Search results for cultural appropriation

Cross-posted at Scientopia.

A couple of days ago I posted a video about stereotypes of Native Americans in video games, including the Hot Indian Princess. Though the video discussed video games specifically, these tropes are common in other area of pop culture as well. Dolores R. sent in a great example. Over at Beyond Buckskin, Jessica Metcalfe posted about the 2011 Caribana Parade in Toronto. This year the parade theme was Native America, including various sections such as Amazon Warriors, Lost City of the Aztecs, Brazilian Amerindians…and Tribal Princesses. Here’s a Tribal Princess costume provided by one band, Callaloo (it’s now sold out).

A commenter on Metcalfe’s post takes exception with criticisms of these costumes and the parade theme, saying,

[This is a] celebration of historic alliances between African Diaspora peoples and Native peoples. In New Orleans, the tradition was a specific response to racist laws that placed Native and other POC communities in a common frame of reference. This tradition is almost 200 years old among Caribbean/Diaspora people in North America…you are making a tremendous mistake by attacking a part of Afro-Caribbean culture as if this was the same as an expression of White/Euro privilege.

So the argument is that this can’t be problematic cultural appropriation or propagation of the sexualized Indian Princess trope because it is part of an event meant to celebrate and recognize the histories and cultures of groups that have themselves been the target of discrimination and political/cultural exclusion. Certainly there is an important cultural and historical context there that, the commenter argues, distinguishes these costumes from, say, the current fad of “tribal” clothing in fashion.

And yet, that argument seems to discursively claim a right to represent Native Americans in any way without being subject to criticisms of stereotyping or cultural appropriation. For instance, the Apache were not a Caribbean tribe (though the Lipan Apache moved far into southeastern Texas by the late 1700s, coming into regular contact with Texas Gulf tribes). Does this sexualized “Apache” costume, as imagined by non-Apaches and sold to the general public, differ greatly from other appropriations and representations of Native American culture and identity as fashion statement?

This feels a little like a different version of the “But we’re honoring you!” argument used in efforts to defend Native American sports mascots — that any concern the viewer has is only due to their lack of understanding of the reason for the depiction of Native Americans, not because that depiction might be, in fact, problematic.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

A recent Soc Images post on cultural appropriation highlighted issues of control over the production and representation of images of Indigenous peoples. On a related note, an image I captured during a recent visit to the Canadian Museum of Civilization (or as one of my professors has called it, the “Canadian Museum of Colonization”) highlights similar issues regarding the representation of Indigenous knowledges. This poster was displayed in the “First Peoples’ Hall” of the museum in a section dedicated to “Ways of Knowing”:

Two points are particularly striking. Firstly, the poster portrays the “preservation” of Indigenous knowledges as a project of colonizers and non-Indigenous anthropologists. Rather than attributing control over the production and representation of Indigenous knowledges to Indigenous peoples themselves, the poster depicts colonial “explorers” and anthropologists as the primary agents in these endeavors. Indigenous peoples themselves are merely portrayed as informants, leaving interpretation and presentation to colonizers and anthropologists. In recent years, numerous Indigenous scholars have written about the oppressive nature of this type of approach to Indigenous peoples and knowledges, pointing out how academic disciplines such as anthropology have been essential tools in the study and subjugation of Indigenous peoples as “primitive Others.”

Secondly, the poster presents Indigenous knowledges as static and unchanging, ignoring their dynamic nature and the ongoing experiences of Canada’s Indigenous communities. Canadian Indigenous scholar Andrea Smith* has argued that in settler societies such as Canada, false notions of the disappearance or threat of extinction of Indigenous peoples and their knowledges are at the foundation of cultural imaginations and serve as justifications for the appropriation of Indigenous lands and cultures. In this case, the threat of extinction is implied in the need for Indigenous knowledges to be “preserved in writing.”

This poster provides an entry point for questioning power relations inherent in the production and presentation of knowledge at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and similar institutions. This example demonstrates how the museum portrays a particular view of Canada and its relationship with Indigenous communities, one which ignores the historical and continuing reality of colonialism and its implications.

* Smith, A. (2006). Heteropatriarchy and the three pillars of white supremacy: Rethinking women of color organizing. In A. Smith (Ed.), Color of Violence: The Incite! Anthology (66-73). Cambridge, MA: South End Press.


