Calling Out Cultural Appropriation

Calling Out Cultural Appropriation

Heidi Lozano, Staff Writer

Cultural appropriation is the act of using or stealing the customs and traditions of a particular culture by someone who has more power in society. It’s something that many celebrities have been accused of yet some people fail to see the reason why it’s problematic. There is a difference between appreciating someone’s culture and stealing it and passing it off as your own. It’s something that is happening in front of our eyes, yet we keep on ignoring it. Cultural appropriation is when someone steals someone’s culture without understanding its significance. Cultural appropriation is when white people get praise and profit from stealing from minorities, yet people of color (POC) get criticized or mocked. 


There are many examples of cultural appropriation in Hollywood, and it’s a problem. In 2008, model and television host Heidi Klum dressed up as the Hindu goddess Kali for a Halloween party. 

Hinduism is one of the oldest religions and is the third most followed religion. According to Britannica, “Kali, (Sanskrit: “She Who Is Black” or “She Who Is Death”) in Hinduism, goddess of time, doomsday, and death, or the black goddess … Worshipped throughout India but particularly in Kashmir, Kerala, South India, Bengal, and Assam, Kali is both geographically and culturally marginal.”


Klum thought that it was a good idea to use religion as a costume without thinking about the significance of that element. Religious discrimination is real and many are constantly harassed for their religious beliefs. As a white person, Klum used her white privilege to bring Hinduism to the spotlight and appropriate it knowing she wouldn’t get called out.  She could have done anything to help destigmatize religions besides Christianity, yet she didn’t. She used Hinduism as a costume, making it seem like it’s just a costume and nothing else. 


It isn’t just a problem with religions; it’s also a problem with race. Karlie Kloss, a model, wore a Native American headdress in a Victoria’s Secret runway show. Headdresses are sacred in Native American culture and they vary from tribe to tribe. According to Considering the Headress, an essay from the University of Pennsylvania, “In tribal traditions, each feather was significant, denoting an act of prowess, an honor given, or a gift of gratitude. … Feather headdresses and other forms of traditional  regalia persisted as markers of Indigenous power and status, but they were rapidly appropriated into other, unintended venues.” Native American culture is very sacred to them because of the genocide against them and the erasure of their culture. Although Karlie Kloss did apologize, it doesn’t change the fact that they used Native American culture as an accessory. White people don’t realize the impact of the erasure of Native American culture and how it still impacts Native American people. To this day Native Americans face struggles because of their race and culture. 


When white people steal from other cultures, they get praised and profit from it, but when a POC celebrates their culture, they get ridiculed and criticized. In the 2015 Oscars, Zendaya chose to wear dreadlocks and reporter Giuliana Rancic from Fashion Police had something to say. She said that Zendaya probably smelled like weed or patchouli oil. Her saying that Zendya probably smelled like weed is a racist stereotype that all black people do drugs. Yet celebrities like the Kardashian-Jenner family profit from black culture and appropriate it. They all steal from black culture and made their empire from stealing from black people. Their entire fashion is inspired by black people. In a New Jersey school, high school junior Andrew Johnson was forced to cut off his dreadlocks to compete in a wrestling match.  Black people are constantly told that their hair is unprofessional and are forced to confine to white beauty standards. Celebrities like Katy Perry, Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, and Justin Bieber have all been accused of cultural appropriation, specifically for stealing from black culture, yet they have thriving careers. 


Not only are POC forced to follow white beauty standards, but they are constantly mocked. A popular Native American Tik-Toker was insulted because she was celebrating her culture and was compared to as disgusting and other terms. She was showing something from her culture wanting to educate others, and instead of people being respectful, people were being rude. Yet white people gladly steal from Native American culture during Coachella and gladly profit from it. MAC Cosmetic made a line called “Vibe Tribe” that is supposed to be inspired by festival culture but in reality, it’s stolen from Native American culture. They don’t understand the importance of Native American culture and why it’s so sacred to them. POC are constantly made fun of their culture and are constantly insulted, but the moment white people are able to make a profit, that culture is beautiful. 


Cultural appropriation isn’t just the stealing of culture and customs from a culture by those who are privileged; it’s white people stealing from minorities without knowing the significance. It’s also white people profiting from cultural appropriation while minorities get made fun of. It’s a huge problem that is constantly ignored and treated like it’s nothing important. There’s a difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, and that’s respect. Respect is something that we should all have, and one way to show it is by listening to minorities.