A Rant About…is a new series of articles that Label will be posting. Throughout this series, our writers will have an opportunity to rant about anything they want, from small, nit-picky, issues to bigger social issues within contemporary society.
Volunteer writer, Gugundeep Kaur, begins the ‘A Rant About…’ series with a passionate, insightful and intelligent rant about cultural appropriation.
Within our society, there is a thin line and a constant blur between the appreciation of a culture and cultural appropriation. This term describes the ‘acquisition of cultural values and objects without the acknowledgment and necessary respect for the culture.’ A recent example of cultural appropriation is the controversial Gucci Autumn/Winter show in Milan. The show featured a style of turban that is mainly worn by Sikhs, many of whom are persecuted for wearing said religious headwear. The fashion show had items that assimilated the Sikh turban and Muslim hijab in a purely aesthetic manner, ignorant of their religious significance and importance. The insensitivity of not only this cultural borrowing but the many others in the show sparked a social media outcry and rightly so. The way in which so many corporations are commodifying religious attire and profiting from Asian culture brings issues regarding colonialism and orientalism into a modern context.
The way in which the show amalgamated so many different cultures into single looks proves the disregard for the historic significance of these cultural symbols, contributing to the mixed messages that the fashion show gave. On one hand, the show displays how, with the rise of globalisation and the diaspora, we should all be more attuned to the cultures of the world. Yet the obvious insensitivity to world cultures and religions disproves this. I mean, come on Gucci, all it would’ve taken was a quick fact check before the show.
It is unfair and paradoxical that in a world so divided, where individuals are constantly being mocked for their religious wear, that their appearance should be exploited on the runway. The issue of cultural appropriation precipitates to the top of mass media regularly, such as when white actors are cast in roles meant for people of colour, Halloween costumes that mimic religious garments and the controversy regarding the appropriation of dreadlocks.
Cultural exchange is a wonderful thing when executed with full respect for both cultures whereas cultural appropriation takes the form of a more thoughtless borrowing. By all means, be inspired by the different cultures of the world but just don’t appropriate. If caught between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, think about whether what you’re wearing perpetuates racial and cultural stereotypes. Most importantly, take some time to understand and educate yourself on what you’re doing and its meaning.