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Monocycle: Episode 38, Cultural Appropriation
09.23.16

In partnership with Squarespace.

Not to beat a horse that has been killed multiple times already but in this week’s episode of Monocycle, we reopen the conversation around the dreadlocks at the Marc Jacobs Spring 2017 runway show. It’s not to throw more shade, or say anything that hasn’t already been said, but rather, to talk about two larger problems.

The first is, of course, cultural appropriation and the overarching blindspot of the privilege that occurs outside of a minority. It’s a huge coup that this is becoming less tolerable and acceptable as our society evolves, but I wonder, as the outrage machine continues firing up, when we’ve constructively added to the conversation vs. just made noise.

Designers, artists — all creatives, really — build their collections on reference. There is no art, at least as we know it, without the act of riffing, but the solution isn’t pulling ideas from the sky, shutting ourselves off to the incredibly rich cultures of both yore and now. On the contrary, it’s proper accreditation and more importantly, the second step towards becoming better people, it’s doing something (not just saying something!) to give back to the culture from which you’re borrowing. So here, I speak with our new editorial director, Leslie Price, who wrote the original Man Repeller story on the Marc Jacobs show on what we’re doing, and stuff like that.

As always, this podcast is only as valuable as the feedback you provide, so…

Related Stories:

On Cultural Appropriation, Racism and Fashion’s Blind Spots

Let’s Talk About It: Diversity in Fashion

MR Round Table: We Need to Talk About Race

A Letter from Leandra: We’ve Updated Our Mission Statement

Monocycle is edited by Nicholas Quazzy Alexander; Logo illustration by Kelly Shami; Photograph by The Washington Post via Getty Images.

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  • Lou

    This was a really interesting, thoughtful conversation. Thank you for having it. I’m a long time reader of MR, and — as you mention in the podcast — it is problematic that all of the content here is written by (mostly) blonde, white women. You have all addressed this problem multiple times, and I’m so curious (as a writer myself, so surrounded by many talented writers of color in my community) why it has been so difficult for you to find a woman of color to add to the MR voice? I don’t mean this as an attack question in any way, I am genuinely perplexed and curious. Of course hiring someone JUST because they provide diversity is a terrible way to go, but are there really no talented women of color who want to work at MR? It seems like there’s something not adding up, and I would love it if MR addressed it head-on, with transparency, as opposed to just “Yeah we know! It’s a priority!” For months, years on end.

    • Grace

      Very well said and I completely agree. I’m sure the MR team has always hired based on talent / best fit for the job, but lost me on hiring non-white people solely to diversify. I’m a person of color and yet found issue with this.

    • Sandra

      I think because there is no continuity for a black or minority writer full time in a mostly white dominated profession or blog unless the focus is completely from a black or minority point of view because you become either tokenistic or problematic when you have to raise the same issues season after season or campaign after campaign.
      My love of fashion slowly dies when i noticed that there was no-one to look up to in the fashion industry and the few that had made it towed the line or sold out that i thought there is no room for realness and no more of my money to be spent on people who couldn’t represent diversity outside of the fabric used for their clothing. There a few designers i respect and one being Tom Ford. I remember being younger and seeing the A/W 2003 mother and babies campaign and seeing the black models with black babies and Tom also using Erykah Badu for fragrance.
      Just to end. I always wonder the worlds that designers live in. I have diverse friends, family members and i would’ve thought if they had the same it would reflect they saw in all races when choosing models to walk the runway.

  • Charlotte

    Very interesting! I’m at work so I cannot listen now but I would love to know how the MR community feels about the Charlotte Olympia show. The show was clearly inspired by Josephine Baker’s Danse Banane. Did the party do justice to a woman who fought for justice? I’m still torn.

  • it doesn’t matter if you’re beating a dead horse, there is NO EXCUSE for not giving credit to where credit is due. For ignoring where something originates from is ignoring other people and their culture. And there is no reason for this in 2016, when you have all these people working for you who are all connected thru social media and the Internet.

    there is no reason to diss other people’s style by saying that it isn’t already sophisticated. Sooo unnecessary. (This is incomplete cuz I got art history readings to do that are LITERALLY talking about the same thing and I’m getting antsy.)

