Learn the culture. Dont wear it


Graphic by Sarah Morgan

Assata Robinson

Imagine getting a bad grade on something, and then finding out that someone else who copied your work word for word got a grade higher than you. Imagine telling a joke that only a few people hear, and then someone else repeats your joke and gets all the credit. That is, in simple terms, what cultural appropriation is—taking a piece of a specific culture that doesn’t belong to you, mimicking it to be cool or to make money, and changing the meaning of that piece of culture in a way that is disrespectful or inappropriate.

Cultural appropriation can range from dressing up in Native American headdress for your Halloween costume to wearing a particular hairstyle or clothing style. Box braids, cornrows, styling baby hairs, and large hoop earrings are all styles that Black and Latinx women have been wearing for years. They have been shamed for these styles, called unprofessional and “ghetto,” and even lost or been denied jobs. So when Kim Kardashian gets cornrows and is praised for it as well as profits from it, it is hurtful and disrespectful. While it may be all fun and games for the Kardashians, it wasn’t for Faith Fennidy, an 11-year-old Black girl at a school near New Orleans who was sent home because her box braids “violated” the school’s policies.

Celebrities are not the only people who engage in cultural appropriation. Similar behavior is seen at Wilson. Many students who are not Black or Latinx are wearing styles that originated in those communities: hairstyles like box braids, tribal braids, bantu knots, two-strand twists, locs and faux locs, puffs, cornrows, styling baby hairs, high top fades, and clothing styles like sagging jeans and diamond-studded belts. These styles have cultural meaning and are not a costume. Even though you might think “it’s just a hairstyle” or “it’s just clothes,” it’s not. It’s cultural appropriation. 

We can respect and appreciate cultures without stealing them and appropriating them. The next time you or someone you know wants to wear a part of another culture, consider the harm you cause to your classmates when you attempt to wear their struggle and their ancestors’ struggle like a costume. •