Whether you understand it fully or not, cultural appropriation is a real thing and a real problem. The Cambridge Dictionary, defines it as “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.” And a lot of times, it is marked by a dominant culture taking from one that has been colonized and oppressed — without regard, respect, or credit. To add insult to injury, once the dominant — more often than not white — culture reiterates these things, they are then seen as cool, edgy, and fashionable. While those of the originating culture are seen as foreign, backwards, “ghetto,” and un-American. Writer Jaya Sundaresh describes this perfectly in her article “Beyond Bindis: Why Cultural Appropriation Matters.” She points out Selena Gomez wearing a South Asian bindi (traditionally worn by Hindus and Jains) and what that really means:
“What makes the non-South Asian person’s use of the bindi problematic is the fact that a pop star like Selena Gomez wearing one is guaranteed to be better received than I would if I were to step out of the house rocking a dot on my forehead. On her, it’s a bold new look; on me, it’s a symbol of my failure to assimilate. On her, it’s unquestionably cool; on me, it’s yet another marker of my otherness, another thing that makes me different from other American girls. If the use of the bindi by mainstream pop stars made it easier for South Asian women to wear it, I’d be all for its proliferation — but it doesn’t. They lend the bindi an aura of cool that a desi woman simply can’t compete with, often with the privilege of automatic acceptance in a society when many non-white women must fight for it.”
The celebrity world isn’t the only segment of society guilty of cultural appropriation. The fashion world has long been guilty of stealing culture in the name of wearable art. So much so, that we wanted to point out 15 blatant instances and discuss each, so we can all better understand how cultural appropriation operates, and help dismantle it.