Top 10 Instances of Open and Unapologetic Celebrity Cultural Appropriation in 2013!

Thanks to Halloween, outdoor music festivals and the college Greek system having access to social media, people of color are constantly bombarded with acts of cultural appropriation, but with the help of rich and ignorant celebrities, 2013 had to be cultural appropriations’ most visible year yet! So, to those who attempt to add an entire race’s marginalized dress, dance or religious adornments to their own personal walk-in closets for the sake of ‘fashion’ and more importantly, to all the people of color/allies who haven’t been able to enjoy a moment’s peace on Facebook or YouTube this year without having to shout ‘REALLY?!” at your computer screens (be sure you have a pillow to scream into handy), I bring you my Top Ten Instances of Open and Unapologetic Celebrity Cultural Appropriation in 2013!

10. Selena Gomez Refuses to Research the Backstory of the Bindi

When pop singer, Spring Breaker and former Wizard of Waverly Place, Selena Gomez decided her newest boring pop song, “Come and Get It” had an “Hindu, tribal feel,” she thought the best way to celebrate that assertion would be to debut the song with some half-assed Bollywood-style choreography and unceremoniously donning a bindi (a traditional Hindu adornment representing the sixth chakra) on her forehead at the MTV Music Awards. In a pissed off statement released by Rajan Zed, President of the Universal Society of Hinduism:

“The bindi on the forehead is an ancient tradition in Hinduism and has religious significance…[it] was not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects as a fashion accessory aiming at mercantile greed.”

Regardless of the backlash of more informed people, Selena not only continued to wear a bindi at several other events, she also made some really stupid statements in her defense of doing so, such as this great excuse she said aloud to US Weekly, “My hairstylist and my makeup artist are actually really big into the whole culture — they’ve been around, they’ve traveled, they’ve gotten me into various books.”

While I’m sure the fact you did the world’s laziest research is really appreciated by the Hindu community, ultimately, you’re not going to teach Hindus about the history and appropriate use of their own cultural and spiritual creation. Also, the fact that other, whiter artists with a richer history of cultural appropriation have done the same thing (i.e. Madonna, Gwen Stefani) is less of an excuse and should be more of a lesson. When you decide to appropriate a symbol of a culture you’re not a part of because of a pop song that you’ve described as “Hindu,” “tribal” AND “Middle Eastern,” you don’t know what you’re talking about. Stop defending your dumbass mistakes, learn your lesson gracefully, and take off the fucking bindhi. You’re embarrassing yourself.

9. Michelle Williams Dons Redface For Fashion

In March of 2013, actress Michelle Williams was featured in a photo spread with British fashion magazine, AnOther to promote her then opening film, Oz the Great and Powerful. The photos were described by the magazine as Michelle “transforms into eight imaginary characters.” I may not know anything about fashion or fashion shoots or what the hell magazine this is, but all the photos seem par for the course of this stuff. The ‘characters’ consist of mostly rich looking white ladies, along with one picture of a dressed down Williams in overalls and little makeup, aka a poor looking white lady. Then you come across this picture:

It doesn’t take a fashion designer or textile major to recognize this is straight up REDFACE. What makes this style choice even more disturbing, other than the fact that several editors, photographers, stylists, and the actress herself signed off on it, is the theme of the shoot is “imaginary characters.” Sure, the editor/photographer most likely meant ‘imaginary’ in the way that Michelle Williams is not really the owner of that satin Armani jacket and she wouldn’t really wear a brown wig with some Dior tulle, I guess, but what can’t be separated from this image is the juxtaposition of a white American woman, dressed as an ‘imaginary’ Native ‘character’ just for fun, and the oppressive history of Native people being portrayed as mythical and historically extinct figures in America. As ‘ethereal’ and ‘imaginary’ as you want this image to be, accessories and soft lighting cannot erase the bloody history of colonization and the continuing misrepresentation, or complete lack thereof, of Indigenous people in mainstream media. Turns out like blackface, redface is NEVER OKAY…unless the theme of your photo shoot is ‘Gross-ass Acts of Celebrity Cultural Appropriation.’ Come on, girl. You know better.

8. Iggy Azalea’s ‘Bollywood’ “Bounce”

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but I have to say, I’m sort of astounded at the sheer meta-level of cultural appropriation here. A white, Australian rapper creating an Indian-themed music video for an American hip-hop single? Whoa. There is obviously nothing wrong with non-Indians enjoying Indian Bollywood films and Indian culture. What becomes problematic is the meshing of several elements of actual Indian culture and stereotypical Indian culture, and the presentation of this culture as a ‘fashion trend.’ The video itself is all over the place as far as the ‘Indian theme’ is concerned. One minute there is a Holi celebration, then a Bollywood-inspired large scale choreographed dance number, then Azalea is riding through a city atop an elephant, possibly inaccurately evoking her misinformed view of Hindu deity Ganesha/Ganesh, who she apparently assumes is a female elephant goddess?”

I think blogger Julie Gerstein of The Frisky said it best with, “personally I’m super over artists appropriating other cultures like they’re just another fashion trend. Not cute.” WERD. Rampant cultural appropriation aside, yet another egregious offense committed by this video is simply this song is FUCKING TERRIBLE.

7. Ireland Baldwin Tweets Her ‘Native American’ Halloween Costume

Ireland Baldwin, the 18 year-old daughter of actor and possible homophobe Alec Baldwin and ex-wife, actress Kim Basigner, decided to share some pictures of her upcoming Halloween costume with her many Twitter followers (who I assume also follow Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson‘s daughter, Dakota). Unfortunately for Ireland, Indigenous people, and anyone who had hope for the millennial generation of celebrity children, the “costume” was actually a stereotypical shoddy “Native American headdress” complete with added lipstick “war paint” on her face. Not too surprisingly, Twitter rightly blew up with cries of racism and cultural appropriation. From there, Ireland took a page out of her dad’s book of random aggressive defensive rants and tweeted she removed the picture “because it was insulting all the poor little white girls who need a racial cause to be a part of for attention.” I’m glad someone finally took those white girls to task. Their constant cries of racial causes are seriously one of the last obstacles in ending racism.

