Pham Reading, cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation

“Again and again, papers have been written, careers built, tenure granted, royalties issued, and yet the people upon whom this is based are left behind on the reserves with nothing.”

This article was one of the most intelligent, confusing, and well-written pieces that I have ever come across. For starters, the article jumped around from one place to the next, which made it challenging to keep up. In the span of a few sentences, Minh-Ha T. Pham (author) would talk about New York City, Paris, Germany, China, England, Ghana, and Indonesia. I must admit, fashion is not my strong suit, so I had to reread this article a couple of times to fully comprehend the authors message.

Minh-Ha T. Pham writes about fashion trends, events, and news items that have a distinct racial dimension. In the article, it becomes very clear that she does not like how people talk about race in fashion. She immediately introduced the audience to the term cultural appropriation, which is defined as a concept in sociology dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture. Pham explains that, “Critics bring charges of cultural appropriation and implicitly or explicitly suggest that racism is part of why the event happened and is being paid attention to.” The other side of the argument deals with the term cultural appreciation, which is the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something. Pham explains this side of the argument as, “drawing inspiration from the bodies, cultural practices, and cultural objects of people of color are acts of appreciating, admiring, even loving racial difference and diversity.” She ties all of this back to the critiques of cultural appropriation, and why they are in the wrong, as “they reaffirm the very thing they intend to oppose: white Western domination over and exploitation of culture at the expense of everyone else.”

Pham uses the Céline and Stella McCartney Fall 2013 ready-to-wear shows in New York City as her center example. She talks about how both collections included looks featuring bright and graphic plaid prints. Not long after, the same patterns appeared on fashion industry’s elite. More affordable versions then began showing up in popular mass-market retail stores. Little did most people know that the design actually came from the elite of the 16th century coastal plains people from the southern peninsula of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, where it had been produced, consumed, traded, and sold for centuries.

To some, it may seem surprising that a country like Indonesia might actually be the originator of a fashion trend, rather than simply the third-world site for manufacturing cheap products. After reading this article it is clear that these illustrious Western fashion designers, that make a fortune, are actually, knocking off knock offs. Money aside, these name brand designers are essentially illegally copying and taking credit for something that they did not originally create. Those who support cultural appreciation think it is justified for them to simply pat a person on the back or say thank you for stealing a multimillion-dollar design. In addition, Marc Jacobs recently had some of his white models wear rainbow dreadlocks on the final day of the New York Fashion Week in 2016, which led to heavy criticism and questioning as to why he did not just use black models with natural dreadlocks instead. Jacobs responded on Instagram by saying it is “funny” that critics don’t “criticize women of color for straightening their hair.” This is exactly what is wrong with our world, and why people need to continue to confront these close-minded people so that change does occur.

With regards to Pham and the reading, I believe that the author would have a problem with what Jacobs said on Instagram, but I do not think that she would have a problem with dreadlocks being put on white models. “Rather than obsess over whether certain practices and forms of cultural appropriation are “good” or “bad,” “racist” or “post-racial,” respectful or not, inappropriate discourse asks what is not appropriate-able, what cannot be integrated into and continue to maintain the existing power structure of the high fashion system, and why.” Obsessing is exactly what is being done here. Instead of actually making progress, people are obsessing over the dreadlocks, and whether what Jacobs has done is appropriate or not.

Questions:

1) Cultural appropriation controversies happen outside of fashion, as well. Specifically, the author uses Miley Cyrus and her 2013 VMA’s performance where she was dancing (twerking) on Robin Thicke as an example. I bring this up because personally I do not feel as though this is an example of cultural appropriation, and I also think that this is a perfect example of what Pham is stating is the source of the problem. The article was not written by Pham, but she referenced it in her story (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/27/miley-cyrus-twerking-cultural-appropriation). In the article, Miley said that she loves listening to hood music and that she feels as though she is Lil Kim, the popular female rapper, inside. This is the final paragraph of the article:

“So like King, I too have a dream: I have a dream that female celebrities will one day feel that they don’t need to imitate porn actors on magazine covers and in their stage acts. I have a dream that the predominantly white music world will stop reducing black music to grills and bitches and twerking. And I have a dream that stupid songs about seducing “good girls” will be laughed at instead of sent to No 1. And most of all, I dream that I never, ever have to see Miley Cyrus gyrating against Robin Thicke’s crotch again. We won’t be free then, but it will be a start.”

When Pham talks about obsessing over whether certain practices and forms of cultural appropriation are “good” or “bad,” “racist” or “post-racial,” respectful or not, this is exactly what she is talking about. To me, this is simply a video of Miley Cyrus dancing with not enough clothes on.

2) What does Pham mean when she says, “Rather than obsess over whether certain forms of cultural appropriation are “good” or “bad,” “racist” or “post-racial,” we should ask what is not able to be appropriated, and why.” What exactly does she mean when she says, “we should ask what is not able to be appropriated, and why.”

3) What would Pham’s response be to what Marc Jacobs did in the 2016 New York Fashion Week? Why would she not be offended?

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