    • What’s in a name

      I salute anyone who can comment after what I call “the stack” (I just made this up). Too much, too soon, too little understanding. Lurked for so long here, reading and enjoying but, after a long day or even a short one, this is not cool to go to. Good on you for getting in the comments even after art history baby dragon slaying. Hope your studies are going well and you’re taking time to take care of you.

      • thank you. The Stack can be quite intense, can’t it?!

  • Madeleine

    THANK YOU

  • PCE

    Is it okay to admit that I am still unclear on the line where a person/company/designer crosses into cultural appropriation? I guess I’m looking at it from an individual perspective. There are so many things about so many cultures that I admire…if we talk about fashion, I am crazy about bright colors and beautiful patterns, and I’m simply amazed at how stunning other cultures’ traditional clothing is. Granted, I’m not taking up and wearing saris from India or kimonos from Japan, but if I purchase a poncho with a print that is a Native American or Aztec pattern, am I guilty of cultural appropriation? Am I only allowed to admire other cultures’ beauty from a distance? I’m honestly just not clear on it….I’m Italian, so I’m considered “white,” but what exactly does that mean in terms of what I’m allowed and not allowed to wear? I’m not being snarky, I’m honestly and truly asking for clarification. I’ve read a ton of articles, and comments to articles, discussing this very issue, but it’s still a bit fuzzy. Help?

    • Emily Hutensky

      I hope you get a chance to read this, it will help you clarify what you would like to choose to wear. It’s awesome that you think about it! I have the same questions. http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/gallery/photo/photo-native-made-moccasins-qa-blackfeet-founder-tpmocs-165867

      • PCE

        Thank you Emily!!

    • Luisa

      I am in the same position, it is unclear to me where the line between admiration and appropriation is drawn. I am born and raised Mexican, but have been living in the U.S. for the past few years. I saw the Marc Jacobs show through Insta Stories and didn’t really saw this as offensive, and I admit I only started thinking about whether it was an issue or not until I heard the podcast this morning. I will keep on reading the comments to understand a little bit more about how this is an issue and how it could’ve been avoided… I’m guessing giving credit where it is due is primordial but I’m sure there are some other points out that I haven’t considered and are out there.

      On a related note, I can show you this Teen Vogue “11 Chic Summer Looks Inspired by Mexico” that I found offensive. I am not saying this is not Mexico, it is, but we are not only that, there is so much more to the country than fruit markets and food carts everywhere, and giving such misinformation to their readers is upsetting. One more thing to add to my “Vogue’s list of disappointments”.

  • Kylie

    I want to start off by saying that I love this website so much and I know how intelligent the writers are, so I am not trying to be condescending or mean spirited at all. I just want to say that I am disappointed with the way the topic of cultural appropriation has been handled both in this article and the previous one about the Marc Jacobs show. Both heavily implied (or sort of explicitly stated) that the issue with cultural appropriation is simply not giving credit to the culture that is being appropriated, and that if credit is given, there isn’t a problem. I too am a privileged white lady so my level of knowledge and understanding is not that of a woman of a color, but since no one else has said this, I wanted to do the best I can. It is difficult to be brief when talking about this so I’m sorry if it comes off as very crude.

    Cultural appropriation is a serious issue because white people oppress people of color and discriminate against them on a daily basis, as well as try to force them to assimilate to white Christian culture, force them out of our communities, ban them from the country altogether, commit genocide, and more. So, the fact that white people continuously tell people of color that their culture is unacceptable, that they have to assimilate, be more “white,” and discriminate against them if they do not, then appropriate that culture themselves is precisely what makes this so offensive (not to mention that they are usually applauded for it, considered creative, trendy, edgy, etc.). Not even giving credit to that culture certainly adds to the injustice, but it is not at all the root of the issue, and giving that credit does not make a white person appropriating a person of color’s culture okay. As long as people of color cannot freely express their culture and identity without it negatively impacting society’s treatment of them (i.e being heavily criticized and discriminated against for having dreadlocks, dark skin, big lips, wearing hijabs, wearing bindis, etc etc), white people should NEVER be allowed to “borrow” aspects of that culture.

