I am pretty sure that as we are in 2020, we all are aware of the term ‘Cultural Appropriation’. To keep it in simple words, cultual appropriation, is taking intellectual property, cultural expressions, artifacts, history, and ways of knowledge from a culture that is not one’s own. In the justice sense, it is concerned with the difference between respectful and disrespectful “taking”. Cultural Appropriation typically involves members of a dominant group exploiting the culture of less privileged groups, often with little or no understanding of the latter’s history and traditions.
For example, the famous Coachella festival. This festival attracts all the people indulging in cultural appropriation. From wearing bindi to appropriating African culture. In defense some say that non western people wearing jeans or speaking in english are taking from dominant cultures too. But here’s the thing, marginalized groups don’t have the power or to be precise aren’t given the power to stick with their customs or try dominant culture’s traditions for fun.
For eg, Native students are suspended for speaking in their own native languages. They adapt the western traditions to fit in or to survive without facing discrimination. In simpler words, context matters.
Cultural appropriation steals the credits.
Cultural appropriation has a nasty habit of giving the dominant group credit for aspects of a culture that they have taken, reinforcing the power imbalance between the two groups. Many white celebrities have started fake tanning, to an extent where one can’t even recognize them.
On one hand the dominant culture fetishizes dark skin tone and on the other hand still hold prejudice for people of colour.
For example, Kylie Jenner was credited with starting an ‘edgy’ new hair trend, while black actress Zendaya faced criticism for wearing her hair the same way. While Kylie Jenner, a person with no ties to black culture, was given credit for taking something that wasn’t hers. Oh, and let’s not forget about white people mocking Indians for their accent and then wearing a ‘Namaste’ t-shirt to look edgy.
It’s also an unsettling reminder that the process of taking our practices from us isn’t over, as white folks end up having more access to our practices than we do.
The sweeping trend of yoga in the US is an example of this.
Did you know yoga was once banned in India as part of the “racist and orientalist narratives” that characterized Indian people as perverse heathens who had to conform to Western ways? The bands of yogis who resisted the ban rose up to challenge the oppressive British rule.
These days, it seems like yoga’s everywhere, and practitioners don’t have to challenge the rules of the government to reach it. It can bring up some sensitive feelings to say that non-South Asian people who do yoga are appropriating culture, because the practice benefits many people throughout the US.
Many people will say upon hearing negative feedback about instances of appropriation that it wasn’t their intent to offend, or that they had the best intentions. Damage can be done regardless of intention.
To avoid cultural appropriation and to foster cultural appreciation, we should learn about the diverse cultures that exist today. Don’t just borrow elements of a culture because “it is “cool” or “exotic,” but learn about the culture first and then decide if it is an element that makes sense for you to use in your life.
If you can gain knowledge about the culture and perhaps use the cultural element in the way that it was intended, you will be able to give voice to a culture that for years has been misrepresented by society and the media.
Make sure to always check your privilege and prioritise respect of a culture over that kimono, hanbok, or black hairstyles you’re itching to post a selfie in. Cultural wear is more than a costume, more than a fashion accessory and more than ‘expressing yourself’. There is thin line between appreciation and appropriation.