Gender & Identity Life

7 pieces of hard evidence that cultural appropriation is absolutely real

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:



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.

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


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.

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)


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.

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


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).

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.



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.



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.

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


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.

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.

Movies Pop Culture

Here’s every single diverse sci-fi show and movie. I promise.

It’s the year 20XX, and what greets you is the vacuum of space. Maybe some monsters, a mysterious island, and I think I can definitely confirm more than one spaceship in the aforementioned endless vacuum of space.

[bctt tweet=”It’s the year 20XX and what greets you is the vacuum of space.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Such is the familiar landscape of science fiction, right? I mean, the only things missing are some dragons and – oh yeah, a cast made up of entirely white people.

In worlds that include orcs, elves, and aliens, where are my people of color? Where are my queer people?

Will you really have me believe that in places like Hogwarts, there’s literally only one Asian character (whose name, incidentally, is composed of two Asian last names, both from different ethnicities) and maybe an estimate of five Black people?

[bctt tweet=”Where are my POC? Where are my queer people?” username=”wearethetempest”]

What this tells me is that writers think it’s more believable to include races that don’t even exist than to – god forbid – put a darker skinned character in your fantasy world.

Other scenarios don’t escape scrutiny either. Are only white people equipped to survive post-apocalyptic and dystopian societies? What, do the non-white population of a country just die off?

When most sci-fi books and TV are represented by figureheads like the racist H.P. Lovecraft, Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who), it’s hard for writers that aren’t white men with beards to slip into the fray. Of course, every now and then, you get white writers and directors that make an effort to care.

Here are all the TV shows and movies, in no particular order, that’ll rekindle your hope if you’re tired of watching Daenerys Targaryen crowd surf over a sea of Black bodies.

1. Star Trek (1966-1969), created by Gene Roddenberry

The first televised interracial kiss

A pioneer true to its progressiveness to even this day if you keep up with the books it withstands the test of time. In response to a lesbian (and fictionally interracial) romance, a reader wrote to the writer of the plotline, David Mack stating that he would be boycotting his books.

His response perfectly sums up Star Trek better than I can: “Although the various television series could have done more in their respective times to portray ethnic and gender diversity, those of us who write the licensed Trek fiction continue to do our best to depict a more progressive, enlightened, open, and harmonious future, not just for humanity but for all sentient beings. One in which love, equality, and compassion are the touchstones of civilized society.”

This is coming from someone who writes for a series that featured the first televised interracial kiss and the iconic female captain Janeway. Also, be sure to check out the series’ numerous movies, books, and comics.

2. Sunshine (2007), directed by Danny Boyle

Sunshine, a movie that exposes the human condition through a plot that centers around an expedition to detonate a bomb on the Sun, finally sends Asians to space. Honestly, what a relief. I was tired of watching patriotic Space Race reruns with stoic Russians and tense Americans against the backdrop of Oscar-winning CGI.

I can only watch a white man make contact with alien lifeforms so many times before I call E.T. down to take me off this godforsaken planet.

[bctt tweet=”In worlds that include orcs, elves, and aliens, where are my people of color? ” username=”wearethetempest”]

While the crew is half American, the other half is predominantly Chinese, because of the filmmakers’ belief that China would be one of the most developed economically and scientifically in the future. Michelle Yeoh, who acted in movies such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2001) and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), was in the forefront of Danny Boyle’s mind when he was casting the movie. He offered her any role in the film that she wanted, a rare chance for an Asian actor.

3. Lost (2004-2010), created by J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Jeffrey Lieber

Practically a household name, Lost is a TV series (conveniently on Netflix) about the survivors of a plane crash that end up on a strange island. The show features tons of different storylines both on the island, in the future, and from the past.

The real MVP here is the character building. We have an Iraqi man, a Korean couple who don’t really speak English, a Black father (!) and his son, an interracial couple, a thick Latino man, women with fully fleshed out backstories and of all different personalities, and even more, as time goes on. I can’t even extrapolate on the finer details, as it’s one of those shows that are ample with possible spoilers.

Each and every character gets careful attention and aren’t token characters. They’re real in the most subtle of ways, and their differences are very calculated and not always rooted in the dominating minority subjects of race and gender.

And…that’s it.


Pack up, go home. Hell, throw some Game of Thrones DVDs at me.

Do you know how long it took me to write this article? Do you know how many people I consulted? I even asked a filmmaker, and two of the three films she came up with ended up being slightly racist anyways.

Lost (2004-2010)

Call me back when you find a sci-fi series with well-written, accurate, non-offensive, longstanding and diverse characters.

I’ll anxiously wait here, in the void known as genre movies.

Race Inequality

What do “big dick Asians” and anti-blackness have in common?

Last month, Eddie Huang, author of “Fresh Off the Boat,” brought to our attention the full extent of just how harmful his misguided attempts at reclaiming Asian masculinity are. Self-appointed spokesman of his “big dick Asians” movement, Eddie seeks to oppose the racist emasculation of Asian men in a way that I can only see as counter-productive.

He’s mistaken from the start, conflating masculinity for misogyny, a rising trend among Asian Americans. The attempts of Huang and many other Asian American men attempts to reclaim their manhood all manifest through the objectification and conquest of women.

As a typically female-presenting Chinese person, I can’t believe the internalized racism and misogyny that I’ve faced from fellow Asian men. It all ranges from “Why do Asian girls only date white guys?” to ham-handed pick-up artists techniques that leave me cringing. I have to ask the question: Why are Asian men resorting to the definition of masculinity instilled by their oppressors?

