Identity, Life

7 pieces of hard evidence that cultural appropriation is absolutely real

"I, like, went to India once and ate the food there, which means I processed the nutrients so I'm, like, part Indian now."

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Sometimes I forget that this is only an exaggeration of the generic white person who rocks “forehead stickers” and strikes a Thai greeting pose in their newest picture from Japan, and mix it up with reality.

But really, who could blame me? If another wispy white girl wearing a dream catcher necklace tells me they’re part Native American, I’m going to personally time travel back to the 15th century to eradicate every single colonizing ancestor they ever could’ve had. I’m sure that, somehow, fate would still construct another version of them wearing lolita and whitewashing .gifs of Kpop idols just to peeve me.

Appropriation is a real problem, often leading to “edgy” and “alternative” new trends that have been taken from a culture and redistributed out of context for Westerners.

Here are some more “fads” that white people have co-opted. Here lie testaments to our patience:

Yoga

"<a
giphy.com

A practice almost synonymous with “healthy living” movements and blonde girls toting Om symbols, “yoga” actually originated in ancient India. Even though, in a modern context, a lot of us are quick to envision juicing and blow up rubber balls, “yoga” means more than for exercise. It’s deeply rooted in spirituality as a means towards controlling or expanding both the mind and body, with a multitude of interpretations leading to different schools with different goals.

Westerners took something out of context and diluted it down for ease of consumption. Click To Tweet

What we tout around as beneficial for building limber muscles is actually asana, a series of postures to prepare the body for meditation. It’s simply one aspect of a religion that contains various interconnected concepts and practices and has been taken completely out of context and even misnomered. People who do acknowledge its religious roots also tend to carry out their practices in worrisome ways, acting as if actual Hindus, Buddhists, and beyond don’t actually practice these values in this day and age. No matter how you view it, our modern conception of yoga is almost exactly appropriation. Westerners took something out of context (worsened by the fact that the practice in itself was a piece of a community’s entire religion) then declared it “exotic” and diluted it down for ease of consumption. A lot of the modern health movement relies on plain racism, from the stealing of daal as a health food to “chai tea.” (I absolutely LOVE “tea tea,” too.)

Dreads & Braids

"<a
giphy.com

Must I even say it? Most hairstyles specific to Black communities are also specific to Black hair types. This concept manifests most prominently in the occurrence of natural dreads and braids–commonly, box braids–as a means of protection for Black hair. The process of growing locs is radically different for Black hair types and other hair types, with the difference, most-pointed out being that Black individuals still shower pretty regularly even with locs while someone with European hair (for example) generally have to keep unwashed hair. Even if these reasons weren’t valid, there’s still all the history surrounding Black hair as well as circumstances specific to those with natural hair.

Most hairstyles specific to Black communities are also specific to Black hair types. Click To Tweet

In America, and a majority of the Western world as well, little Black kids are instructed to cut or relax their hair or risk their education. Black workers are told that their hairstyle is unprofessional and risk stable jobs and negative perceptions all because of the natural state of their hair.

When White people try to co-opt styles so deeply entrenched with struggle, I can’t help but feel that it’s such an intensely ignorant act. A White person growing dreads is “edgy” and “alternative” while Black people with natural hair are “probably weed dealers.”

Eastern Religions (Also, White Jesus)

"<a
giphy.com

Alright, if there’s one thing I can credit white people with, it’s religion. I’m certainly not here to criticize people for their beliefs, but some people who are looking towards “mystical” Eastern religions just absolutely offend me. I understand that some Western practitioners are very dedicated to learning about the religion they choose to follow, and I have endless respect for that.

But I can’t respect people who claim Eastern and other ancient or indigenous religions are somehow more “wise.” I often find that these people forget that real people in a modern era practice these religions and that the key to a lot of these religions are applying them to your real life. It sometimes almost feels like a white savior story, where a white person stumbles upon some ancient “secret” that makes them part of an exclusive club.

It definitely exotifies these religions, and I think the first step towards being respectful is asking yourself, “Why?” Why do I believe this particular religion is a certain way? Am I practicing this religion just so that I can differentiate myself from white peers?

The list could go on and on, but I don’t believe that I should be one to police religion unless someone goes about practicing it in very appropriative ways.

