Cultural appropriation is a prevalent issue that continues to rise in Hollywood and today’s pop culture; it is a trend that needs to be stopped because it promotes white privilege and leads to misrepresentation and racism.
Author Maisha Z. Johnson explained that cultural appropriation “refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by the dominant group.”
Cultural appropriation is prominent in American culture and the problem is accentuated all throughout the media.
From Hollywood movies misrepresenting a character’s ethnicity to popular figures westernizing the different historical customs of other cultures, these acts gradually lead to harmful effects and create tension between different races.
Recent events have forced the public to discuss this issue.
According to The Huffington Post, Kylie Jenner posted an Instagram selfie displaying her hair braided in cornrows with a caption reading, “I woke up like diss [sic].”
Actress Amandla Stenberg commented on the photo, “When u [sic] appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur [sic] position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur [sic] wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter.”
Jenner responded by telling Stenberg to “Go hang w [sic] Jaden [Smith] or something.”
This simple act illustrates how white dominance and cultural appropriation has been normalized. Free to take from pieces of different cultures as they choose, white Americans are able to benefit from other cultures while black Americans have their culture cheapened.
A few months before this exchange with Jenner, Stenberg made a video with a classmate on cultural appropriation entitled “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows” in which Stenberg elaborates on cultural appropriation, particularly the adoption of black hip hop culture by white celebrities.
Stenberg challenges viewers to question why specific elements of black culture are perceived as desirable while violence and discrimination towards people of color continues. Stenberg concluded the video by asking, “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture.”
Other situations in the media have sparked unease amongst various ethnic groups.
Katy Perry anticipated her performance at the American Music Awards as honoring Japanese culture when she danced around in a powdered face and kimono, while holding an umbrella. However, Perry externally highlighted stereotypes of Asian women.
In reaction to Perry’s concert, former fan Crystal Lew told The Atlantic, “This sort of stuff is not funny or artistic to me; it just reminds me I am still not an American to a lot of people.”
When pop culture stereotypes other races, it reminds them they are not and will never be accepted as fully American. Cultural appropriation is racism as it supports racist and sexist social norms. Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations said, “You are pretending to be a race that you are not, and are drawing upon stereotypes to do so.”
Although cultural appropriation may appear to be trivial, it is the baseline of racial violence across the United States. The shooting of Michael Brown in Aug. 2014 in Ferguson, Mo., sparked the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the most passionate social movement happening today. The movement stands up against the killing of unarmed black American men by police officers and the apathetic public response for it. Celebrities like Jenner who appropriate black culture could join the movement and take a stance, but most have not.
Little by little, media is becoming aware of the issue of cultural appropriation and whitewashing in Hollywood.