Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?
Cultural appropriation plays on the racial paradigms of society, reducing the borrowed culture to a one dimensional function.
- The recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.
- a full understanding of a situation.
The issue of cultural appropriation has been a hot topic lately amongst minorities, mostly within black and Native American communities. Cultural appropriation in simple terms, is the act of adopting elements of a different culture and making it your own. This can range from being as simple as a garment of clothing or as complex as phonetics. I’ve come across many posts (mostly just trolls arguing on Facebook) written by individuals trying to claim that people are not appropriating but rather appreciating cultures. Sadly enough, I am sure that there are many people who agree that appropriation “is not a thing”; however, those in marginalized communities would beg to differ. My goal here is to highlight the difference between the two and hopefully clear up the confusion.
Firstly, I cannot complete this post without stating that cultural appropriation is a tricky topic to discuss due to the diversity of the world we live in. We are all, to some degree borrowing elements of various cultures. But think of it like this: imagine I borrow a sweater from you and never give it back. Okay it’s whatever if you don’t need it. Then you see me wearing it one day, call me out and I’m like, “what are you talking about, this is mine”, or even go far as to say, “it didn’t look good on you anyway”. Perhaps I’m sharing your sweater with others, or I even try to sell it….Essentially, this scenario is cultural appropriation. On a bigger scale though, cultural appropriation plays on the racial paradigms of society, reducing the borrowed culture to a one dimensional function. For example, what is known as black culture is far more than booty shaking, wearing grillz and talking “gangsta”, yet musicians like Miley or Iggy choose to portray black culture in that manner. Where are the black women in Miley’s videos when there is no twerking or over sexualisation involved? (something to think about) Appropriation also tends to romanticize parts of one’s culture that historically were not so glamorous, like the Native American headdress. It might look cool to you, but don’t wear it if you do not know the story behind it. That brings me to taking us back on a trip down memory lane.
Appropriation tends to romanticize parts of one’s culture that historically were not so glamorous
I think the main thing that some people fail to recognize is the historical context behind appropriating. Think back to the days of black face. At a time in our wonderful world, the face of black people did not exist in theatre unless painted on and portrayed by white stage performers. This concept started as early back as the 1500’s, although it was popularized in the 1900’s and went on until the Civil Rights era (terrible!). Mainstream black face helped pave the way for racist attitudes and images of black culture that are still quite evident, even today.
In the 1950s, appropriation took its form when white musicians began replicating the styles that were significant to black culture, and blacks were denied credit or compensation. This led to musical forms such as rock-n-roll being largely associated with whites although black musicians were the masterminds behind the form. Imagine how different rock-n-roll would have been if it was seen predominantly as “black music”.
Unfortunately, these types of things are still happening. The efforts of blacks are rarely appreciated/ looked down on until whites get their hands on it. Hair styles (wtf is a boxer braid), clothing, slangs, styles of dancing (why is twerking now an “in” thing?) are the most common examples.
Another thing that people need to consider is the present day treatment of marginalized communities. Black women have been wearing braids for years, and some are called unkempt and have even been denied job opportunities because of their hair. However, on a white woman (specifically in the media) these same styles are seen as bold/ unique fashion statements. Look at the issue that happened recently when Mac cosmetics used a black woman to advertise lipstick. It was disgusting to see how many people were posting racist comments on the picture, but I am so certain that these same people would say Angelina is gorgeous or that Kylie looks better than before.
So hopefully, it’s starting to make sense why people get so pissed when Kylie roams around with boxer braids (actually called cornrows or French braids), or when Taylor Swift shoots a video only depicting the landscapes and animals of Africa and not the people. We live in a society of systemic racism. It’s inbred in many of us to look down on certain groups of people (speaking for society as a whole) so naturally we second guess any success attributed to these groups. This is why credit needs to be given where it’s due. Pretending to live in a colorless world where appropriation does not exist is a huge problem. If individuals like Miley or Iggy actually took more time to give back to black communities or rally for us when we do not have a voice, things would definitely change.
We live in a society of systemic racism. It’s inbred in many of us to look down on certain groups of people (speaking for society as a whole) so naturally we second guess any success attributed to these groups
Now on to the topic of appreciation…
Even the dictionary specifically states that appreciation is “a full understanding of something”. So how can I claim to appreciate a culture if I’m ignorant about the good, bad and ugly involving that culture? No one is saying that you cannot enjoy what other people have to offer, but you cannot do it haphazardly. Who am I to wear a hijab/ turban as a fashion statement without learning its significance or believing that all “brown people” are terrorists? Who am I to have an entire playlist of Tupac on my Spotify but then scream #alllivesmatter when confronted with #blacklivesmatter? As a whole, we need to evaluate the way we think about and approach these issues, because clearly this is a very real and potentially dangerous problem.
So I’ll finish it off with these simple words: Appreciate my culture, but don’t deny my struggle!
Peace. Love. Unity