Another way appropriation manifests is through icons and tokenism. The typical hipster aesthetic includes Om symbols strung on chokers, Buddha statues, Shiva posters, and yin yang symbols plastered wherever there’s space for one. I see these icons so often in my daily life now that I don’t even consider their significance and context. We live in a world where Westerners have taken important religious concepts and turned them into easily mass produced iconography. We live in a world where “karma” is a slang word for retribution for evil deeds, instead of it’s much more complicated place in the reincarnation belief systems of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Another way appropriation manifests is through icons and tokenism. Click To Tweet

In our modern day society, even Jesus is whitewashed. Jesus was a Jew, and likely dark or olive-skinned according to his origin. The whitewashing of Jesus is just another juxtaposition of double standards. Jesus must be White because Jesus is good and pure.

A darker Jesus is absolutely reprehensible, right? Jesus isn’t supposed to almost fit our nation’s idea of a terrorist, right? A Jewish, darker-skinned and curly haired Jesus is only good history and good theology. Westerners couldn’t even popularize one of the world’s most popular religions right, much less the concepts in Hinduism or Buddhism.

Rock & Roll

"<a
giphy.com

The first time I heard the history of Rock and Roll, it was during a Speech competition. It started at Chuck Berry and ended with descriptions of Metal and Punk genres, and I went happily on my way (probably with Lou Reed crooning “Heroin” into my ears).

Rosetta Tharpe was doing rock before anyone else. Click To Tweet

Imagine my surprise when I find out that rock and roll is an offshoot of jazz, and that Rosetta Tharpe was doing it before anyone else.

Anime

"<a
giphy.com

I’ll admit it – I was one of those kids super obsessed with being Japanese. It’s a stain on my otherwise decent record, and I can’t believe fully grown people are still acting the way I did in 2008. It’s spawned a complete culture of weaboos, koreaboos, and chinaboos. There’s little to no reality at all concerning the origin of anime, and everyone and their cousin twice removed wants to move to Japan.

The cultural climate of Japan actually looks down on “otakus” and is deeply xenophobic. Left and right, people are co-opting Asian makeup trends and trying to one up Asian fashion gurus and idols. I see artists and cosplayers claiming anime characters with Japanese names, and who live in Japan, are racially ambiguous. Everything reeks of orientalist views and I have to wonder why I even have to tolerate White girls putting candles in onigiri as substitutions for birthday cakes.

If I knew that the sexualization of Asian women was gonna get popular then I would’ve held onto my qipao. Hell, I should’ve held onto all my Sailor Moon merchandise.

Henna

"<a
giphy.com

The most horrifying story I’ve heard comes from a close friend of mine, whose elementary school teacher tried to force her to scrub her mehndi off and even resorted to nail polish remover. If you’re invited into a culture, it’s one thing, but I’m so weary of young teens in Aztec print sporting Knott’s Berry Farm street-stall henna tramp stamps.

If a desi person sports something from their own culture then they're a fob. Click To Tweet

I feel that they don’t get the same stares or receive the same implications that a desi person would. If a desi person sports something from their own culture then they’re a fob, but if a white person decided to co-opt it then they’re “worldly” and “adventurous”?

Get outta here.

Big Lips & Lip Liner

"<a
giphy.com

I’ll be honest, everyone, I didn’t even know the Kardashians were white until thought pieces started to crop up about Kylie Jenner’s appropriation of dreads and thick lips. While white people can be born with thick lips, it’s more common that a black or Latinx person is born with them. People born with thick lips often face teasing and snide remarks about them, and they follow a person all throughout their life. You can trace the idea of thick lips being “ridiculous” all the way back to minstrel shows, where the use of blackface exaggerated big lips.

I’m not quite sure why white people want to be dangerously close to recreating minstrel shows in a modern context, but it’s happening.

After years of torment for chola fashion and culture, we have people overlining their lips left and right in order to stay “trendy.” Do they get an apology, even recognition? No. To start with, people aren’t even willing to own up to the more blatant offense towards the black community.

Do they get an apology, even recognition? No. Click To Tweet

On the other hand, almost all people of color are stuck performing whiteness in order to stay alive and succeed.

Bring me to church on Sundays and teach me to talk back to my parents, because I wish I could just be another “adventurous” white teen.

Giphy
Giphy
Giphy
Caressa Wong

Caressa Wong

Caressa Wong is a radical, non-binary Chinese-American who dabbles in video, art, and writing. If they're not lost in video games or off getting sucked into some new project, then you can find them fighting Asian fetishists and reading post-colonial & inter-sectional meditations.

Our weekly email will change your life.