How to recognise when a culture is celebrated or taken advantage of - and how to address it.
Whether its Kim Kardashian's braids or Adele's Jamaican flag bra at Notting Hill Carnival - there are many examples (often portrayed by the celebrities we glamourise on Instagram) that may bring to light the appropriation of different cultures and civilisations.
As social media progresses, and more celebrities and influencers gain their spotlight, it can be hard to keep up with the fast-paced introduction of trends that are always changing and altering - which are often introduced by the celebrities mentioned. But it also means that more and more people fall victim to accidentally culturally appropriating. But how many people can recognise that difference?
After all, there is a big difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. A huge difference, actually.
What is Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Appreciation?
It's easy to understand this way:
- If you're showing love and appreciation for parts of a culture, such as clothing, hairstyles, or accessories, but then remain prejudiced against its people, that's appropriation. An example of this would be going out to town at the weekend wearing your hair in dreadlocks or braids, and then being dismissive or blatantly discriminatory towards POC. That would be an example of appropriating a culture.
- On the other end of the spectrum, if you take the time to learn, explore, and understand a different culture and then show that in a style that you've developed over a period of time; that's appreciation. An example of that would be: using chopsticks to eat a meal you love because you know you enjoy eating with chopsticks. However, if you then put the chopsticks in your hair and use them as an accessory - that would then slightly fall towards appropriating the culture. Can you see the difference?
Another well-known example is that of Zendaya, when she wore braids to the Oscars in 2015. A lot of people found it strange that a woman of colour was wearing dreadlocks to an event, but when Kendall Jenner wore braids a few months later, it was labelled by the media as 'trendy' and 'bold.'
Zendaya even said herself that, 'It became new and fresh and fun, because it was on someone else other than a black woman. So that is the frustration. That's where the culture appropriation element comes into play." Basically, in a nutshell, appropriating means taking something without their permission. And the bottom line is, cultural appropriation is offensive. Period. If it's offending and upsetting someone - it is cultural appropriation.
How can you spot the difference?
Context plays a huge part in telling whether something is appreciation or appropriation. It depends on the background, the idea behind it, and what made you do it in the first place. Say you were invited to a a friend's family event, who were wearing traditional clothes to celebrate, and they asked you to wear something similar. This would be perfectly fine because it has been requested by the people who experience that culture, and your participation is helping you to learn more about it.
But if you were to then take those traditional clothes home to wear as a Halloween costume, it would then be classed as culturally appropriating.
More often than not, it can be quite easy to make more self-assured moves towards appreciating someones culture rather than just exploiting it because of what you've seen/heard. You can do this by talking to people whose backgrounds differ from your own. Get to know the culture, the history behind it, and understand how and why that significant look is an important part of that culture.
And, if you're ever in doubt whether you could be partaking in appropriation, just ask someone else what they think.
Do you think I could offend someone wearing this?
But, just a word of advice - usually, if you even have to ask the question, that usually means you already know the answer...
What can you do to appreciate rather than appropriate?
If you're wanting to partake in cultural arts of any kind, choose books, music and food that originates from and accurately represents specific cultures, instead of 'culturally-inspired' examples.
Purchase art and other cultural items from the actual creator, and not from a shop or business that typically appropriates the culture.
Take the time to learn about other cultures instead of jumping in with two feet. Research the right pronunciation of names, people and places.
Try not to use slang that could be offensive to typical cultures. Some examples are words like: 'periodt' and 'tribe.'
Sharing any kind of culture can be generally positive. You get the opportunity to learn more about another way of life and share yours as well, which is amazing! The world is a very diverse place, and we all want to learn more about people's backgrounds which would have made people what they are today.
But there is a fine line between appreciating and appropriating, and the more information you have regarding the differences and how to spot the differences, it will allow you to respect and treasure the varieties of cultures we have in the world successfully without accidentally offending anyone.
Even if cultural appropriation doesn't affect you, it will always affect someone else.