Watch Out! You Might Be Engaging in Cultural Appropriation When You Shop—Here’s How to Tell

Jenna Brillhart, HelloGiggles
With the Latinx diaspora expanding over 20 countries, “Hispanic” is not a single term, especially when it comes to beauty and style. As Hispanic women, we challenge these narratives by considering all aspects of our culture and choosing which are right for us. This month of Hispanic Heritage, HelloGiggles will delve deep into the beauty of our culture through Mi Cultura, Mi Belleza. We'll be posting essays on hair and identity, giving beauty tips from our abuelitas, highlighting the unique style of the Afro-Latina community, and much more.
Every notable American fashion or beauty trend, regardless of how unique each fad is, has at least two things in common: they come and go, then come back, and are likely rooted in black and brown cultures. From box braids and dark lip liners to complicated headgear and wallets with fringes, the trends that many white fashion designers and Instagram influencers refer to as “cutting edge” were often historical pillars of self-expression for and by Black. Latinx and indigenous people.
This makes the knowledge of whether you as a buyer participate in cultural appropriation or not - even if someone comes from a culture other than your own and claims the property - a bit disoriented. Even I, a white-paced Puerto Rican woman who feels removed from her Latinx culture because of her looks and upbringing, have made the mistake of appropriating black and brown beauty trends that are not my own. However, in a country defined and fueled by systemic racism, laws and policies that make it difficult for blacks and browns to get access to adequate health care, housing, food, education, decent wages and employment opportunities, it is of paramount importance paying attention to the trends that you want to emulate.
As conscientious consumers, it is important to ensure that we do not do additional harm to color communities through our paperbacks or accidentally whitewashed BIPOC identities. Knowing the definition of appreciation over appropriation is a solid start to establishing ethical and culturally respectful shopping habits. Greenheart International, a cultural exchange and ecological trade organization that focuses on connecting people through travel and trade, defines the “appreciation” of cultures that are not your own as an example of “when someone tries another Understanding culture and learning about it, broadening your perspective and connecting with others across cultures. “The organization, on the other hand, defines" appropriation "as moments when a person uses" an aspect of a culture that is not [their] own for [their] personal interest ".
There is no shortage of examples of appropriation when it comes to fashion and beauty. Whether it's Kylie Jenner wearing her hair in twists, Adele wearing her hair in Bantu buns, or Ashley Tisdale wearing a sugar skull costume, many celebrities have knowingly or unknowingly appropriated the Black and Latinx culture. But it's not just people with massive platforms and influence who make this mistake. As HelloGiggles author Adrienne Kenne reported in 2017, many Coachella participants wore inappropriate local headgear this year. According to Kennes reporting, a white participant with a headdress took down her pictures and wrote online: "I really want to apologize to everyone who was angry about my headdress post at Coachella." She continued, "Although the headdress I wore was beautiful and I wanted to highlight its beauty, I regret wearing it."
This woman's seemingly sincere apology is at the heart of the appropriation problem. Most often this is done without willful malice: whites or non-black and browns see something they find aesthetically pleasing and decide to wear it. But instead of finding out about the origin of the item, the reasons why it exists, and the people behind it, they take it as their own and often pretend to be the ones who "discovered" the item in the first place.
"So many facets of black culture, historical and contemporary, have become synonymous with mainstream American culture," Keisha Brown, associate professor of history at Tennessee State University, told HuffPost in February this year. “A related issue is the separation of black culture from the peoples and the history that created them. People embrace the hip or popular elements of black culture, but not black Americans. "
And of course, it's not just black culture that is subject to appropriation. Whether they are white fashion designers co-opting Japanese kimonos or white pop stars who memorize a few Spanish lyrics to appear “cultured,” there is no non-white community that is not in danger of appropriation. David Beltrán wrote for Sojourners, a progressive monthly magazine and online publication for the American Christian Social Justice Organization Sojourners, “It's important to understand that white supremacy and xenophobia are not at the door of the recording studio, artist collective, or the radio station These are systemic problems in America that affect every aspect of our lived experience. Therefore, it is imperative that we critically analyze the art we consume and the stories that pop music focuses on. "
As you embrace Brown and Latinx culture through the next “hip” beauty trend or fashion statement, you focus on expressing a complex, multi-faceted, and storied culture that didn't and never belonged to you. And in doing so, you are harming the very people who are responsible for its existence. Because while you can easily take out your braids and wipe off the dark lipstick, black and brown people can't. They do not have the privilege of having their skin removed or of changing their beauty image at any time, even in situations where they may fear for their life or employment.
When you engage in cultural appropriation as a shopper, you are degrading the black and brown cultures to nothing more than an accessory, rather than recognizing these communities and the ways that they have shaped American culture - and how they have been suppressed by racist ideologies and guidelines.
So no, there is nothing wrong with thinking that a serape blanket is beautiful. Before you buy four of these to hang over the back of your beige sofas, however, know that these blankets - which were first used as men's outerwear - are from the second half of the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries in Mexican Textile manufacturing cities originate. You should also know that they are made up of both European and Native American elements - a by-product of colonization.
Before buying a pair of huarache sandals, know that this particular type of shoe was part of Mexican culture before European colonization. You should also know that these shoes were handmade in the Jalisco, Michoacán and Yucatan regions and that the term "kwarachi" - as reported by Espiritu, a group of Mexican shoemakers - comes from Tarascan, a language spoken by the Purépecha native to Michoacán. "
If you like intricately embroidered purses and clutches, that's fine! But please know that the embroidery trend has its roots in the Aztec Empire, when indigenous Mexicans used yucca and palm fiber to make beautiful embroidered textiles.
Marco Bottigelli, HelloGiggles
However, it is not enough just to learn about the cultures from which these products were made. Cultural harm reduction does not begin and end with education, but involves and requires meaningful action and thoughtful reflection. Do not purchase these items from white-owned companies that have made these cultural staples profitable. Instead, look for lists of black-owned beauty companies and Latinx-owned brands that manufacture these items with authenticity, dignity, and pride, and help give credit where it is due.
Then be an ally by donating to organizations that work to make the world fairer for blacks and Latinx. You may consider setting up one-time or recurring payments to places like the Hispanic Heritage Foundation, Voto Latino, Chicanos por la Causa, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, and the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services ( RAICES). There are also over 154 black-run organizations you can make recurring donations to, as well as the American Indian College Fund, the Native American Disability Law Center, and Women Empowering Women for Indigenous Nations - all organizations dedicated to helping and advancing indigenous people Peoples establish communities.
And if you really want to avoid cultural appropriation altogether, just avoid trying beauty and fashion trends that come from cultures that are not your own. There is nothing wrong with admiring the beauty and allure of certain hair, makeup, nails, and fashion styles from afar - or appreciating the fact that they exist without delving into them.
Because you cannot and should not appreciate the beauty of the black and brown trends without also working to support and advance the communities responsible for their existence. These are not mutually exclusive. It's not just about a wallet, headdress, or blanket, but about a whole group of people rich in history, ingenuity, ingenuity, and value.
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