Blog Post

Culture appropiation

Culture appropiation



As discussed in class, we experience and witness culture appropriation in most of our daily life activities. Going to a restaurant, taking a yoga class, etc. But when does it become problematic? A discussion of the different layers and different aspects of culture appropriation showed us that it becomes problematic when the oppressed culture does not gain profit or acclamation for it. The Kardashians were the main focus in my presentation, as one of the readings assigned demonstrated. The fact that Kyle Jenner was born famous and that her sister Kim put her in a platform where she helped Kanye West design his clothing line and where she could create her own brand as a Jenner within the Kardashian platform problematizes the fact that Forbes magazine called her the youngest “self-made” billionaire in their cover. Of course, the term “self-made” has to be put in perspective but even with that, knowing Kylie’s famous and privileged background, it is challenging to place both Kylie Jenner and this term together.

                Kim’s, Khloe’s and Kylie’s transformation over the years has been evident and the fact that Kourtney Kardashian and Kendall Jenner haven’t had such a curvier transformation made me question the reasons behind it: has Kendall remain thin and svelte because of her fashion model career? Does Kourtney simply doesn’t want to be as curvy and colossal as her sisters? The fact that Kylie Jenner denied for years her use of lip fillers and admitted that she did just last year leaves me wonder what other secrets the Kardashians don’t share either in social media or in their successful reality show, Keeping up with the Kardashians. Furthermore, Kylie and Kendall’s clothing line scandal expressed culture appropriation for profit at its finest. Their use of images of Biggie and Tupac without asking permission to their estates caused a backlash from both their families and the general public.

                Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial also caused backlash. Her use of a Pepsi can to ‘calm’ the police officers at a peaceful protest led Pepsi to remove the commercial from all platforms, as the audience showed their distaste against it. Even Bernice King (daughter of activist Martin Luther King Jr.) showed her discontent with the commercial with a funny ‘shade’. Kendall apologized in her social media, in the interviews she did and in their family reality show but will the audience ever forget? The fact that the Kardashians keep getting into cultural appropriation issues makes it a little difficult. They are not only characterized by few as women who sexualize Black men (minus Kourtney and Kendall), but also as culture appropriators in general. Kylie’s big lips, Kim’s use of ‘Bo Derek’ braids (which are nothing but cornrows), Khloe’s colossal butt, Kim’s curvy figure and Kris’ Black boyfriend are examples in which the audience debates whether they truly appropriate from the Black culture or not. When Kim’s famous ‘Bo Derek’ braids went on Instagram, a lot of people commented “it’s not culture appropriation, it’s just hair”. Judge for yourselves.

                The fact that the Kardashians are the ‘it girls’ of this era puts them in a position where teens all around the globe want to be like them, as it happens with every ‘it girl’ in general. As celebrities, they are always in their best physical appearance but the fact that they deny going thru plastic surgeries sets unrealistic standards of beauty and thus, low-self esteem in women who don’t have the same ‘natural’ assets. If the Kardashian’s admit going thru the knife for looking as great as they do, maybe these women can realize that the beauty ideals that the Kardashians implicitly promote can be achieved.  

                In my presentation I also presented a fragment of Malika’s response in a card game in Khloe’s show Kocktails with Khloe. Malika is Khloe Kardashian’s best friend ever since KUWTK first aired. Her response was very telling of her privilege as a Black woman within the exclusivity of being part of the Kardashian klan.  Similarly, I showed the Report of Hip-Hop/R&B being the dominant genre In the U.S. for the first time in 2017 and most of its listeners are white. ​This fact is also very telling of our current pop culture in general. Regarding this as well, it was really interesting to see conservative commentator Tomi Lahren happily sing a 21 Savage rap song. It reminded me of a quote that I heard regarding African-American culture appropiation (I forgot from who) that said "Y'all like everything from our culture but us." 

Lastly, I wanted to show clips when having a big butt was conceived bad, but due to shortage of time I couldn’t but the links are here for you all to view. First is a clip from Mean Girls, where Regina is denied acceptance in the ‘cool kids’ lunch table because of her not being able to fit in her pink clothes because of her fat as*. Likewise, a clip of Sex and the City shows that Miranda was ridiculed by a bunch of guys in a casino in Atlantic City due to the baby-weight she gained and her fat as* as well. In conclusion, my aim with this presentation was to demonstrate how characteristics as having big lips, curves and a fat as* was before deemed ugly and bad and how in our current pop culture they’re considered the epitome of beauty. 






