A few months ago Kreayshawn scorched the internet with the rapid spread of her video for Gucci Gucci.
Lot’s of people were HELLA mad at Kreayshawn. They were like, “This bitch thinks appropriating black culture & style is OK!” And hella other people were like, “That bitch is from the DEEP EAST she came by it honestly!”
I couldn’t decide what I thought. I have a hard time with the issue of cultural appropriation. On the one hand, obviously it’s fucked up for people with privilege to exploit the culture of the oppressed for profit. But since race and class are social constructions, how do we decide who is a legit member of the oppressed group and who isn’t? And once we decide who is legit and who isn’t, how do we decide what is an appropriate way to exchange culture between groups?
Because for real, if people were only ever allowed to dress in styles that originated in their ancestral culture, I’d be wearing like, African wax prints* and Hungarian folk-embroidery every day. Which actually sounds awesome but that’s beside the point. The point is, it’s a problem that oppressed cultures are exploited for profit, and yet as soon as we begin the conversation about how to address that problem, we end up in a heap at the bottom of a very slippery slope.
I think the crux of the problem lies in power imbalance. The idea is that because white people hold more social power, any cultural exchange between their group and others becomes either exploitation or forced assimilation, depending on which way the valve is turned. But that can’t be the last word, can it? CAN IT?
I DON’T KNOW! I mean, class definitely has something to do with it, like when Amy Winehouse wore door knockers I was like, “She’s Armenian that’s like, the Black People of Europe, it’s cool.”
But when Kim K does it, I’m like, “Ugh just cuz she got a fat ass she thinks it’s cool to take our shit!”
But then, WTF do I mean by “Our Shit?” I am from Montclair. No one in Montclair rocked door knockers. At the same time, the people in Montclair made it pretty clear to me that I was not like them and that the group I in fact belonged to was the one that rocked door knockers. And I’m definitely black, and black people are definitely the original popularizers of giant door-knockers. Also, my white MOM wore bamboo earrings in the ’80s. If she was an appropriator does that make me an appropriator, even though I’m black and she’s not? Do door knockers make you black?
It’s this kind of identity unravelling that makes me want to hide in a hole. Did I choose anything? Or is my NorCal hippie/hyphy teenager/disco glam/minimalist chic aesthetic just a result of being shoved around by various social phenomena?
Let’s talk about it IBC! I’d like to think our readers are all at least beyond the whole, “Why can’t I wear this giant Indian headdress, it totally matches my Toms which I specifically bought to help provide shoes to poor Indian children in South America” stupidity. Where do we go with the conversation after that?
When is it cool to rock some shit that is not part of the dress in your culture of origin? Are there choices for designers and stylists beyond the extremes of ignoring all extra-cultural influences and exploiting otherness for profit? Can we locate the thin line between inspiration and appropriation? What do you think of the collections below?
L.A.M.B. Spring 2011 African prints
Gaultier Fall 2009 Menswear Black Panthers
Rodarte Fall 2010 Juarez/border town/factory workers
Inspired, exploitive, or something else?
*Except African wax prints actually originated in Indonesia and were a product of both indigenous Indonesian and Dutch colonial textile manufacturers. Later on African designers would design the prints for manufacture in Indonesia.