This Is What Happens When People of Color Appropriate Other Cultures

NativeApprops via Twitter
NativeApprops via Twitter

Everyone knows we do not hesitate to call out cultural appropriation at The Root. So what happens when someone reports a person of color to the fashion police for engaging in that misdemeanor? Will that person use their nonwhite privilege to excuse their behavior? Will they push back against the accusations? Will they shuffle the cultural deck and play the mythical “black card”?

Even before anyone showed up in Indio, Calif., for the annual music-and-arts festival known as Coachella, social media activists sent out messages across the newly discovered White People Email Network warning attendees about cultural appropriation. It seems that every year, someone catches Caucasian concertgoers disrespecting a group of brown people by repurposing their culture for shits and giggles. Here are just a few examples:


And of course, High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens went the extra step with her culturally appropriating mashup of Indian and Muslim culture with a hijab and bindi jewels:


Well, this year, apparently a young woman of color didn’t get the notice.

Adrienne Keene is a Native American scholar and activist against the appropriation of her culture. On Monday she tweeted this picture of a wypipo Woodstock attendee wearing a Native American headdress:


Wait a minute. She’s a woman of color, so you can’t call her out. Plus, she’s beautiful, young; she’s at a music festival; and she shouldn’t care about any other culture but her own, right? Even though she’s not white, I bet she’s probably going to respond with insensitive indignation, just as some callous Caucasians do whenever they are questioned for using sacred traditions as throwaway props to make them look cool.

Guess what unbelievable response this woman gave as soon as she heard that someone thought her attire was offensive to their heritage? She did something absolutely insane.


She apologized.


Props to her, and let this woman’s humility, open-mindedness and willingness to accept responsibility for her actions be a lesson to us all. Just because someone makes a mistake and does something racist, homophobic, transphobic or insensitive doesn’t mean that person is a racist, homophobe, et al.

This lady did what she was supposed to do. She recognized her wrong, apologized sincerely and learned from it. This is a living, breathing example of cultural awareness, and proof that people can learn from their mistakes.


Now, if only we could get her to tutor the Kardashians ...

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.

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It seems like every time this happens (and, yeah, appropriation happens a hell of a lot) there’s the important admonishment, but we miss out on the teachable moment. Yeah, it sucks to wear a Native American headdress (or war bonnet) without even the slightest care for the spiritual, social, or political significance to North American Plains Indians, but where is discussion of that significance in the response to its misappropriation? What is it about the war bonnet that is special? What did the Plains Indians think about the bonnet and how was it used? Who were the Plains Indians? In what way is wearing the bonnet disrespectful, and to whom?

Dr. Keene isn’t just some social justice enthusiast armed with a Twitter account and a fresh bag of outrage, but rather a learned and experienced educator, a member of the Cherokee Nation, and someone who can and has discussed misappropriation at length, including teaching about Native cultures. I don’t see any of that in the article, though.

The cure to appropriation is appreciation and education. If the only response is admonishment, then the important cultural aspect or feature will remain outside of the public consciousness and we’re just counting the days until it’s ignorantly appropriated again. Without appreciation and education, the admonishment of appropriation is hollow.

Maybe TheRoot can invite Dr. Keene to discuss the Plains Indians’ way of life, culture, and the significance of the war bonnet.