    This article seems to say that cultural appropriation is unavoidable in the world of art and creativity, and that is simply not true. A white artist, fashion designer, etc. does not have to use other cultures for inspiration. Sure, that would be nicer for them, but it would be nice for people of color if they weren’t oppressed, and it would be nice if white people didn’t complain about the fact that they can’t do EVERY possible thing without EVER being criticized for it. It is basically saying that it’s unfair that white privilege is not completely unlimited (I mean technically it is, given that white people may be criticized for cultural appropriation but still get away with and never face any real consequences like losing jobs or facing legal action). If we lived in an equal society then yes, we could borrow from each other as much as we wanted. But it is not equal, not even close, and there is only one group of people that gets to express themselves however they want to and take inspiration wherever they please, while still maintaining their full rights and privileges.

    I know a lot of that was stating the obvious but it just seemed to be missing from both articles (I am not trying to assume that you know none of this because I am sure you do) and I have seen so many people lately accepting the lack of credit as the sole issue of cultural appropriation. I was also disappointed that you used the phrase “outrage machine,” as that phrase basically mocks, belittles, and dismisses protests/movements that are often very valid and very important. Again, I love and appreciate Man Repeller so much and I really hope none of the writers are offended by my comment – I am not directing my anger or frustration at you personally, just the way that I’ve seen this topic handled in the media recently. I am worried that cultural appropriation is being completely misconstrued and belittled and I wish that the voices of people of color (who have stated all of this a bajillion times) would be heard and paid attention to a million times more.

    • Babs

      Thank you so much for writing this! “there is only one group of people that gets to express themselves however they want to and take inspiration wherever they please, while still maintaining their full rights and privileges.” That really puts this whole conversation smack back into place.

      This post was published on the same day as the post about the Prada collection, which was filled with Chinese references. I’m not saying I know where “the line” is, but this feels like a good time to question how things have been done, what we and our neighbors are ok with, if it’s really, in fact, ok. Also to notice that it’s not just black culture that is being mined.

    • Sam

      Thanks for this articulate insight. If only i could post this response to every negative article i have read about the issue.
      don’t apologise for you comment on a site with writers who have more influence than you and a platform to express it.

    • Luisa

      Thank you Kylie, you had clarified the main issue, which is on the one side you are oppressing people just because of their skin color and pushing them to be more “white”, but at the same time you are taking aspects of their culture and making them your own in a way. That is totally wrong and unacceptable and I agree with that.

      But also, what do you think about generalizing that all white people are the same and think this is in any way okay? What I am saying is that maybe MAYBE they weren’t really thinking about this being an issue because they are not “racist”. I am not defending them at all, it it still wrong that they didn’t address it I believe because they are supposed to be professionals and should’ve known this would be an issue from the get go, but it’s something to think about.

      I posted a comment below replying to PCE about how the whole situation was unclear to me. Thanks for your insight I really appreciated your comment.

      • Kylie

        Luisa,
        Thank you for your comment! I don’t think it’s really about whether or not all white people are the same, it’s about the fact that all white people are privileged and part of an oppressive race, whether we want to be or not. So even if our reasons for doing something aren’t coming from a place of racism or discrimination (although it’s dubious with Marc Jacobs since as many people have pointed out, his models are mostly white), if the result of doing that thing adds to the oppression/exploitation of other races, it is still not okay. When it comes to social issues, we shouldn’t look at it as an individual/personal thing (such as “I’m not racist toward Asians so it isn’t wrong for me to borrow from Asian culture”) but instead look at the entire picture (White people in America have historically and still presently oppress Asian cultures, so it is not okay for white people to borrow from Asian culture.)

