Cultural Capture: Can Whites Wear Dreadlocks

Style 2023

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Cultural Capture: Can Whites Wear Dreadlocks
Cultural Capture: Can Whites Wear Dreadlocks

Video: Cultural Capture: Can Whites Wear Dreadlocks

Video: Cultural Capture: Can Whites Wear Dreadlocks
Video: White Student Assaulted for Appropriating Dreadlocks from Black Culture 2023, March

Text: Vera Rayner

The phrase "cultural appropriation" in the headlines and posts of recent years, it increasingly sounds like an accusation. So many corporations and celebrities have been declared guilty of the thoughtless use of foreign cultural codes that you cannot count everyone: from Justin Bieber, who has always been on all the lists of the most hated celebrities, to Beyoncé, whom everyone seems to love.


There are many reasons for condemnation. For example, bindi and Native American feather hats in magazine shoots and on Coachella visitors. Or shows of collections dedicated to abstract "tribal Africa", with the participation of exclusively white girls. Recognizable quotes from the collections of dark-skinned designers at the shows of major brands, not provided with direct links to the original. A twinkling white singer who presents traditional black dance moves as her own specialty. A white model, painted to look like a geisha and dressed in traditional Japanese clothes, which is filmed with sumo wrestlers as decorations. Hairstyles associated with African heritage on white people. Even food of African and Asian origin, not prepared and served in an authentic way. The protest of students of Oberlin College, where Lena Dunham studied, was supported by the famous graduate herself - she spoke about her "disrespect" for Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines in an interview with Food & Wine.

Some of the claims are understandable, some are perplexing. The question that causes the greatest confusion sounds like this: if the current world is a melting pot, where representatives of different cultures live side by side, sharing experiences and using each other's discoveries and inventions, what is the fundamental difference between “cultural appropriation” and cooperation - that is between theft and exchange? Between “predatory appropriation” and a dialogue of cultures? Why do some cases of cultural exchange cause general indignation, and some do not? Commentators on the Internet - both blacks and whites; both friendly and aggressive; and correct, and not at all - there are even more questions. Can someone without a Mexican family eat a burrito? Is it offensive for a Frenchman to be near a non-Frenchman munching a croissant? Should you throw out your jeans if your ancestors are not from the Western states? Is every white man with dreadlocks a racist? Can African girls be accused of cultural appropriation for straightening their naturally curly hair to be “white”?

White women are examples of virtue and worship. Black - objects of fetishism and cruelty

The last question is the most frequently asked one. After all, it is the "black" hairstyles of white celebrities that account for the lion's share of scandals in the media. Someone is regularly called to account for wearing dreadlocks and braids. One of the most resonant cases happened with Kylie Jenner, who posted on Instagram a photo with five pigtails on her head and the caption: “I woke up like disss”. In a commentary on the post, Hunger Games star and activist Amandla Stenberg quickly came: “When you appropriate black culture and its particular features, but you also don’t think about using your influence to help black Americans, drawing attention to your wigs instead of police brutality or racism. #whitegirlsdoitbetter ". Let's omit the moment when Justin Bieber spoke in defense of Kylie, and immediately come to other, more ambitious performances by Stenberg.

“The signs of the black style are beautiful. Black women - no, the actress wrote in a short essay, circulating it on social networks shortly after the run-in with Jenner. - White women are examples of virtue and worship. Black ones are objects of fetishization and cruelty. These are the notions of black beauty and black femininity in a society built on Eurocentric beauty standards … While white women are praised for altering their bodies, enlarging their lips and darkening their skin, black women are ashamed for the same things that were given to them from birth. " On account of her and the video "Don't Cash Crop On My Cornrows", in which she reiterates the idea that things from their native culture are ridiculed on African Americans. And on white people, the same things become "high fashion", "cool" and "original". That is, white girls, Stenberg believes, use them to be "rebels", to give themselves a more "sharp", provocative look - and collect compliments.

The fact is that African hair is really not just hair. There is a history and context that cannot be ignored, which cannot be erased from centuries of slavery and racism as part of public policy. A white person who uses a "black" hairstyle ignores this context, thereby turning black hair into a fetish, a kind of blackface. Historically, this is a form of theatrical makeup, when white actors covered their skin with black paint, and their lips were generously smeared with bright red, playing embodied stereotypes: characters that are stupid, dapper, uselessly following white women, poorly controlling their animal urges, ridiculous and cruel. In this set of roles there was also a special role - "blacks" who desired the impossible: liberation from planters and slavery. For more than a hundred years, these caricatures, humiliating for real African Americans and asserting a disdainful attitude towards them in society, have been part of the American (and not only) theatrical tradition. Any manifestation of blackface these days is expected to be met with rage, whether it is a “black suit” (dyeing the skin black) for Halloween or all the same pigtails for selfies and likes.

And it's not so much a matter of individual white women and men who wear braids or dreadlocks - by the way, the Vikings also wore them, but today this hairstyle is associated precisely with African culture - but in the preserved hierarchy: the attitude towards "blacks" is still different from the attitude to white. The latter decide what is "fashionable" and "cool", thereby depriving African Americans of the right to symbols of their own cultures. Moreover, “blacks” are forced to bring themselves closer to “white” beauty standards: their natural curly hair is called “unkempt and unkempt”, dreadlocks are called “dirty”, and the smell from special hair styling products with such features is “unpleasant”, comparing it with marijuana or spices.

As a result, the regular straightening of curls from childhood becomes for many African American girls almost a mandatory procedure, without which they will not be accepted in the "white" society. The decision to leave hair as it is turns out to be a radical gesture: back in the 1960s, natural afro was practically the banner of revolution - and little has changed since then. To get a feel for the situation, you can, for example, read a recent essay by writer Jennifer Epperson for Lenny Letter.

