Why discuss cultural appropriation?
I know what you’re thinking… “Why is she writing this? This is a fashion blog, wtf.? Why the controversy? What does this have to do with Kier Couture?” Well here’s the thing. Not all but most “cultural appropriation” instances are related to fashion or hair. As someone in cosmetology school and as a fashion blogger for the last 5.5 years, this issue does affect me.
On top of that, I almost backed out of posting this amazing bag because I was too scared of being accused of cultural appropriation. Why? Well, it’s the FW Style Sade Mini Bag and it’s made of Nigerian fabric called Aso Oke. It holds deep meaning to Nigerian people and it’s meant for special occasions and worn by traditional rulers. It’s gorgeous and special and I don’t want to disrespect it or be accused of disrespecting it or the Nigerian people in any way.
Who am I to write about this?:
Obviously, I am a white girl and you may, or may not be thinking, “Please check your privilege.” right now. Well obviously I do have some privilege but if you’re new here you may not know how poor I grew up. We relied on government housing assistance as well as food stamps. My mom attended college for free with gov assistance and shortly after got an amazing job which led to us for the first time ever, having nice things.
I was also picked on a lot. Including for my race by some of the Mexican-American boys in our neighborhood. My curly hair gained me the nickname “Curly fries” and my given last name “McGill” earned me accolade of being a “fish sandwich at McDonald’s.” Honestly, I’m kind of over “Mellour” too but whatever, Diddy changes his name a lot too. ANYWAY….
Also while growing up in my small town we didn’t have many black people. But when I moved to Lynnwood, Washington at 12, I experienced massive change and began attending a pretty urban school. There was much more diversity and all the sudden people from all backgrounds were my friends. I began to assimilate as people do. I started listening to rap music my friends showed me, got Phat Farm shoes, and plucked out all my eyebrows (and drew them back on) to fit in with my new multicultural peers. This was in 2001 when “cultural appropriation” wasn’t something that was talked about. We were all just peers, not “black people, Mexicans, and White people” we were all just kids who went to AMS and we all wanted to fit in.
I felt it was important for you as readers to know my background to understand my POV as this is not only an opinion piece but also a discussion because I think we all have a common goal, to stop the hate.
What is Cultural Appropriation:
So I have tried to do some research on What Cultural Appropriation is and why it bothers so many people. What I have gathered is this: Cultural appropriation is wrong because it takes a marginalized group’s ideas, style, music etc which the group has been persecuted for, and suddenly makes it “okay” or “cool” because someone more mainstream or accepted is now adopting it. Like how black people have been discriminated against for having cornrows or afros in school or work but then Kim Kardashian got cornrows and all the sudden they are now “cool.”
Here’s the thing… That’s annoying AF. I get it… It’s kinda like being in class and trying to answer the question and your teacher yells at you for “talking when they were talking” even though you were trying to answer their question. Then someone else says the exact same thing as you and gets a gold star. WTF right?
I’m not saying it’s right or fair. But unfortunately, life isn’t fair. We’ve ALL experienced something like the example above. My sister used to ask for something and my mom would tell her to stop bothering her. I would ask and my mom would wrap it up with a bow. Life just isn’t fair.
When I was being bullied in 5th grade I was a total lepper. I was ostracized and ignored and it was so painful. I was made fun of, left out, all of it. It was horrible and traumatic. But once a “cool girl” said I was cool, I was. Nobody questioned it. It may not be fair that an Armenian woman finally made cornrows socially acceptable, but at least they are now, right? It starts with one person to say, “This is awesome” and the next thing you know a hundred people are doing it and then it doesn’t look so different, it’s not something that’s not understood because 5 people you know have them and it’s just normal now.
We can’t take back the persecution of the past. We can’t do anything about history, we can only move forward. Adapting other’s culture and sharing it and saying, “This is good, this is cool, this should be accepted” is a good thing and a step forward in my opinion. Telling another group that they can’t do something because it’s “your culture’s” is divisive. It’s cultural segregation and I think it’s part of our problem today.
People will always be afraid of or uneasy about what they don’t understand. Things and people who aren’t what we’re used to are easier to hate, reject, and ignore. Once we see someone as “Just like me” we see ourselves in them. We are willing to fight for them, to empathize with them and to love them. When Jackie Robinson was signed to major league baseball he faced racism from all sides. The more his teammates saw him as the same the more quickly they stood up for him. Slowly everything shifted. We not only need to accept one another but we need to celebrate awesome things about one another.
Where is the line?
“Cultural Appropriation” is such a touchy thing too, who draws the line? When is someone celebrating another culture and when are they appropriating them?
