Recently the terms, “Cultural Appropriation” have been ubiquitously tossed around in describing the troublesome behaviors of the former Disney child star, Miley Cyrus. At first, I did not understand why everyone was so fascinated/ disgusted/ shocked by a young White female who happened to “like” Black culture. It wasn’t until I had heard from the perspectives of those who felt victim to such violations of cultural appropriation that I was able to truly paint the whole picture.
In Yellow Apparel: When the coolies Become Cool, an undergrad documentary project, filmmakers interviewed both academics and average Americans on their attitudes towards the cultural appropriation of Asia and the commodification of Asian motifs, fashions, and practices (Bindis, Saris, and Chinese character tattoos). Patrons of these cultural commodities, who are usually White Americans, make these purchases with no understanding of the significance behind the oppression experienced by Asian people for introducing these representations and expressions of their culture. The universal anger observed in the film portrays the embedded resentment held by inferior Asian groups for the ease at which White Americans can put on a bindi and not be ridiculed the same way as an Indian. These harboring feelings make us think, “How dare this person be able to wear that, or hold that, or put that statue in her house and not take any of the oppression for that. We have to take so much heat and repression for expressing ourselves,” says Raahi Reddy.
Similarly, African Americans have experienced a long history of cultural appropriation of Black and Hip Hop culture. As cleverly summarized by Oliver Wang, “Black culture is accepted (and consumed), it’s the people that aren’t.” These words may be rather forthright, but they speak volumes of this problematic social trend and the implications of such thoughtless displays of cultural ignorance (insensitivity?). Back to Miley Cyrus, so why was everyone so upset with her new Black image? Well, perhaps it’s because she did not grow up in the “hood,” or experience any social obstacles similar to that of the struggles and cultural oppression of the Black community. Miley Cyrus can flash culture around without “facing the pain, shame, and hurt (Reddy).”
by Qi Xu