Picture this. You’re surrounded by a group of friends, all sleeping in colourful tents with your favourite band playing into the early hours of the morning, and the stress of work or school seems a million miles away.
If you’re at a great music festival it would be easy to get a henna tattoo or buy one of those extravagant headdresses without thinking twice.
But while such a decision might seem completely harmless, you’d actually be taking part in what sociologists call ‘Cultural Appropriation.’ I know from GCSE Psychology lessons that this is the official term for ‘borrowing’ an element from one culture into another. You may not have come across the phrase before, but you are likely to see examples every day.
Taking inspiration from other cultures and their fashion or food is generally not negative. But there is a line between appropriation – ‘taking’ - and mere appreciation, and it is definitely not as thin as some people may think.
Think of celebrities like Khloe Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid. Khloe Kardashian was photographed at her niece’s birthday party wearing a Native American headdress. She probably didn’t think twice when she bought it to wear on the day or when she sat next to the nearby mini-teepee to have her picture taken. So while she may have thought she looked ‘cool’, the true symbolism of what she was wearing and where she was sitting was obviously lost on her.
I’ve learnt that these headdresses are referred to as ‘war bonnets’. They are worn by the male leaders of the tribes - but only once they have earned the honour and respect of their people. So to me, it feels like Khloe is just reinforcing the discrimination Native Americans face and insulting them at the same time. It’s not exactly the perfect message for a children’s birthday party.
Have you ever thought about getting dreadlocks or cornrows? While everyone is free to style their hair how they wish, you have to be mindful where these fashion traditions originated. There have been articles reporting how dreadlocks have ‘dropped jaws’ at fashion shows when exhibited by models such as Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid.
But at the same time, there have been reports of black people being rejected from jobs for their hairstyles or dreadlocks being completely banned from workplaces. My own jaw drops that such double standards are still commonplace in 2016.
In London alone, there are over 270 nationalities and 300 spoken languages. We would be naive not to look around and wonder about the difference between our own culture and another’s. We should certainly take inspiration from other people’s traditions because that’s how we can make our lives more interesting and rewarding - exploring, for example, the food they eat, the way they live to help us to understand the world around us.
I want to live in a world that embraces diversity and equality. That means respecting the people around us, borrowing their fashion with a dignified understanding of their cultures, and not just because it makes us look good.
-- Caitlin Brinkley is a student at King Edward VI School, BUry St Edmunds