January 31, 2017
By definition, cultural appropriation happens when one culture adopts elements from another culture into their own without the other’s permission.
From the rising popularity of tribal tattoos to Kylie Jenner wearing her hair in cornrows, it seems that cultural appropriation has been attached to unrelated trends.
This is a concept that only serves to promote the labeling and segregating of different cultures, and it doesn’t do anything to advance the progress of multiculturalism.
I don’t support offensive caricatures or the exploitation of different cultures, but I firmly believe that representation matters and credit should be paid where it’s due.
Stereotyping and cultural appropriation are two different concepts. The use of blackface in your Halloween costume? Not cool. Elle magazine calling a dashiki the fashion industry’s newest must-have item? Ignorant.
Ignoring other religions’ and cultures’ observance of holidays such as Ramadan and Passover is also offensive.
But a Caucasian man enjoying reggae music and wearing his hair in dreadlocks, incorporating diverse cuisines in my cooking or wearing henna is different.
Instead of offensive parodies or generalizations, these trends are personal decisions made to express yourself and the way you live, similar to tattoos, jewelry or body piercings.
People who adopt another culture’s customs don’t mean to be offensive; it’s a form of flattery.
Every culture is fluid and always changing, growing and elaborating.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but now it is taken as an offensive dismissal.
Where people of different backgrounds come together, there will always be an exchange of ideas and customs. Clothing, grooming, food, language and mannerisms can cross over cultural lines and become normalized, but that doesn’t make it theft.
Take a moment to ask yourself where we would be if cultural exchanges never happened.
Western civilization wouldn’t have had the Renaissance or the science that we learn about today. Many of our tools and ideas in the practice of astronomy, mathematics, engineering and meteorology can be traced directly back to Chinese principles.
Our number system is based off of Arabic numerals, and we model our universities and hospitals after Moroccan traditions. Would you consider this cultural appropriation?
Yes, appropriation can be done clumsily. Some item’s or custom’s significance may not translate. At that point, it is our responsibility to learn more and be sensitive to the culture we are modelling ourselves after.
While it might not be done correctly every time, I believe the use of portions of other cultures builds a bridge between different groups.
We are living in an increasingly diverse society, in a nation of blurred boundaries and extremes.
We love the idea of diversity, acceptance and being a “melting pot.” All of these ideas are great and should be encouraged as much as possible.
But we can’t be a melting pot if we’r e going to separate all of the ingredients.