“How unfortunate is it that my parents had to literally force me to wear beautiful parts of my culture because I was afraid of being ostracized, but Selena Gomez can take aspects of the clothing I grew up with and make money off of them? How unfortunate is it that South Asian immigrants and South Asian Americans are Otherized every single day for the way they look, talk, and dress, but Urban Outfitters continues to commodify and make a profit off the sale of bindis – as made popular by American pop stars?[..] My bindi is not a way for you to present yourself as being friendly to South Asian culture while exotifying it. My bindi is from my mother, put in my drawer because it is another mark of my internalized Otherness, on top of my brown skin. My bindi is tainted by Western celebrities trying to be “cultural” or “bohemian” or “tribal.” My bindi is not just a piece of plastic, my bindi is not for sale, and my bindi is not for you.”
Using cultural props as a fashion statement without acknowledging the history and pain that go along with the traditional garb is disrespectful because it is minimizing the struggle that the culture went through and using the clothing but leaving the people in the dark. For example, the Indian bindi, as discussed above. Society wants to use an Indian tradition as a fashion trend but then they refuse to acknowledge actual Indian people such as Miss American 2013 Nina Davuluri. Nina Davuluri was insulted by numerous sources as not being American or deserving on winning because of her background.
Another popular example is traditional Native American clothing. Stores such as Forever 21. On Columbus Day, Forever 21 had a sale on what they refer to as “tribal” clothing. As PolicyMic puts it, “Forever 21 had a sale to commemorate Columbus Day, as many other stores do. However, Forever 21 thought it would be a good idea to capitalize on Columbus Day by selling “Native American” themed items. Basically, Forever 21 commemorated the genocide of Native Americans by selling cheap, stereotypical goods that appropriate.” Forever 21 doubled down on their offensive actions.
Another shocking clothing decision was made by Urban Outfitters. The Week described the situation, “Urban Outfitters put itself in the bad graces of Jewish groups in April 2012, after selling a T-shirt with a six-pointed star badge that, to some eyes, looks eerily like the Star of David patch Jews were forced to wear in Nazi Germany, leading up to and during the Holocaust.”
And finally, there is the practice of “black face” in magazines and on models where non-African American people are painted so they appear to be another race. The above photo is a white model in French magazine who was painted to appear black in an “African” themed spread instead of the magazine using a model who was actually black.
On a personal level, I joined a sorority recently and one of the results of accepting a bid to Greek life is the ability to wear the Greek letters that represent your organization. This seems to be something that American society respects so why can’t fashion and clothing companies respect race and foreign cultures?
At the bottom of it, the question on my mind is why are people representing a culture that is not theirs to represent? This confuses me, especially when there are people available to represent their own culture. Seeing available representatives but choosing to go with the white model to portray a culture that is not theirs is saying to the representative that, while society thinks their clothing is cool, the people behind the culture are not as great as white people. Yeouch. What a message to convey to people: I’ll take the fashion but not the person.