When Alexandria asked me to support her in this Kickstarter campaign to promote this gorgeous Sade mini bag, of course, I said yes. I have been working with FW Style since we both started! Alexandria is a gem of a woman, I look up to her and would do anything to help her. When I was in Atlanta for a few days in 2016 I made a point to get together with her. We had only met via email but we were obviously kindred spirits. Our lunch date was SO nice. We talked about our men and her (adorable) babies, fashion, women’s struggles, she gave me advice on starting my T-shirt line, we shared chips and guac and just chatted like old friends even though we had just technically met. But after Halloween and SO many people (Kim Kardashian, Jaclyn Hill and more) were attacked for cultural appropriation I got a little worried. Were people going to say I was guilty of cultural appropriation? This is Nigerian fabric worn for special occasions and by royalty. Do I even have the right to wear it? If Alexandria wasn’t from Nigeria I’m sure it definitely would be an issue. So is it an issue for me to wear it? Would people think I was being disrespectful? I am not royalty, and I’m not Nigerian clearly… Again, where is the line?
I have naturally curly hair, if I brush it out into its natural frizzy state (an afro) is that “cultural appropriation?” It’s my hair, it’s what it would naturally look like if I didn’t style it otherwise. I also did Bantu knots on my hair when I was 10 (maybe partly why I was picked on) and it wasn’t inspired by anyone, I just really liked to do different things with my hair. I had no idea what they were even called, I might have called them “mini buns” like Marc Jacobs did in his runway show and was accused of cultural appropriation. Sometimes you have an idea or get inspired and it wasn’t even by the original culture so how are you even going to know, and really where is the line? Did you know hoop earrings are originally from the aboriginal tribes in Australia? Well now people of ALL races wear hoop earrings, some might even think to wear them is cultural appropriation of latinas but that’s not true. (See here and here). Where do you give credit and do you if the true originator wasn’t your inspiration or on your radar? Do you see what I mean? And if you ask these question people act like you’re racist which is not fair.
Does racism exist? YES. I’ve witnessed it firsthand and it’s disgusting. Once, I had a party in Hollywood, a person I didn’t know (friend of a friend) threw a full can of soda at my black, gay friend JT. Everyone at the party was appalled and that asshole was promptly chased out. Showing we are not only tolerant but LOVE people who are different than us, so much that we want to dress, dance and look like them sets an example for those who aren’t sure where they stand. It also and makes those who are racist and ignorant aware that they are in the minority and won’t be tolerated.
Another time I experienced racism was at the Sam Hunt concert. Sam Hunt is known as “Country Drake” because he has hip-hop influences and talks parts of his songs, like Drake. Sam is from Georgia and grew up with lots of black friends, he has black bandmates and rapped a bunch of covers at his pre-show “House party.” During the set, he danced… I mean, most performers do. Shortly after, Jacques and I overheard a guy talking at the bar, “I liked him a lot until he started dancing like a n*****.” The guy he was talking to instantly said, “What’d you just say? Don’t say that word, the fu*k’s wrong with you?” The racist looked around to several raised eyebrows and a bartender who now refused to serve him. A room full of rednecks shut down a racist, and that’s partly thanks to Sam Hunt and other country artists who have adopted (appropriated?) hip-hop into a loved part of country music… Tim McGraw and Florida Georgia Line have both even collaborated with Nelly. This is cultural blending, it’s happened with every culture in the history of the world. Sharing cultural aspects has prevented wars even accelerated technology.
I am so “woke” to racism that I messaged Alexandria and asked if she was doing okay after the riots and white supremacist rallies in her part of the country. And although she and I and my other black friends know I am not racist, I was still fearful of supporting her campaign. Fearful that I would be attacked for helping a friend spread her culture that she is extremely proud of. Afraid to wear this chic bag because supporting my friend, in some twisted way, would make me “racist” or “ignorant”. I feel like it’s backward and really part of the problem so I refuse to submit, I will not hide my love for FW Style and the Sade mini bag.
SOOOOO, Here’s the deal!!! You’ve seen me wear FW Style here, here, here and here to name a few! Alexandria designed this Sade mini bag and released it in limited quantities on her site to rave reviews and promptly sold out! Now, with your help and support, we can bring this unique handbag to women everywhere AND you can get this bag in your favorite color for a huge discount! The features:
Maybe I am wrong, let me know respectfully in the comments, please. I hope I haven’t offended anyone, I just thought we could have an open discussion about it. Thank you for reading.
P.S. Here’s the worlds best clap back to cultural appropriation which my Half-Japanese trainer Serina shared on Facebook:
Bag: FW Style, c/o. Top: vintage. Skirt: Opening Ceremony.
Shoes: Halston Heritage. Shades: forever 21. Bracelet: Hermès.