Hayley Price has a background in sociology, international development studies, and education. She recently completed her Masters degree in Sociology and Equity Studies in Education at the University of Toronto with a thesis on Indigenous knowledges in development studies.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

We’ve posted a number of posts about cultural appropriation in fashion, particularly when it comes to Native Americans. Kristyn G. sent in a link to a story at the Huffington Post about a recent fashion show in Moscow that brings up questions about cultural appropriation of another group. The show, from St. Bessarion, included female models in hats, sidecurls, and some articles of clothing inspired by things worn by Orthodox Jews, combined with distinctly non-Orthodox items.

It’s not the first time Orthodox-inspired clothing has appeared on the runway. For instance, in 1993 Jean Paul Gaultier put together a men’s line he called Chosen People, which the New York Times says it was the first Judaism-inspired clothing line from a well-known designer. According to an article I found at Racked, “the collection ruffled quite a few feathers in the religious community, many of whom felt that Gaultier had misappropriated elements of religion in a disrespectful, frivolous manner.” It was quite the production:


UPDATE: Just a quick note, since I see some confusion in the comments — the designer who recently made some horrid anti-Semitic remarks was John Galliano, not Jean Paul Gaultier.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Last night I was cold. So cold, in fact, that I had to pull out not one, but two, of my Pendleton blankets to add some extra warmth to my bed. As I shook them out and laid them on my bed, I thought about how special these blankets are to me–one was a graduation gift, the other a thank you gift for serving on a panel about the “Future of Indian Education.” In many Native communities, Pendleton blankets are associated with important events, and have been for hundreds of years. They are given as gifts at graduations, at powwow give-aways, as thank you gifts, in commemoration of births and deaths, you name it. In addition, I’ve always associated the patterns with Native pride — a way for Natives to showcase their heritage in their home decor, coats, purses, etc. There’s something just distinctly Native about Pendleton to me.

Stanford Native Graduation from a couple years ago:

But recently, Pendleton prints and fabrics have started popping up everywhere. It started with Opening Ceremony’s Pendleton line in 2010, and now Urban Outfitters has started carrying a Pendelton linecelebrities are wearing Pendleton coats, and Native-themed home decor is apparently all the rage.  Now Pendleton has announced their newest collaboration, The Portland Collection, which fashion blogs are proclaiming will be the big thing for 2011.

So what’s the problem? I openly admit that a lot of these designs are adorable, and I would fully sport them (that bag! I love!), if I had a spare $1000 or so. I can’t cry straight up cultural appropriation, because…well, it’s complicated.

Pendelton has been supplying Natives with blankets and robes with Indian designs since the late 1800’s, which the “history” section of their website outlines:

A study of the color and design preferences of local and Southwest Native Americans resulted in vivid colors and intricate patterns. Trade expanded from the Nez Perce nation near Pendleton to the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni nations. These Pendleton blankets were used as basic wearing apparel and as a standard of value for trading and credit among Native Americans. The blankets also became prized for ceremonial use.

It’s almost a symbiotic relationship — they saw a market in Native communities, and Native communities stepped up and bought, traded, and sold the blankets, incorporating them into “traditional” cultural activities. Pendleton has also maintained close ties with Native communities and causes, making commemorative blankets for organizations like the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Indian Education Association. They work with Native artists to design the special edition blankets, and even donate some of the proceeds to the causes.

(NIEA 40th anniversary blanket)

But then, on the other hand, they go off and do things like design a $5000 blanket with White Buffalo hair, which many tribes consider extremely sacred and definitely off-limits to commercial sale.

I do appreciate Pendleton’s relationship with Native communities. I love my blankets, and love even more what they represent.

However, seeing hipsters march down the street in Pendleton clothes, seeing these bloggers ooh and ahh over how “cute” these designs are, and seeing non-Native models all wrapped up in Pendleton blankets makes me upset. It’s a complicated feeling, because I feel ownership over these designs as a Native person, but on a rational level I realize that they aren’t necessarily ours to claim. To me, it just feels like one more thing non-Natives can take from us — like our land, our moccasins, our headdresses, our beading, our religions, our names, our cultures weren’t enough? you gotta go and take Pendleton designs too?

Then there’s the whole economic stratification issue of it too, these designs are expensive. The new Portland collection ranges from $48 for a tie to over $700 for a coat, the Opening Ceremony collection was equally, if not more, costly. It almost feels like rubbing salt in the wound, when poverty is rampant in many Native communities, to say “oh we designed this collection based on your culture, but you can’t even afford it!”

So I don’t know. Are all of these designs cultural appropriation? Should I ignore the twinge in my stomach every time I see a Pendleton pattern in the Urban Outfitters window? Should I embrace it as the mainstream fashion scene finally catching up with what we Natives have known since the 1800’s?