  • Sheila

    The way I see it, just because different cultures consume pizza, fried rice, and tacos doesn’t negate the fact that pizza is Italian, fried rice is Chinese and tacos are Mexican food. If a white person opened a fried rice food truck but didn’t want to credit Chinese food and culture to his business it would be ridiculous. Marc Jacobs is ridiculous for not crediting black culture for dreads just because others consume it too.

    • What’s in a name

      Sheila, what a strange and magical analogy! It’s so easy to understand. Easy to digest (pun intended). Love it <3

  • Angela

    I want to start by thanking you for bringing up a discussion that’s very important to talk about. And trying to broach the subject as sensitively and responsibly as you can.

    I’d also like to add a few (unsolicited) suggestions.

    1) We should define our terms clearly (cultural appropriation =/= borrowing =/= influence). Providing a definition of cultural appropriation helps discussions because it’s very clear that people have different ideas about what cultural appropriation is.

    2) We should not over-intellectualize culture. Cultures don’t own anything (which is often the defense of those for cultural appropration), but certain attributes are associated with cultures and people are belonging to those cultures are discriminated against (explicitly or implicitly) owing to those associations. Dreadlocks are a perfect case for this. Walking down a runway as a model (of any color) has a different message and a different real-life potential consequence than going in for a job interview with dreadlocks (in many parts of this country). To be dismissive of that fact is to deny a type of cultural bias.

    3) Designers don’t get a pass on this because of their “artistic” inclinations. Designers sell products. Marc Jacobs wants to sell close, and he wants to capitalize on the cultural cache these shows produce. It may be a vulnerable moment for him (showing his collection), but he’s also doing his job. Let’s not romanticize an industry that has exploited many people in many different ways (with little regard for personal health or for it’s participation in capitalizing on or furthering bias).

    It’s not that I think Marc and Guido are evil, bad people. But they were thoughtless. They could’ve done dreadlocks in a different way (dreadlocks were not the problem, per se), but there was no message, no real point-of-view that justified the presentation.

  • Mónica Valadez

    We love your podcasts (we are a group of 3 & love to hear it together sometimes) but please please please stop saying/singing that “k-chiiiinnng k-chiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnng” thing at the beginning because it sounds silly, hyper acute & immature…its really annoying, we all agree with that :/ Thanks for understanding! Hugs!

  • Sofia Allyn

    This is an area that ManRepeller needs to address, but one where its lack of knowledge and understanding shows. If you’re going to engage in these conversations (as you well should), it’s your responsibility to educate yourself on these issues in a comprehensive way. The language you use, the ways in which you frame this debate, and ultimately, your conclusions, suggest to me that you don’t really understand the importance or nuances of the issues you’re discussing.

    The fact that “Mark Jacobs is going to have his ass handed him” is not the story here, right? The “outrage machine” should not be the focus of the piece, should it? Jacobs deserved to have his ass handed to him, and the media and the public was right to weigh in, because this is an example of a larger systematic problem that you barely pay lip service to here. Overall, the language you use throughout the podcast suggests to me that you think this is an issue of poor management by Jacobs’ team, rather than an issue of systematic, institutionalized racism that pervades the fashion industry and (quite frankly) our country.

    I think ManRepeller is a wonderful community of whip-smart, funny, interesting women, but this piece really misses the mark. Do your homework before doing another piece on these issues.

  • What’s in a name

    I think both Kylie and Sofia said it best because, unlike them, I fully intended on being condescending as I felt condescended to. Without rehashing further what they both said so patiently and eloquently, I would like to question the function of this amuse-bouche of bad taste. Even as you discuss cultural appropriation poorly while using beautifully ironic, appropriated slang incorrectly (we are a little beyond shade throwing when kids are expelled from school, military personnel are dismissed etc for wearing the same hairstyle applauded when worn by not black people), I have to wonder what exactly the point of these pieces are? I just finished reading an article that had no fewer than three cited articles, all of which were opinion pieces but this podcast that discusses a topic that has real social, financial and even safety implications for some people gets the Carrie-Bradshaw-blog voice treatment? Arguing blogger vs. print media people’s opinions, people who serve essentially the same social function but, this is potentially “beating a dead horse”? And which conversation are we even having when someone who has the platform to facilitate one thinks that it stems from an “outrage machine”. There is definitely no conversation to be had when half of the participants can’t acknowledge that there is even a problem and, to wit, don’t know the difference between appropriation and assimilation. I’m looking at you, Marc “Think about it” Jacobs.