Do not reinforce the docile Asian woman or abusive Asian husband stereotypes, and definitely do NOT incorporate anti-blackness and homophobia into your definition of “macho.” This is your chance to reclaim masculinity, guys – at least do it well.

But back to Huang. See, last month he got into a Twitter argument with notable black feminist Mia McKenzie. The exchanges between black and Asian communities have always been tenuous. Good at times, worse at others. It’s important to remember that as Asians, no matter our gender, we benefit from anti-blackness. (I’m looking at you, Eddie.)

McKenzie asked Huang to clarify a statement he made on Bill Maher, that “Asian men have been emasculated so much in America that we’re basically treated like Black women.”

He pointed to an OKCupid study showing that Asian men and black women were among the least desirable – a fair study, with truthful statistics – but what happened after the fact just blows me away. I expected misogyny from Eddie Huang, but from a self-proclaimed lover of hip hop/”the struggle,” I never expected this.

After he got to explain his side, all McKenzie did was explain why what he said was problematic and ask for an apology. Now, I’m siding with McKenzie here, but even if I weren’t, there are ways to disagree respectfully and this is not it. This is a thinly veiled sexist pass.

Rightfully, both non-black people of color and the black community were quick to call him out.

(For the full conversation, click here)

Finally, a takeaway lesson we could all learn from this (besides that performing masculinity as misogyny is definitely a misguided attempt to redefine men) is that we need to be more aware of anti-blackness in our communities. I was wary of Eddie’s hip hop-drenched persona from the start (how are you gonna act like you’re about that life when your fame comes from media about you growing up in a suburban white neighborhood?). As a collective community, we need to be more aware about calling out problematic and high-profile people.

I care about all the Asian men that feel lesser because of a feminized Asian narrative, but I’m starting to question if they care for me. I’m starting to wonder if they care for anything aside from their own struggle.

How does it feel, Eddie, to have the Asian community not back you up? This is a warning to future “big dick Asians”: We do not tolerate misogyny. We do not tolerate your efforts to set back our path towards solidarity.

Race Inequality

White tears are not my responsibility.

Every day, I interact with men and women who have the economic privilege of spending an average of $45 on a lipstick.

I work at a chain store that retails luxury cosmetics. Naturally, I don’t walk into my job expecting to discuss social justice issues. I frequently refrain from holding these conversations with my clients. It makes daily life simpler for people like me; women of color who find it difficult to keep from contributing to dialogues surrounding race.

The golden rule? Shut it, and keep moving. Staying out of it means staying out of trouble. Just because the topic you want to talk about involves your own marginalization, doesn’t mean you won’t end up hurting white feelings in the process. And there’s nothing worse than being a person of color with white tears on your hands. Trust me.

It was Black Friday and the mall was packed.

My shift was ending. I couldn’t wait to get out and join some friends at a rally for Michael Brown, the 18-year-old African American male who was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The day of the rally was set to Black Friday in an effort to disrupt shoppers and divert their attention to the on going reign of police brutality against young black males in this country.


The protest had already reached the mall of the store I worked in. Protesters swarmed the escalators and ground level of the building, thundering in unison. I couldn’t wait to be able to get out there.

All the while, I had been assisting an older white woman. Her basket was full of  gift sets and she was ready to check out. We had been conversing throughout her time in the store in the store. It was small talk, really. She now knew my go-to nude lip and the movie I saw with my friends last week.

I was stunned by the sharp turn our conversation took as the chanting grew louder and louder.

“I don’t – I just don’t know. It’s offensive, really. I – I think these people should just get over it,” she said. “You can’t just decide to make a big deal about one death. You know what I mean? You do know what I mean, right? It’s so offensive.”

At that point she was leaning in and whispering very close to my face. Did she just say offensive? Did she really want to know if I knew what she meant? Really? Really.

It’s moments like these that throw me into one recurring thought that I can never say out loud:

“You’re talking to the wrong freaking person.”

But I obviously didn’t say that.

I’m an Indian American Muslim woman. Race is an interesting theme in my life. I encounter people that carry bizarre assumptions about my values based on how I look. I am a non-black ally with passionate views on racial inequality. Assumptions based on how I look – non-black, brown woman from a ‘model minority’ – these assumptions are almost always wrong.

I still couldn’t believe she said that. I didn’t make eye contact and continued my robotic motions of wrapping her gift sets. I burned beneath my skin, half-shocked she had said what she did, half-angry I couldn’t respond.

Some say there are certain conversations not meant for the workplace. It’s true, talk about religion and politics ruins dinner parties – a particular hobby of mine – and sometimes, the less you know about other people’s politics, the easier it is to work with them.

But in suppressing these conversations, the voices of countless women of color are hushed. These issues are not just close to us, they are undeniably a part of our identity as well as our daily existence. Excluding these conversations from the workplace means excluding how we identify, what we experience, and what we value.

And even if superiors allowed inclusive conversations in the workplace, white privilege people of color to tip-toe around such topics. Listening to white people’s politics while remaining silent about my own out of fear is an absurd reality.

And if the truth about anything is told, suddenly I become responsible for white tears and white feelings. Some magical occurrence undermines my own struggle in the face of someone else’s hypersensitivity. Somehow now the value of a teenage boy’s life is worth little in comparison to the potential hurt feelings I might cause simply by bringing it up.

I am a brown woman tired of apologizing for discussing the marginalization of black and brown people. It’s not my job to handle white feelings after pointing out white privilege. White tears are not my responsibility.