Unintentional Appropriation in Cultures
The cultural appropriation concept of using another culture’s symbol, genres, artifacts, rituals, or technologies, as per Rogers is just inescapable when two of them had to meet at a certain point of time. This includes both the virtual as well as the representational contacts. Such appropriations involve in exploiting the marginalized and colonized cultures and help in the survival of subordinated cultures. Their resistance to dominant cultures is also quite visible. According Rogers, the definition of cultural appropriation is the association of one culture to another and ends their own culture. This imitation or borrow tactic might have been done unintentionally to deconstruct or distort one’s culture and this is a form of appropriation. [footnoteRef:1] [1:. Ibid., 476]
We can even say that the Cultural appropriation as an active process that represents the meaning as ‘taking’. However, cultural appropriation does not include the mere exposures to music or film of other cultures. It always speaks about ‘making others as their one’s own’ under a certain or various conditions. This has different functions and outcomes as per the requirement. There are certain factors that affect the degree to which such individual or cultural appropriation happens. Some of them are the symmetry or asymmetry of power relations, role in domination or resistance, cultural boundaries, factors such as ‘shape’ or ‘shaped by’. [footnoteRef:2] [2:. Ibid., 476]
The word cultural appropriation has a certain denotation among the people of America. The distinction between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is blurring quickly. This kind of appropriation manifests mainly because of high fashion and people feel privileged to generalize or stereotype those. In most of the cases, the appropriation happens without knowing the significance of the culture but it is a ‘just for’ kind. Often, we can see it as the livelihood of marginalized communities by the concept ‘just clothes’, ‘just hair’, or ‘just slang’. [footnoteRef:3] [3:. Ibid., 476]
The Fashion Industry
According to Wissinger, the quantitative data of employment rates of the black models versus the white models are scarce. The reports often glean data from journalistic sources or anecdote. Sometime in the early 1990s, the U.S. bureau of Labor started tracking the number of ‘product promoters, models, and demonstrators’. Also, they have started categorizing as per the race or the gender. Though the media has created an attention for racial discrimination in hiring the models, the industry does not support a reliable statistical data of the racial constitution of the modeling workforce. [footnoteRef:4] [4:. Elizabeth A. Wissinger, This Year’s Model: Fashion, Media, and the Making of Glamour (New York: NYU Press, 2011): 217]
Media reports reflect the fact that the employment rate of black models is lower than the models of other color on the catwalks and in the magazines. Though this data does not refer to an authoritative source, it has truth in it. Almost 35% of fashion shows being held in New York’s fashion week have no colored-models and it was reported in the fashion periodical Women’s Wear daily in the fall of 2007. Around 18% of the runway displayed black models the following year, a 6% improvement over the previous year. The slight improvement also paved the way for the famous issue of Italian Vogue that devoted an issue to black models to draw an attention to the color imbalance. The statistics regarding the race or ethnicity of other modeling professionals is also scarce. Some of the modeling professionals are model agents, or the editors, designers, photographers and the hair and make-up professionals who work with models. When we consider the overall modeling industry, the level of black employment is a negligible proportion as a representation of the population. [footnoteRef:5] [5:. Ibid., 218]
The Model Look
As per Wissinger, the glamor labor of a model has to commodify their looks to match the ever-changing whims of the clients. However, looks are not completely arbitrary and they are governed by a system of “types.” A “type” is referred to as a euphemism for a combination of qualities such as gender, age, ethnicity, and appearance. They often racially defined although they are not declared explicitly. A client who is looking for an “exotic” type or an “all-American” model, uses the language such as a model of color or a blue-eyed blond. Other definitions of models are based on shape or experience in their profession such as “in development,” “new faces,” runway models, commercial models, high-board or high-level models (they get top fees). They also often look for men, children, etc. Historically, in the United States market, the term “ethnic model” applied to those who do not fit the standard of white model “type.” [footnoteRef:6] [6:. Ibid., 219.]
Even though the black models have the ‘looks’ or ‘skills’, they get fewer opportunities, as model ‘types’ are used to market products. The resulting segmented labor markets mainly due to those ingrained attitudes. It is not just because of the black-white divide that these internal segmentations occur in their jobs but also because of looking for specific shades of skins. The aesthetic knowledge of knowing about the semiotics of skin tone is more prevalent in the black modeling and is less common among the Caucasian models. It has even become a part of every black model’s job to understand the subtle and not so subtle messages about the racial types. [footnoteRef:7] [7:. Elizabeth Wissinger, “Managing the semiotics of skin tone: Race and aesthetic labor in the fashion modeling industry,” Economic and Industrial Democracy 33 (2011): 134.]
