America is known as the melting pot — a place where cultures, religions and nationalities can fuse, trading customs and traditions and creating something all its own. That sharing gave us American treasures like football, hot dogs and apple pie. But borrowing from other cultures isn’t always done in the best taste, and when it’s not, it’s deemed cultural appropriation.
Loosely defined as adopting native elements in a colonial manner, the term is used to describe a situation in which a member of a majority culture copies traditions and styles of a minority culture, often out of context or in a narrow historic view.
Such appropriation is frequently seen at the Coachella music festival in California, where partygoers have come under fire for wearing headdresses reminiscent of Native American tribes. As many commentators have said in the past, it’s an insult to both the brutal history of colonialism and the revered position of a community leader who traditionally wore the headdress.
Celebrities often land themselves in hot water for doing just that — and it’s not just Native American culture, but also African-American, Indian, Japanese, Islam and others.
Here are four celebrities who have earned backlash for their misappropriation:
The pop star has frequently come under fire for her music videos and performances that have erred on the side of offensive, and even racist.
Katy Perry Cultural Appropriation World Tour Coming To A City Near You pic.twitter.com/EXiAU6rN1c— Craig Bro Dude (@CraigSJ) July 31, 2014
In her 2014 "This Is How We Do" video, Perry was accused of appropriating African-American culture for wearing her hair braided into cornrows, eating watermelon and gelling her baby hairs. The video dropped just days after a Rolling Stone interview, in which the magazine said her appropriation was "increasingly uncool." Her response: "… Can't you appreciate a culture? I guess, like, everybody has to stay in their lane."
Needless to say, the interview — and video — landed the bubblegum princess in hot water.
do u ever accidentally get "this is how we do" by Katy perry stuck in ur head and start to disintegrate from all the cultural appropriation— hex girl (@haileyjsimmons) August 15, 2016
Especially because it wasn't her first instance. Perry has also come under fire for a 2013 Video Music Awards performance that appropriated Japanese culture by depicting Perry as a geisha. While many have pointed to the show as a "celebration" of the culture, critics fired back at Perry for seemingly "skimming a Wikipedia page," rather than performing "a tribute based in any deeper understanding or desire for accuracy."
British rock band's "Hymn for the Weekend" has been described as "how to not portray India in a music video," from its misleading portrayal of Holi, a Hindu festival celebrating the defeat of evil with a colorful party in the streets.
For one, a British group appropriating India's culture is already problematic, given its history of colonialism in the subcontinent. It's compounded by the band's use of Beyonce as a Hindu queen prop, awkwardly blonde and wearing an oversized mattha-patti, and its "romanticized Western narrative" of India with yoga, Hinduism and psychadelic scenes.
We could make an entirely separate list just for this made-for-TV clan and its repeated instances of cultural appropriation. Despite plenty of media attention, members of the Kardashian-Jenner family can't seem to figure out what cultural appropriation is and why it's so bad.
Kylie, younger of the Jenner sisters, has earned criticism for her seemingly constant appropriation of African-American culture. Like when she wore a do-rag to Fashion Week, or braided her hair into cornrows.
To Jenner's supporters who say "it's just hair, what's the big deal?" we'll defer to "Hunger Games" star Amandla Stenberg, who has called out Jenner's appropriation of black culture while failing "to use [your] position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards [your] wigs instead of police brutality or racism." Stenberg also released a video on exactly why wearing cornrows is so problematic:
Then there's Khloe's dreadlock hairstyle and Native American headdress; Kim's cornrows with piercings and portrayal of a black woman; accusations against Kylie for wearing blackface; and Kourtney's husband Scott's Halloween costume as an Arab sheik.
Accused of equating the burqa with oppression, Lady Gaga's lyrics for the song "Aura" landed the shock-value artist in hot water.
I’m not a wandering slave I am a woman of choice
My veil is protection for the gorgeousness of my face ...
Do you wanna see me naked, lover?
Do you wanna peak underneath the cover?
Gaga has also repeatedly worn burqas and niqabs as a fashion statement, which earned her equal criticism.
"The words 'appreciation' and 'admiration' are painfully hollow when you take a piece of clothing from a community and strip it of its intent and the consequences that come from it … If I wear a burqa, nijab … or hell even a f–ing hijab, I’m a stupid, brown savage who has no capacity to think for herself. But when Gaga wears it, its revolutionary and fashionable. People love to scream equality and colorblindedness when such an event arises, but such a world is completely theoretical until we fix these the caricatured perceptions about Islam. The power dynamics here cannot be ignored," one critic wrote on Tumblr.