In more terrible attempts at defending her shitty behavior, Ireland invoked the classic white person derailment tactic of claiming Cherokee ancestry, a favorite default of non-Natives accused of racism or cultural appropriation perpetuated against Native people. Because everyone knows that distant ancestry you’re most likely aware of due to word of mouth OBVIOUSLY ingrains a person with a deep, spiritual connection and personal understanding of what it’s like to live in America as that minority. Possibly the best defense of the costume was when Ireland tweeted a picture of the “Big Chief” character from Disney’s Peter Pan, claiming her intent wasn’t to portray just any random Native person, but a specific one for a trip to Disneyland!

Oh, wait, so you’re not dressing in a mass-produced stereotypical ‘Native’ costume, and instead were just dressing as one of the most racist caricatures depicting an Indigenous person in the history of American cinema? Nevermind, you’re right, the outfit is fine.

6. Lilly Allen’s Attempt at Sexist Satire Backfires

As our televisions became inundated with images of Miley Cyrus, making questionably hygienic decisions such as licking hammers or touching Robin Thicke (singer of 2013′s summer rape anthem, “Blurred Lines”), and the pop music scene as a whole continued spewing out another year of marketing the objectification of women and promoting male artist anthems beckoning consumers to find power in the patriarchy, British pop singer Lily Allen decided she’d had enough and attempted to pen a protest song to combat pop music’s sexist standard. The result, “Hard Out Here, ” (the title and chorus of which is a parody of Oscar-winning tune, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp”) intends to take the sexist music industry to task, but often goes off topic, such as right out of the gate, condescending the alleged materialistic nature of hip-hop and rap music with lyrics like, “I won’t be bragging ’bout my cars or talking ’bout my chains.”

That aside, the real problematic element of the song became the accompanying music video where the supposed parody and satire seemingly lose their intelligence. Allen is flanked by several black female dancers, and while she herself is presented as dominant and remains fully covered, the dancers sport tiny bathing suits as they twerk, kneel and bow on all fours around her. One could argue there exists inherent parody within these images which are possibly aimed at satirizing what many have perceived as Miley Cyrus’ objectification of the black female body, but as champagne is poured down the dancer’s backsides, and Allen giggles as she slaps their asses, all while performing a song with lyrics like, “don’t need to shake my ass for you ’cause I’ve got a brain,” it’s hard to tell if she’s on the right side of the parody or not. After receiving some backlash in response to the video, Allen later apologized and reasoned that she didn’t intend the video to be “about race,” which further proves she wasn’t in on the right joke. While Miley Cyrus seems to be using black culture and dance as a form of sexual accreditation, Lily Allen is saying she’s smarter and above it. This song could have been a great anthem of solidarity against sexism, but sadly instead did what the feminist movement has been guilty of for decades…leaving women of color out of the conversation.

5. Dear Miley Cyrus: It’s Just Not Twerking

via abcnews.com

via abcnews.com

By far, the most talked about celebrity campaign of cultural insensitivity this year was the oblivious cultural appropriation parade headed by pop singer and Billy Ray Cyrus seed, Miley Cyrus. Between her famed teddy bear, twerking, foam finger party at the VMAs and her subsequent art installation about emotionally melodramatic relationships, many journalists and bloggers criticized her new found “sexuality” by taking issue with her choices to wear underwear like pants or swinging around naked on construction equipment (hello UTI). The major issue here is not the misinformed “empowerment” of her perceived sexuality. Between using black female dancers as props and her seemingly relentless crusade in the past year to be crowned the Queen of Twerk (a dance she didn’t create nor can she even execute correctly), Miley is attempting to adopt black female sexuality as an accessory while having the privilege of avoiding the racist negatives that go along with it. The very dance Miley is using to elevate her new sexualized image has been used to condemn, criticize and condescend black women when used as a codifier of behaving ‘poor’ or ‘ghetto.’ This isn’t to say white people can’t twerk, but there are ways to enjoy and celebrate another culture’s dance without doing this:

Another glaring issue with Miley’s attempts at being the spokesperson for this dance is SHE ISN’T EVEN DOING IT RIGHT. Twerking IS NOT just bending over and shaking your ass. If you want to see some real twerking in action for the crazy amazing athletic feat it is, check out the Twerkers Gone Wild YouTube series by Caramel Kitten, in which she twerks by the fish at Walmart and silently twerks in the library.

4. Katy Perry’s Asian Appropriation at the AMAs

Let me just start this one with uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugggggggggghhhhhh. Pop singer, preacher’s daughter and person who once said she was so “obsessed with Japanese people” she wanted to “skin” them and “wear” them “like Versace,” Katy Perry, performed at the American Music Awards this year in what has been described by the media as both an “Asian themed” and “geisha inspired,” performance of some song of hers called “Unconditionally.” Wearing a dress that was a more cleavage-baring knockoff of both a Japanese kimono and a Chinese cheongsam, bowing and flitting about onstage amongst cherry blossoms, dancers with parasols and large fans, and some guys hitting a wadaiko, Perry appeared to present what Kotaku referred to as a “Pan Asian buffet” of images and cultural references.

via examiner.com

via examiner.com

While many media outlets described this cultural hodgepodge as “beautiful,” I think we need to call it what it really is: hardcore cultural appropriation (with an open possibility of just being straight up racist). I’m sure Perry will at some point release an insincere statement about how the performance was meant to honor all Asian culture (although she missed some countries), because she finds them so “beautiful” and some other comment where she’ll basically refer to Asian history and customs as her own personal fantasy. Turns out Japan and China are not fantasy lands, they are real countries, with real histories and real people who are fully capable of being the spokesperson of their own cultures. Also, Japan and China are not the same country. Meshing their completely separate cultures together is a common racist view by Western society which Katy Perry chose to continue to espouse to the world as a whole at a televised event.

3. Miley Cyrus Can’t Stop Appropriating Black Culture

Budding misinformed non-conformist, Miley Cyrus has a couple of important messages in her music video for really slow moving party anthem, “We Can’t Stop.” Most of them involve how they’re not going to shut down the partae, no matter what you squares say! The rest of the video is basically a visual assault of a privileged, rich, white girl using stereotypical elements of a culture associated with lower socio-econonomic classes of minorities, more specifically Black and Latinos to help make herself seem ‘edgy’ and ‘cool.’ There are scenes where she is popping in a gold grill, throwing up non-gang signs while wearing a beanie and a gold chain and of course, her version of twerk-lite with a group of black friends.

