Cultural Appropriation is Not Fashion

Episode Pitch

In the world of fashion, trends come and go faster than the seasons change. Designers are always looking for whatever is new and exciting in order to keep their audience coming back for more. This has allowed for the field to often be first in line to push the boundaries of self-expression and societal norms. The influence that fashion has on us is enormous, but sometimes, that influence can be misguided. In their efforts to push boundaries and sell their products, designers are capable of using fashion as a vehicle for racism.

I am proposing the creation of a podcast that examines one specific case regarding the ethics of fashion. More specifically, I want to ask the critical question: Are people who wear hoop earrings, who are not black or Latin American, participating in cultural appropriation?

This question is significant because it takes a hard look at the harm that cultural appropriation can cause. It’s one of the forms that racism takes. That alone makes it a topic of importance, especially today, when cultural appropriation is becoming of serious concern.

I will take some time to investigate what cultural appropriation is and what the potential harms are. Then, I can narrow in on the problem of hoop earrings and what people on both sides of the question argue. There is an interesting case of a mural at an American college created by some students protesting the cultural appropriation of hoop earrings, so investigating the reactions to it will provide some great insight. In general, I wish to take a critical look at the fashion industry’s handling of cultural appropriation and ask whether it is appropriate or not.


 

Annotated Bibliography

“A Message From the Latinas Who Made the ‘White Girl, Take OFF Your Hoops’ Mural.” Latino Rebels, 14 March 2017, http://www.latinorebels.com/2017/03/14/a-message-from-the-latinas-who-made-the-white-girl-take-off-your-hoops-mural/.

This published email provides new insight on the controversial mural created at Pitzer College. Sent by the original artists to the Latin American news website, they defend their creation of the mural and explain the reasoning behind it. My chosen opinion piece is concerned with the cultural appropriation of fashion, mostly in reference to hoop earings, and references this art piece and the backlash it experienced from white girls who do wear them. The piece according to the artists does more than just call these white girls out. It was meant to highlight how misunderstood and invisible women of colour and feminine non-binary people are. This article highlights that the issue is not merely one of thievery or plagiarism of fashion, but the erasure of racial and gender self-expression. My understanding of cultural appropriation has expanded as a result of gaining a better understanding of the mural artists’ intentions.

 

Dordick, Elliot. “Pitzer College RA: White People Can’t Wear Hoop Earrings.” Claremont Independent, 7 March 2017, http://claremontindependent.com/pitzer-college-ra-white-people-cant-wear-hoop-earrings/.

This article was released by Pitzer College’s school newspaper to cover the mural ‘White Girl, Take OFF Your Hoops’. After a white student expressed confusion about what it meant, the artist released an email statement explaining her reasoning. This article takes a more conventional route to understanding cultural appropriation. The mural according to this article is about protesting the act of taking subversive forms of self-expression and defiance by people of colour and turning them into mainstream, inaccessible forms of white plagiarism. The mural by this account is more of a simple call out of cultural appropriation, without the nuance of the artists’ statement. It is still a valuable article for looking at how most of the student body was exposed to the piece, and how they have had it interpreted.

 

Pivet, Ruby. “Hoop Earrings Are My Culture, Not Your Trend.” Vice, 10 October 2017. https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/j5ga5x/hoop-earrings-are-my-culture-not-your-trend

This article provides greater insight on how hoops are both revered and reviled as a fashion trend for white people, and a sign of Latina heritage respectively. Pivet’s article is directly quoted in my source article, and discusses the same subject with more of a focus on the hypocrisy of cultural appropriation. In short, white fashionistas are happy to wear Latina fashions, and enjoy other aspects of their culture, but turn a blind eye to racism and social injustice that Latinas and Latinos suffer from. Moreover, they are being praised for the fashions when they did not invent them, and think of them as trends to be discarded when the weather changes. Meanwhile, Latinas see them as an essential forms of connecting with their heritage. All in all, this article elaborates on the problem of the cultural appropriation of hoop earrings, and the Latina perspective in a very clear manner.

