Recently you may have heard the term ‘cultural appropriation’. This is by no means a new concept but it has gained traction recently with many well-known celebrities speaking out, or being called out about it. Amandla Stenberg, of The Hunger Games fame, has been particularly vocal about this topic even making a video to educate about what cultural appropriation is. This video is a great starting point in understanding cultural appropriation:
By Amandla’s definition; “Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalisations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves,” This can be particularly exemplified on the red carpets of awards shows.
Earlier this year, popular singer and actress Zendaya wore her hair in dreadlocks to the Oscars. Shortly after, whilst critiquing her outfit on the show Fashion Police, Giuliana Rancic made the comment: “She has just such a tiny frame that this hair, to me, overwhelms her. I feel like she smells like patchouli oil. Or weed! Yeah, maybe weed?”
This comment caused a major controversy and Zendaya replied with this statement on twitter, accusing Rancic of perpetuating racist stereotypes. The controversy was eventually ‘resolved’ after Rancic apologized on the show. (Here is an article with all the information.)
This is by no means an isolated incident, with people of colour – particularly women of colour – constantly being held to racist stereotypes because of how they dress or how they wear their hair. An even bigger problem is the way white people, especially celebrities, are often praised for being edgy and cool for wearing the same things. An extremely current example of this is the reaction of the mainstream media to Miley Cyrus wearing dreadlocks at last night’s VMAs.
Hollywoodlife wrote, “The stunning host wore the most amazing, blonde dreadlock hair extensions in a super high pony and we are LIVING for the entire look!” The article repeatedly talks about how great Cyrus’ hair is and how you can do it too. This was what the majority of the reaction to Cyrus’ hair was like, most news outlets choosing to instead focus on how little clothes she was wearing. The reaction on social media however was very different. This article on Refinery29, highlights some of the reactions to Cyrus’ dreadlocks on twitter, even including a tweet from Chance the Rapper who also called out Cyrus’ for referring to Snoop Dog as ‘mammy’.
This isn’t the first time Miley Cyrus has been called out for cultural appropriation and I doubt it’ll be the last. Cyrus’ attitude towards black culture and the appropriating of it is reflective of many celebrities’ views. From Selena Gomez’s 2013 MTV Movie awards performance to Katy Perry’s ‘This Is How We Do’ music video, many celebrities celebrities continue to disregard just how ignorant they’re being when it comes to other cultures.
As Amandla Stenberg says at the end of her video, “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?”