Most of the revelers at the party are white, the house they’re in is white, Miley is dressed in all white for most of the video, and there are even scenes of white guys sleeping in piles of white bread. Is there a metaphor to all this? Probably not (other than to make it look like an Urban Outfitters commercial), but the fact that there are only a handful of black friends at the party, most of whom are used as props for the twerking scene and to be the guy who steps in and nods while she sings the lyric “to all my homegirls here with a big butt, shaking it like we at a strip club.” I guess they’re there to say, hey you guys, this isn’t racist cultural appropriation. This is just a MILAE PARTAE! Dear Miley, you are playing at being a member of a certain marginalized group of minorities like it’s dress-up. There is no way you understand what it is like to be marginalized because as a white, rich person you are not. At the end of the day, you can take that grill off and go to your home in the Hollywood hills. Twitter user, Mixed Girl Problems said it best:

Miley sticks middle finger up in pics, smokes & wears grills = just her being a kid. Trayvon does it = hes a thug #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen

— Mixed Girl Problems (@mixdgrlproblems) August 12, 2013

2. Lady Gaga’s Sexy Burqa Song

There is a special level of awkward reserved for not only appropriating another culture, but appropriating their religious symbols without having a full understanding of their meaning and history. This cringe-inducing moment was reserved this summer for well-intentioned, but often off her allyship-game, pop singer, Lady Gaga, whose alleged single, “Burqa” or possibly titled, “Aura” was leaked online. The song, along with her recent attempts at starting a trend she called ‘burqa swag’ of wearing non-traditional versions of the traditionally Muslim garment out and about, really just goes to show her overall misunderstanding of the practice as a whole. While seen largely in Western culture as an oppressive form of female disempowerment, many Muslim women wear the burqa, or more commonly in the United States, the hijab, as a form of owning their sexuality and their bodies by not allowing themselves to be visually defined or characterized by these things. Without bothering to fully research or attempt to understand this, Gaga presents the burqa as a form of repression in a country that often correlates female empowerment with female sexuality. With lyrics like, “Do you wanna see me naked, lover? Do you wanna peak underneath the cover?” purposefully meant to sexualize a garment whose sole purpose is to avoid such characterizations is not only ignorant, but harmful. As a larger-than-life pop star whose influence spans the globe, spreading misinformation about a practice largely misunderstood by non-Muslims is not only shitty, it’s destructive.

1. Johnny Depp Cast as Tonto

In a Hollywood landscape of western films and television series being churned out left and right in the 40′s, with studios often using whites, Italians or sometimes Latinos to portray Native Americans, Canadian actor and stuntman, Jay Silverheels, a full-blooded Mohawk Native, began portraying the now iconic Indian sidekick and Potowatomi tribesman, Tonto, on the television series, The Lone Ranger (1949-1957). Of course, Tonto was a stereotypical stoic Native stereotype, who basically played supporting character to the white hero, but nonetheless, having a Native character portrayed by a Native actor at the time was a really big deal and a historic moment of Native portrayal in cinema. In 2013, the Disney corporation decided to introduce these western heroes to audiences once again, but this time packaged with young white actor, Armie Hammer in the role of the Lone Ranger and wild-haired white actor, Johnny Depp in the role of Tonto. Yes. Hollywood was able to cast an actual Native person as Tonto in 1949, but not in 2013. Now you know why this made my number one spot.

With Native people often portrayed as mindless savages or mythical creatures in American cinema, Indigenous people have so, so, few cinematic and pop culture icons to look up to. Though there have been great cinematic achievement in Native representation, such as Pow Wow Highway, Smoke Signals, and Dead Man (another Johnny Depp film in which he rightfully portrayed a white person), the character of Tonto, with all his stereotypical trappings, is still one of the most commonly known and enduring Native pop culture icons to date. When the film was initially announced, many people were excited at the prospect of finally updating the character and for once letting him be portrayed on screen in a big budget family film as a fully realized human being. While Depp (who OF COURSE pulled the Cherokee card in a shit ton of interviews) claimed to be using the role as an opportunity to “salute” Native Americans and to “fix years of Indian misrepresentations in Hollywood,” what he and the producers of The Lone Ranger seem to forget is that history of misrepresentation was the result of the lack of it. The most important part of the process to right this wrong is not to show a white person can portray a non-one-dimensional native character, but that a Native person, not just a character, is not one-dimensional.

Avatar of Elicia Sanchez

Elicia Sanchez is a stand-up comedian, a comic book reader and practically an adult. She has performed at the Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival, the Bridgetown Comedy Festival, the All Jane No Dick Festival and is a regular opener for comedian Hari Kondabolu. She produces three monthly Seattle comedy shows (Wine Shots: Comedy's Happiest Hour, The Enematic Cinematic: LIVES and The Good Fun Show) as well as hosts a podcast about terrible movies titled, The Enematic Cinematic. She also happens to be the lead singer of Seattle’s premiere Michael Bolton cover band, Lightning Bolton. Elicia currently resides in Seattle, WA where when not performing, she splits her time between panic attacks on the bus, watching creepy forensic crime shows and dusting her action figures.

Elicia has written 2 articles for us.

73 Comments

  1. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    I just don’t understand how their is an outcry why Lady Gaga sexualizes a tradtional religious garment but not when many a pop star sexualizes rosaries or masturbates with a cross. I understand for cultural appropriation reasons but for religious? Please. As a catholic it just annoys me when there is no outcry about those other things because it is seen as so ‘normal’ (I guess?)

