Students talk cultural appropriation on campus

Home to a large student population representing many religions, cultures and backgrounds, Georgia State students are proud to show where they come from and often do so with what they chose to wear. But some students have sparked conversation on where to draw the line when it comes to “borrowing” cultures.

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Assistant professor of Global Studies, Dr. Rengin Bahar Firat Hine, said sometimes borrowing culture can lead to cultural appropriation as “people have a hard time distinguishing it from mere cultural exchange.”

Hine defines cultural appropriation as “uninformed and often demeaning use of a minority group’s customs or practices by the members of the dominant groups in power. This misuse happens when the persons do not have the necessary knowledge about the intellectual or community roots of the symbols or practices they are appropriating, or they do not have an intention to build a deeper intercultural understanding or solidarity,” she said.

With the new popularity of Dashikis, a colorful tunic representing black power and African roots, and both Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner recently sporting cornrows, students found the opportunity to exchange thoughts on how members of the originating cultures of these new “trends” feel about the element of “borrowing.”

THE DASHIKI

A walk across campus shows students from different backgrounds sporting their heritage and roots, such as in wearing a Dashiki or a bright tunic with a traditional African print.

The original African Dashiki represents black power, and its colorfulness and traditional print serve as a reminding refusal to fit into Western standards of fashion. It began as a way to give power to African-Americans when it was first brought to the U.S. during the 1960s civil rights and Black Panther movements, representing black pride in a world they were forced into. The Dashiki is a sign of their struggle.

Georgia State student and member of Black Student Achievement Evan Malbrough parallels the Dashiki to the Jewish Yamaka, a deeply religious and spiritual symbol to the Jewish faith. According to encyclopedia.com, Dashiki is a West African Yoruban word meaning “underneath” and can be seen in “Dogon burial caves in Mali from the twelfth to the thirteenth centuries.” The color and patterns of the Dashiki tell a story and introduce motifs of spirituality, peace and fertility among many others. First beginning as a way to recount great stories of battle, Dashikis
are still worn today in Africa’s hot climate because of its loose, airy nature and its representation of African origins.

Malbrough said he feels as though “no one would try to wear a Yamaka” as a means of style.

So what makes the Dashiki any different?

“I’m not even comfortable wearing a Dashiki. Those go way back in our ancestry,” he said, adding that he feels far enough removed from his African origins and believes such a piece doesn’t belong to him and thus he wouldn’t feel comfortable sporting it.

Another Georgia State student who wishes to go by only Maliyah responds to the appropriation of the Dashiki by reminding students it’s simply not OK.

“It is not just a costume you are wearing. It [is] someone else’s religious wardrobe. For a simple answer, it’s not okay,” she said.

She said she sees this as a sign of “cultural misappropriation.”

But a Georgia State student going by the name Will sports dashikis even though he’s not of African origin. He said he has “been known to wear a Dashiki or two before.”

“I don’t feel anything about it. I like the way they look,” Will said.

Will said he thinks the concept of cultural appropriation is “a ridiculous form of word play attempting to divide people” and that “the ability to share things across cultures promotes understanding.”

He said that while “West African people should be respected for their creation of the Dashiki,” it’s not “exclusively theirs.”

“Hollywood is American culture, and we deserve credit for its creation, but people all around the world love the movies,” Will said.

“BOXER BRAIDS” OR CORNROWS

After photos of Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner surfaced of the two with “cornrows” in their hair, the style has become part of a large debate on who should feel comfortable wearing it.

Georgia State student Naira Sligh recounted a conversation with another student who sported cornrows, and who was also, according to Sligh, “dressing black.” One day he explained to Sligh that during an encounter in a store, he felt “profiled for being black” because of his cornrows and thus felt as though he shared in the discrimination against black people.

Sligh said, “There’s a really big difference between admiration and exploitation, and he didn’t understand the line.”

Cornrows represent an immensely dense culture shaped through slavery and colonialism and is still under attack by mainstream society today. Many employers, such as the military, did not allow cornrows until 2017 and many schools maintain a strict dress code against it, often sending home young girls who choose to break those rules.

The Kardashians rebranded the style as “Boxer Braids,” originating from the original appropriation of cornrows in UFC fighting by white boxers. This created a new trend wave of “boxer braids,” or what black women have been referring to as cornrows.

Students in the “Hot Wings, Hot Topics” event sponsored by Black Student Achievement on March 5 discussed cultural appropriation and celebrity misuse of culturally-tied elements without really understanding the culture behind it.

Malbrough said that the real issues of cultural appropriation is that the primary group of people becoming upset with it are not the ones whose culture is under attack in the first place. He said it’s “almost always white people getting angry and not actually the people whose culture is being taken.”

Malbrough said society should stop worrying about appropriation and instead worry about the people behind it and the culture of ignorance it creates.

“They worry about appropriation and not the real issues black people face,” Malbrough said.

But instead of crying appropriation and “profiting off black culture,” he said it’s time people open up a dialogue for discussion about why it’s wrong so they can be pointed in the right direction and show respect for the culture in other ways.

Because at the end of the day, Malbrough said “it’s not like the status and economics of black people are going to be wiped away. Kylie Jenner in braids isn’t going to free all the black people in prison for marijuana.”

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