This is the scariest blog post I’ve ever written, but for someone who has a podcast called Bold Moves, I have no excuse not to hit “publish.” I want to state from the start that I am approaching this topic from a place of genuine curiosity, exploration of boundaries, and in the hopes that that it will foster a respectful discussion where I (and perhaps others) can learn about the boundaries between cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation so as to move forward in a less ignorant and more respectful way as the world seems to grow smaller and the melting pot does more melting.
There are a couple reasons why I’m thinking about the balance between cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation. One is that today (in case you haven’t checked your calendar), is cinco de mayo. This has got to be one of the biggest cultural appropriation culprits of all 365 days of the year, excepting perhaps Halloween, and I honestly didn’t even know it until recently. If you’re reading this and confused as to why I am making that statement, check out this well-written article, or if videos are more your thing, check this one out!
The other reason that the boundary line between cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation is on my mind is because of a facebook group I’m in. A friend here in LA added me to the group because on occasion, people post in the group seeking makeup artists, so it could be helpful for me to find more gigs. I will admit, though, that much of the time that I spend in the group is because there are 25,000+ women in the group, and that is exactly as dramatic as the potential for it would suggest.
What happened most recently was a combination of both. An actress or model (who is caucasian) posted that she needed and was willing to pay someone to do “boxer braids” on her for a callback that day, and posted this picture with it. In my little bit of research, I’ve discovered that these are actually Dutch braids, unless I am mistaken (this “article” defines them based upon the direction the hair is woven, and that dutch braids are when the hair is woven under. So to me, French braids and cornrows are woven in, and dutch braids like below are woven out?).
What got interesting is that I’ve worn my hair that way many times, and have braided others’ hair many times this way, so I followed her directions and sent her a private message offering to braid her hair this way, and didn’t think anything of it. She responded that she’d like me to do it, thanked me for reaching out, and mentioned that people were really offended by what she posted. Of course, I went to the post to read it, because I was curious why that was. I had seen braiding posts go down in flames before, but thought that it was a different type of braiding.
In this article’s example, where it’s being called out as a trend as if it’s a new style, and crediting something irrelevant like the UFC (not saying they are irrelevant in general, but unlikely responsible for the resurgence in popularity of this hair style), I can see why people of color would be angry – credit is inappropriately given to a completely different group of people for something that has done nothing to deserve it – like if I were to write a blog post thanking the people of Sweden for Blues music.
One of my questions is “Is Teen Vogue correct in that it’s ok for anyone to rock these looks, as long as they know it’s not Katy Perry or a UFC fighter that deserves credit,” or are the people of color in the aforementioned facebook group correct, and we have enough hair styles, privilege, and other things going for us that we don’t get braids, too? Here’s another article that examines the same questions.
This article seems to say that it’s ok to wear braids, as long as you call them the correct names, and cite your inspiration to give credit to the originator/where it’s due. I can see that – but that brings me back to my confusion about the difference between box braids, French braids, and cornrows. I always thought that for cornrows, it had more to do with how many there were.
Also, for me, a regular non-celebrity human, I feel that if I were to say who my inspiration was for my hair, most people would say “I don’t give a ___.”
I’m so torn. I have been wearing multiple French braids (usually two) since middle school (for marching band – haha!) and then high school for cheerleading, and on and on for most of my life. If you go to my instagram, especially during the time I lived in NorCal, there are a TON of pictures and videos of me with all kinds of braids, like this one, where I show you how to get voluminous waves without heat styling.
Should I be ashamed of myself? I called them French braids, but according to some of my sources, they’d be technically cornrows, and I also think from the brief second my head is turned sideways that it’s a Dutch braid that I mislabeled. But I don’t think I am Dutch, either, so is that an issue?
I know for a fact that one of my high school senior pictures has me with cornrows in the front. I am okay with not finding it.
I didn’t think it was a white person who started the style, but was I appropriating culture?
While I am calling myself out, let’s get back to Cinco de Mayo… Kinda.
The article and video I led this post with bring up sugar skull makeup, which has nothing really to do with Cinco de Mayo, unless you’re just randomly trying to do anything Mexican in your “celebration.” A couple years ago, I was asked to do makeup for someone for Halloween, and was paid very well for it.
Here’s my practice:
And here is the client’s results, posted on facebook with her permission:
I think this is way different than a fake ‘stache and huge sombrero, don’t think the client was Hispanic, and have no idea if she knows the significance of Dia de Los Muertos. She paid me to do her makeup so that when her kids came home from school, they would have a surprise – she didn’t even leave the house.
At the time, I didn’t know this was potentially offensive. If I got this request now, I am not sure what I would do. Maybe make sure the person requesting it was Latinx? Ask if the person was respectful and knowledgeable about the history? Just say no?
I have some guilt that I legitimately profited because of someone else’s culture, but at the same time since she wasn’t leaving the house, doubt that she offended anyone (though now I am sharing the image online, so there’s that)…
Some of the issue, I believe, is completely due to ignorance (and I mean “ignorant” in the pure sense – lack of knowledge, not necessarily as an insult) , and I am hoping to improve both mine and anyone else who reads this, and hope that anyone who chooses to comment both helps with that, and realizes, again, that I am coming from a good place.
Some of the comments on the braid incident in that facebook group mentioned that if the girl had the time to google image search to find the picture, she could have also seen it was offensive. Yes, articles I linked above came up when I searched “boxer braids,” but if you go straight to images, and do the search, you may not find anything that would indicate potential insult.
And where does the line stop? Should we be googling everything to make sure we’re not inadvertently and ignorantly offending someone?
I also realize that I am coming from a place of privilege. If googling to check that I am not offending someone is my biggest problem related to race or culture, I am on the lucky side. I have tried to put myself in the shoes of others, though it is difficult, because I am already a mix of many cultures, and don’t specifically identify with any enough to take a comment personally, although there were many anti-white sentiments being strewn that didn’t feel great to read. In that case, though, there is a difference between intentionally sharing feelings of ill-will (whether deserved or not) and unwittingly appropriating a culture.
Some of the women commenting in the facebook group were actually even saying that their rudeness in their explanation of why it was appropriation was warranted because they should not be subjected over and over to the emotional labor of explaining why it is offensive. I can see that to a degree, and can only imagine how exhausting it has to be to explain it, but also think the point of “you attract more flies with honey than vinegar” is worth considering. If you want someone to learn so they can stop being offensive, posting an explanation or link to an explanation would likely be more effective than a comment like “throw the whole person away” (which was really one of the comments).
And what about the idea of the melting pot? Coming together and sharing? Could this (braids, makeup, fashion), in some ways be an expression of that?
If you were hoping this cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation post was going to come to a decisive conclusion, I am sorry to disappoint you. I am hoping that comments on this blog and when I share it on social media will help bring awareness to myself and others, although I imagine that the cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation boundaries are personal and different for everyone.
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