Personally, the bottom line is that I would rather associate Pendleton with Native pride and commemorating important events…
(our panel last year)

…than with hipsters, high fashion, and flash-in-the-pan trends. But I’m obviously conflicted. What do you think? Are these designs and trends ok, or do I have a right to be upset?

(Thanks to Precious for getting me thinking about this!)
Adrienne K. is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a graduate student in Boston, where she studies access to higher education for Native students. In her free time, she blogs about cultural appropriation and use of Indigenous cultures, traditions, languages, and images in popular culture, advertising, and everyday life at Native Appropriations.

A New Vision and a Hiatus:

Sociological Images turned 8 this year. It’s been a long, busy, and exciting journey and my own writing has been front-and-center for much of that time. Moving forward, my hope is to step back into more of an editor role, helping established scholars bring attention to their research, giving newer scholars a platform, and helping other sociology bloggers reach a wider audience. Essentially, I would like to use this site as an amplifier, broadcasting as many sociologists as I can as widely as possible by either cross-posting or using the SocImages social media reach. So, to all the sociologists out there, look out for more requests to re-print, please don’t hesitate to pitch me ideas, and feel free to send me things to share!

But… not yet. SocImages is taking its first hiatus. My book deadline is March 1st, so I’m taking two months off to polish the draft. See you all in 30 days!


We rounded out the year with over 2,900,000 visits and nearly 4,000,000 page views.  We are proud and honored to enjoy almost 80,000 Facebook friends, over 23,000 Twitter followers, plus nearly 15,000 on Pinterest and over 24,000 on Tumblr.  A huge thank you to everyone for your enthusiasm and support!


Best of 2015!

2 (1)

Over the last week we’ve featured my favorite and your most loved posts from 2015.  Here’s the list in case you missed it:

Reader’s Choice

Editor’s Picks

Happy New Year everyone!  Here’s to wonderful things in 2016!

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

As a sociologist who happens to DJ — or is that the other way around? — I’m always curious to see how DJing is depicted in popular culture and advertising. Ever since the 1970s, when the disco craze helped push the prominence of DJs into the public realm, disc jockeys have become iconic symbols of nightlife culture. Within the milieu of the dance floor, DJs serve as what Sarah Thornton once described as “orchestrators of a ‘living’ communal experience.”

As such, the image of the DJ standing behind a pair of turntables has become ripe for appropriation by liquor and cigarette companies in particular. For them, especially in print ads, the DJ serves as a visual shorthand for any number of values they want their product associated with: culturally hip/cool, entertainment/musical mavens, the source of good times, etc. However, when it comes to that shorthand, this Smirnoff ad from last summer may have come up just a little too short.

At first glance, this image of a DJ working the turntables, with a cleavage-baring admirer looking on, seems uncomplicated: Smirnoff promises a fun, sexy time. However, a closer examination of the mise en scéne yields some instant problems.

  • There are no records on the turntables.
  • There’s not a mat on the turntables. Especially in a nightclub setting, DJs always use felt mats that sit between the platter and record. This not only protects the vinyl surface from the platter but by reducing friction between the record and platter, the DJ can “slip” a record into play at just the right moment. Hence, felt mats are called “slip mats.” In short, it’s very strange to see a turntable without a slip mat.
  • There’s no needle on the turntable arm. Therefore, even if they had bothered to put records on the turntables, Mr. Hip DJ wouldn’t have been able to actually play them.
  • There’s no visible DJ mixer. The mixer is absolutely crucial, allowing the DJ to switch between two audio sources, i.e. what makes “disc jockeying” possible to begin with. Normally, the mixer would sit between the two turntables so its absence in the image is conspicuous.
  • The gesture — hands posed over both turntables — doesn’t make sense; it’s not a pose that any DJ would ever employ. Normally, you would have one hand on a turntable, the other hand working the mixer but no nightclub DJ would  be manipulating both turntables, simultaneously. He looks like he’s trying to play bongos. (A scratch DJ, aka turntablist, may work both turntables for certain techniques but scratch DJs aren’t typically nightclub DJs – hard to dance to someone scratching).

When this ad made its rounds on social media, theories were bandied about to explain just what went wrong in this ad. The most plausible explanation is that the Smirnoff campaign selected a stock image hastily but that still opens up the question of how no one, from the original photographer, to the people in the image, to the people working on the Smirnoff ad itself, seemed to realize just how ridiculous this image was. It’d be akin to a car ad where someone is pretending to drive a car… from the backseat. With the wheels missing. And facing the wrong direction.

