Appropriation is a strong word

The difference of cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation? Understanding what you’re promoting.

Cultural appropriation is a term that rocketed in society in recent years. The adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture makes headlines with negative judgements across the board. In reality, cultural appropriation isn’t always as bad as it seems, under certain circumstances.

Cornrows, headdresses and henna tattoos are among the few examples of cultural practices that have lost their meaning through adoption by teenage girls and pop-stars, regardless of race or culture. Occasionally, when you see these accessories in public, it’s a fashion statement. Many trendy, fashion-forward styles originate from different cultures. I see these trendy wardrobes as inspired by other cultures, not stolen or diminished.

By definition, cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture.” The definition uses no words such as “offensive” or “belittle.”

The meaning of cultural appropriation has been warped in many different ways to support the ideologies of individuals. Some define appropriation as “stealing elements of one culture for the entertainment of members of another culture.” Others define it as “using elements of one culture in admiration by members of another culture.”

The Daily Beast makes that argument in “You Can’t ‘Steal’ a Culture.” They say that the intentions of other cultural groups are admirable. “We get angry simply when whites happily imitate something that minorities do… If one is seen, and seen in an approving light, one will be imitated. This is what human beings do.” They argue that “stealing a culture” is extreme, and unintentionally implies that people are seeking to replace cultures  rather than join them.

When someone travels to another country, they may get cornrows or a henna tattoo in order to involve themselves in the culture. Although, no one bashes a tourist to commit cultural appropriation. People may argue that tourists a whole other story. They’re not. When traveling, people appreciate the culture they’re visiting. When getting a henna tattoo at the Saturday Market, people are appreciating the Indian culture the tattoos originate from.

By definition, assimilation is “the process by which a person acquires the social and psychological characteristics of a group.” Many people argue that assimilation is only okay when living in another culture’s community. When visiting another country for a short time, you’re already assimilating to the culture surrounding you. eople are forbidden from incorporating new habits into their original culture after a vacation. Adapting to one culture as a member as another is seen as cultural appropriation, when it should more logically be seen as assimilation.

Online news site The Atlantic provides, “The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation.” This article includes anti-appropriation examples, such as blackface and the use of sacred artifacts.

Agreed, blackface is never okay. If someone is wearing clothes or accessories inspired by another culture, it’s okay as long as it’s not done offensively. Understood, people occasionally wear certain clothes to mock another culture. That’s less common than society leads on. It’s easier said than done to avoid the use of cultural elements.

Everyday, people eat Chinese food, wear hoop earrings and Halloween costumes as Egyptian mummies or Greek gods. Although, these cultural elements were already appropriated into society, and were adopted into another culture.

Jesuit Sophomore Maya Jaganathan believes cultural appropriation is okay, in some cases. “It’s mainly okay when someone is absorbing [another culture] with full knowledge and is doing so in a respectful way. It would also be acceptable by doing so with full awareness of the other culture. Absorbing other cultures to get a more diverse understanding for that society is acceptable and should even be encouraged.”

The Huffington Post also touched on “Why a Bindi Is NOT an Example of Cultural Appropriation.” They argue that many of these cultural trends aren’t as sacred as they once were in the original culture. Author and Indian Anjali Joshi argues, “We can’t accuse non-Hindus of turning the bindi into a fashion accessory with little religious meaning because, well, [Hindus] have already done that.”

Cultural appropriation has been altered in definition and promoted too frequently in society today. In order to use the term “appropriation,” people need to understand what it means to appropriate. Cultural appropriation shouldn’t always be viewed as negative, and is more likely done out of admiration and inspiration than in attempt to diminish another culture.


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