“People of color can be dreamy too.”
Mustard yellow shirts, turtle necks, mom jeans, berets, Fjällräven Kånken backpacks, fake freckles and lo-fi radio live streams. What would be your first association? You may think that this person is a painter or a poet. You might think that this person is dreamy, sensitive, melancholic, artistic and presumably has a record player. The words you might be looking for to describe this person are bohemian, artsy or aesthetically pleasing.
And you are right. But when envisioning the person with this specific style, what color of skin did you think of?
Most of you might have thought of a Caucasian girl or boy walking down the street with a polaroid camera. And honestly, I don’t blame you. For a very long time, we have associated artsy, melancholic and dreamy styles to Caucasians, especially girls. The manic pixie dream girl is often what pops into our minds. For example, Sophia Coppola made a prototype of the melancholic, yet aesthetically pleasing girl. The misunderstood, independent female protagonist who feels stuck in a small town she inhabits, or feels small in a big city. “The Virgin Suicides” and “Lost in Translation” are great examples of showing us fragile, innocent “little” girls’ movies that make suicide feel saudade. Of course, not all the blame falls on Sophia. Other directors have also used this style to portray women who are emotionally and mentally unstable, yet beautifully flawed because of that – for example Ophelia from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.
And all the emotionally fragile and misunderstood students are in the mainstream media portrayed as Caucasian. Evidently, there are a lot of POC (people of color) who portray these characteristics in movies, but we don’t see them a lot in the mainstream media or in indie films. That’s why we lean more towards what we envision when we hear words like artsy and bohemian. And when we think about POC, we often think about hip hop, rap, twerking, booty shorts, gold chains and money cash hoes.
But it’s 2018 and new generations are rising and sharing their voices through social media like Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and making them their own.
“Art hoe” is a term made by Mars, a 15-year old African American girl through her Tumblr “sensitive black person”. While sites like Urban Dictionary give several funny explanations of this term like “a hoe who is mysterious and chill and like hippy-ish and good at art”, Mars explains that it’s more than just taking pretty pictures. “Non-binary people of color don’t really have a stable platform where they can prove and show what they’re capable of without being questioned about their identity”, says Mars for Dazed magazine. She aims to use artistic expression against cultural stereotyping and now the movement has gained a lot of support from teen icons like Amandla Stenberg and Willow Smith.
But how did “art hoe” become popular? The majority of posts in the beginning were selfies with #arthoe in the description. But those selfies were special because of an added twist. With a few extra squiggles, a beautiful collage of Picasso or Basquiat in the background, those pictures made an impact and gave different people a platform to express themselves. It became an inclusive space for everyone who was feeling different, not just the POC.
But with that said there was also some backlash regarding the inclusivity of “art hoe”. As we all know, everything that is popular brings more people and especially with styles, everybody starts copying. Not many POC were thrilled to suddenly have Caucasian teens trying to recreate the style and use the hashtag, because they felt they were missing the point. “We don’t have a voice in this society. It’s usually subdued by our white counterparts, and our anger is taken for granted – having this movement gives people an insight into who we really are”, Mars explains for Dazed magazine. On one hand, she has a point. Throughout the history we could see how when it comes to “borrowing” from other cultures, Caucasians usually never openly credited their sources for things that other races did. Different styles have been used, shaped and in most instances culturally appropriated into the mainstream, while forgetting to acknowledge the background where they stemmed from. And this still occurs today. One of the biggest examples is how fashion in general treats Caucasian girls wearing African American inspired looks and how women of color are treated wearing the same looks. For many instances, Caucasian girls (if they wear for example cornrows) are given compliments like urban, daring and exotic, while women of color are given complaints like ratchet, ghetto and unprofessional (especially at work place).
Urban Dictionary has made another definition of the word ”art hoe” to criticize its rapid popularity: “It’s important to note the term was first coined by POC. Today it is mostly used to refer to white girls who are “quirky” and “different” that probably have micro bangs, masturbate to bands you’ve never heard of and never shut up about how they exclusively shop at thrift shops.”
And in 2018 where the political climate reached new high and political correctness is in full effect, POC are trying to take back what’s theirs, but in doing so, some of them have become blinded by hate and frustration. Because multiculturalism has been shaping our lives for years now, a cultural divide feels like a big slap in the face for everyone. While I understand the depth of their anger rooting in years of seeing their culture gaining popularity, while leaving them in the background, style divide for me is not the answer. And for some, this may seem like a rant, but not every movement is immune to criticism. By the looks of it, it all comes down to the point how inclusive one style or movement can be. And of what we can see, the word “inclusive” is thrown around a lot without its true definition. When you encounter a certain movement or style that resonates with you and preaches about inclusivity, you are usually drawn to it. But when the style or movement starts to disrespect or verbally put down someone who just wants to find a new platform to express themselves (“it’s just our thing”, “it’s not for you”, “you wouldn’t understand”, “you have it easy”), then the main point of inclusivity wears out.
Besides the inclusivity, we also have to ask ourselves when is someone appreciating a style or a culture and when is someone appropriating it. If a person chooses to dress a certain way with the respect and understanding of a culture, a style or a statement that person should be respected because of their choice and left alone. But if a person dresses in a certain way for mockery reasons, being offensive or doesn’t know the deeper meaning behind an item of clothing, then we can call it appropriation. Of course, the internet has lots of them and people need to inform each other if what they are doing is wrong and why.
But an important question still remains: what should we as non POC do? Well we need to start writing down our sources. We need to acknowledge the inspirations behind our hairstyles, hashtags and use of slang terms to give credit where credit is due, because everyone deserves it. We need to stop associating different styles to different races, because everybody has a right to express themselves in whatever style they seem to like. We need to expand our minds when looking into styles. To some styles are just a fad, to many they are a way to communicate. So, we need to learn more about styles and show our knowledge and appreciation. And if we encounter someone who doesn’t like to see us expressing ourselves in that way, we need to listen to their arguments and have meaningful counterarguments.
So, if you like to dress quirky, have a backpack, listen to ”Cigarettes after sex” or ”Brock Hampton”, shop at thrift stores and snap with your polaroid camera, you are not alone. Whether you call yourself a “bohemian” or an “art hoe”, it’s up to you.
Guest Writer: Ana Manojlovic Habicht
Photography: Jovana Piljic
Model: Ana Manojlovic Habicht
Graphic design: Ana Znidarsic