Gucci is not doing anyone a favor by "paying tribute" to Dapper Dan. Cultural exchange takes place between people, not between people and corporations

The recent Gucci story, when Alessandro Michele replicated Harlem designer Daniel Dapper Dan Day's jacket for the Italian house's cruise collection, should not be considered outside this context. Back in the 80s, Dan was the first to turn counterfeit into art: his things, completely covered with the logos of the most coveted luxury brands - including Gucci, were worn by hip-hop stars, gangsters, and just local fashionistas. The designer himself called what he did with things from the wardrobes of wealthy white clients of fashion houses, the word "blackanize". Michele dedicated his cruise collection to counterfeit fashion, constant borrowing and exchange between luxury and fashion: he subjected not only Dan's works to Gucchification, but also several other designers and artists. They were all outraged.

However, in all other cases, the story was discussed solely as an example of plagiarism. And in the situation with Dan, the very fact that the collection is dedicated to counterfeit fashion was perceived as a mockery of the history of African American culture at that time. The phrase from the acclaimed text Business of Fashion, where it was said that Dapper Dan himself would not exist without Gucci, because he did with the things of the Italian house what Michele does with his things today, was taken with hostility: “When Dapper Dan and black artists create something, they are marginalized. And when large houses are “inspired” by marginalized groups, they only make money on it.” “There is a difference between engaging in culture (eating its food, listening to its music, dancing dances. Usually done by individuals) and appropriating it (capitalizing on the aesthetics of other cultures. Usually done by companies),” the text commentators complained. “Gucci is not doing anyone a favor by“paying tribute”to Dapper Dan. Cultural exchange takes place between people, not between people and corporations."

Looking into the piggy banks of other cultures, looking for inspiration around is a completely normal process. But, according to critics, you have the right to do this only by plunging into the research deep enough, looking beyond stereotypes and superficial ideas, or inviting representatives of this culture to cooperate. “Acceptance,” writes one commentator on the BoF text, “means you've taken the time to establish a dialogue with the culture you're borrowing from … Acceptance would mean meeting Dapper Dan and possibly doing something together. Or invite him to the show, sitting in the first row, since you pay tribute to his work."

Even if we move away from the story with Gucci, the value of acceptance is not in the repetition of other people's images, but in the interpretation of details. Not in copying a style, but in interweaving it with your own. That is why Ricardo Tisci's collection (the most impoverished) for Givenchy, in which he combined Latin American cholas with Victorian aesthetics and his own style, is an example of a successful interaction of cultures. True, at one time it also caused a storm of indignation and a wave of discussions.

When borrowing from other cultures, it is generally important to do it with respect. You should not wear the signs of someone's culture as a fancy dress - "sexy Indian" or "wild native". Or use items that have a sacred meaning as accessories - as it was at the Victoria's Secret show, when Karlie Kloss took to the catwalk in a bikini with a fringe and a headdress made of feathers (this headdress had a special meaning in Native American culture - it was used in rituals) … Putting it on just like that, especially on the podium, according to journalist Simone Moyi-Smith from the Indian settlement of Oglala Lakota, is like wearing real orders and posthumous "purple hearts" as accessories, not deserving them.

Seeing how your childhood memories, the realities of your parents' youth, elements of your identity turn into souvenirs for rich fashionistas, it is strange and not everyone is pleased

Meanwhile, appropriation can be called borrowing, the seizure of traditions not only from different peoples, but also from marginalized social groups. In fact, the whole trend towards the "aesthetics of poverty", flirting with the images of people from the social lower classes, who were laughed at until recently, while being afraid of them, is an example of appropriation. It's not just about the life of the ghetto boys. But also about, for example, Rubchinsky's collaboration with Burberry, which revives the style of British gopniks - Chavs, who at one time loved the fashion house's signature cage so much that they almost ruined the brand's reputation. Former fans have become embarrassed to buy her stuff. Now the image is becoming trendy again.

A wave of enthusiasm for everything post-Soviet can also be considered appropriation - and this example is more understandable for residents of the former USSR, because it already affects their own experience. Both Rubchinsky and the Gvasalia brothers - the driving force of this story - found those times and lived in them. The question is, are not those wealthy buyers who, having no idea about post-Soviet poverty, Soviet repression under the hammer and sickle flag, are the appropriators who wear the $ 700 Vetements hoodie?

Indeed, precisely because of painful associations, this trend is so unpleasant for many Russian viewers. It is more difficult to perceive the "poetics of poverty" and sleeping areas, markets and huge things from someone else's shoulder, if for you it is not just a style, but the reality of a hopelessly impoverished past, into which you are afraid to return one day. Seeing how your childhood memories, the realities of your parents' youth, elements of your identity turn into souvenirs for rich fashionistas, judging by the comments in the Russian media, is not pleasant for everyone.

And yet, the popularity of these designers and their style has provoked interest in the modern culture of post-Soviet countries in general. It gave many "Russians" an opportunity to integrate into the world cultural flow, growing from exotic curiosities into global heroes. And at the same time to get away from stereotypes about bears and balalaikas and Russian bandits from Hollywood films. That is, although signs of their own culture on representatives of other cultures may bring discomfort, in the long term the effect may be positive. In the era of globalization, it is naive and unproductive to try to “conserve” cultures, leaving their borders impenetrable in order to protect them from foreign encroachments. Exchange of ideas and experience, borrowing is an integral part of the creative process. And the possibility of this exchange, which is practically unlimited today, is one of the important social achievements. And, who knows, perhaps the path from segregation to unity lies in the transition from the ownership of a specific culture to the disposal of the global one.

PHOTOS: Fear of God, Kenzo

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