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

Last Updated on September 3, 2023 by Chase Reiner

Wearing a turban as a white person is considered by many as cultural appropriation. Turbans have significant cultural and religious importance, particularly in Sikhism. It’s essential to respect such traditions and avoid appropriating them.

What Does Cultural Appropriation Really Mean?

Cultural appropriation is a term that refers to the act of taking or using elements from another culture without understanding or respecting their historical implications. It is important to distinguish between cultural appreciation and appropriation. Appreciation involves acquiring knowledge and understanding of a culture, while appropriation lacks acknowledgment and the intention to learn.

Cultural appropriation has been a topic of debate, especially concerning dominant cultures adopting elements from marginalized or indigenous cultures. For example, the wearing of a turban by a white person can be seen as cultural appropriation, particularly if it is done without understanding its cultural significance. Turbans hold religious and cultural importance in South Asia, particularly for Sikh men, who wear them as an article of faith.

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 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.

How to Know If Something Is Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation is a complex and contentious topic that involves the adoption or borrowing of elements from another culture, particularly when the dominant culture appropriates elements from marginalized cultures. Determining whether something is cultural appropriation requires careful consideration of several factors. Here are some questions to help navigate this issue:

  • What are the intentions behind the borrowing? Is it a genuine appreciation and respect for the culture, or is it a shallow attempt at trendiness or exoticism?
  • How is the borrowing being done? Is cultural sensitivity being exercised? It is vital to consider the context and whether the culture being borrowed from is being accurately represented or if harmful stereotypes are perpetuated.
  • What is the opinion of the culture being borrowed from? It is crucial to listen to and respect their voices and perspectives. Are they embracing the sharing of their culture, or are they expressing discomfort or offense?

Determining whether something is cultural appropriation involves more than just a straightforward yes or no answer. It requires us to delve deeper, considering intentions, cultural sensitivity, stereotypes, and the opinions of the culture being borrowed from. It is important to approach cultural exchange with respect and an understanding of the power dynamics at play, recognizing the harmful effects that cultural appropriation can have on marginalized communities.

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 historical 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 with 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 in 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.

The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation

Understanding cultural appropriation can feel like navigating a minefield, but with proper knowledge and sensitivity, it’s possible to appreciate cultures other than your own without crossing boundaries. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you navigate these tricky territories.

Do’s of Cultural Appropriation:

1. Do Ask Permission:
Before using cultural symbols or artifacts that don’t belong to your own culture, ensure you have the relevant permissions. This not only shows respect but also appreciates the significance of the element.

2. Do Acknowledge The Source:
Always give credit to the culture’s origin. Recognizing the original creators and their contributions helps in retaining the authenticity of the element.

3. Do Use for Educational Purposes:
If you’re using elements from another culture to educate yourself or others, ensure you’re providing accurate, respectful, and authentic information.

4. Do Show Respect:
Whatever aspects you borrow from a culture, make sure to respect its significance and values. Avoid using these elements in inappropriate contexts.

5. Do Cultivate Genuine Interest:
Learn and understand other cultures out of genuine interest, not for the sake of novelty or trendiness.

Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation:

1. Don’t Commercialize Without Consent:
Refrain from using cultural elements to make profits without obtaining the proper permissions from the original culture itself.

2. Don’t Stereotype:
Avoid blindly accepting or promoting stereotypes about a culture, as this could lead to the spreading of misinformation or offensive beliefs.

3. Don’t Disregard the Cultural Significance:
Certain cultural elements carry deep significance. Using them without understanding or respecting their meanings can be disrespectful.

4. Don’t Appropriate Sacred Elements:
Many cultures have elements that are sacred and deeply meaningful to them. Using these for fashion statements or personal gains is profoundly disrespectful.

5. Don’t Silence Voices from the Culture:
Ensure one does not dismiss or ignore voices from the culture they are engaging with. They deserve the right to call out inappropriate uses of their cultural elements.

By adhering to these dos and don’ts, it is possible to navigate around cultural appropriation, and instead, foster an atmosphere of cultural appreciation and understanding.


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