Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cultural Appropriation

Kylie Jenner wearing cornrows and calling them box braids, white people wearing bindis at Coachella, Pat Boone performing “Ain’t That A Shame” originally by Fats Domino, these are examples of cultural appropriation. When the cultural majority, in our society, middle and upper class white people, adopt aspects of a traditionally minority culture, such as African Americans, and claim that these ideas are their ideas.  The difficult aspect with cultural appropriation is that there is not a clear boundary between paying homage to a culture and appropriating it.

Many people make the claim that if a person grows up around a certain culture they are bound to adopt the traditions as their own, however this is not what cultural appropriation is. Cultural appropriation is the majority’s exploitation of the minority. And this affects everyone. When our society can still sell Native American Halloween costumes and describe them with phrases like, “whoop and holler in this rustic Native American adult costume this Halloween…” something is wrong. This goes beyond “cultural borrowing,” situations like this continue the perception that First Nations and Indigenous peoples are simply characters from the past, not people who are still a part of society. When popular music artist Miley Cyrus’ producers can say she wants her music “to feel black,” they are using the culture of an entire race to advance a rich white woman’s career. Maybe these don’t sound important but these misappropriations are more common than many people realize.

So what can the majority do if they want to use aspects of other cultures? Give credit where credit is due. If a white man wants to sing a traditional African spiritual, no one is going to stop him but he should be aware that he does not own the narrative of the song. If someone wants to dress up like a Native American for Halloween, they should be allowed to, after all this country does still have freedom of speech, but perhaps it would be worth taking the time to research why they wear the clothing that they do. Every bead on a Native American headdress means something. Take the time to learn what these aspects of culture mean before using them for your own. Don’t rob minority groups of their history and culture. The world is a beautiful place because of all the cultures it encompasses, respect will keep it that way.

Love,
Beth