In the choppy waters of racism, cultural appropriation floats to the surface. The issue goes beyond dreadlocks on catwalks and Native American war bonnets at Coachella. The United States was built off the backs of minorities, and their cultures have been exploited since 1776. To many groups, their tradition and culture is all they have left to cling to.
Native American culture in particular has gained a lot of media attention, since war bonnets have been dubbed “trendy”. Music festivals like Coachella are sprinkled with feathered headdresses, worn by young, white women in skimpy clothes. Music festivals are known to invite outrageous outfits, but a majority doesn’t understand the sacred items they are wearing.
“Cultural appropriation can feel disrespectful,” said Kim Preston. “Not so much that people are intending to mean disrespect by wearing war bonnets or something like that, or religious symbols or native symbols. But I think the thing is people don’t understand the history behind the things that they are wearing,” said Preston.
Granted, there are citizens out there who have no interest in learning about other cultures, and could call cultural appropriation a non-issue. Regardless of opinion, ‘sexing up’ Native garments directly adds to the issue of assault among Native women. In the United States, American Indian women are two and a half times more likely to be sexually assaulted.
“When I was at Coachella this year, I thought I might see some questionable outfits, but the headdresses threw me off,” said Anika Clark, a high school senior who attended Coachella this year. “I guess I’ve just seen so many articles about how disrespectful that is and to see girls in bikinis and headdresses seemed wrong,” said Clark.
But Native Americans aren’t the only groups whose culture gets exploited for fashion purposes. Perhaps the most controversial adoptions come from Latino and Black culture. Hairstyles like dreadlocks, cornrows, and gelled down baby hairs are core components of these cultures and help minorities define their heritage.
Racism is alive and well in the United States and goes beyond using racial slurs and buying Halloween costumes depicting a caricature of a culture. Before wearing a sombrero to a party or dawning traditional African garb at a concert, consider how someone from that culture perceives your use of their items.