Appropriate or Appropriation?

Happy St. Patties?

Appropriate or Appropriation?

In front of a mirror, in a  mall somewhere in Southern California,  I tried on a silk tunic and all at once I felt global–even native.  In that moment in the mirror, a still small voice said something like,  “You’re proud of yourself aren’t you. Where is this stuff from and who are you supposed to be? Have you even been to these places–do you even have friends from these places?”

In six months I was in a Cultural Studies program contemplating the West’s appropriation of my culture and Post-Colonial responses to centuries of dominant culture stealing their art and ways of being.  However, I always knew that I may have never been interested in the topic if I hadn’t visited thrift stores every week searching for Indian bangles and tapestries from Thailand to wear over my head in a West African style.  Although I thought of myself as “artsy,” I’ll admit I was a Culture Thief .   So, ten years later, I only wear Authentic “ethnic,” clothing.  This means someone from said culture has gifted me with a piece or I purchased it in the ethnic neighborhood.   I don’t purchase vintage pieces and try to wear the garment the way people in the culture wear it today.  Is it still thievery?  Sure, even though I’m more aware of my choices and how I get garments, but I’ve made my peace with it.  I accept the fact that Rock and Roll icons stole roots music from my ancestors, I’ll discuss it with musicians but I won’t loose sleep over it. And if someone tells me I am offensive, I swear, I’ll take off the garment right there–no questions.  Thankfully, it hasn’t happened yet.

That said, can (and I guess, how)  can bi-cultural families teach respect for theirs and other cultures through clothing selection? Does it matter? Do I restrict clothing for one but not the other?  Should I restrict them to a life of L.L. Bean to be neutral? I am not sure of the answers  so, please reply in the comment posts with your feedback.   Here are my family fashion rules. Note: fashion rules do not apply to clothing sent or purchased by grandparents–why? Because most of the time intent matters, and so does respecting family members.


  • T shirts and pics of  culturally diverse people and animals.
  • Dashikis and other culturally relevant clothing.  
  • Anything under $30
  • Anything given by an immediate family member.
  • Anything from Tea Collection (appropriation done well–am I a hypocrite?)
  • Nothing with slogans my children don’t understand and can’t explain.


  • T.V.  or film characters on t-shirts (Dora, Barbie, Disney)They tend to be one standard of beauty and problematic. Plus, I   just don’t like giving my money to media companies–still animals are ok.  I have to say my in-laws went out of their way to get the girls a Tinkerbell Table with a diverse group of fairies featured on it–Its a favorite item. So, there you go.
  • Logos “Kiss me I’m Irish,”  “It’s a Black Thing You Wouldn’t Understand.” I honestly don’t understand how either is a source of pride but if we can’t all wear it–then no.    My husband has an opposite take on this–I’ll let him explain on a later post.
  • Any one item over $30.  Unless my children stop growing or it lasts a long long time (I bought an REI jacket for Cheesy when she was 2 she can still wear it at 4 years old–maybe it was $10.oo)

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