One Man’s Pain is Another Man’s Pleasure

One Man’s Pain is Another Man’s Pleasure

America has been famously known as the melting pot because of the variety of people that live in the country. With these different people come different cultures. Culture is defined by Merriam-Webster as the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group. Culture consists of everything from entertainment, fashion, food, slang and many other components. Many oppressed groups like African-Americans, Latinx, Native Americans, and the LGBTQ community take pride in their cultural practices because it is what makes them unique and has brought them through the hardships that come with living in a system that is designed for them to be subordinate. When their cultural practices are copied by the white majority and commercialized without any understanding of the culture, cultural appropriation is in action.

Credit: Kylie Jenner/Instagram

When Kylie Jenner posts a picture with faux-dreadlocks and captions it “Dreads,” some may not see it as a big deal. Kylie is then called out about her strong interest in African American practices but not African American problems. When she chooses to be dismissive about the issue in the statement, that is when the problem occurs and cultural appropriation is at work. She wore this hairstyle for a fashion magazine cover shoot. She had no interest in where the hairstyle came from or why people wore it. Her sole purpose for the style was to be edgy and look good on this magazine. She wanted praise from the fashion world and social media for this hairstyle that did not come from her culture. And because she is a white woman, she got the praise she was seeking.

Dreadlocks have origins in Africa and more recently in Jamaican culture. In even more recent decades it has become a big part of the African American culture. Black hairstyles like dreadlocks have exposed structural racism in the workplace. Structural racism is the systematic set up that creates barriers for advancement and opportunities for minority races. Structural racism allows for African Americans with dreadlocks to be labeled as looking “unprofessional” by many organizations. Many black people don’t get hired for their hairstyle, no matter how neat they keep their dreads (a style that is originally not meant to be kept neat, but has evolved to a neater look so that it can be acceptable to society). It is an issue when black men choose to cut off a hairstyle they love for the sole reason of not being labeled and to look more professional; but then the same hairstyle is praised and copied by the fashion world when a white woman wears them for a photo shoot. This is problematic because Kylie is a white woman of much wealth, which allows her privilege. White privilege is a preference for whiteness in our society. It provides white people with certain perks and advantages that people of color do not have. Her privilege allows her to appropriate a culture without facing the same systematic oppression that the people in this culture face for the same thing.

Zendaya at the 2015 Oscar Awards. Credit: Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images

Some time later, when a black woman, Zendaya Coleman, wore faux-locks on the red carpet of the Oscars, instead of being praised she was criticized with racial comments. Giuliana Rancic made a comment on her show Fashion Police that Zendaya looked like she smelled of patchouli oil and weed. Zendaya fired back with an elegant post on her social media stating that many successful black people have dreadlocks and none of them smell like marijuana. She also talks in this post about how her father, brother, and cousins have dreadlocks and that she wore them because there is much criticism about African American hair. She wanted to show that their hair is good enough. People might find issue in Zendaya doing this because although she is black, she is also white. The reason that Zendaya is appreciating a culture and not appropriating it is because she understands where this hairstyle comes from and the culture behind it. Being also mixed with white, her hair might not lock up like a person who is fully African American, but she has relatives whose hair does. She understands their struggle and wants to represent them in a positive light. Her wearing of this style was of appreciation of the people she loves and her roots and not about starting a trend or getting attention.


Gigi Hadid for November 2015 of Vogue Italia. Credit: Steven Meisel/Vogue Italia

Dreadlocks are not the only style black people have to eliminate to be considered professional looking for the work place. Afros (the natural state of many African Americans’ hair) and its many natural-styled variations are also frowned upon. There have been comments that black people appropriate white culture when they relax (use a chemical to straighten hair) their hair. The difference is black people are an oppressed group who have to fit into a Eurocentric idea of beauty to be deemed beautiful and successful. Black people aren’t appropriating, but assimilating to a system that does not see black features on black people as beautiful. Assimilation is when a person or a group makes changes to become more like another group of people. In this case black people have to assimilate to white standards to be successful. This has caused a stigma that black people’s hair is not good enough. It’s an issue when the way black people’s hair naturally grows out of their head is looked down upon, but Gigi Hadid gets on the cover of Vogue Italia magazine with a wig of this same style. Gigi wore everything from an Afro wig to big hoop earrings. A style that would be called “ghetto” on a black person is now “high-fashion” and “chic” on a white woman. It is clear that black people’s culture is highly appropriated, but it’s not the only culture that faces this issue.

