The political left has been ‘concerned’ with a number of ‘social justice’ issues for a few election cycles, and the phrase ‘cultural appropriation’ seems to be one that has entered the cultural lexicon for the United States. It’s been applied to everything from a pair of Caucasian women daring to make homemade tortillas for their burrito truck to Eminem’s career as a rapper and is generally attached to a number of silly complaints.
The latest person to come under fire for ‘cultural appropriation’ is pop music idol Rihanna. In an opinion piece published by Marie Claire, Latin-American writer Krystyna Chavez complained that Rihanna’s eyebrows were problematic and that their thin look was an example of cultural appropriation.
In the piece, Chavez bemoaned the eyebrows in a photo in the September issue of Vogue, in which Rihanna has drawn-on eyebrows.
To quote the author, she asked herself “why is Rihanna wearing chola brows?”
She continued on to talk about how her mother stopped her from wearing similarly-styled brows, proclaiming that they are a sign of gang membership, of being a ‘chola,’ a female Latina gang member.
Interestingly, in her own piece, she talks about how other cultures in the United States and around the world had similar styles well before it became some sort of symbol for gang membership in the Latin communities.
She admitted that they had roots in South African culture, in fashion from the ‘Roaring Twenties,’ in the Harlem Renaissance community, and in other fashion movements and cultures around the world.
However, in her opinion, even though the style can be found in South Africa, in American history, and even in Asian nations (where females with tattooed-on thin eyebrows are not uncommon), it is the ‘Latinx’ community that has a cultural monopoly on the style.
It sounds like this isn’t an issue with ‘cultural appropriation’ so much as with cultural ignorance and lack of life experience on the part of the author of the piece.
Many Twitter users didn’t have a problem with the alleged ‘cultural appropriation’ of a widespread phenomenon/style. Indeed, many seemed much more worried about the idea that the ‘thin eyebrow’ look might be coming back into vogue, into mainstream fashion, as they were as recently as the 90’s.
The idea of ‘cultural appropriation,’ especially in a nation as diverse as the United States, is silly, and doubly so when it comes to fashion trends that have no discernible origin in history.
Should only those who share an ethnic background with the man who first wired the United States for electricity be allowed to use power?
Should only those who come from the same background as the inventor of the automobile be able to use cars to get from one place to another?
At what point is ‘cultural appropriation’ not wrong?
What about food? Is it problematic that most bars, movie theaters, and restaurants offer some sort of ‘nacho’ menu option? Are only those from Mexico allowed to enjoy a snack invented by Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Anaya, who is credited with creating the dish in 1943?
How much of a financial hit will Chinese restaurants take if only Asian-Americans are allowed to eat General Tso’s chicken?
The author’s diatribe doesn’t speak to Rihanna’s failings, as a woman born in Barbados to Barbadian parents, as it does to the absurd idea that only certain people should be allowed to do certain things, or else it is somehow ‘problematic.’
Cultures share new concepts and ideas all the time. It’s one of the things that allowed the United States to become a great nation.
At a time when the entire world is connected, the idea that certain practices, dishes, or fashions belong solely to one culture or another is absurd.
Humanity is moving forward, and adopting pieces of other cultures is a part of that. American culture is exported all around the world, and there is arguably nothing wrong with that.
The United States is a melting pot of cultures. There’s even an entire video on Schoolhouse Rock about the ‘Great American Melting Pot.’ Some people, like Krystyna Chavez, need to get used to that idea, it seems, rather than finding it ‘problematic’ that someone else wore their eyebrows a certain way.