    • Thumb up 16

      Please log in to vote

      huge difference in terms of experience and history of oppressions, re: lady gaga and the sexualization of catholic imagery. lady gaga was born and raised catholic, attending catholic school, and has grown up super immersed in the culture. catholic culture IS her culture, and it’s very different to reappropriate aspects of culture that you belong to than it is to appropriate a culture you do NOT belong to, i.e. sexualizing the burqa. i’m not saying that catholicism “belongs” to lady gaga, but she does belong to “it”, if that makes sense, and thus it is waaaaay less problematic for her to work with the tools that are a part of her experience and culture than what she did with the burqa

      as someone who was born and raised catholic, went to catholic school, remains in the culture, etc. i can say that i LIVE for catholic imagery and all of its reinterpretations, manipulations, and the ways that it’s used to comment on the state of catholicism in our society. tbh i don’t think mary would have a problem with her image often being merged with that of the vagina because she’s often been used as a symbol for feminine power, for the resurgence of matriarchy in the church, and all kinds of kickass stuff that makes her my second favorite person to appeal to (jeanne d’arc is my first). also lady gaga is faaar from the first person who has sexualized or manipulated catholic imagery – madonna, anyone? – but all of the people i can think of who have done similar were raised catholic and belonged to the catholic church, which again, is super different than appropriating a culture you don’t belong to, not to mention the power imbalances in lady gaga’s burqa shit.

    • Thumb up 8

      Please log in to vote

      when a pop star sexualizes rosaries or masturbates with a cross, there actually is a huge outcry, it just comes from the right rather than the left.

      in america, christianity is the mainstream dominant culture and is also a culture which historically has oppressed many of the cultures mentioned in this post (and often the artist’s decision to employ those christian traditions in that way is, in fact, a conscious rebuttal to oppression by those traditions, either personally or culturally) … qualifying sexualizing catholic symbols as equal/similar to appropriation of indigenous cultures by white people is sort of like saying “reverse cultural appropriation” exists, which it doesn’t? i guess here i would add that i’m speaking mainly of white christianity — i’m jewish and not really well-versed on christianity and its permutations at all, but i imagine a white person appropriating symbols specific to hispanic or latino catholicism or black churches would also be problematic.

      • Thumb up 1

        Please log in to vote

        No no I def wasn’t trying to compare it to cultural appropriation I was just bringing it up. Also why doesn’t the left raise an outcry when catholic imagery is sexualized? Because Catholics have traditionally put down other religions? That seems like an invalid reason to me.

        • Thumb up 2

          Please log in to vote

          yeah i think the thing is that using catholic imagery in that way can be offensive to catholics, for sure. but it just isn’t cultural appropriation.

          as kate said, i think any artist should feel free to critique and challenge their own faith, whatever that faith is, in their art, even if that involves sexualizing it. it seems like most of the people who sexualize catholic imagery are, indeed, catholic, and in general the left tends to be more liberal about freedom of expression and religious critique in art/entertainment (as long as it is the artist’s own culture, obvs) than the right is, thus the discrepancy in outrage. also the right is on the whole more religious in general.

          but i definitely wouldn’t declare an oppressive history “an invalid reason,” either — oppressed groups certainly don’t have to concern themselves with disrespecting/offending the instruments of their oppression, respect goes out the window when oppression happens in the first place

        • Thumb up 2

          Please log in to vote

          In reply to Riese, I think the problem with your reply is the conflation of Catholic as a culture and as a religion — just because someone was born in the Catholic faith doesn’t mean that they are practitioners of the faith (this is why the Catholic Church says politicians can’t be both Catholic and pro-choice — not to agree with the church or open another can of worms, but just to share an example of the different between claiming an affiliation with a faith and practicing it, in the eyes of the church) — I have a lot of problems with the conflation because claiming to be culturally a part of something does not mean one has a full understanding of the dogma of that thing to which they claim to be a part. Does that mean one has to practice something to critique it? Absolutely not. But saying one has a right to maaturbate with a cross because they’re a part of the religion is neither a justification nor validation of such an act. Disrespect of a religion is disrespect of a religion, regardless of who is doing it to what faith.

    • Thumb up 1

      Please log in to vote

      I agree — the use of religious imagery and objects for purposes other than their religious intent, regardless of the faith, is offensive and beyond disrespectful, especially to practitioners of the faith. Anything that “has religious significance . . . is not meant to be thrown around loosely.” Period. I have my problems with the religion in which I was raised, but if I showed my mother a video of a pop star masturbating with a cross–a scene I could easily defend considering my politics and in-progress-PhD in English and queer studies–I would be hurting her and her faith deeply and beyond repair.

      • Thumb up 2

        Please log in to vote

        this is totally valid, yeah. (hi boo!) BUT i still feel way less uncomfortable with lady gaga using catholic imagery in a disrespectful way than her using the burqa in a disrespectful way because of a couple things, which was more of less my original point (which i typed up on a phone very quickly so not my most academic response). if i showed a video of lady gaga’s catholic imagery fuckery to my family, fur shore it’d be deemed super disrespectful and not okay, and it might upset a few of them a great deal, BUT it’s not an act that is continuing a history of systemic oppression (i know my ancestors experienced some setbacks due to being catholic a century ago, but on a macro level i do not feel comfortable saying catholics, even in the country where protestantism is the majority and we are occasionally the occultist cousin in the corner, are systemically oppressed in a way that is even remotely comparable to islam in western society). a white lady in a burqa using the symbol of a faith that has never belonged to her and which has been straight up fucked over by her people is not okay. which was specifically what i was responding to – i understood ria to be equating gaga’s appropriation of the burqa with her appropriation of catholic imagery, and i believe that is a statement that is grossly out of line.

        i will defend my use of the word “culture” because it’s the best one i could think of for the strange case that is catholicism. when i say culture, i do mean growing up in the faith, because i don’t think you can be raised catholic and immersed in catholicism without doctrine and church rituals being a HUGE part of that experience. but ultimately, those two things often go separate ways bc catholicism is a beast that is rarely swallowed whole, and most catholics don’t blink an eye at someone who is riding its back without agreeing to dive all the way in, if that makes sense? i don’t know, whiskey.

