriation-and-cultural-appreciation/> [Accessed 3 Oct. 2022].
The Dichotomy of Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Appreciation [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2022 Oct 3]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-dichotomy-of-cultural-appropriation-and-cultural-appreciation/
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