Is It Acceptable For A White Person To Wear A Turban, Or Is It Cultural Appropriation?

Last Updated on March 14, 2022 by

Many white people would want to be respectful of Native American traditions and, at the same time, appreciate native art. However, they get confused on what things are acceptable for white people to wear and own that is not appropriation. Cultural appropriation refers to adopting or stealing icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, or behavior from a culture or a subculture and making it part of your culture without consent. 

The concept generally applies when the subject culture is also a minority culture and somehow subordinate in social, political, economic, and military status to an appropriating culture. To some people, a white person wearing a turban can be seen as offensive and disrespectful, especially after the 9/11 attacks, where Sikhs have been harassed and others killed due to their physical identities where turbans are a central component.

Why Is Wearing A Turban For A White Person Seen As Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is a historically disputed idea rooted in the seeds of colonialism. During that time, white colonialists stole cultural artifacts. There are plenty of examples to count where natives lost their cultural artifacts to whites. Some of the artifacts included bronzes and carved tusks from native Americans taken from Benin, Asante gold weights stolen from Ghana, and many other things.

Today there is a lot of cultural appropriation taking many forms where we see it at music festivals when revelers wear outfits that belong to other cultures. In fashion, cultural appropriation has also become popular. In 2019 Gucci was criticized for selling a £600 turban which most people deemed insensitive toward the Sikh culture. 

Victoria’s Secret has also faced continuous criticism for cultural appropriation, especially after sending models on the runway in tribal tropes, including feather headdresses and bead jewelry.

Appropriation happens when one culture mocks or ridicules the other culture or copies the influences of one culture and uses it for personal gain. When a white person wears a turban, it can be seen as appropriation if their borrowing is becoming exploitation. When you borrow, you must respect the other culture

But when you rip it off, it becomes appropriation. Cultural appreciation should not be mistaken for appropriation. To fully appreciate a culture, you must be understanding.

Why Is Cultural Appropriation A Problem For Many Cultures?

Some people may see a white wearing a turban as cultural appropriation. They may take it as unacceptable. But why do marginalized communities have an issue with cultural appropriation? It’s essential to understand why cultural appropriation is a problem for most marginalized communities. If you want to bring aspects of a particular culture into your life or culture, you should understand how the marginalized culture got there. 

This means that you should know their historical context. It would be best if you put in time for research. Unobjectionable appropriation starts with authentic appreciation that involves full understanding. If you understand a cultural product, you will unlikely use it offensively or in an objectionable way. 

For instance, you will be less likely to misuse an artifact that a culture considers sacred if you understand it. Some situations may require permission. It’s essential to defer to and respect the experts in any culture, which may involve not presenting yourself as an expert.

Cultural appropriation can be painful to those whose culture has been abused, especially because of the historic mistreatment that most minorities have gone through and their respective traditions.

Wearing A Turban For A White Person Is Not Always A Bad Thing

Turbans are common attire for many minority cultures, including the Sikhs, Muslims, Afghans, Indians, etc. This cultural item has not been introduced to mainstream popular culture yet, although many people would love to wear it. 

The exposure may help diffuse harmful associations with a turban, which has led to harmful actions against Sikhs. Although the turban has some religious significance to Sikhs, they cannot claim a monopoly over the item’s meaning as other people wear it. 

While many people may see wearing turbans for white people as cultural appropriation, Sikhs themselves enable non-Sikhs to wear them, especially during weddings. This means that Sikhs facilitate the wearing of turbans by other people even for superficial and costume purposes. 

However, for a white or a non-Sikh to wear a turban, they must first seek approval from a Sikh. When white Gucci models adorned turbans in a show, some Sikhs were not very comfortable; however, this ignores the existence of devout Sikhs who reside in the American southwest and are whites. 

Maybe the biggest challenge that the Sikh community faces after 9/11 is still prevailing, where a turban is associated with terrorists. After 9/11, Sikhs have been working on addressing the problems that have arisen because of this misrepresentation. However, too little has been done to replace the association with a positive thing. 

Using a turban on a global stage as a fashion item that whites can wear may help the public view the wearing of a turban in a new and non-threatening light. Unfortunately, some Sikhs have chosen to be territorial and criticizers instead of appreciating the broader benefits of others wearing a turban or building on the opportunity to educate others on its significance.

Risks Of Not Accepting Other Communities To Wear A Turban

Since some Sikhs do not agree to whites wearing a turban and see it as cultural appropriation, their community risks being termed victims again and receiving continuous hate and ignorance.

High-end brands such as Gucci may first confer with Sikhs before they decide on including Sikh imagery for their fashion shows in the future. They can also have Sikh models to represent their culture to avoid Sikh sensitivities. It’s not always good for a culture to isolate itself to achieve global acceptance in our precarious world.

Reasons Behind Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation can be a colonization, capitalism, assimilation, or oppression by-product. When it comes to cultural appropriation, culture is seen as a natural resource for extracting people of color. Cultural appropriation is sometimes profitable when it’s not used for the right purpose. 

The dominant culture sees the objects and traditions of a minority culture as exotic, edgy, or desirable, translating to profits.

When cultural appropriation is used for profits, it can be harmful as it extends many decades of racism, oppression, or genocide. 

Due to cultural appropriation, every aspect of the minority culture seems to be free for the taking. This rationale has always been used for stealing land and resources from natives. 

When ceremonies and objects are appropriated, they distort and remove the traditions and things from an original context and take them to gross caricatures, disregarding the history and current reality of oppression. 

To avoid cultural appropriation, brands and people should research the design, tribe, and artist of an item and give credit to them. Fashion brands have always been criticized for cultural appropriation, but they can do better. 

A white person can wear a turban, but they must respect its cultural significance and credit the community from which the turban is worn. Moreover, minority communities must also sensitize others about their cultural items to make the world accept everyone’s culture and artifacts.

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