Let's talk racism in America.
Today, I went on twitter to find a national debate about a white girl from the suburbs wearing a traditional Chinese dress to prom and receiving insane amounts of criticism for her wardrobe choice.
News flash: the criticism is correct. She has no place to wear this.
White culture has taken from other cultures from the start. White culture is appropriation. Nobody is "attacking" white culture: they are addressing the fact that white culture's roots come from appropriation.
Relating this back to photography is really interesting to me. As a fashion photographer, I have seen countless photographers and brands appropriating. My favorite is when a photographer sticks a white model in the suburbs and for the same campaign, sticks the black model in the hood because it matches their "aesthetic". Who are you to say where someone of color grew up? The person of color may live a very suburban lifestyle just like your white model. Further than this is the push in fashion to make people of color feel "exotic". They are not exotic, they are normal people just like the white model you're using.
My purpose in photography is to represent other cultures, people of color, and different ethnicity correctly. To not make them "exotic", but to just represent them the way they want to be represented. I think this ties back to fashion again - many stylists, photographers, and MUA's in the fashion world also try to wash out culture. They put black models in very Eurocentric clothing, make them wear wigs that make their hair appear to be straight, etc. It goes both ways - fashion will either make a POC look exotic or like a white model. There is no in between.
I recently discovered a portrait photographers page on instagram. With 10k followers and 3k likes on most photos, he had two or three portraits on his page with white women in scarves wearing the scarves like hijabs. He actually related the white model to the Afghan girl photo by Steve Mccurry, which he, since i pointed it out, has deleted and simplified to not compare the two. What was most frustrating about this experience was the photographer DMing me and asking what he did wrong, followed by a skew of DM'd photos from different photographers doing the same thing accompanied by the message "but they do it, so why can't I do it too?"
That sentence right there is the problem. We are not educating artists enough. People genuinely, like the girl who wore a traditional Chinese dress to prom, really don't think they are being problematic based on ignorance. In many cases, nobody has even ever told them that the things they are doing are wrong and appropriate cultures.
Our lack of educating as artists leads to the issues of appropriation we see in the art and fashion world today. Ignorance in art translates to the wrong illustration of cultural references, offensive styling, and appropriation through an image.
The question that I don't have a concrete answer to remains: how do you educate someone from the ground up when they don't even see what they are doing as wrong?
In my own work, I aim to educate, illustrate other cultures correctly, and combat systematic racism in the art and fashion world. But I'm only one person. In order to make a change, artists need to understand that educating is important. If you see an artist appropriating, using incorrect or offensive cultural references in their work, or being inherently racist through their subject casting, call them out. Let them know what they are doing wrong. They may not like it, but it needs to happen.
If we bring attention to this issue, make it a point, and educate artists who need to be educated, we can start to see a change. Until then, we are going to be battling ignorance and racism within art.