Borrowing styles from other cultures should be tolerated

December 6, 2017 — by Jeffrey Xu

Reporter shares his opinion on recent controversies over cultural appropriation in pop culture. 

NBA star and Brooklyn Nets point guard Jeremy Lin recently got dreadlocks, a traditional African hairstyle that is still common in the African American community. His hairstyle instantaneously garnered hate, most notably from African American former Nets player Kenyon Martin.

Martin even went as far as to post a series of videos on Twitter in which he bashed Lin’s new hairstyle, saying “You wanna be black. Like, we get it. But your last name is Lin.”

From Martin’s perspective, Lin getting dreads is an example of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is when elements often associated with a certain culture, such as dreadlocks for African Americans, are adopted by members of another culture, causing distaste from the original culture.

In response, Lin wrote an entire article explaining his dilemma and decision on getting dreads. He talked about how being an Asian-American subjected him to cultural appropriation, such as Hollywood’s depictions of Asians as token sidekicks and stereotypes about Bruce Lee and “shrimp fried rice.” He also said that he never even made the connection between his hairstyle and cultural appropriation.

Many people were impressed by the fact that Lin chose to take the high road, and instead of being provoked into striking back, he was the bigger person and apologized sincerely.

In general, however, viewing any sort of borrowing of a cultural aspect by another culture as cultural appropriation is a  distorted perspective to take. Style and grooming all boil down to personal preference — it isn’t up to any culture to decide that they “own” a style.

Hence, even though Jeremy’s dreads might not look particularly fashionable, it is his personal decision, and he is entitled to his own desired hairstyle.

The issue of cultural appropriation also pertains to religious tradition, as can be seen in 2012 when Victoria’s Secret model Karlie Kloss wore a native American headdress that symbolized leadership and honor, triggering outrage among many.

In the end, Victoria’s Secret issued an apology to anyone who had been offended.

Another example is the bindi, a traditional mark as a dot on the forehead, to be used only on special occasions in Hinduism. In recent years, more and more women are casually using the bindi mark to add to their look, in the process deeply offending devout Hindus.

However, even from a religious viewpoint, if people are adopting aspects of another culture meaning only to enhance style as personal preference, it should be tolerated. Since it’s hard to judge people’s intent by the way they dress, they should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Ultimately, people should still have a complete freedom of how they choose to dress and look, regardless of how much another culture may think they are “infringing” on their traditions.