By Raquel Pacheco
The ongoing Black Lives Matter protests around the United States and across the globe, which sparked due to George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis due to police brutality, have reinforced a point which needed to be kindled – the unjust and appalling treatment to the Black community.
For the past months, protestors have been incessantly demanding justice for the murders of George Floyd and others, including Elijah McClain and Breonna Taylor. These recent events have not only sparked a conversation about remaining silent but also triggered us to learn and make an urgent change.
Following on from our article best educational reads to understand racism, it seems time to talk about the innumerable cases of cultural appropriation within the fashion industry that have been occurring for several years.
By learning and educating yourself, you are already implementing change. However, it is necessary to understand the problem of appropriation and how it is correlated to white privilege.
What does it mean?
Cultural appropriation can be defined as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society”. However, cultural appropriation differs from cultural exchange, in which there is, in fact, a mutual sharing. As
That is, in fact, the severe problem with cultural appropriation – appropriating, ultimately means to take profit or approach a less dominant culture with a sense of entitlement. The heritage and traditions of the culture are used by those in a position of greater privilege for reasons such as fashion or out of ignorance, instead of actual knowledge and appreciation of that culture.
The problem with the fashion industry
Take, for instance, the countless number of celebrities that have appropriated elements from Black culture, such as dreadlocks or box braids. When these parts of the culture are misused, Black men and women do not see any type of representation or profit. Or power.
However, when the fashion and beauty industries employ white celebrities as the image of their brands, they’re not only using these elements because they think its “cool” or “fashionable”, but they are actually profiting from it. Using culture and heritage for commercial purposes diminishes all depth and meaning – and that’s a problem.
Unfortunately, the fashion industry (especially luxury brands) has been employing other culture’s clothing and customs that have been used by Black people for generations. Every year, fashion brands will use white models for the runway wearing hairstyles or elements taken from other cultures, becoming one of the biggest offenders when it comes to cultural appropriation.
For example, when Marc Jacobs sent his models down the catwalk for his 2017 Spring collection with faux wool dreadlocks, it caused an uproar, as the American designer was accused of appropriation and racial insensitivity.
We can no longer deny how cultures have been appropriated for fashion or financial purposes. It is important to remember and acknowledge how problematic and hurtful this is, not only for the Black community but for any culture which has been diminished and misrepresented.
Undoubtedly, we need to avoid cultural exploitation, and the best way to do so is by hiring Black people as models, designers, artists, etc. and giving them the representation and ownership they deserve.
We need to be highly conscious of the urgency of our current problems right now. In order for us to help we need to inform ourselves and keep learning, so if you are interested in learning about the different ways you can also help Black communities, you can also read our article on some ways you can help and support Black communities.