 

Grigoriadis, Vanessa. “The Eyeful Tower.” Vanity Fair, September 2013. https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2013/09/andre-leon-talley-fashion-profile

This article discusses the life and work of André Leon Talley, a black fashion icon who is referenced in the opinion piece. In the piece, he says that hoop earrings are associated with black culture as well as Romani people. These two groups are highly marginalized, and his statement indicates he is sympathetic to him. However, “The Eyeful Tower” establishes Talley as a wealthy man who participates in white high class fashion, the group responsible for the cultural appropriation of hoops to begin with. His extravagance is noted as characteristic of him, and his close history with Vogue raises eyebrows, since Vogue is one of the worst offenders of cultural appropriation in fashion. This article has helped to make me aware that it is entirely possible for marginal people themselves to participate in the system that steals from their culture.

 

Young, James O. “Art, Authenticity and Appropriation.” Frontiers of Philosophy in China, vol. 1, no. 3, 2006, pp. 455–476. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30209982.

This article takes a sceptical approach to the subject of cultural appropriation. Young is concerned with trying to decide if being artists who participate in cultural appropriation can produce aesthetically good artworks. His stance is ultimately empiricist, concluding that the background of the artist and such things as intentions or significance do not decide if a work is aesthetically good. Work that is borrowed in style or content from other artists and cultures can be extremely aesthetically pleasing. While I personally believe that the harms of cultural appropriation fail to be seriously considered and are often misrepresented in this text, it is a useful work for understanding the point of view opposite of mine, and can be used for my podcast.

 

Matthes, Erich Hatala. “Cultural Appropriation Without Cultural Essentialism?” Social Theory and Practice, vol. 42, no. 2, 2016, pp. 343–366. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24871347.

This academic article takes on the problem of cultural appropriation in an effective manner. Matthes defines it as the “compromis[ing] and distort[ing] the communicative ability and social credibility of members of marginalized groups” (p.354). Cultural appropriation harms by creating a credibility deficit, and its goal is social marginalization. It counters the problem of  cultural essentialism, which can be an argument against cultural appropriation by stating it creates a morally objectionable insider/outsider divide. It also establishes cultural appropriation as a systematic harm because it “is because of underlying systematic social inequalities”, we don’t need to identify the oppressor’s background to call them out, making essentialism a moot point (p.363). This article provides interesting arguments regarding cultural appropriation that I believe can be useful to consider in my podcast.


Genre Analysis Exercise

  1. A)

In Operation Match, the major topic is introduced in the beginning section of the podcast. The host discusses the role of matchmaking apps in connecting people who otherwise would have never met, but also that this has not led the woman being interviewed, Andrea, any closer to finding someone to share a long-term relationship with. I would say that this is good, because it helps to pull the audience in right away to the story and discussion that follow, and so grabbing their attention immediately.

In A Place for Passion: Hitting the Books, the major topic is introduced in the beginning as well, though there is some set-up before the Children’s Book Bank is discussed properly. It does work as well, although I found myself waiting in boredom for the first minute or so while a rather cheesy story is used to introduce the ideas of books and reading. The story itself is fine. If the story were worded in a more compelling way, I would have been more invested from the beginning seconds, rather than the beginning minutes.

B)

I learned of the topic in Operation Match through the narrator. He flat out says at the beginning that the podcast will focus on dating apps, and solidifies it through Andrea’s story of attempting to use them without success. It works well to grab and hold my attention.

In Hitting the Books, the topic is also introduced through the narrator. He does the set-up through the story, and establishes the focus on the Children’s Book Bank. It works just as effectively as in the professional podcast.

2. A)

The significance of Operation Match is the underlying implication is that dating apps may not help in actually finding a romantic partner, and so could be a waste of time and money. By using Andrea’s story as an example, it shows that dating apps do not guarantee you will meet your soulmate, or even someone worth dating. It does a very good job of persuading me to continue listening, to see if by the end a conclusion going one way or the other about dating services is reached.

The significance of Hitting the Books is the idea that children with access to books are better equiped and more likely to succeed, and children without access to books need places like the Children’s Book Bank to help them. The importance of reading is discussed in the middle, where for example, the host discusses the lack of resources available to immigrant families and the role reading plays in helping children grow into their new communities and schools. While the argument is good, it is introduced so late that I felt myself becoming bored while waiting to be persuaded.

