• The 'S' Report

Why cultural appropriation still matters in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

“People want our culture, but they do not want us”

- Clara Amfo

Marc Jacobs braids

In a time where the issues around systemic racism have come to the forefront of our global consciousness, we need to unpick the problems in our society. This situation, if nothing else, is an opportunity to create real change. Not only does the culture of police brutality need to be fixed but the long-term effects of systemic racism need to be assessed. It is a change which needs to be done through any means possible, such as grass-roots movements, protest, politics and most importantly, a cultural revolution. It is not enough anymore to ignore the issues as we have done for so many years. With that in mind, I want to focus on an area that is often overlooked, cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation has been acknowledged as a problem in society for many years but in particular, it is a problem for the fashion industry. In comparison to the overall issues that surround race in our society, cultural appropriation is a fairly small part of it, it isn’t a risk to people’s lives, for example. But as it is a fairly small part, logically it should have been solved a long time ago. This is one of the factors which shows the larger problem, why can’t we, as a society, not exploit disadvantaged cultures?

Well, it could be due to the attitudes around it, many don’t see it as a problem, or even realise it is happening. While others think it’s political correctness gone mad or that they are trying to honour the cultures. This is why race differences have turned into a powder keg because our society doesn’t view black problems as societal problems.

The fashion industry is one of the most influential in our society, especially when there are celebrities involved, this means that as long as fashion brands continue to culturally appropriate, people will continue to think it is not a problem. Any change, even a small change, would help the situation.

Cultural appropriation, especially in the fashion industry, can come in the form of wearing a traditional cultural outfit as a costume or even reconstituting cultural outfits without giving credit. It is a way of silencing already downtrodden cultures.

Therefore it is very simple, either the fashion brands who culturally appropriate are willfully ignorant and don’t do their research, or they actively participate in cultural appropriation.

High fashion brands are in general, much worse with cultural appropriation, possibly because they create the trends and fashion is already made from a mix of different cultures. Gucci, Marc Jacobs and Victoria’s Secret have all been accused of cultural appropriation; while many, many celebrities and publications including Vogue and the Kardashians have been caught out wearing inappropriate hairstyles like cornrows.

So what can you do? Well, depending on your situation, you might find it the best to educate yourself. To understand and be empathetic to everyone at the moment. There are people who are scared for their lives but there are also people who had no idea that this situation was brewing under the surface. The only way true change will be achieved is through empathy, if we understand each other, we can work together effectively.