        yes, faith and culture are two different things, but in catholicism that is a matter that is HUGELY complicated by virtue of the history of the church, of colonialism, of the way catholicism works as a practice and a series of rituals. i think you would hard-pressed to find a regularly practicing catholic who believes in every single minute tenant of the church, but they are still experiencing huge parts of the catholic experience simply by knowing the ritual of mass, by participating in rites like confirmation or first communion that SO EASILY bleed into coming of age and adolescence, by attending catholic school where their education is based largely in the faith. point blank, catholicism has a way of very messily bleeding into your life (and sometimes overpowering it) even if you don’t believe in every aspect of the church. and catholicism is different from a lot of other denominations precisely bc there is not a call within the “culture” of catholicism (again, a term i’m using loosely but here just to demonstrate that there is a separation between the social life of catholics and the direct word of the vatican, say) to have its members be 100% vigilant to its teachings 100% of the time. there is not a widely accepted and encouraged stigmatization of members who do not interpret the bible literally, for example. while there are going to be more extreme cases of catholicism here and there, even entire catholic communities that might be considered most extremist than others, it’s still not a widespread part of catholic “culture” in america (i’m only gonna speak to that experience) to be extreme and unflinching in your faith.

        one thing i can guarantee you i am not arguing is that someone who sometimes had fish dinners on fridays and grew up in a neighborhood with some catholic kids is not someone who can claim to be culturally catholic. if that person was using catholic imagery in a disrespectful way, i’d say that’s 100% appropriation and not okay. just a random example…

        • Thumb up 1

          Please log in to vote

          totally gotcha, I think we’re on the same page and if we were talking in person and not typing on our phones (not that we have ever talked about Catholicism at all together ever over whiskey sours, nope) it’d be even clearer — def not attacking your use of culture to describe your experience! Glad we can have this conversation :) and love the randomness of your random example.

        • Thumb up 0

          Please log in to vote

          This exchange is too familiar when I am trying to explain the history of colonization of Nigeria and why ~ethnic~ is too much of a strong term than *sensibility* so I settle with “tribe” but given xenophobia and straight up racism, I look sound (crazy) funny.

          Yes to all this conversation sub-thread.

  2. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    I loved this article because it was super informative and interesting.
    Howeeeever… I just wanted to say that while some Muslim women wear burqas, the majority wear just hijab (both in the Middle East and in the West). Pakistanis and Afghani Muslims wear burqa more commonly than Muslims from other parts of the Middle East. For example, I lived in Jordan and I saw veeery few burqas there (just hijabs) and in some neighborhoods, girls that wore tighter jeans than me and no hijab.
    It kinda sounded like you were saying that most Muslim women wear burqa and only hijab in the US, but maybe I read it wrong?

      • Thumb up 1

        Please log in to vote

        Good point, Ally. I should have been more clear with my comment. I was trying to imply Lady Gaga is most likely less familiar with the burqa because it’s not as commonly worn as the hijab, but that is also based on my own personal experience and some general research so I totally understand that my views are limited. Thanks.

        • Thumb up 0

          Please log in to vote

          You’re right, it’s definitely worn less than the hijab in the US and in most of the Middle East. You really did an amazing job explaining it and WHY some women choose to wear it, so I know you did a ton of research. Not just on that but on the other 9 examples of cultural appropriation. Very informative. :)

  3. Thumb up 9

    Please log in to vote

    I find all these examples so cringeworthy but what’s worse is that these artists and actors don’t seem to care that they are doing it and offer up the most ridiculous excuses as to why it’s okay that they did it. Selena Gomez’s just made her sound like an idiot and Ireland Baldwin definitely got her social skills from her daddy.

  4. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    Thanks for this article. We need to keep putting pressure on media and pop stars alike to change this. There are so many ways these people could have intelligently and interestingly celebrated other cultures instead of… these things they did. Ugh.

    • Thumb up 10

      Please log in to vote

      as @turkish said above, the lack of shame in all of these instances is part of what’s so disgusting. if you fuck up, say sorry. listen. learn. don’t fuck up again. and the fact that most of these people have strong PR teams behind them who are clearly encouraging this gross non-apology-shameless-i-am-right-no-matter-what-god-it’s-so-hard-having-haters-i-am-oppressed-sigh-poor-me style response is awful.

        • Thumb up 3

          Please log in to vote

          i’ll come back, promise! and almost everything i know about intersectionality and being a good ally i’ve learned via this website and the brilliant humans who populate it (our commenters just as much as the editors and writers!) so don’t worry, i know for a fact everyone else will take care of saying things well while i’m gone ;)

  5. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    The bindi (or tika in Nepali) may have originally been worn only as a religious adornment, but that is most certainly not the case anymore. The Hindu women I lived and worked with in Nepal told me it used to indicate marital status, but most Nepali girls today do indeed wear it as a fashion accessory, reserving the sparkliest and most ornate ones for important social events. Likewise for my Indo-British close friend, who is not even Hindu but Sikh, and all of her younger female relatives. All persons mentioned above were/are positively adamant that I (as pasty white as they come) MUST wear one when accompanying them to festivals and celebrations – and if they could talk me into putting on a sari too, all the better, as far as they’re concerned.

    Not saying that it’s ok the way popstars etc. sexualize cultural symbols and clothing, of course, but there are nuances to this issue.

    • Thumb up 4

      Please log in to vote

      This is a fair point! It’s important to not put every and all cultural artefacts on a pedestal without any real understanding of their purpose and their meaning, forbidden from being touched by anyone who falls short of some standard of belonging or “authenticity.” (The politics of cultural authenticity, e.g. who is “brown” enough to get to lay claim to what, what’s “true” to the culture, etc. can be deeply problematic – those within the cultural group might gatekeep in harmful ways, while those outside of it use it to fuel xenophobic/racist sentiments through othering entire cultures and peoples.) Cultures – or people, rather – have been interacting with and evolving alongside each other for well, forever, and while some things are sacred and really should not be fucked around with by other people (as so many of the examples in this post are), others are less so and some are even deliberately developed as ways to encourage cultural exchange.

      That being said, there is an additional layer to why cultural appropriation is problematic aside from it being disrespectful and exploitative for certain people to be doing these things. A lot of these things, including the bindi, are cultural markers that identify people as belonging to a certain group, bringing with it specific histories and really importantly, changing the way people relate to you. When a white girl wears a bindi or a sari for a festival, it’s a fun thing to do! When a South Asian woman does it on the street, she becomes the target of racist and xenophobic discrimination. Similarly, a white woman wearing a rainbow burqa at Pride is ~edgy~ while a Muslim woman doing so on the street is basically attacked, sometimes physically, by just about everyone. So regardless of the specific cultural significance of the artefact/practice, which we definitely should pay attention to, cultural appropriation is still fucked up because people outside that culture get to put these things on and off like accessories without ever facing the real consequences that marginalised people experience for doing the same.