B)

The significance of the topic in Operation Match is established early, through Andrea’s story of using dating apps. If she wishes to pursue a long-term relationship, and she does, then Andrea needs to meet someone she connects with. Dating apps would seem to be the best way to do that, but she has had no luck for years. It is a very good strategy, and helps to keep the history of dating services rooted by a common thread.

In Hitting the Books, the importance of reading is stated at the outset, but the significance of the Children’s Book Bank is covered more towards the middle. There is more set-up at the beginning to establish what the Book Bank is, what it does, and the reactions of people and children in the area to it. While the podcast is good, I found the beginning sections rather boring without the significance being present. It felt too close to a commercial trying to sell the Book Bank as a charity than an informative and persuasive piece. If the significance were established at the outset, it would have been more compelling at the beginning.

3.

Operation Match makes the argument that dating services will not guarantee that you will meet your soulmate, but they do make meeting new people to date easier. That being said, I do feel that it leaves room for the listener to make their own decision regarding dating apps. It presents the stories of both a couple who met through one and are now happily married, and of Andrea who has had no success. The listener might choose to continue to believe in dating apps or to dismiss them completely, and the narratives told by this podcast would not go against them. While it goes for a neutral ground between the two extremes at the end, I do feel like I got to keep my agency.

Hitting the Books by contrast makes an argument in favour of supporting non-profit organizations like Children’s Book Bank and expects you to agree. This podcast makes several points regarding the importance of access to books, such as pointing to research indicating that immigrant families benefit greatly from alternatives to public school for educating their children. It all builds to painting the organization in a sympathetic light to inspire the listener to support it, and others like it. While I felt that I did not have much in the way of choice, it did not bother me, as I felt that the purpose of the Places for Passion series anyway was to persuade you to agree.

4.

The person interviewed throughout Hitting the Books was Mary Ladky, the executive director of the Children’s Book Bank. She was introduced in the beginning alongside the organization, and continued to give her input frequently for the entire podcast. There is a back-and-forth between the narrator and Mary Ladky, though not as a question and answer sequence. The narrator provides links between the Book Bank and the overarching problem of child illiteracy, while Mary Ladky provides an insider point of view. For example, Mary Ladky describes the organization as a part of the community, and the narrator expands on the web of services that it is a part of, and leads into a story of the importance of these services. The lack of direct interaction between them makes the podcast less dynamic than it could be.

5.

Hitting the Books looks at secondary sources related to the statistics and research surrounding childhood literacy, immigrant families and education, and how books affect all of these. The narrator directly discusses these at key points during the podcast to drive home the point of how essential access to books are to children’s development and chances of success later in life. For example, when Mary Ladky says that children with access to books are better off in school later on, the narrator backs it up with an Israeli study that this is true, and that they do especially well if they read the same book over and over, which gives a sense of ownership, and thus implicitly, confidence. These sources helped to advance the conversation around books and childhood literacy by backing up the podcast’s claims, and by adding extra information that expands the argument.

6.

A moment of insight in Hitting the Books is also the strongest point in the podcast. The narrator and Mary Ladky had been saying over and over that books were important to children, and backed it up with research, but it has no emotional resonance until they talk about the children themselves. When Mark Grant, the narrator, recounts seeing a class sitting for a reading, he connects their joy with his own as a child, when he did the same. For the first time in the podcast, the Book Bank is not just about hypothetically giving kids a better chance. It becomes about their emotional experience, and we hear how it improves their lives right now, and not in a hypothetical situation. Moreover, it is numbered at 350 kids, so the numbers speak to how important the Book Bank’s success is to the community.

It occurs at then middle, when the gears shift from just picturing the Book Bank’s importance to considering how it relates to the real people who use it. Right after the insight, they look at the good effect it has had on immigrant families in the community. The change is marked by Mark Grant’s tone. He sounds overjoyed himself, and a bit nostalgic, when he speaks about the kids listening to a story. It marks how emotionally significant these moments are, and how important books are to the children, not as tools, but as experiences that make them happy. On the whole, this insight is very effective.