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Influencers whitewash and appropriate culture for content

Influencers whitewash and appropriate culture for content

Influencers whitewash and appropriate culture for content
August 04
15:00 2022

Recently there has been discourse on social media regarding a TikTok trend referred to as making “spa water,” a blended drink of fresh fruit, sugar, water and added cucumber or lemons. Once blended, creators strain the product and drink the juice that comes from it — sounds pretty good right?

Does it also sound extremely familiar? That is because “spa water” is agua fresca, a popular Mexican and Latin American drink.

This is not the first occasion where cultural appropriation has plagued TikTok, but it is the most recent episode in a long line of whitewashing that the app has perpetuated.

TikTok influencer Gracie Norton started the trend on her page, sharing what she calls “anti-inflammatory spa water” to her audience of over 500,000 followers. The original video and the several videos posted in relation were deleted by Norton following backlash from people across multiple media platforms.

Many deemed the drink a form of cultural appropriation — and they would be correct. Agua fresca has been consumed by Latin and Hispanic communities for centuries, dating back to 15th century Aztecs. It wasn’t just created as a trendy drink for “health and wellness,” and it isn’t just something for white people to claim as their own through an uninspired re-labeling.

This is not the first time a cultural tradition has been re-imagined under a white person’s supervision for social media users to show off. Other cooking trends like “cowboy caviar” and “Mexican street corn salad” have soared in popularity, with thousands of people blissfully unaware of their traditional existence as pico de gallo and elote, respectively.

What embodies this blatant disregard for cultures the most recently reached headlines at the start of summer: the “clean girl” aesthetic. The trend has been followed by many after media outlets deemed YouTuber and supermodel Hailey Bieber the ultimate “clean girl.”

What exactly is this “clean girl” aesthetic that people are striving to achieve? Slicked back buns and ponytails with gold jewelry — specifically minimalistic chains and gold hoops. The aesthetic has taken over TikTok, garnering over 400 million views under its hashtag. More notably, the style has been a cultural staple shared by Black and brown women for ages. The trend’s reimagination not only caters primarily to thin white women, but it also laughs in the face of women of color who have styled themselves this way.

Being called “ghetto” or “trashy” for wearing gold chains and nameplate necklaces by white women is not uncommon for many Latino and Hispanic women growing up, just as much as Black women were called the same for wearing gold hoops, clear lip gloss and slicked back buns.

It hurts minorities to see something that they were bullied for during their younger years, and even in their professional careers, sought after by those who did the taunting. Credit being handed to a white woman who’s been embroiled in racist controversies herself is just the cherry on top.

Trends that completely disregard entire cultures and the way people who identify with them have been treated are hypocritical. They undermine the struggles of minorities and exploit their culture and traditions for the parts they deem as acceptable or trendy.

While it may seem like a drink is just a drink, and a pair of hoop earrings is just a pair of hoop earrings, it is far more. These are cultures that have been abused and unappreciated for decades.

Whitewashing things done by communities of color for years is extremely problematic, and a bad apology will not change the fact that it should not be happening in the first place. If you do want to try something, don’t perpetuate the idea that you made it first or ignore its relevance as a staple of other cultures and races.

Next time you open TikTok, dig a little deeper into any new trends you see and question whether they are original, or if they were simply rebranded by white communities.

Featured Illustration by Erika Sevilla

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Lauryn Barron

Lauryn Barron

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