Thanks for such an engaging presentation and class, Stephanie.  I can't help thinking about your class following right after the one that Diana and Solange did on "anti-Black Latinx culture."  I keep thinking of that photo for which Gina Rodriguez was critiqued for being placed among so many "light skinned" Latinx women.  What your presentation highlights is they were also women of a certain "look": not just skin tone. . . but skinny!  So what does it mean if the Kardashians embrace "thickness" as an aesthetic and a beauty norm in view of this other, parallel cultural norm?  It might be useful to think of these two examples of mediated race and mediated bodies appearing simultaneously in a culture. 


I thought the way you started off the class was great! Stephanie asked us all to write down a moment of cultural appropriation that we remember vividly, or that we participated in. Mine was realizing that Gwen Stefani’s video for “Luxurious” was culturally inappropriate in a myriad of ways. When I was younger, for some reason I thought she was representing Latinx culture, and it was only until I got older that I realized she was actually appropriating the culture, by using it as an aesthetic.

I think talking about the Kardashians is really important when discussing cultural appropriation. They’re one of the biggest families that is currently known in pop culture and media. They have used Black aesthetics to their advantage, and have built empires of off Black beauty. The Kardashians plump their lips, craft their bodies to have super exaggerated curves, and try to “elevate” cornrows as being super high fashion.

But I have always wondered if they consciously know that they’re hurting Black culture, by using it to their advantage. It’s interesting to note how Kim is being praised for getting into law practice and trying to help Black incarcerated folks who are imprisoned for low-level offenses. That in and of itself, to me at least, is another act of cultural appropriation. It’s completely disregarding the work of Black prison abolitionists, who have made it their job to get people out of incarceration. While it looks like Kim’s efforts are good, she is again, taking credit away from people that deserve the same respect


For me personally, it never seemed like the curviness of women of color was ever a thing to detest.  It may have been where I was living (grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, and eventually moved with my family to Englewood, NJ a more suburban Black neighborhood) which informed my sense of what makes a woman attractive.  Though White women were equally appreciated in my opinion, the shape commonly held by Black women was always the preference for most men around me, even White men.  It wasn't until I was in college that I started to see White women who were more curved and voluptuous, which drew attention from many of the men of color.

I noticed that White women with curves provoked comments like "She's the best of both worlds! Body is right, and her credit's good..."  which had it's own set of issues I won't go into now.  What was more interesting to me was that White women who were more curved were often more friendly and/or socialized more with Black males.  I don't know how that came to be a dynamic that was so noticeable, but it definitely seemed like "a thing."  In terms of appropriation, these women were middle class, down to earth females (which also played a factor in how they related to all other students) and I assumed were not making their bodies different to appeal to Black men, but had a good relationship with men of color, partially due to their appearance.  White women who didn't have the same body type were not isolated or antagonized in any way, but there was a lot less of a connection from my perspective.  This was many years ago when I was in undergrad, and I still laugh to myself when I think about conversations with other Black males where it was noted that "White girls, they are changing..."


There is a really great roundtable discussion on cultural appropriation that I highly suggest readings with theorists like Homi Bhabha called “Cultural Appropriation: A Roundtable” in ArtForum. They touch on a lot of the issues that come up with the topic of cultural appropriation. One of those issues came up in class, which is that cultural appropriation really becomes an issue when a celebrity is successful. Based on the recent claims of appropriation, there is a checklist of what constitutes as cultural appropriation, (1) using cultural artifacts or language without understanding the context and significance of it, (2) using it for personal gain, (3) not crediting the members of the culture that is being evoked. This question of citation and ownership is addressed in this roundtable notably when Bhabha writes, “Unlike citation or quotation, appropriation assumes a proprietorial sense: Who owns what? In what sense do I own my history, or you own your art? Related to that notion of ownership is the sense of in propria persona: who can speak for it if it is owned. This makes the term problematic in the following way: To put it very generally, in the history of oppression—of those who are oppressed by racial discrimination, gender issues, colonialism, violence—the oppressed are the subjects of a certain history, which becomes in some way their own. That is their experience. But that experience has also been created by the oppressor—so there is a duality, at least.” He goes on to explain the importance of acknowledging that the histories of settler colonialism, colonialism, and slavery that are being appropriated are in fact histories that both the oppressed and the oppressor own. So then how do we negotiate this relationship? I think these nuances are not weighed most of the time accusations of a celebrity appropriating are made on twitter. Its strange to google the term when you have magazines like Teen Vogue writing articles on their website that are literally just a list of celebrities that have been accused of cultural appropriation (on twitter) and the subsequent (non)apologies of said celebrity (on twitter). What are people really trying to achieve here?


