We all have that one friend that goes to parties dressed up in a crewed moustache and sombrero, an African-American headress or wears sparkly bindi’s or other body jewellery to every outdoor festival. It’s easy to think of these cultural dress’s as an ‘outfit’ when coming from a place of privilege, something to try on or off at will, without regard to the native people these cultures belong to.
That really is the key word when understanding the difference between appropriation and appreciation: privilege.
As westerners we adopted the traits of every culture as a result of colonisation and the forced assimilation of indigenous people, which is why for example wearing or selling a headress outside of this culture is not okay, because it is unjustly taking something from somebody else and profiting from that market – somebody else’s culture is not yours to objectify, it is not a fashion accessory.
It is also important to remember that appropriation is not spread equally between cultures because power is not spread equally, and as a result of forced assimilation reverse appropriation cannot be applied to minorities.
Throughout history we have seen constant attempts from the Western world to own these symbols of identity, from casting non-indigenous and white people to represent people of colour and from different nationalities, creating and appropriating rap music – to the social adaptation and commodification of dreadlocks everywhere, by wearing or contributing to this market you are by definition stealing from somebody else to make their culture profitable.