Whenever I have spoken up and out about issues that are important to me I have tried to do so in ways that illuminate the discussion, put it in historic and cultural perspective with love, empathy and understanding. I have never been interested in interpersonal attacks, feuds or ‘checking’ individuals publicly. Whether people perceive my work in that way or not, my intention is always to have conversations with love, empathy nuance and understanding.
When in answer to Andy Cohen’s question on “Watch What Happens Live” on July 12, “White girls and cornrows, yay or nay? "I said what I said in an attempt to not get involved in what I understood at the time to be an Instagram feud between someone with whom I was not familiar and Kylie Jenner on the topic of cultural appropriation. I have never been interested in getting involved in any celebrity feuds.
In that moment, I also felt that the topic of cultural appropriation needs way more than the 10 seconds or less I had to respond at the end of the show to fully unpack. I said as much to Andre Leon Tally after the cameras stopped rolling. So on camera with seconds left in a live broadcast I said, "Bo Derek” the first iconic example of a white woman wearing cornrows I could think of. To be clear I understood when I said, “Bo Derek” that her rocking of cornrows with beads in the 1979 film “10” and that look on her subsequently becoming a cultural phenomenon when the black folks who had been rocking cornrows for decades before her had not similarly become a sensation is an example of the ways in which what bell hooks calls imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchal systems privilege certain bodies’ performances of cultural traditions over others. This is when cultural appropriation can tend to erase the marginalized people from whom the culture emerges.
Many are taking me to task for not defending Amandla Stenberg who I now know is a 16 year old black actress known for her work in the “Hunger Games” who has spoken out quite eloquently on the topic of cultural appropriation. In researching Amandla’s work and words, I was very impressed with a video I saw from her on cultural appropriation where she chronicled a recent history of cultural appropriation and black hair specifically. (https://youtu.be/O1KJRRSB_XA)
I was most moved by the question she poses at the end of her video, a question I, too, have asked from lecture stages. “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?”
For me this is the question at the heart of the discussion about cultural appropriation. What of the people whose culture is being mined for the ingredients that can be used in mainstream contexts to spice up the otherwise familiar recipes?
Far too often culture is appropriated without an understanding of the history and hardships from which that culture emerges. How do we lovingly make people aware of that history and the potential affects of cultural appropriation that further marginalize and stigmatize those already the most adversely affected by systems that disadvantage certain experiences, bodies and identities over others? These are points Amandla makes beautifully in her video.
We live in a multi-cultural society where being influenced by cultures different from ours is inevitable. But when the traditions and practices of marginalized communities are used by those in power and the material conditions of those who are marginalized are not changed individually and systemically this is when cultural appropriation is deeply problematic and even potentially exploitative.
These are some of my brief thoughts on cultural appropriation, thoughts that I felt needed a context different from the 10 seconds I had on live TV on Sunday night.
I am writing this in the hopes of continuing a dialogue about this issue in a loving, empathetic way that is not about individual attacks but about individual accountability. I always hope we can celebrate cultural differences without erasing those from whom the culture originates.
Andre Leon Talley one of fashion’s most influential style-setters was all over Paris fashion week where he was seen draped in a Louis Vuitton fur mink monogram scarf ($2,000+). This 6 feet long 100% mink fur scarf features a silk lining and makes for an outstanding accessory piece, which I’m sure Mr. Talley can testify to.
WATCH: Marc Jacobs Chats With Andre Leon Tally About His New Sleazy Movie Roll
In New movie “Disconnect” Jacobs plays Harvey. In an interview with André Leon Talley, Jacobs explains that he met director Henry Alex Rubin, who convinced him to take the roll as a producer of online underage porn who also acts as a surrogate parent to the wayward teens he takes in.
Jacobs elaborates to Entertainment Weekly:
“When they had the fittings for the movie, when they saw me, my design team was all in hysterics. I had these really tacky suburban disco shirts with crucifixes embroidered on them, and the worst fitting dad jeans – I never wear jeans anyway – but these were just bad and acid washed with flannel zip jackets sewn to the side. And they put big silver rings on my fingers and earrings. So they just couldn’t stop laughing. Nobody would have recognized me at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Yonkers in my acid washed jean jacket with a hoodie attached and my dad jeans.”