Cultural Appropriation: Disrespect Made Trendy

BY MORGAN BROWN

As time allows the for more multicultural interactions globally as well as locally, people tend to pride themselves on a perceived aptitude for discussing cultural differences as experienced voices, if not experts. In reality, there is an increased ambiguity that makes it even more difficult to debate, much less agree on, the true distinctions between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is defined as the adoption of elements of a certain culture by a more globally prevalent culture with false assumption of implied mutual consent for this taking. This allows dominant cultures to force an assimilation or acculturation of certain treasure symbols and traditions which belonged to the adopted culture.

Conversely, cultural exchange is openly understood by both cultures to be a two-way street of sharing.

In today’s western cultures, appropriation is implemented freely, if not in esteemed forms, in the fashion industry. Recently, the fashion company Chanel was under some under-publicized criticism for what it called the Chanel “Urban Tie Cap.” Despite the well-constructed, flattering name for the accessory, Black people on social media and other online forums made clear their disapproval of not only the item, but most prominently for the lack of proper credit given.

The “Urban Tie Cap” is quite clearly what African-American people actually refer to as a do-rag, and is generally used by some African American people for functional purposes, not for the purposes of fashion. Typically, a Black woman seen wearing one would be viewed negatively or as looking silly. This contrasts with the message of Chanel, which anticipates its product to be viewed as “trendy.”

The trend of headscarves is a productive example of how cultural appropriation need not exceed international borders, but also often does. At the roots, headscarves in fashion today do seem to be inspired by the customs of African and/or Black women worldwide. The desire of fashion enthusiasts in western cultures to have as many “cute” forms of headscarves as possible has led to the inclusion of styles which originated from women in previously colonized areas such as Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States.

The discourtesy comes in with the fact that for centuries, Black women in these areas wrapped their hair for the sake of convention rather than trendiness. The lack of consideration is almost unsettling when one contemplates that the descendants of slaves and service workers, who still wrap their hair for functionality today as in the past, must now witness this become a fashion statement for the descendants of those who neither share the same roots nor have the same conventionality requirement.

Urban Outfitters is a popular repeat offender, for their seemingly guileless disregard for the cultures from which much of their clothing is inspired. There have been controversies such as in 2013, when they used Ethiopian and Eritrean traditional styles of dress for the sake of consumerism. The dress in question upset many Ethiopians and Eritreans because the dress bore blatant similarities to their traditional wear. Beyond that, people were most upset by the labelling of the dress as a “Vintage Linen 90’s Dress.”

Here, the disrespect can be observed in the fact that most people today would still be able to recognize 90’s styles for women as bright colors, tight fitting clothes, and pants crafted in polyester or denim, rather than the modest, mostly white linen dress produced by the company.

It was enough to incite Ethiopian- and Eritrean-Americans to start a petition in an effort to raise public awareness of the issue as well as gain the attention of Urban Outfitters. The petition, now closed, garnered over seven-thousand signatures.

The petition ends with a moral appeal to Urban Outfitters, saying, “This is a call for you to stop expropriating our cultures, and if you are going to borrow from us, the least you can do is give us credit.”

Some of the disregard is less transparent. In another case, Urban Outfitters showed a hint at its use of other cultures as inspiration. Such was evident in the highly criticized line entitled “Navajo,” which was inspired by Native American traditional style.

To be clear about the breadth of this issue, nearly every clothing company that caters to Western youth is guilty of producing clothes under the ambiguous stylistic classification of “Tribal,” which can apply to any region, but seems to focus on various Native American and African traditional styles.

Cultural exchange is inevitable because of how interconnected the globe is today, and this will only grow to be more true in the future. Overall, this can beneficial to all parts of the world when the exchange is not only equal but voluntary and deliberate.

Not intending disrespect is not equivalent to giving respect. This means that a person who appreciates a culture is not automatically entitled to feel somehow relevant to it. When dominant cultures repeatedly use parts of others’, despite a lack of relevance to it, it diminishes the historical importance and becomes an ostentatious means of entertainment. To suggest that cultures should be flattered or grateful belies prideful arrogance and an ignorant lack of understanding.

