By Tierra Williams
Starting in the 1950s, the biggest social movement of the 20th century began. This movement is known as the civil rights movement. African American people, as well as whites, banded together in order to fight for the equal rights of African American men and women. This movement proved to be very successful as laws were put in place to stop racial inequality. While laws were passed to “stop inequality”, it is still quite prevalent in today’s society. Of course it wouldn’t just end right away just because laws were passed, but one would think that after over 50 years there would be more progress than what we are seeing today. More recently, I have witnessed many examples of cultural appropriation of African American culture. I will be exploring an example of cultural appropriation in our society and provide analyses of each of how these social aspects that are involved in this issue.
First off, what is cultural appropriation? Cultural appropriation “almost always involves members of the dominant culture (or those who identify with it) “borrowing” from the cultures of minority groups” (Nittle, 2017). Many minorities, especially African Americans face discrimination because of their cultures and it’s an absolute slap in the face when people of another race “borrow” culture and try to pass them as their own. For example, women of color have been criticized for their hairstyles such as, braids, afros, and dreads for years and because of how their hair grows out of their scalps it has been called “untamed” or “unkempt”. This has oppressed women of color greatly. Naturally, white hair has been defined as the norm of society. To conform with society’s standard of beauty, women of color have resorted to methods of straightening their hair and using other methods to hide their natural hair. Meanwhile, there are white celebrities making trends out of very hairstyles that women of color are criticized for wearing. On top of that, they rename the hairstyle and don’t give credit where credit is due. When confronted with their blatant appropriation of hairstyles, the response is usually “It’s just a hairstyle.” or my personal favorite, “ If black people can wear their straight and dye it, then I should be able to this hairstyle.”. What many fail to see is that there is a difference between a black woman wearing their hair straight and a white woman wearing their hair in black hairstyles. A black woman wearing her hair straight is called assimilation. Zeba Blay, who wrote an article on the issue explained it well by saying this,
“When Black women straighten our hair, or dye it blonde, we’re not “appropriating white hairstyles” — it is not the same thing. The word you are looking for is assimilation. White hair is the norm. It is the default. It is the societal ideal. There are many reasons why black women today wear their hair either natural or straightened, but for the most part, the practice of straightening black hair came from a real necessity to conform and survive, and to better emulate societal beauty standards that oppress women of all races — standards that just happen to be based around white beauty.”(Blay, 2015).
I honestly could not say this better myself. There are stigmas associated with black hairstyles and when they are “borrowed” the stigma doesn’t go along with it, hence, why it’s so offensive to the culture it is being borrowed from. All it takes is time to educate yourself about why something may be offensive to other cultures and all they ask is that people respect it and not make up excuses as to why they should be able to dress a certain way or do a certain thing.
The level at which this issue is operating is at the meso-level and macro-level. More than anything I see this as a problem that is more exclusive to the United states. In the United States, there are multiple instances of cultural appropriation. I say it is on the macro-level because different cultures all around the world are implicated. These include offensive costumes, imitations of cultural items, and and even things like riding around in a wheelchair as a way to put yourself into someone else’s shoes. These things are offensive and the backlash that people experience show us just how serious these offenses are. Because this affects multiple minorities, this issue can most definitely be seen as a social issue rather than a personal issue. Acts like this only tear us, as a society, further apart because it’s a slap in the face to the people that actually know the history and have fought for these things that are being appropriated.
The textbook, Our social World, defines social forces as being the external pressure that causes people to behave in certain ways (Ballantine & Roberts, 2011). For the people of minorities, it’s not so much that they are pressured to appropriate a culture. It’s that the pressures of society push them to assimilate to what is defined as the norm and hide their own cultures to blend in. As for others appropriating the cultures of minorities, there are no social forces that put pressure on them to do these things. A lot of the time people who are appropriating cultures feel as if they are just “appreciating” them. Luckily, with all of the attention that the topic of cultural appropriation gets in the media, people are realizing that “borrowing” has very negative repercussions.
There may be a possible solution to resolve the appropriation of cultures. I believe using the conflict theory would be the best way to go about handling it. The conflict theory states that conflict is bound to happen in any group or society. To avoid conflict, the best way is to educate people on the matter. This, although, will not always be effective. People will still choose to do what they want but with the social sanctions that come with these acts, people may be more likely to think twice before “borrowing” culture. There are ways to appreciate a culture without being offensive. It’s not that people don’t want to share their culture with others, they want their tradition to be used in an appropriate and respectful matter. The sooner people learn to this, the easier it will become for our society as a whole to come together as one.
Ballantine, J. H., & Roberts, K. A. (2011). Our social world: Introduction to Sociology. Thousand Oaks , CA: SAGE/Pine Forge Press.
Blay, Zeba (Aug. 2015) It’s A Slap In The Face When White Women Wear Black Hairstyles. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/its-a-slap-in-the-face-when-white-women-wear-black-hairstyles_us_55c0c153e4b0b23e3ce3f27b
Nittle, Nadra (Feb. 2017) What Is Cultural Appropriation and Why Is It Wrong?. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/cultural-appropriation-and-why-iits-wrong-2834561
Pew Research Center (2016). On Views of Race and Inequality, Blacks and Whites Are Worlds Apart. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/06/27/on-views-of-race-and- inequality-blacks-and-whites-are-worlds-apart/?utm_source=adaptivemailer&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=16-6-27+race+press+release&org=982&lvl=100&ite=148&lea=9344&ctr=0&par=1&trk=
Tazi, Dounia ( 2016). How to culturally appreciate and not culturally appropriate. retrieved from http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/28767/1/how-to-culturally-appreciate-and-not-culturally-appropriate