To understand cultural appropriation, we must first be able to recognize the meaning of culture. Culture is a term for the way of life and is defined as the essential and collective ideas, beliefs, traditions, customs and values of a group. Cultural appropriation is the unjust act of taking or borrowing these aspects or emblems from another culture without their permission and without fully understanding the meaning behind them. It conducts within a logic that legitimates domination over a subordinate group. In this case, indigenous people’s cultural aspects and objects are taken over by dominant white society. This misappropriation and colonialism involves complicated issues of negative stereotypical representations against the minority group. The article explains the difference between using restricted symbols and unrestricted symbols of one’s culture to help avoid cultural appropriation. For example, the actual parchment of a Bachelor’s degree is a restricted symbol and by pretending to have earned one can cause serious consequences within a culture. This is the same as a non-native wearing a headdress, which perpetuates stereotypes about the Native people, as headdresses are considered a restricted symbol. Headdresses are not only restricted to non-natives, but are mainly suited for Native men and rarely seen on women. The headdresses are earned by the men and represent an act or event of profound significance. When people wear headdresses for fashion, costume or other purposes, they are contributing to the vicious cycle of cultural appropriation. They are doing so, by minimizing the continued oppression of the Native community, rather than helping to break the cycle.
An example of cultural appropriation found in popular culture recently, is from the Fashion Show in Milan. The fashion label Dsquared2, designed a theme-based line loosely off of their perception of Canadian Indian tribes. The twin brothers, Dean and Dan, called their collection Dsquaw, and created hashtags on social media channels, including Instagram and Twitter to campaign their fashion line. The word squaw is known as a derogatory and contemptuous term that refers to Native women, especially a wife. The use of this racial slur displays the intersectionality of racism and sexism. The clothing they designed is also another representation of misappropriation and homogenization of the Native culture. This is caused by the lack of understanding and only visualizing incorrect images of Natives. By solely focusing on Natives in the past, it eliminates the contemporary presence and makes the current controversies impossible to be aware of. To aid this issue, we must examine the images and stereotypes present, as well as tackle the hardships and affairs happening in the Native community. These stereotypes of the indigenous culture emphasize the notions ingrained by the Western superiority. From this stems the salvage paradigm, which is described as the need for indigenous people to be saved by saviours, who then hold the power to choose which aspects to preserve and features to disregard. In the paper, “From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation,” Richard A. Rogers says that, “cultural appropriation is involved in the assimilation and exploitation of marginalized and colonized cultures and in the survival of subordinated cultures and the resistance to dominant cultures.”
To conclude, this article does a wonderful job articulating what cultural appropriation and how we can help stop it. It provides people with a point of view on thinking twice before dressing in a certain sacred or important item to another culture. Specifically, wearing a headdress for an occasion or for your own purpose, without critically understanding what it stands for, is why this cycle of cultural appropriation is still existent. By only taking parts of the Native culture, we are ignoring the more prevalent and pressing issues they are faced with. Stereotypes have historically been used to vindicate racism and discrimination against indigenous people. Even though people’s intentions are good, perpetuating stereotypes simplifies these cultures and by doing so, reduces the people that belong and makes it easy to condone the injustice. This article shows that we should rather celebrate the Native people, by admiring their art and culture. Once we learn to understand when cultural appropriation is present and how to diminish it, we will gain mutual respect for one another. A simple acknowledgment of cultural appropriation is a step forward to ending the cycle of this issue. Enjoying the way of the Native people and living together in harmony, will allow us to see that “justice is what love looks like in public”, as Cornell West said.
K, Adrienne. “But Why Can’t I Wear a Hipster Headdress.” Native Appropriations. 27 Apr. 2010. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. <http://nativeappropriations.com/2010/04/but-why-cant-i-wear-a-hipster-headdress.html>.
Schilling, Vincent. “Oh No They Didn’t: Designers Show ‘Squaw’ Fashion in Milan.” Indian Country Today Media Network. 3 Mar. 2015. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/03/03/oh-no-they-didnt-designers-show-squaw-fashion-milan-159446>.
Watanabe, Marina. “What, Exactly, Is Cultural Appropriation (And How Is It Harmful)?” Everday Feminism. 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 9 Mar. 2015. <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/what-exactly-is-cultural-appropriation-and-how-is-it-harmful/>.
“An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses.” Âpihtawikosisân. Web. 6 Mar. 2015. <http://apihtawikosisan.com/hall-of-shame/an-open-letter-to-non-natives-in-headdresses/>.