Cultural appropriation occurs when an individual or a group take aspects of a culture from a minority group and use it for purposes that are unintended by the original culture or even offensive to that culture. Cultural elements from makeup and hairstyles to tattoos, language, and even certain wellness practices that may have deep or sacred meaning to the original culture may be reduced to exotic fashion or toys by those from the dominant culture. A lot of celebrities have faced backlash for this such as Gwen Stefani, Madonna, The Kardashians, Nicki Minaj, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry and most recently, Jackie Aina.
The popular YouTube star who advocates for the visibility of people of color in the cosmetic industry was under fire recently for allegedly appropriating Caribbean culture. Uoma Beauty- a Nigerian owned make up brand selected Jackie Aina and Patrick Starr as the face of their new collection-the Uoma Beauty Black Magic Carnival. Jackie shared images from the carnival inspired shoot on Instagram with the caption “Queen of Carnival! I got to live out my fantasy carnival dreams with Uoma Beauty for their new black carnival collection….”.
However, the campaign was met with a lot of criticism from her followers from the West Indies who have carnivals as a critical part of their cultural heritage. She and Uoma were accused of using their heritage as props to sell the brand’s latest collection especially as it was released during the season for carnivals. They were of the opinion that the brand should have selected beauty influencers from the Caribbeans to sell the brand instead of Jackie Aina who is Nigerian-American.
How did Jackie Aina respond to this attack? Most times, influencers don’t have the power to decide who to use for campaigns, they can however give suggestions or turn down opportunities they think do not align with what their brands represent. But this case is different. Jackie, who has been on the PR list for Uoma beauty for a while took the criticism and backlash from the campaign and came up with a solution. They let her pick four different Caribbean influencers to participate in the campaign. They will each receive $4000 and will also be added to Uoma Beauty’s PR roster. Like a member of the GLG Tribe said, Aina realized “she may have unknowingly taken an opportunity from someone and gave it back 4 times over!” “Not just with a shout out, but money in their pocket, and a new gig plus the brand also learned to do better at inclusive marketing.”
Could the campaign have received a better response if Caribbean beauty influencers were incorporated from the outset? How is it that most of the backlash or all of it went to Jackie Aina and not fellow face of the brand, Patrick Starr as well? What can be said about how Jackie Aina responded to the backlash? Was the backlash an overreaction or was it well deserved? Where is the place of cultural appropriation in an ever advancing world where acceptance is constantly preached? What are some quick brand lessons to be learnt from this? Do share your thoughts.