Of course, the vast majority of people know what driving a car is supposed to look like. One conclusion one might draw from the Smirnoff ad is that while the basic image of a DJ has some resonance in the public imagination, as a practice/craft, DJing isn’t actually well-understood at all.


Dr. Oliver Wang is an associate professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach. He contributes regularly on music and culture for NPR’s All Things Considered, KPCC’s Take Two, the LA Times, and KCET’s ArtBound. He also writes the audioblog

Often, the most socio-economically disadvantaged individuals of a group are used as a wide brush to paint a picture of an entire minority race or ethnicity.  Common examples include stereotyping all Black men as members of the inner-city underclass or as uneducated, unemployed, urban criminals, or all African-American women as “welfare queens.”  In the current cultural and political discourse, Hispanics are often prejudicially construed  as murderous drug-smugglers or as destitute immigrants who illegally cross the border to “drop babies” and exploit U.S. social programs.  As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has argued, these prejudices then disadvantage minorities of all social classes who are stereotyped and experience discrimination regardless of their individual socio-economic status or accomplishments.

However, focusing on the marginal members during the social construction of an entire racial group does not usually occur with Whites.  The existence of poor Whites is often ignored as Caucasians are stereotyped as upper-class—which usually entails assumptions that they are hardworking, highly-moral, successful exemplars of American individualism, as Kirby Moss explains in The Color of Class.  “The Whitest People,” a skit from Carlos Mencia (a controversial comedian who built his career drawing upon his Hispanic background to explore race in America), illustrates the connections between whiteness and heightened class status (sorry about the ad):

Mencia’s construction of whiteness critiques the excesses and frivolousness of the upper-middle class lifestyle often conflated with whiteness.  While Mencia pokes fun at this lifestyle, outside comedy these same stereotypes mean Caucasians are usually viewed positively as many presume the upper class can only be reached through hard work and strong morals.  Whereas minorities are often presumed poor and thus viewed with suspicion, whites are often prejudged favorably.  For instance, Mencia himself mentions that because people are viewed through prejudicial lenses, when whites drink alcohol they are thought “sophisticated” but when Blacks drink they are accused of being “drunks.”  These differential prejudgments based on race are the basis of white privilege that replicates and reinforces both class, and racial stratification.

The open expression of Latino stereotypes and slurs in this video also highlights why Mencia’s comedy is controversial.  Detractors claim he engages in a process symbolic interactionists call trading power for patronage (see Schwalbe et al. 2000)This process occurs when an individual embodies a marginal identity in order to receive personal benefits that come at the expense of the larger group.  For example, while Mencia’s comedy career benefits from the self-deprecating humor in this video about low wage employment, family violence, and food insecurity his jokes might also reinforce negative stereotypes about Hispanics.

However, Carlos Mencia’s supporters describe the open confrontation of race and racial disadvantage in his comedy as contesting stigma (Goffman) by celebrating a minority group’s ability to persevere despite their marginalization.  To this group, Mencia’s frequent use of ethnic slurs to describe himself and other Latinos is an example of re-appropriation (Galinsky et al.), reclaiming a pejorative label in a way that redefines the meaning of racist slights and infuses the word with positive and empowering meanings.


Jason Eastman is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Coastal Carolina University who researches how culture and identity influence social inequalities.

In a collection of alcohol ads from the 1960s and ’70s, Retronaut included an ad that is a nice example of how marketers sometimes co-opt social movements.  In this case, the co-optation works against the movement, sending the opposite message that it intended.

“I never even thought of burning my bra until I discovered Smirnoff,” says a woman with bedroom eyes.   The message, of course, is not that a woman who drinks the vodka will become politicized; instead, it is that Smirnoff will “loosen her up” and facilitate seduction.

We’ve posted other examples of this phenomenon, including a series of Playboy illustrations that co-opted the feminist movement (“Male supremacy is all right — but I favor a different position”) as well as the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.  We’ve also collected instances of feminist rhetoric being used to market a wide range of products and, of course, there’s always the remarkable “torches of freedom” pro-smoking campaigns.

The bra-burning story, incidentally, is a myth.  In 1968 feminists protested outside of the Miss America pageant; they threw many items deemed oppressive into a trash can: bras, yes, as well as cosmetics, high heels, etc.  They didn’t light the trash can on fire.  The idea that they burned bras was added later, in an effort to link the Women’s Movement to the Anti-War Movement (remember that draftees were burning their draft cards).  The Anti-War Movement was, at the time, being taken more seriously, so the link was meant to give feminism more credibility.  Instead, the idea of feminists burning bras became a humorous cultural trope, hence the ad above.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.