      • Thumb up 0

        Please log in to vote

        I really appreciate your response. Acknowledging differences in privilege in any kind of cultural interaction, including this kind, is incredibly important. Even with the blessings of my companions, wearing a sari at these celebrations felt uncomfortable precisely because of these differences in privilege (especially in Nepal, where lighter skin is valued amongst Nepali people themselves, and many, many comments were made about my complexion).

        It can be a tough question to navigate – for example, my friend mentioned above gifted me once with a beautiful handmade silk salwar kameez, which I feel conflicted about because I don’t want to insult her by never wearing her gift, but I’m not sure how I feel about wearing only a part of it (the shawl or the top) as part of another outfit, and I certainly don’t feel right about wearing the entire thing around in full. (And, of course, I’m fully aware that I am benefiting from a lot of privilege in only having to navigate this relatively minor dilemma, compared to the much heavier questions people of colour go through when choosing how to dress and present themselves.)

        • Thumb up 1

          Please log in to vote

          I understand your predicament – salwar kameez is a beautiful, flattering outfit – but it would be very difficult to wear without feeling as if you were wearing a costume. It IS just a garment, with no religious or other significance, but I couldn’t wear one either – or a kimono, one of which I had at one point (also a gift…) but which I never ever wore.

          Certainly you could wear the SCARF out of context. And I don’t think anyone would have any issue with you just wearing the top…as I said, they’re just clothes; they haven’t “meaning”, outside of the modesty requirements they work as well as western clothes to cover.

          You could ask your friend…I can’t see getting too worked up about clothing, though. Unlike some of the other signifiers mentioned here, it’s just – clothing. Are Asians in western wear “appropriating” the business suit? Asian culture doesn’t need to be protected; nor does African etc. As long as you aren’t violating any religious/ethical tenets, or wearing something that marks an honor you’ve not earned, you should probably go for it…

        • Thumb up 1

          Please log in to vote

          Ah I’m really sorry if I came across as criticising the specific circumstances you brought up (e.g. wearing a tika/sari to ceremonies and festivals), because that wasn’t my intention! There’s a massive difference between doing an exploitative thing on a multi-million dollar record deal and doing something that might seem similar but instead in a context in which you’ve established personal relationships with people and have been specifically invited to share in something. These are the people you work and live alongside and you’re in the best position to decide what’s appropriate or not when in their company plus I completely agree with your original point about there being nuances here, and obvs you are a person that is going out of your way to educate yourself so y’know, you do you.

          I was speaking in more general terms, about how even though something might have lost cultural/religious significance it can still be seen (especially from the outside) as a marker of difference in a way that can result in real harm, so just another way in which context matters.

        • Thumb up 0

          Please log in to vote

          No no, I didn’t think you were criticizing me specifically, and I don’t regret dressing up to attend those events and enjoying my time with my friends. I just felt that you had made an important point about privilege, and wanted to put in my two cents’ worth about how my position of greater privilege had made the experiences somewhat uncomfortable for me even while I enjoyed them for other reasons.

          Thanks for that link – I completely agree with the author that the basis of all of these types of cultural interactions should be respect. If genuine respect was inherent in all cultural exchanges… well, we wouldn’t need to be having these conversations.

      • Thumb up 1

        Please log in to vote

        A fair point, though not one I think that I’d apply to a bindi – you see them often enough that I don’t think they read as a South Asian marker anymore; certainly not in the absence of any other markers. I’d guess more people would dismiss someone wearing one (out of festival context…) as a boho wannabe than as a member of any ethnic group.

        But it’s not even as simple as you make it. I’m, as I mentioned, mixed-race,meaning European and African. I’m pretty fair – I could pass for white most days, certainly for Hispanic. I HAVE passed for Mexican (someone was making offensive anti-Mexican comments; it was more fun to shoot them down by pretending…) And I suppose, though I’m not at all Asian, I could pass for South Asian, at least in the eyes of someone who was looking for trouble. Would that make my wearing a bindi less problematic? More?

    • Thumb up 1

      Please log in to vote

      Thank you for saying that. I was going to comment as well; you’ve covered the ground more gracefully and eloquently.

      I don’t know how many of the posters here have been to India – I’ve spent time, know a lot of people in the Indian dance community, spent some time as a Hindu, still pay my respects – sometimes a bindi is just a bindi.

      And no matter what fancy name someone gives their organization, there is no “Pope” in the religion the west knows as Hinduism. No authority, no one to speak for everyone. While some of the instances listed here are just cringe-worthy, I can’t see wearing an Indian decoration as anything like that. Nor do I think Indian culture is so fragile it can’t stand up to a US popstar…

      The native things, yes, are mortifying, and demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of the signifiers used in Native culture. A bindi USED to signify nothing more esoteric than married state; nowadays it doesn’t even do that.

      As for Ms. Cyrus’s attempts to copy black culture. I’m from New Orleans. I don’t know what she’s doing, but it’s not the same dance referred to as “twerking” down there – some of those kids (I’m mixed race – and a LOT older than the twerking kids…) can do things w/ their glutes I’ve never seen long-time pro bellydancers pull off. Ms. Cyrus just seems to shake her butt around spastically..kind of sad, but I can’t say it offends me. Black and white culture have mixed to make up US culture for so long – this is just another instance, if a pathetic one. Her use of backup dancers is more problematic from what I’ve seen, but it’s not as if I’m about to watch an entire Miley Cyrus video…. thi

  6. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    One of the biggest pet peeves that I have is the whole “I am 1/16th Cherokee so it’s okay” statements. It’s not okay! Not at all. I think it’s a cowardly move. You made a mistake, just admit it. Don’t try to pull that crap when you have no idea what it’s like to truly live as a Native American in this country.

    I actually had a high school history teacher who I loved pull this. She used a Native American slur and I was the only one to call her on it. She defended it with saying that she has some Native American in her so it was okay. No one else said anything. She was a liberal democrat Bush hating history teacher too. (This was in 2002) There was never an apology afterwards.