    Out of genuine curiosity, what purpose did this serve to not have an opinion at all? This podcast’s thesis serves to protect an underlying creative agency rooted in hyper-entitlement that perpetuates cultural appropriation even as there is a shadow of an idea that it’s wrong, meaning, I don’t believe you think appropriation is an actual problem. Saying that Guido makes us (read: you) look at the hair in “a more sophisticated and fashionable way”… [sips Nyquil and gets in bed]. All this to bring it back to the original question: what is the function of this piece or any piece where a non-expert poses as an authority on a subject that they are unqualified to discuss? I don’t believe all people who wear clothing are experts in fashion and I do believe that you (she? I don’t know who’s even reading this), Leandra, are an expert in fashion. You are not however an expert outside of your personal experience related to clothing as this podcast and write-up tell me. Even tummy-roll gate was in the realm of a lived experience and whatever fault people find with a lack of perspective related to one’s perceivable privilege (of any kind), at least that’s how you felt about yourself but this is so clumsy, so inelegant, so vague and unspecific where your writing is generally personal and focused. That this went up says to me that someone felt this opinion was a worthy enough argument to share with the group. This existing tells me that someone maybe thought this podcast and write-up would end the nanillion-padrillion year old fight that people all over the world have had with people who steal stuff and swear up and down that, not only was it not stolen but, in fact originated with the thieves themselves. If MR hadn’t discussed it, I can assure you the conversation would have happened without you lol! This self-importance that I won’t dig into but the tone of voice like ‘whyyy are we still tallkkiiinnggg about this?? We wrote an article that should have ended thiiissss’. Not understanding that there wouldn’t be applause for stating the obvious in the most tepid way possible. Given the tone of voice, I sense hypothetical back pats were had at the time of writing the original article. They shouldn’t have been had.

    Do I care that this site doesn’t have a certain number of writers of color on the team? Personally, not really. But I do care that people believe you know what you’re talking about on the platform you’ve created that has grown to include topics that are poorly researched and little understood by the writer that it becomes dangerous. Anyone who doesn’t understand this topic and uses this as their gateway reads that a very valid criticism of someone co-opting one of another culture’s style signifiers is noise if enough people discuss it for long enough. Someone who already doesn’t believe in the gravity of cultural appropriation reads this as ammunition for continuing to dismiss the problem. Some of us can trace and give credit to designers for single design elements but, when race is included in the discussion, the credit has an expiration date.

    Man Repeller has grown to include culture topics and my understanding is that these are the very foundational bricks of what the team hopes will someday be a media and culture conglomerate. If my understanding is correct, please do better. We have enough cobbled together pieces about cultural appropriation written by people pretending to be journalists lacking the introspection to realize that some of their very real personal biases influence their writing of the topic negatively. That the time spent researching the cultural significance and history of Stan Smiths is not applied to subjects that people spend their entire adult lives sincerely trying to understand. Appropriation is a new topic to some people and the legacy of others. You don’t get to jump in at the tail end of a movie and tell everyone who sat through it your opinions of character development. You’re late, and that’s fine, but sit in the back and listen or get a ticket for another showing. This place is wonderful when it wants to be but, if this is what we are going to get by way of ~culture writing just leave it alone. Just leave it. Like, just.

    • Leslie Price

      First of all, thank you for such a smart, insightful comment. I agree that there is a learning curve here.

      We read the comments. We strive to be better. Thank you again for taking the time to weigh in, and caring enough about the community at MR to do so.

  • Michelle Barrera

    THIS. WAS. SO. GOOD.