Karlie Kloss at the 2012 Victoria Secret Fashion Show. Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision Agency/AP

Native Americans are probably the most oppressed and appropriated group of people in America. The majority and also other minority groups are all guilty of appropriating Native American culture. People love to dress up as Native Americans for Halloween wearing face paint, “native” clothing, and headdresses. There have even been Victoria Secret models parading down the runway in Native American headdresses. Everything from NFL football teams to high schools is named after Native Americans and these people even use logos depicting them. Moccasins, a shoe that Natives wore for exploration and work outdoors, are a popular comfort shoe today in America. They are appropriated for things as simple as dream catchers and jewelry to things as big as being a symbol for the Thanksgiving holiday in a not so accurate manner. Some people would consider all of this appreciation and inspiration from a culture, but it’s not. The issue is because this is a group of people who owned the land we now call America and were killed off or confined to certain areas of this country in a forceful manner. They are constantly forced to assimilate; yet everyone steals their culture. There are 562 federally recognized tribes and each of them has their own culture. People do not know what tribe they are portraying when they take part in these practices and they have no sense of the meaning behind what they are doing. This culture is monetized and used for personal fun all of the time and no one is trying to even understand anything about the culture and its practices. The Native Americans take pride in their culture because much of it is their spirituality. Despite all of their oppression, they work hard to preserve their culture and rights. They make up less than 1% of the population of America now and to constantly appropriate and merge all of their different cultures together is disrespectful to their fight to exist.

Cultural appropriation of different groups is a real problem in American society. People see these wonderful practices done by different cultures and want to commercialize them for monetary gain. This becomes damaging to the cultures that start these practices because while they’re still being oppressed for these same practices, other people are gaining from them. When seeing a cultural practice that is fascinating to you (this goes for individuals and celebrities), inquire about its origins. Research or talk to someone about it and see if its something that is okay for you to take part in even if you aren’t part of that culture. Brands and organizations also have to be careful about appropriating culture. If they want to include some cultural practices in their projects, actually use people who are a part of that culture. Share the meaning behind that practice to the world. Do not get someone who is privileged and not part of that culture to showcase the culture’s practices. They do not understand the meaning and struggle that goes along with it. Truly try to understand that minority’s customs and the pain that goes along with being part of this group. Do not take their struggles and pain and make it into your money and pleasure. That is how we go from appropriation to appreciation.


Feature Image by Shannon Wright via her blog  [].

About The Author

Destiny Johnson

My name is Destiny Johnson. I am a 21-year-old senior at Louisiana State University. I am majoring in mass communication with a concentration in public relations, and I am minoring in business administration. Originally, I am from New Orleans, Louisiana, but I have resided in the Baton Rouge area for the past 11 years. I have a true interest in the art and business side of the entertainment industry and also in pop culture as a whole. With my degree I aspire to be an entertainment publicist and manager for many artists, athletes, actors, and other celebrities. I want to help them build an impeccable brand and uphold a positive image in the media. I also dream to become part of the public relations team for an international sportswear/lifestyle brand. I have been dancing since the age of three, and I am currently a hip-hop dance teacher and a part of the Legacy Dance Crew. I am pursuing a career as a professional dancer, choreographer, and creative director. I want to dance and be the creative mind on tours, movies, television shows, awards shows, and many other events. I plan to become a true force in the entertainment world with my knowledge and my talents.