Through the screen: Cultural Appropriation

Drawing by Zeke La Mantia

Kim Kardashian, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Marc Jacobs, Kylie Jenner-all of these stars have been accused of cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation has several meanings and can be displayed in several different ways, but one prominent definition from Cambridge Dictionary states, “The act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”

A recent example is Ariana Grande, who has been accused by some of appropriating not one, but two cultures: Japanese and African American. Some accuse Grande of “brownfacing” (mentioned later in article), in which she gets by as a dark skinned woman despite being Caucasian. Her recent music video, “7 Rings,” also features Grande with her signature ponytail saying, “You like my hair? Gee thanks, just bought it.”

Twitter user Amber Leigh said, “Ignoring and defending one issue does not negate them all. I’m not ridiculing Ariana; I just want to bring these issues to light that as a white woman; she’s taking advantage of so many others cultures in order to propel herself forward in her career.”

Grande is not the only star to be accused of appropriating culture; in fact, most of the Kardashians have had run-ins with the subject.

Kim Kardashian faced backlash when she sported braids, specifically Fulani Braids, at an awards show. states, “Although these hairstyles were subjected to harsh criticism, it didn’t stop non-black groups from adopting them as their own, often showing a lack of understanding for the rich history of braids, curls and locs.”

“When Kim Kardashian wore cornrows in 2018, she called them ‘Bo Derek inspired,’ in reference to the hairstyle worn by a white actress in the 1979 film ‘10.’ Men and women outside the black community were praised for their ‘new’ and ‘trendy’ looks, which, unknowingly or not, appropriated black culture,” states.

Some black women and men have been discriminated against due to their hairstyles. In 2016, a high school in Kentucky was accused of having racist undertones in its school dress code.

The school’s dress code stated, “Hair styles that are extreme, distracting, or attention-getting will not be permitted. No dreadlocks, cornrolls (sic), twists, mohawks, no jewelry will be worn in the hair. No braids will be allowed on males.”

To understand cultural appropriation, it’s necessary to understand privilege. defines privilege as “unearned access to resources (social power) that are only readily available to some people because of their social group membership; an advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by one societal group above and beyond the common advantage of all other groups. Privilege is often invisible to those who have it.”

Senior Aysha Gray said, “Privilege is very fluid. You might have privilege in one place but not have it in another. You might gain privilege if you go to a certain place. It’s really just a benefit that you receive in life that you can’t control and that you often aren’t really aware of because you’ve done nothing to gain it or lose it. It is very dependent upon the society that you’re in and what its values are, so whatever values we have as a society, if you possess them, you get privilege.”

Blackfishing is a new trend on the internet that involves people of European decent pretending to be black on social media by using hair products, spray tans, dark makeup and sometimes even cosmetic surgery to drastically change their appearance.

One writer said, “The exact physical features that white people have historically crucified us for are now desirable to them: pouty lips, brown sun kissed skin, voluminous curly hair and curvy bodies. White women thirst for the look but don’t want the marginalized lifestyle or racism that accompanies Black womanhood, so they turn to darker makeup, plastic surgery, and Instagram filters that alter their skin tone.”

“I’m upset about blackfishing because I feel like it’s borderline blackface,” senior Gold Kaanagbara said. “You’re pretending to be black, reap the benefits of our skin and our melanin and actual people who are black, who are darker are losing out because they prefer you instead of us. It’s just fake. I feel like people feel that our melanin looks better on them then it looks on us, which I have an issue with because it doesn’t.”

Colorism states colorism is “a practice of discrimination by which those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin. This practice is a product of racism in the United States, in that it upholds the white standards of beauty and benefits white people in the institutions of oppression (media, medical world, etc.).

Colorism is nothing new; in fact, it started during slavery. If slaves had lighter skin (usually due to rape), then they would usually be called “house slaves.” They would work inside the homes on the plantation, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the babies, instead of working in the fields, where the darker skinned slaves were. This is where the idea of colorism first appeared. The lighter a slave was, the more benefits he or she reaped.

This idea that lighter is better was still intact after slavery was abolished, and an example of this is the brown paper bag test. The test consisted of holding up a brown paper bag to one’s face, and if one was darker than the bag, then he or she did not pass. However, if one was lighter, he or she “passed” the test and reaped the benefits of being lighter skinned.

Dr. David Pilgrim, curator of the Jim Crow Museum at  Ferris State University, wrote about Henry Louis Gates 1966 book, “The Future of the Race”: “Henry Louis Gates Jr., the prominent Harvard historian, described his introduction to this practice as an undergraduate student at Yale in the late 1960s.

According to Gates, ‘Some of the brothers who came from New Orleans held a bag party. As a classmate explained it to me, a bag party was a New Orleans custom wherein a brown paper bag was stuck on the door.

“Anyone darker than the bag was denied entrance. That was one cultural legacy that would be put to rest in a hurry-we all made sure of that…Why exclude their darker brothers? Because they, meaning those with lighter skin, not only had a fetish for white skin and Eurocentric features, but they had internalized the racist notion that light skin is a marker of intellectual, cultural, social, and personal superiority-over and above darker people.”

Colorism can be seen in modern day America, especially when looking at the movie and media industry.

Amandla Sternberg, a lighter skinned black actor, faced backlash when she was cast for the role of Starr in film “The Hate U Give.” This film called for a dark skinned woman (as seen on the cover of the original book), but Stenberg was given the role.

About colorism, Stenberg said, “Something interesting has happened with me and Yara and Zendaya — there is a level of accessibility of being bi-racial that has afforded us attention in a way that I don’t think would have been afforded to us otherwise…Me and Yara and Zendaya are perceived in the same way, I guess, because we are lighter-skinned black girls, and we fill this interesting place of being accessible to Hollywood and accessible to white people in a way that darker-skinned girls are not afforded the same privilege,” according to

“Colorism is a strange thing,” Gray said. “On a social aspect it really only affects you from within the community of black people. From a systematic aspect it affects you from without. Studies show that darker skinned people have lower socioeconomic status, they tend to make less money, they get longer prison sentences for the same crimes than lighter skinned people.”

“I really think colorism is a hard topic to talk about because it doesn’t necessarily negate, but it adds complexity to the idea of ‘we’re all black,’ because while we may all be black, we are all experiencing blackness in different ways. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is a reality. I think it’s pretty gross. I wish it didn’t exist, but you know, I wish a lot of things didn’t exist. I think a way we can try to combat that is to recognize that there is a definite hierarchy,” Gray said.

Additional reporting by Ellie Marshall


Rosa Parks – Social Manager

Rosa Parks, senior, is a second year ECHO student, and has made contributions to the paper during Journalism and the ECHO newspaper 2017-2018.


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