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Thinking Independently in the Face of Subjective News

BY VANILLA SHERRY

You sit beside your dining table, sip a coffee and open today’s newspaper lying in front of you. You read a title like this: “Intrepid protesters demonstrated against the unjust government policies.” You shake your head: “Terrible government! It must be doing something unfair or wrong! And good job, brave citizens!”

Wait. How can you make such a judgment only by reading a title with some adjectives? Are you making judgment by yourself, or just being influenced by those adjectives?

Let’s change the title. What if you see the one below as a newspaper headline? “Irrational citizens resisted the new reformatory government policies.”You may shake your head again: “How crazy those citizens are! They are short-sighted! The government must be processing something controversial but good in nature!”

Different words, same meaning, but you feel differently. You are influenced by the words used in journalistic writing. No matter how thoughtful and intelligent you are in your daily life, you are not thinking independently at that moment. The power that is affecting you is called “subjective journalism.”

Subjective journalism, as the words indicate, means using subjective words and personal emotions in journalism. Compared with more traditional, objective journalism that uses neutral words and avoids personal emotions, subjective journalism attaches importance to the use of pathos to affect its readers.

To better understand subjective journalism, one should look at the advantages, common-used techniques and what one should do in the face of subjectivity in the journalism world.

Advantages

No trend comes up without reason, and subjective journalism is no exception. Its persistence in modern writing is due to the advantages it has. Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel stated in their book The Elements of Journalism that subjective journalism represents the reality better than objective writing. Since it is impossible to have no personal reaction to a news source, objective journalism is a “pretended” neutral voice, which can also be seen as a deception to readers. Therefore, whether editors require journalists to avoid their personal emotions or to write what solely they see and hear, journalists are not telling the full truth to their readers. Humans are not robots that have no personal feelings about what they see and hear. Ironically, objective journalism is believed to reveal what is closest to the truth. That idea shows the irrationality of traditional journalism. However, subjective journalism, which allows the expression of personal emotions, can represent the “reality” better and thus is more credible to readers.

Subjective journalism also allows journalists as participants to explore the news sources deeper. When journalists are forced by traditional objectivity journalism to be an outsider, a neutral narrator of a story, what they can see is just the superficial “who, what, when, where, how” rather than “why.” For example, when you are a child, to you adulthood means freedom—no studying and no parents’ instructions. However, only after you become an adult can you understand the reason behind the freedom: adults have to shoulder more responsibility such as earning money and caring for the family. You can only understand something after you experience it. Thus if journalists want to write in depth, they have to get involved in the news first. Subjective journalism, which encourages journalists as participants in a news source, provides journalists with a way to explore things deeper. When you are in the center of something, it is human nature to understand more about it.

Techniques

Considering the advantages subjective journalism has, many journalists want to use subjective journalism to affect their readers. Despite the restrictions of traditional objective journalism, subjective journalism does still exist, but in the guise of objective writing. Therefore, though some writing may seem to be objective, it is in fact are subjective. The two most common-used techniques are quotations and subjective words.

According to an academic article written by Wahl-Jorgensen and Karin, quotations are the first common-used method for journalists to express their own opinions. When journalists decide which quotes to use and when to use them, they are trying to put their own feelings in the writing. For example, Sally, a journalist about to write a report titled “Should the City Have More Industries?” is actually an environmentalist. To write this article, she interviews a scientist who explains the advantages and disadvantages of both industrialization and environmental protection. However, rather than put the full quotations of the scientist, Sally may only use the quotations saying the disadvantages of industrialization, and thus the article will be one that urges people to take care of our environment and resist establishment of new factory. Since there is no direct persuasion from Sally, readers tend to believe that they are making decisions by themselves after evaluating words from people with expertise in that area. But they, in fact, are affected by the hidden subjective journalism.

Another way of expressing personal ideas is the usage of subjective words, especially adjectives that can indicate emotion. Such was the case in the example at the beginning of the article; one thinks differently about the words “intrepid” and “irrational,” or “unjust” and “reformatory.” Simple adjectives can influence people’s preconceptions towards news source easily and unconsciously. Because they have implicit meanings that can indicate positive or negative attitude towards the news source, adjectives have become a really effective method of subjective journalism.

