In 2015, “Cultural Appropriation” has replaced 2013’s “micro-aggression” as journalistic code for bias and ignorance. Notice I didn’t say racism, because in many cases I don’t think that cultural appropriation is deliberately borne out of racism, but it is certainly symptomatic of it. This week’s lesson in cultural appropriation came to us via Black Twitter and their strong reaction to a post by hair blog Mane Addicts, labeling this summer’s “it” hair style as “Twisted Mini Buns”, when in actuality they are Bantu Knots. To add insult to injury, Mane Addicts, in an attempt to lend fashion street cred to this proclamation, credited Marc Jacob’s Spring 2015 runway show as the originator of the look. In actuality, Bantu Knots have been beautifully worn for centuries by African and African-American women across the diaspora.
The debate is a heated one that speaks to the cultural filters that we wear. On one side you have folks that say that black people are too sensitive and feel that we are heaping a burden on everyone to properly credit cultural sources of trends in fashion and beauty, and on the other side we have black folks desperately trying to shed light on the sensitivity of the perverse forms of racism of a society that denigrates, surpresses, and ignore our beauty only to find it co-opted, repackaged and submitted to the masses as their own.
By no means am I saying that white women cannot rock bantu knots. For me, the only thing Mane Addicts had to do was include a line citing the original source of the hairstyle. Right or wrong, Black Twitter jumped on Marc Jacobs quicker than they did the originator of the article (and likely the originator of the style’s label). Surprisingly Marc Jacobs has been conspicuously silent about the whole thing, which makes all of this problematic to me.
Jacobs is no stranger to artistic appropriation. Art and design are so self referential that most works of art can be distilled to another. When I think of this I am reminded of Marc Jacob’s 2013 show which featured an homage to Philip Glass.
Ultimately when a piece is inspired by another work of art it should inspire us to learn more about the original piece. (In my case, I sat through Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach, when it was performed in Los Angeles. That was a 5 hour endeavor).
Sadly, as much as I enjoy Marc Jacobs artistry, three years ago I was perplexed by a visit I made to one of his bookstores and this Bantu Knot controversy immediately took me back to this puzzling memory. I drafted a post about the event and never chose to post it until now. Again, the specter of cultural appropriation, ignorance and the sensitivity of trigger words illuminates the fact that this dynamic manifests itself in many ways.
ORIGINAL POST: NOVEMBER, 2012
I love bookstores and gift shops, so the idea of a Marc Jacobs inspired book store complete with art/fashion books, unique gifts, and accessories sounded like the perfect match for me.
I went there specifically asking for a photography book by one of my favorite street bloggers. The sales associate nonchalantly replied that they didn’t carry the book–as if this question was annoyingly stupid and beneath her–after all, I was disturbing her hard at work (reading) and I was the only customer in there.
Despite my disappointment, I decided to browse for something else that might catch my eye. No less than 30 seconds later I hear over speakers some yelling and the “N” word…twice.
I quickly shut the book and look behind me… the source of the yelling was coming from a mid-day screening of “Shaft” (It could have been”Superfly” or ‘Dolemite”; I’m not up on my 70’s Blaxploitation flicks).
If I’m hanging out in a bookstore, I’m not trying to hear all of this as part of my shopping entertainment-despite my being de-sensitized by an earlier viewing of RZA’s “Man With the Iron Fists” that afternoon.
The whole scenario just turned me off. I pulled out every move from my heavy arsenal of passive aggressive tricks: slamming the book closed, shaking my head, giving the salesclerk EXTREME side eye while hightailing it outta there with a heavy sigh.
I’m a huge fan of Marc Jacobs and would really hope that he wouldn’t be cool with this (artistic expression or not), and a recent Pharrell book signing doesn’t give you a pass either. So, I sadly have to give a big “Digitus Infamis” to BookMarc in West Hollywood for shopping experience that was a non-starter.