1) What is Cultural appropriation?
Cultural appropriation is the taking on elements of other cultures and removing these elements from their original cultural context and ending up assigning different meanings and significance to them… that is to say you twist a cultural aspect that does not belong to you into your own.
It is wrong because it:
- Invalidates: the culture/society/the people
- Homogenizes: lets look at the white girls wearing warbonnets and mukluks. War bonnets are worn traditionally only by various Native plains tribes and mukluks are boots made of usually seal skin warn/made traditionally by Alaskan/Arctic natives. This haphazard and disrespectful throwing together different pieces of two completely different Native cultures which is portraying an image of homogeneity and reinforces the stereotype that there is just one Native American culture and they are all the same, which reinforces oppression and racism.
- Commodifies: putting a monetary value on something that should not be sold or purchased or marketed in any way, eg. spiritual practices.
- Reinforces stereotypes: which reinforce oppression and racism-a tool of colonisation.
- Distorts traditions into inaccurate and offensive caricatures
- Romanticises cultures: often this is something that results in entire groups of people being seen as ‘something that used to exist’ as opposed to people with lives and cultures that exist and flourish today. You get this a lot with Native American and Canadian culture.
- Eroticises/exoticizes people: this is incredibly dehumanising.
2) Who can do cultural appropriation?
A Japanese teen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a big American company is not the same as Madonna sporting a bindi as part of her latest reinvention. The difference is history and power. Colonization has made Western Anglo culture supreme–powerful and coveted. It is understood in its diversity and nuance as other cultures can only hope to be. Ignorance of culture that is a burden to Asians, African and indigenous peoples, is unknown to most European descendants or at least lacks the same negative impact.
It matters who is doing the appropriating. If a dominant culture fancies some random element (a mode of dress, a manner of speaking, a style of music) of my culture interesting or exotic, but otherwise disdains my being and seeks to marginalize me, it is surely an insult.
That being said, PoCs(People of Color) can culturally (mis)appropriate each other. I as a Afro-Latina can’t just don on a hangbok because I love South Korean culture. It’s not a custom, and that hangbok bears a lot of significance to South Korean culture and it’s not my symbol to try to represent.
When a PoC does cultural appropriation on other PoC it is more disrespectful adn perpetuates stereotypes than anything. When a white person does it is oppressive because whites have privilege and power.
3) How can I appreciate and admire another culture, without venturing into cultural appropriation?
1) Is it marketed to you as an object/custom from a marginalised culture without any context? If yes/unsure, don’t do it.
2) What are your reasons? Are you appreciating it because you feel bored, or because it’s cool, or you think it’s aesthetically pleasing (“exotic”)? If the answer to any of these is yes/unsure, then don’t do it.
3) What is the history/meaning of objects/languages/rituals in the culture? Are you aware of the meanings/history of these things? Will you be using them in a way that misrepresents them, or diminishes their power? If yes/unsure, don’t do it.
4) Are you comfortable with the understanding that as someone benefiting from imperialism, even if your local history does not have any, you may be contributing to the suppression of others’ cultural symbols, & that by your actions there is a strong possibility of further oppression? Are you willing to work through the nuances of privilege that occur when the question of cultural appropriation is brought up? If your answer to the second is no, and to the first is yes, then don’t do it.
5) If someone from calls you out on appropriation/racism, are you going defend your perceived right to appreciate their heritage, & how they shouldn’t be offended? If the answer is yes/unsure, you definitely shouldn’t do it.
Next time you want to go around making dream-catchers, screaming “kawaii”, and wearing a kimono all the sake of ”I really love this culture, I am homage paying to them” think about this:
You are stripping down another person’s IDENTITY and CULTURE in order to conform to your own views on them, which just further perpetuates stereotypes. These stereotypes can be anything from “omg these Japanese people are so kawaii desu, and so weird an awesome” when you misappropriate their culture to “all black people are rappers and dance so good…” when you try to copy black culture.
There comes a point where you are now a walking caricature of the another culture by exotifying and romanticizing their culture and that’s offensive and dehumanizing. So please, re-evaluate your “admiration” with the points listed above to make sure you are appreciating respectfully rather than misappropriating blindly.