New year, new me, new cultural appropriation?
We are hardly two months into 2018 and the fashion industry has already decided to cross the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. The prominent luxury brand Gucci recently launched its 2018 Autumn/Winter collection, which featured a melange of bold patterns rested on muted monochromatic palettes and wonderfully bizarre textures and cuts.
Unfortunately, it also featured white models wearing turbans.
Turbans, while found in various cultures and religions, are most notably worn by followers of the Sikh religion. Sikhism is a monotheistic religion that originated during the 15th century within the Punjab region of India and has roughly 24 million followers around the world.
To the Sikhs, the turban, or the Dastaar, is not only a religious identifier, but also an article of clothing that holds immense cultural value within their religion.
Sikhs have worn the turban since their religion’s founding, but it was not until the tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh, that the turban became mandatory for Sikhs to wear as followers of the faith.
A huge component of this mandate comes from a core value found within the religion: that all people are created equal and noble in the eyes of god.
Before Guru Gobind, turbans were worn and associated with the upper class, the Sardars. This played a large role in the segregation and caste system that was so prevalent during this time. In order to resist this social hierarchy, Guru Gobind declared all Sikhs as Sardars and mandated that they wear the turban in order to diminish the symbolic power that the turban once held over the oppressed. The turban is a symbol of resistance against unjust power, of beautiful reclamation and of equality.
And Gucci decided to use the turban as a cheap selling point for its brand.
Honestly, at this point, it’s just exhausting. How many more times do we have to see this? How many cultures have to be stolen from in order for these brands to understand that this is not okay? It was only two years ago that Marc Jacobs received heat for featuring dreadlocks on — you guessed it — mostly white models. His response? “I don’t see color or race.” And he followed this up with his infamous rhetorical question, “Why can’t white people wear dreads, but people of color can straighten their hair?”
Sorry, Marc, but what culture does straight hair belong to again? Please, let me know.
I believe YouTube star, Jackie Aina, explained it best in her video titled, “Marc Jacobs you tried it,” when she explained how black women have faced discrimination for years based on their hair and hairstyles, both in the public sphere and the workplace. This is not simply an anecdote, but a fact evidenced by the 11th. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2016 that banning dreadlocks during the hiring process is perfectly legal.
But it’s okay, Marc Jacobs is colorblind! Apparently Gucci is too.
Especially since Gucci failed to recognize that, according to a 2009 survey published by the Sikh Coalition in New York City, 41 percent of Sikhs were called a derogatory name, while 9 percent reported being physically assaulted. In that same report, 60 percent of Sikh youth wearing turbans reported having been physically and verbally abused during school.
What could Gucci have done instead? Well, just like Mr. Jacobs, Gucci could have, and should have, used Sikhs, or other turban-wearing people of color, in their show in order to truly celebrate and highlight the beauty that is the turban. Instead it defaulted to white with a hint of people of color (out of 90 of the Gucci looks featured on this Vogue magazine article, I counted nine people of color).
This is a slap in the face to all racial and ethnic minorities. To us, this failure to include people who look like us means that we are not considered beautiful in the eyes of high fashion. To us, this means that the things we hold dear to our respective cultures -- articles of clothing, hairstyles, jewelry, etc. — will always be better on a white person — an outsider, a third party, a foreigner in every sense. This is absolutely unacceptable.
Feel free to join the Gucci gang all you want. But for me, Gucci is cancelled.
Contact Josh Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org.