    I did not see the movie because I truly felt that the Tonto character seemed too sensationalist for their own good. A crow on your head? Really? I remember hearing something about how Depp was made a member of a tribe, though I don’t know where. That of course made it okay because now he was a Native American for reals. Sorry to say but no.

    Why can’t celebrities just apologize for their actions for real. Why do they have to try to defend their abhorrent behavior? Just be honest and real.

    • Thumb up 4

      Please log in to vote

      I think that’s one thing that a lot of other ethnic groups don’t have to deal with. I’ve never met anyone who said something racist against the African diaspora and was like “I mean, I’ve got some black in me so it’s okay.” It makes it really annoying because I don’t want to argue blood quantum or whatever b/c that’s problematic and stuff. But even if you’re ndn and you’re raised off-rez and you have a lot of white passing privilege, etc, then I mean you can still totally say fucked up shit. And if you’re called on it by someone who is rez-raised, can’t pass, etc, then you need to own up to it.
      9/10 though if you say you’ve got “indian blood” or that your great-great grandma was half-something or whatever that’s probably not true. I watched a really interesting documentary about the African-American community and claims of Native ancestry and how it was mostly completely wrong and there was this huge history to it and yeah.

  7. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    Great post! It’s so important for these actions to be pulled up on – I feel like the the internet and critique on these performances are the only thing that can slow this coo-coo appropriation train down. If these kinds of critiques were widely accessible in past years (Elvis, eminem, etc) I don’t think we would be in this apotheosis of performative racism today.

    Anyhow, despite the immediate, offensive and blatant problems with these performances – what I find really troubling is the run-off effect of they have, globally. Coming from Australia (which already has its own plethora of deeply rooted racial issues with its indigenous population) I have found that a lot of the (primarily Caucasian) people defending these performances fall back on the “racism doesn’t exist in this context/ I don’t see colour/ we’re beyond the racism”. I feel this tactic is employed because a large amount of Australians are so removed from the cultures that are chewed and spewed out by these pop artists that they almost don’t see they exist outside of a white-washed mainstream, characture- type depiction (especially for Cherokee and African American) by the media. That’s not to say all Australians are moronic idiots with no cultural awareness, but these pop music performances seem to trivialise cultures to the point where now its apparently acceptable for me to be invited to a “dress as your favourite black person” party. Or a “hip hop hoochies” club night every week – organised, promoted and attended by an almost all-white base. And when I pull these people up on this, I’m met with a tone of voice akin to somebody saying, “oh the fun police have called. Time to stop having FUN!” It’s just like, fuck.

    Robin thicke should’ve been singing about the blurred lines between education and entertainment in our informational age, rather than y’know, rape.

  8. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    wonderful article very well researched and great explanations of all the incidents. It is very disappointing to not feel right enjoying some of these artists work anymore and to see such pathetic attempts at apologies by some artists. I am British Indian and as far as my experience has been growing up with my family who is from India and having been to India many times. The bindi is used in a religious way but the type of bindi that Selina is wearing is one that is used for decorative purposes only. Which most girls will wear to a special occasions and which Indian TV show characters have on a lot of the time for show. So I personally don’t see anything wrong with her or other non-Indian people using the bindi, of course other Indian people may have a different opinion on this.I haven’t seen the performance nor do i follow her work, but her comments and further use of Indian culture is offensive. Thank your for writing this article i will be sharing it with my sister who is a fan of some of these artists.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      I heard a Nerdist interview T&S did with Chris Hardwicke, & they actually seemed to call Miley out a lot on the problematic elements of what she’s been doing. I /think/ it was Sara that definitely acknowledged that the cultural appropriation she’s doing is not okay.

      • Thumb up 1

        Please log in to vote

        Sara said something along the lines of “there’s a racial element to what Miley is doing” during the Nerdist podcast. But her and Tegan continue to constantly talk about how amazing Miley is (see their recent interview on the red carpet at iHeartradio, Tegan wearing a Bangerz T-shirt, e.t.c). It just bothers me that they kiss her ass so much.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      To my knowledge they acknowledged her “acting out” and were concerned in the way of a parent wanting to discipline her for her actions (citation: Hardwicke, C. (2013) Retrieved from http://www.nerdist.com/2013/09/nerdist-podcast-tegan-and-sara/)

      It’s long as potatoes (80 min?) but near the end they go into it. Sara even mentions the cultural appropriation. I can assure you that T&S understood what was happening as they saw it as racially involved, based on their reaction.

      • Thumb up 0

        Please log in to vote

        And I didn’t see the other replies until I already posted. I apologize for redundancy. What may be viewed as ass-kissing may simply be respect for a fellow artist to another. Frankly they have been outspoken in their support of pop artists because they still put in the work for performing and creating music.

        • Thumb up 1

          Please log in to vote

          Maybe it’s because I’m a huge Tegan and Sara fan, and so I see A LOT of their interviews, but their (recent) constant need to publicly praise Miley, comes off as Ass-kissing to me. I know she’s popular, and they’re trying to become more “mainstream,” but they need to take it down a notch.

    • Thumb up 2

      Please log in to vote

      There are plenty of Native American people who spoke out against the film and Depp’s role in it. The woman who runs the blog Native Appropriations has written extensively on it, and I remember several other Native American blogs and news outlets writing about it too. Unfortunately the story you linked made the rounds in the news significantly more than any other Native opinions. Probably because it supports the notion that there’s nothing wrong with the casting or the movie.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      Also, I don’t want to imply that I feel non-Natives can’t speak out or disagree when instances of Native cultural appropriation (or any other issues) come up. I just mean to say I placed this as number one partially due to how dumbfounding it is that this happened in 2013 and also that this issue is close to my heart. I have many family and friends that weren’t exactly stoked to see Disney’s Lone Ranger, but were excited at the possibility of a Native actor having a chance in the lime light. As both a Native and Latino, I haven’t had very many pop culture icons to represent me or to look up to. Even with all the inaccuracies and cringe-worthy stereotypes, Tonto was one of them. When this film was announced, I thought Native people would finally have a chance to see Tonto as a fully realized human being. Alas, Disney let us down.

    • Thumb up 2

      Please log in to vote

      Dude, I’m ndn and I just said how shitty it was. What you’re basically doing is saying, “But this one friend I have that is such and such doesn’t think that’s racist!” which people use to justify all the damn time. Annoying. But yeah, any google search would lead you to Adrienne K.’s opinion and every other part of Indian Country’s opinion.
      Also, it benefited the Comanche nation to endorse Depp. Just saying.