What We Should Do

As you can see in the analysis above, subjective journalism is everywhere. Whenever you get touch with news, you are exposed to it. Some of you may be annoyed: why should journalism be subjective? Shouldn’t it just stay objective and let me make decisions by myself? However, subjective journalism exists not only because of its advantages, but also because we live in a world that needs more actions from the public. Using subjective journalism in their writing doesn’t mean journalists lose their basic ethics. In reality, journalists are shouldering the responsibility to inspire readers, and one of the most effective ways to do that is through subjective journalism.

So what should readers do? Accept the reality and be influenced by journalism?

Most readers will answer “no” to that question. We are independent humans who should have the right to choose what we want to believe or disbelieve and what we want to advocate or oppose. That is why we have to learn and understand subjective journalism rather than refuse to know anything about it. After we understand how subjective journalism works, we will be able to determine what is the purely factually information and what might be personal indications from the journalists. We would not only be able discern the true situation, but we would also practice our critical thinking skills.

Subjective journalism is influential, but readers are still the gatekeeper of news. Just like journalist Ersun Warnke Salem said, “What value may be derived from my subjective perspective is ultimately up to the reader.”

REVIEW | ATLiens Rejoice

By SKYE RUBEL

Andre 3000’s shirt read “I forgive you, now your turn,” but with such a flawless show, he did nothing that warranted forgiveness.

Outkast’s performance on Sunday, September 28th,was the third day of their ATLast festival and included a special surprise appearance. All three days were completely sold out, with over 60,000 fans packed into Centennial Olympic Park that weekend. People from all over the country came to celebrate 20 years of musical perfection that could only be created by rap duo Andre 3000 and Big Boi.

Though the gigantic crowd began forming over four hours before Outkast was set to go on stage, the opening lineup was a show in itself. Performers included Devin the Dude, Pastor Troy, Slim Calhoun, Yung Joc, Killer Mike, and B.O.B… just to name a few. During his set, Killer Mike yelled, “I demand that this festival take place every year!” With the amount of cheering and applause, it seemed like the entire population of Atlanta agreed.

When Outkast finally arrived on stage at 8 pm, the crowd went ballistic. The rap group opened with “Bombs over Baghdad,” their hugely famous song from the album “Stankonia.” Thousands of people were jumping up and down singing every word of the song.  Some were crying. The woman behind me even fainted (though it may have been partially due to the incessant flashing lights.)

Andre 3000 and Big Boi knew exactly how to please every person in the crowd. Along with a full band and back up singers, they played songs covering their 20-year-long career from their first album, “Southerplaylistcadillacmuzik” released in 1994 all the way to their most recent album released in 2006, “Idlewild.” Fans, young and old, came together to celebrate Outkast’s return to Atlanta. Teens who weren’t even born in the beginning of the pair’s career were excited to hear pop hits such as “Hey Ya” and “Roses.” Original fans rejoiced in their favorite older hits such as “Hootie Hoo” and “Players Ball.” The majority of the crowd, regardless of age, sang along to both.

Though Outkast put on a fantastic performance by themselves, their set was enhanced by the surprise appearances of a number of huge names in the hip hop industry. The most notable was Erykah Badu who performed with the duo during “Humble Mumble.” Her eccentric hair, baggy (yet fashionable) overalls and mesmerizing voice enchanted the crowd and made them even more excited than they already were. She left the stage after referring to Andre 3000 as her “baby daddy.” The audience went wild with her unexpected performance. Others were excited to learn that Badu and Andre 3000 had a child together.

Outkast’s return to Atlanta energized the city in a way that no other musical group could do. The ATLast festival took place in their hometown to celebrate the “Dirty South” and all of the musical geniuses that have come from it.  At the 1995 Source Awards, Andre 3000 famously said to a group of booing New Yorkers, “The south got somethin’ to say.” This tour and Outkast’s incredible two-decade career proved just that.The rap duo put Atlanta on the map and opened the door for numerous musical artists from the south.  Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed even declared September 27th as “Outkast Day.”

Overall, Outkast’s performance was more than just a concert; it represented the musical vibrancy of Atlanta and the “dirty south.” They truly proved that we “have somethin’ to say,” even though their powerful lyrics speak for themselves. It was a night that no ATLien could ever forget.