I also want to thank Stephanie for such an interesting topic for us to dialogue which from the start we were all able to connect to personally from the start with the great starting question. One thing I was left thinking about was the way race has been codied into bodies in such pervasive ways that we have all learend what body shapes, hair styles and textures, etc. belong to each of the various socially constructed racial categories our world operates by. When this intersects with our dominating gender binary we see what the feminine black body is representative of what is sexual, often being hypersexualized. This hypersexualization is also extended to Latinx female bodies- who before the Kardashians swept in were the representatives of the "light-skinned curvy woman."  I think of Sofia Vergara...and how Shakira's hips had to be highlighted in a song before she could crossover to the US market (along with dying her hair blonde of course). What I wonder is where is this hypersexualization leaving female bodies of color who do not fit into this expectation of sexiness and sexual desirability for heterosexual men? Is not having curves for women being less black? less latina? And so this appropriation of a particular black female aesthetic is also reinscribing this one dimensional script of black femininity- what is left when blackness and femininity are stripped from the claim of women who don't fit these molds to begin with? The drivers in this appropriation machine remain white cisgender heterosexual men...the Kardashians are just going for the ride- and found good seats. 


In reading all the comments, I found myself experiencing FOMO for the first time. I would have loved to been in class to have a true ability to honestly comment on this post. Since I was not, I will comment only on the blog post itself. 

Their use of images of Biggie and Tupac without asking permission to their estates caused a backlash from both their families and the general public. This was not a shock to me. Given all the past instances where their sisteers made mistakes before them, one would think to think before executing that action. They have teams of "yes" people behind them, and I would assume lawyers, yet I think they really do what they do as "no press is bad press."

The Pepsi commercial was just a sad execution by Pepsi using the noteriety of the KENDAL face to remake/retell historical events. The mistake was theirs not Jenner's. The time was not right and the actor (loose term here) was poorly chosen. 

Onto the final comment of body modification for financial gain. We have all seen before and after photos of their dramatic changes in shape, and watched as their financial portfolios grow. Knowing the history of our bodies being degraded and dismissed, our hairstyles being questioned in professional settings etc. If they were doing these things to bring about acceptance for all shapes and styles, I may be able to appreciate what they are up to. Since they are not, and heavily thirst for sexual exploitation and attention, I find their actions distateful and deplorable. 


I found it so productive to discuss the issues of cultural appropriation and body image in conjunction with each other during your presentation, Stephanie! Your presentation and post raise important questions about fashion and fetishization - nowadays given the plastic surgery industry, fashion can mean literally putting on a new face or body like you would put on a pair of namebrand jeans (only if you can afford it, of course). It's also particularly interesting and relevant to our class, to consider the ways that the body is morphed in attempts to re-race the self in the case of the Kardashians. And while this presentation took us in a contemporary direction, it actually brought me back to the early days of the course when we discussed the history of blackface performance and watched Ethnic Notions. Are the Kardashians using plastic surgery to create a form of blackface performance? The difference is perhaps that the Kardashians are appropriating the curvy body image often associated with black and latinx women because they find it to be both beautiful and trendy, while in its early days minstrelsy was a deliberately cruel form of mockery that perpetuated racist stereotypes. What I think ties them together though is the ways that they both have capitalized on a fetishization of blackness, which in their different ways objectifies black bodies and mistakenly and disrespectfully treats the experience of being black as if it is knowable and possessible by a white person. As Z said, there's a difference between respecting and raising awareness for the appreciation of black bodies and coopting them. 


This class conversation was very interesting as it outlines some of the issues we are currently living with today! I loved how stephanie presented a robust dialogue around appropriation and how complicates the way we move as a society. The part that is most compelling to me is the different between appropriation and inspiration. So in the discussion we spoke about the role of the kardishians and the way in which they "steal" black culture and claim it as their own. Even our MEN! Ok so now from a media standpoint I dont know if they are so much to blame or the way in which media is attracted by them! Now I know that Kim has trained the media to interact with her in a way that benefits and behooves her which results in capitalism. However, I think with her recent attempt to be an attorney shows that probably there is more to life than her body and looking good.

Now that most of the Kardishians have children I dont know if this will heighten their exposure of black culture or hinder it. I think I remember an episode when Khloe acknoledges that her child was in fact black and that it meant something. Now the way in which this new Kardashian generation will e telling. Do they have the "right" to Black culture? Will they carry the torch? Or will the disrupt the violence against black and brown bodies?