What do “white girl wellness,” fox eye makeup, and K-pop obsessions all have in common? Are they all somehow connected to Asian culture? Are they all things that white people have co-opted as their own? The short answer is yes to both of these. These things, among others, have become popular among white people who, unknowingly or not, co-opt Asian cultures. With 20% of Berkeley residents identifying as Asian and Berkeley High School having a large Asian population, appropriation to this degree is very harmful, especially when white people are ignorant to the origin of what they’re stealing and act as if they have created it.
Like most trends, yoga was popularized in the West by white women in monochrome workout sets. Yoga originates from India with the purpose of cultivating awareness and higher consciousness in the individual and was brought to the US by immigrants. However, that history is often forgotten and yoga is simply seen as a new wellness practice.
June McNally, a junior at BHS who identifies as Chinese and white, discussed how to decipher the line between appreciation and appropriation, saying that she looks at intent and impact. While the intent of yoga in the West may be to appreciate a therapeutic practice, the impact is ignorance of the practice’s origin. This ideology of wellness commodifies cultural practices for a majority white industry and disregards their history.
Makeup geared towards changing one’s racial appearance is also prevalent. For example, the fox eye trend uses makeup to achieve an almond eye shape, a common Asian feature. Instead of colonizing culture, white people appropriate physical features, effectively making Asian appearances “trendy,” and ignoring the discrimination Asians face.
Appropriating Asian cultural practices doesn’t just enforce a “take what you want and leave the rest” attitude — which is harmful enough as it is —, it is effectively robbing Asian culture of its possessions. McNally said that she doesn’t see a problem with white people taking the time to appreciate and learn about Asian cultures from people of that group, but there is an issue when her ethnic culture is “adopted to fit an aesthetic,” giving an example of people wearing Chinese-style dresses.
What has existed for centuries in hundreds of unique Asian cultures is reborn in the West to be trendy and lucrative under the guise of white ingenuity. This combines all Asian cultures under one umbrella that erases their history to be marketed to white people. It’s happening all over BHS, with students wearing kimono and qipao inspired clothing and drinking chai from Starbucks, while sharing space with students from the cultures where those things originate. So next time you eat Panda Express, stick pencils in your hair, or think of getting a tattoo of Chinese characters, recognize the millennia of Asian culture behind each of these things, rather than the ephemeral trend you may be participating in.