writing about cultural appropriation and racism in fashion is potentially the most controversial topic for fashion writers, with body politics (which isn't completely divorced from these issues) following close behind. those of us who identify as critical, progressive or liberal minded want to think these things will just go away, but cannot ignore all the signs say otherwise; in fact, racism and cultural appropriation seems to be selling more than ever as of late. just look at the fact that white models are still the standard on runways and in magazines, and that outdated, undeniably racist things like blackface will come back and rear their ugly heads in the pages of vogue even in our supposed "post-racial" era.
to be honest, even i have hesistated touching this issue. it is the one that infuriates, perplexes and inspires me most, not only as a fan of fashion but as an activist, ally and writer. in fact, one of the first pieces i ever wrote about fashion was in 2005 about the problematic increasing trend of mocassin or "mocassin inspired" boots for winter. i've tried to write about it since, but there is so much ground to cover that it becomes intimidating (brevity has never been my strong point). with so many visceral and bewildering responses to the issue, it has sadly only lead to a half-dozen unfinished pieces tucked away on my harddrive.
but i can't hold my tongue any longer. i am an avid reader and (generally speaking) fan of jezebel, and with the discussions going on there triggered by adrienne's post at Native Appropriations entitled "Feathers and Fashion: Native Americans Is [sic] In Style" i think it is time for me to put pen to paper and give a sort of "the critical fashion lover's guide to cultural appropriation."
let's begin with the original article in question: while i don't necessarily think Adrienne's article is very clear with its specific criticisms of cultural appropriation, and a lot of her points muddy (i strongly disagree that Outkast is at the very root of this trend, influencing bands like Juliette and the Licks, Bat for Lashes, and Ke$ha, and am prepared to defend that stance) i am excited by the conversations it has triggered. i do think she raises questions that need to be addressed by fans of fashion and participants in hipster culture as of late, questions that i hope to elaborate on here.
what i mainly want to address here are the responses to adrienne's article when it was posted on jezebel, which range from deeply insightful to downright naive and ignorant. instead of taking this opportunity to engage in discussions about the history of colonization in north america, native american resistance/response to these issues, white privilege, or the political power that many different kinds of clothing possess, a lot of people often end up reacting in predictably defensive ways. but don't take my word for it. here are a sampling of comments:
"So... should I not wear minnetonka shoes or feather earrings anymore?" sydbarretsaves
"Am I gonna go to liberal-PC-prison for wearing silver and turquoise jewelry?"
"Really? I'm not allowed to wear a FEATHER IN MY HAIR? Come on" ferociacoutura
"now I feel guilty for loving Adam Ant when I was 12 yo."
as one of my wisest university professors Molly Blyth once said, "guilt is useless unless it leads to action." what does it say about this contentious issue that these are the first questions people are asking themselves, instead of trying to get a more complex understanding of why someone might challenge their choice to wear these things? the fact that these commentors are asking themselves these questions is, yes, a step in the right direction, but the fact that it is happening in a guilt-ridden, dismissive way is pretty disappointing.