Earlier this week, it was Justin Timberlake in the cultural-appropriation hot seat after he praised — for selfish reasons, critics said — the powerful speech of BET humanitarian-award winner Jesse Williams. But now Vanessa Hudgens is the one under fire. Hudgens, who is known for her bohemian-inspired fashion sense, has been accused of appropriating Native American culture after posting an Instagram photo of herself wearing a dreamcatcher in her naturally curly hair.
While she might have meant the dreamcatcher to be an innocent attempt at furthering her boho-themed style, many fans were angered by it since it’s originally a Native American traditional craft created to prevent bad dreams from occuring during the night, and not meant to be a accessory. “I love her and all but it’s culture not costume,” commented one Instagram user. “You constantly go out of your way to disrespect cultures to look boho. It’s rude as f*ck. Don’t put dreamcatchers in your hair!” said another.
But for every commenter that felt offended by Vanessa’s look, many more supported it: “Gorgeous and so culturally representative of all people with all of your stunning fashion choices. I too am a Native American woman and so proud to see a symbol of our culture capturing beauty. We are all together on this Earth there should be no separation between us with made up words as ‘cultural appropriation’ this mentality is negative and separatist.”
This isn’t the first time a celebrity has been accused of cultural appropriation — defined as misusing something strongly identified with a particular culture (typically a minority group) in an inappropriate or superficial way. The Kardashians are frequently accused of being insensitive for wearing cornrows, as was Bieber, for his stint with dreadlocks, and Beyoncé, after her recent choice to wear henna designs on her hands. Even Hudgens herself isn’t new to being accused of cultural appropriation. She wore a Native American headress to Coachella a few years back and, more recently, posted images of herself wearing a bindi to the festival as well.
But the idea of cultural appropriation reaches far beyond Hollywood. Most recently, a black woman openly argued with a white man at San Francisco State University in a viral videothat showed her acussing him of ripping off her culture by wearing his hair such a style.
So, where does one draw the line between “cultural appreciation” and “cultural appropriation?” Many feel that the difference is all about knowing and appreciating the culture behind whatever traditional style you’re choosing to wear, before you actually wear it. Considering that Vanessa Hudgens is said to have Native American ancestry on her father’s side, this might not be less a case of appropriation that some have assumed. Either way, the debate is only getting more heated, so hopefully Hudgens comes out with a public statement sometime soon to put the arguing at rest.