Sometime during the early 2000s, big, gold, “door-knocker” hoop earrings started to appeal to me after I’d admired them on girls at school. It didn’t faze me that most of the girls who wore these earrings at my high school in St. Louis were black, unlike me. And while it certainly may have occurred to me that I—a semi-preppy dresser—couldn’t pull them off, it never occurred to me that I shouldn’t.
This was before the term cultural appropriation jumped from academia into the realm of internet outrage and oversensitivity. Self-appointed guardians of culture have proclaimed that Miley Cyrus shouldn’t twerk, white girls shouldn’t wear cornrows, and Selena Gomez should take off that bindi. Personally, I could happily live without ever seeing Cyrus twerk again, but I still find many of these accusations alarming.
At my house, getting dressed is a daily act of cultural appropriation, and I’m not the least bit sorry about it. I step out of the shower in the morning and pull on a vintage cotton kimono. After moisturizing my face, I smear Lucas Papaw ointment—a tip from an Australian makeup artist—onto my lips before I make coffee with a Bialetti stovetop espresso maker a girlfriend brought back from Italy. Depending on the weather, I may pull on an embroidered floral blouse I bought at a roadside shop in Mexico or a stripey marinière-style shirt—originally inspired by the French, but mine from the surplus store was a standard-issue Russian telnyashka—or my favorite purple pajama pants, a souvenir from a friend’s trip to India. I may wear Spanish straw-soled espadrilles (though I’m not from Spain) or Bahian leather sandals (I’m not Brazilian either) and top it off with a favorite piece of jewelry, perhaps a Navajo turquoise ring (also not my heritage).