The Vogue Problem With Cultural Appropriation
Vogue has come under fire this week for its March 2017 “diversity” issue for an editorial featuring model Karlie Kloss. The editorial’s concept was based on the Japanese Geisha, see and as you can guess Karlie is not Japanese (or Asian at all). Kloss was sporting traditional Geisha attire, pharm including a kimono and sandals (known as zori in Japan) in some shots. She was wearing yellow face with her hair pinned up in Geisha fashion, one shot even featured her posing with a sumo wrestler (using a poc as a prop, again; pictured below). The internet fired back almost immediately with criticism of the cultural appropriation and flat out racism the shoot displays. I had a lot of problems with the shoot and even more accompanying questions.
My first problem is with hiring a white model for a Geisha themed shoot and my follow up question is why couldn’t you just hire an Asian model? Like seriously Vogue, we shouldn’t even have to beg. It’s frustrating to know that there are hundreds of Asian models that lost an opportunity clearly meant for them to a white model. You cast Liu Wen to be a part of your “diversity” themed cover but then completely contradict yourselves in the same issue by not casting an Asian model in a shoot about a specific Asian culture? It doesn’t add up.
My second problem being a bunch of white people made the concept of this shoot around Geishas and Japanese culture and my next question being: do you even know the culture? I’m happy to be coming up us a millennial because we call out things that past generations never saw important like cultural appropriation. People love to take the aesthetic of a culture without taking the time to learn and understand what it is actually about. From the way a Geisha does her makeup and hair to her clothing, its symbolism for something sacred. It is not a costume you can put on- like many other cultures, it’s something you have to earn. I’m pretty sure the team behind this editorial knows nothing about the process of becoming a Geisha nor why they put themselves together in the manner they do. If they did have knowledge of the culture, their first step would probably be to not cast Karlie Kloss. Other people’s cultures are not aesthetics for looks, they mean something to where they originate from. If you have no interest in learning or respecting other cultures beyond the surface, you have no business creating an entire photoshoot around it.
My third and final problem is that this shoot even saw the light of day and my question being are there any people that aren’t white working at Vogue? Any educated, progressive, intersectional being would know that this shoot wasn’t appropriate. The lengthy process a shoot has to go through from pitching the idea to making print and NO ONE saw a problem. This tells me that Vogue is run by a bunch of out of touch, privileged white people who don’t know the true meaning of diversity. The fact that this isn’t the first controversy regarding cultural appropriation (like Gigi Hadid’s Novermber 2015 Vogue Italia shoot or Lara Stone’s 2009 Vogue France shoot pictured above) you would think they would realize what isn’t acceptable. However, they continue to shake off people’s valid concerns regarding their racist “art”.
My solution to the problem is simple, stop giving so much power to these white institutions built off of our cultures and ideas and start building up empires that people of color are trying to build. From the Grammys to Vogue, we keep begging for a place at their table and for our voice to be heard and I’m tired of begging. We need to look out and support our own, so start giving LAPP’s blog as much attention as you would to Cosmopolitan, give the NAACP awards as much credibility as the Oscars; just give people of color a chance to win and I promise the outcome will not disappoint.
Written by Shay Wireman