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Racial Plagiarism and Fashion

by Minh-Ha T. Pham

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This article attempts to chart a path out of the stultifying binary oppositions of “cultural appropriation” and “cultural appreciation” with regard to fashion and beauty forms and practices. “Racial plagiarism,” this essay argues, is a more precise analytic framework for understanding and critiquing the kinds of copying that happen in fashion and beauty contexts than either of the previous terms because it achieves a number of things: (1) it attends to the non-illegal but not unproblematic status of this kind of unauthorized copying; (2) it explicitly connects “racial plagiarism” with other forms of racial and economic exclusions that are also not illegal but not unproblematic; and (3) it demonstrates how non-legal constructions of authorship and copying produce racialized understandings of creativity and criminality.

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