The corporate’s gaze upon the freelancing modeling industry demands a non-stop structuring of their body. After the black models, have started to appear in advertisements with paints on their faces to appear like tigers or other animals of the jungle, in stifling prints or any exotic attire, they also began to follow gendered stereotypes with depicted images. Some researchers have found that black models better fit in only four roles such as musician, celebrity, athlete, or object of pity. They also need a higher level of aesthetic skills to be a part in any ‘fashion’ work. Most non-ethnic models can be presented with a better look needed for a fashion show or a photo shoot, by a make-up professionals themselves. Whereas, they cannot do the transformation with the black models, they do not even have the tools to adapt the black skin. The black models also need to protect their curly hair from various stylings at the shoot. The modeling industry requires an investment of money and time before they get offers but the black models have to do a little more of such investments in the form of ‘making up’ and styling their hair on their own. [footnoteRef:8] [8:. Wissinger, This Year’s Model, 230.]
McLeod has a telling comment: out of the 10 women who appears on the cover of a bridal magazine, 8 women are always white. Black models get lesser chances there. As per the results of few types of research that are carried out from 2000 to 2004 in the U.S., the black women who have appeared as brides is less than 2% of more than 6,000 advertisements. As per the Cornell University, the study of 10 wedding magazines published from 2013 through 2016 discovered that 74 women on the covers unequivocally looked white, 6 unequivocally looked like women of color, and the remaining 16 looked as if they could be women of color. Mcleod adds that these magazines should not commit mistakes by overlooking the powerful influences that they have on values and norms surrounding a central societal institution. The shock is that they are uniform in presenting the images that underline the painful stereotypes with an implication that whiteness has virginity and purity but the women of color lack it. Overall, these covers imply that women of color are less opted as models for beautiful brides and are less desired as marriage partners. [footnoteRef:9] [9:. Poppy, L. Mcleod, “Nice Day for a ‘White’ Wedding: The Problem with Whiteness in Bridal Magazines,” The Roots, July 23, 2016.]
Implications of Cultural Appropriation
Many people do not understand ‘cultural appropriation’ and why is it a problematic practice, as it is a rather recent happening. Nittle argues that it is a concern for a variety of reasons. Firstly, this “borrowing” robs the credits of the minority groups. The dominant groups tend to be innovative and peripheral by associating themselves with the art, music forms, and beauty of the minority groups. While the disadvantages minority groups face negative stereotypes while doing such borrowing and it looks like they lack intelligence and creativity. Further, the dominant groups often reinforce stereotypes about minority groups, when they appropriate the cultures of others. [footnoteRef:10] [10: 10. Nadra, K. Nittle, “What Is Cultural Appropriation and Why Is It Wrong?” About News & Issues, November 14, 2016.]
The power imbalance between those in power and those who have been historically marginalized is highlighted by cultural appropriation. A member of a dominant group can appear with a traditional dress of a minority group for a Halloween party or for a musical performance, but they are unaware of the roots of such dress and also of the challenges that those groups faced in the Western society. [footnoteRef:11] [11:. Ibid.]
The trivialization of violent historical oppression, letting people show love for a culture but remaining prejudices against its people, spreading mass lies about marginalized cultures, and perpetuating racist stereotypes are all constituents of cultural appropriation. [footnoteRef:12] [12:. Ibid.]
Finley, Taryn. 10 Times Black Culture Was Appropriated In 2015. December 16, 2015. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/10-times-black-culture-was-appropriated-in-2015_us_566ee11de4b011b83a6bd660.
McLeod, L. Poppy. Nice Day for a ‘White’ Wedding: The Problem With Whiteness in Bridal Magazines. July 23, 2016. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://www.theroot.com/articles/culture/2016/07/nice-day-for-a-white-wedding-the-problem-with-whiteness-in-bridal-magazines.
Nittle, K. Nadra. What Is Cultural Appropriation and Why Is It Wrong? November 14, 2016. Accessed November 18, 2016. http://racerelations.about.com/od/diversitymatters/fl/What-Is-Cultural-Appropriation-and-Why-Is-It-Wrong.htm.
Rogers, Richard A. “From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation.” Communication Theory, Vol 16, Issue 4 (November 2006): 474 — 503. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2885.2006.00277.
Wissinger, Elizabeth A. “Black-Black-Black: How Race Is Read.” In This Year’s Model: Fashion, Media, and the Making of Glamour, by Elizabeth A. Wissinger, 216-242. New York: NYU Press, 2015.
Wissinger, Elizabeth. “Managing the semiotics of skin tone: Race and aesthetic labor in the fashion modeling industry.” Economic and Industrial Democracy, Vol 33, Issue 1 (February 2011): 125-143. http://eid.sagepub.com/content/33/1/125.
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