  9. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    The Ireland Baldwin case makes me sad because she’s 18, and it seems like there’s reasonable potential for her to learn better – I learned better about various things that I thought when I was 18 – except that the people around her (like her dad) will probably encourage her to keep thinking of herself as being in the right and the people giving her pushback as persecutors.

  10. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    UGH. I’m not sure when the “I’m such-and-such percent Native” argument got so popular but it really needs to stop. And every single instance of appropriation listed is just getting more and more gross. Especially Miley. I don’t care about her shaking up her image and music. But using brown and Black bodies as props and making Blackness a convenient commodity is bull and I am not here for it.

  11. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    I thought about this a lot before posting. I think it makes sense to point out moments of cultural appropriation. However, I actually found how South Asian related culture and religion was portrayed in this to be inaccurate and off base. I think there’s a problem with conflating all acts of cultural appropriation as possessing the same degree of offensiveness, and treating each of these individual cultures as one. By this I mean there is no one standard voice that gets to speak for an entire culture, that’s ridiculous. Just as Asia is not One. South Asia is not one. India is not one. Hinduism is not one. In that same way one POC doesn’t get to speak for the collective experience of all POCs.

    Anyway here’s what annoyed me enough to create an account and post my thoughts.

    1) Ganesh, not female. Bonus: It varies between Ganesh and Ganesha because of transliteration, multiple languages and varieties in pronunciation. But also your whole analysis of Ganesh and what she was does was so, so, so off. I really don’t even know where to start. I mean if you’re critiquing people for not being culturally aware like please at least…idk fact check? I actually found that more offensive than the orientalism.

    2) Hinduism has never been an organized religion in the same sense as abrahamic religions or even buddhism (arguably through sangha lineage). There isn’t one guy who gets to tell you what hinduism is and what it means because it is so deeply varied, and evolved in multiplicity. Like I get that it has organized to some degree in the US but essentially who is this Rajan Zed guy? Why does this man who has never worn a bindi before (also yeah calling it only a bindi kind of doesn’t give voice to all the other names it has, why does hindi always get to play south asia hegemonic language??? but I digress) get to speak not only for all hindu women (as though we’re one homogeneous group!) but simply all hindus (he was brought up during the UO Ganesh socks scandal too)? Not to mention hindus aren’t the only South Asians to wear bindus. Also contemporary usage v historical usage, totally a thing. Also this guy kind of sounds like he’s a part of the hindu right, which is problematic in its own way. (But that’s speculation).

    I guess my critique really is, the commentary on why south asian and hinduism cultural appropriation sucks sucked because if someone’s going to be outraged on behalf of someone else’s culture and religion they should at least understand it. Or at least care enough to wikipedia that shit.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      My comments on Ganesha/Ganesh were a sarcastic critique referring to what Iggy Azalea might have thought in her making of the imagery in the music video. I posted a Wiki link to Ganesha/Ganesh and had the wording in the article made more clear as to point out the sarcasm. I did not intend to state Ganesha/Ganesha to be “female” or an “elephant goddess” as fact since it clearly is not.

      My quote by Rajan Zed was used because he made a public statement about the issue and it was used and circulated on many blogs and articles discussing the problematic nature of Selena Gomez wearing a bindi. I did not mean to make any broad statements about the organization of the Hindu religion by using this quote, rather just to provide a statement from a person who practices Hinduism and was critical of the situation.

      My research was based on personal experience, interviews with friends and acquaintances, several articles, online essays, blog entries and SEVERAL Wikipedia pages of which I’ve linked throughout the piece.

      Just as a white person has every right to speak out against racism because wrong is wrong, I felt the need to mention the appropriation of other cultures that I am not a part of in this article while not trying to misrepresent that I am a solitary voice for those cultures. If I failed to do this, I’m sorry, but trust me, I cared.

  12. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    Ok I’m kind of sick of words like “redface” and “yellowface” being thrown around, especially in anti-racist contexts. Yeah, imitating another race is problematic, but it’s not the same as blackface, which has a very specific and extensive history of being used to deliberately oppress black people. Also, “red,” “yellow,” etc. are typically used as racial descriptors in racist contexts, so it’s probably best not to use one of the terms unless you identify with the ethnicity it’s used against and you’re trying to reclaIim it. Let’s not fight appropriation and casual racism with appropriation and casual racism.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      Ok, actually, redface and blackface have similar histories, redface just isn’t talked about as much because nobody really cares (hence the “Redskins” and various other sports teams with names like that still being a thing) Exhibit A: that children’s rhyme “Ten Little Indians” It started out as “10 Little Inj*ns” and was really popular in minstrel shows in the 1800s, with white people painting their faces red. Then it became “Ten Little N**s” and instead of painting their faces red, performers painted their faces black. And cinema has a LONG history of having non-Native actors play Native characters, and with all the mascots and things that are still used, it’s just a bunch of racist caricatures. I’m not Asian, but I can see how “sexy geisha” and taping eyes and things and using dumb fake accents for laughs is just as wrong and just as racist.
      I do think that some comparisons of oppressions are super problematic and wrong as hell, but I think that in this case, it’s fitting. Just my two cents.

  13. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    All of these have a valid point except the Johnny Depp one. It’s Hollywood. Hollywood hardly ever casts someone who is the same ethnicity as the character they’re portraying. It’s nothing to do with not wanting a Native to play him. It’s not like that with any character who happens to not be the right ethnicity. It’s who they think is the best actor for the role. The movie had a ton of problems but one of them wasn’t who they chose to play Tonto.

  14. Thumb up 0

    Please log in to vote

    This is an interesting article, but I have to disagree with the stuff about selena gomez because there are so many indians and south asians that also don’t know about the history of the bindi and where it as fashion statement. We don’t condemn them for doing such a thing but we condemn her because she isn’t born into that culture? Many indian actresses don’t know of the history either, so honestly people are just targeting her because they don’t think she “belongs” to that culture.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <blockquote cite=""> <em> <img src="" height="" width="" alt="" title=""> <strike> <strong>