As recently as last month, Nordstrom was forced to retract its $790 Gucci-designed headpiece advertised to imitate the sacred headgear worn by Sikh believers. A senior fellow with the Sikh Coalition in New York City told the Associated Press: “We feel that firms are commoditizing and profiteering on something precious and sacred to people around the world.”
Although Gucci has yet to respond to the criticism, Nordstrom has discontinued the product. Many people were offended by Gucci’s February campaign, which featured a black sweater that could be pulled over one’s head and nose, with a cutout for one’s mouth bordered by scarlet lips. Gucci eventually removed the outfit.
Recent criticism of Sweetgreen’s use of hip hop lyrics by black artists to sell its menu items in mostly wealthy, white neighborhoods has also surfaced.
Public outcries against what some regard as exploitation of historically underprivileged cultures have grown dramatically in response to social media’s rapid growth. When Brazilian model Alessandra Ambrosio posted a picture of herself wearing a Native American headgear to the Coachella music festival in 2014, she received a barrage of criticism. Many argue that the movement has gone too far in prosecuting those who do not intend to harm. Is there a limit?
Culture Appropriation: What Does It Mean?
People who are not native to another culture’s products (such as hair, dress, or traditions) are said to be engaging in cultural appropriation if they do so. Erich Matthes, a philosophy professor at Wellesley College and author of a book on cultural appropriation, believes this isn’t necessarily bad. Considering the long history of cross-cultural encounters, we’d be in big trouble if that were the case. So, when does it go from beneficial or even beneficial to harmful?
According to Matthes, the fact is that there is no absolute law. Before making a call, you must look at the bigger picture and consider things like power, intention, and the result.
According to Matthes, white Americans who are invited to an Indian wedding by a close friend are likely to be fine in traditional Indian dress. To honor your friend’s request and respect their customs, you would intend to do so.
Let’s imagine you have a last-minute errand to conduct before the celebrations, and you run into a white American acquaintance. They have to take a picture of you in your sari because they think you look stunning. After the wedding, they upload it on Instagram, tag you, and use the hashtag Bollywood without mentioning anything. You could get in trouble for ridiculing a minority culture in the United States.
Is This Person Overly Sensitive?
Critics argue that the anti-cultural appropriation movement makes people less receptive to new ideas. Although I adore cable-knit sweaters and Gruyere cheese, Jenni Avins wrote for The Atlantic, “I don’t want to live in a society where the only cultural inspiration I’m entitled to come from my roots in Ireland, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe. “We should exercise caution while donning other peoples’ clothing, artwork, relics, or ideologies. The assumption that cultural appropriation is a problem should be banished, though.”
Matthes acknowledges that being overly cautious might be harmful in some situations. As an illustration, imagine you’re passing through New Mexico and deciding to stop at an arts and crafts fair. Because Coachella baes wearing Native American headdresses has recently been the subject of so much controversy, you’re afraid to buy anything from the Native American booths.