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How Cultural Appropriation Profits from the History of the Oppressed

Cultural appropriation is not recent news. It seems like every day we see a case regarding the matter, whether it’s in our personal life or as international news. Yet, some people still don’t know (or decide to ignore) how important it is to stop perpetuating it.

Cultural appropriation comes in all shapes and sizes since it covers everything that has to do with a specific culture, from clothing to art and a thousand things in between.

A recent case was the one of MP Gautheron, a French woman who became famous for her ‘innovative’ skull designs. The Insider even made a video about her work. This video had to be edited because it lacked credits to the original Mexican culture, which caused an angry response from several Twitter and other social media users.

The problem wasn’t that she used Mexican designs. The problem was the profit she generated from them. Gautheron has been selling her designs online without giving any credit to the Mexican culture or Mexican Artisans.

While Mexican skulls made by Mexican artisans cost around $50 MXN (Mexican pesos, about $2.50 USD) depending on the size and material, she sells her skulls at a price of €700 EUR ($753 USD approx.).

Another famous case was the one of  Valentino’s Spring/Summer 2016 Collection. Which was described as “primitive, tribal, spiritual yet regal” in the company’s Twitter account. The company later claimed that they only wanted to show the beauty of Africa, yet almost all the designs were made by white people and worn by white models. Despite all of this, the company still sells all of their designs at high costs around the globe.

“Now white people have taken that history of oppression and turned it to their favor”

From all of this money, nothing goes to the true artists, the true designers, those who fight every day to keep their families afloat while they struggle to get materials for their creations.  There was once a time when people of color were prosecuted by their traditions or the way they dressed. Now white people have taken that history of oppression and turned it to their favor. Selling ‘exotic’ traditions as they participate in a discriminatory system.

Many people struggle at selling their own products or pieces of art due to racism, xenophobia or just not having the privilege to earn an income with their own creations. This also increases poverty and encourages the marginalization of these minorities, considering how hard it can be for them to commercialize these products.

There are thousands of cases like the ones mentioned above. Cases of privileged people using a history full of hate as a way of selling. There is nothing wrong in wanting to learn about a culture or respecting it, but to dominate an industry that is not meant to be theirs while there are a million different ways to earn a profit as a privileged person, is just another way of silencing and ignoring all of those voices that want to be heard.   

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Elba Nara
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Elba is an 18 year old environmentalist from Mexico who likes films, space, photography and human rights.

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