Why We Can’t Let Kim K’s Cornrows or any Other Forms of Cultural Appropriation Fly 

The other day a friend and I were having a conversation about our feelings on white celebrities appropriating Black culture, and parsing through the confusing and blurred differences between adoration and appropriation in these instances. My friend said she didn’t really have a problem with Kim K wearing cornrows and personally I don’t either. If someone truly admires a form of cultural dress, a dance move, a musical style; why should they be kept from sharing in dance, song or fashion? But, a problem can arise when people use these distinctively cultural styles without giving credit to the originating culture. It may seem exhausting to have to give visibility and acknowledgement to a culture every time you want to post a photo of yourself wearing cornrows but to me it seems like a small price to pay when the culture’s visibility is at stake. 

Of course these weren’t my thoughts when having this conversation with my friend, but I knew something about people using cultural styles of minority groups because “it’s the in thing” just didn’t sit well with me. I made my discomfort clear to my friend and she pointed to my moccasin styled L.L. Bean slippers and asked if me wearing shoes like those wasn’t also cultural appropriation. I was shocked, I had never thought about it. I just saw another friend wearing the Uggs version of the shoes and decided I wanted a pair for myself. But, after the initial shock of my complicit role in another culture’s erasure, I was even more resolved in my belief that we can’t let cultural appropriation fly. The fact that I didn’t realize that I was assisting companies like Uggs and L.L. Bean in making profits off of Native American styled attire with no compensation to Native American people speaks volumes about how normalized the appropriation of Native American culture has become. My first thought was, “This is so wrong, why don’t I see any Native Americans or anyone in the media talking about this?”

In Marchell J. and Wesaw’s article, “Finders Keepers? The Adulteration of Native American Culture in the Name of Profit,” the authors describe the differences between the Native American and the “American Indian,” a figment of the White Imaginary, and go on to describe how this renaming of Native American people have served as the basis of soothing white guilt as numerous aspects of Native American culture are used for profit in mainstream America. Below is a quote from this article. I chose to include the original excerpt   because it’s already so perfectly phrased. 

From the "crying, environmentalist Indian" of the 1970s to the present day "Health Food Indian," White society is turning red and "spiritual" "healthy," and "environmental" consumers are buying into it. Today the consumer can eat, drink, and dress "Indian." For breakfast one can eat Blue Corn Flakes and drink water from the North Country. One can wear Cherokee clothing, Seneca socks and Apache boots. During the day this consumer can drink native teas and snack on Hopi Blue Popcorn or pemmican (natural or carob-cocoa). To be "naturally" clean, one can shampoo with Native American Naturals and bathe with Zuni soaps. For one's head cold he or she can take medicines from Turtle Island. One can drive a Chief Grand Cherokee or Pontiac to and from work. And one's home can be decorated in Southwestern accents and Mohawk carpets.

The centuries’ long abuse and misappropriation of Native American culture serves as a prime example of why it’s time to stop letting cultural appropriation fly. It shows how far white mainstream culture will go to make a buck, even if they know nothing about, nor do they “own” or “belong” to that culture. Today’s technologically-focused world has given us all a platform on which to speak out against such issues. And again, I’ll say that it doesn’t mean allies cannot share and participate in the cultural practices of others, but with this sharing comes a responsibility.