We try to navigate the complexities of cultural appropriation vs cultural appreciation, and how to really understand all races, religions, ethnicities and cultures.
Currently, it is so important to understand the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation. The last thing you want is to upload a photo to social media that is inherently offensive to other people without even realising it. Not to mention being slandered by those who it affects. Receiving the label ‘culturally insensitive’ or ‘culture vulture’ and being attacked for such a thing is not a realm of argument you want to find yourself in.
It can be an uncomfortable conversation to try and navigate at times, but the only way we’re going to become more comfortable with it is to keep talking about it and normalising these boundaries. The debate divides on whether it’s an ode of respect or exploitation. Everyone seems to have different opinions on what these terms mean. Who has the right to define it and the impact it has on minorities?
So, what is cultural appropriation?
Well, it’s basically choosing your favourite parts from the culture of a minority without educating yourself on its significance or purpose for your own personal interest.
How about cultural appreciation?
Cultural appreciation on the other hand, is about respecting and trying to understand another culture to improve your worldview and connection. For example, there is a difference between wearing an Indian Bindi to a festival as a fashion statement and wearing a traditional sari at an Indian wedding to pay respect. You can see here how context is everything.
Now that you get the overall picture, here are some ways to avoid cultural appropriation.
#1 Educate Yourself
We cannot stress this enough. Ask yourself if there are any cultural connections to the item you want to wear. If so, determine its cultural significance, history and its people. How can you genuinely appreciate something if you don’t know anything about it? Am I using someone else’s faith or culture as a fashion accessory? Is it inherently Asian, Latino or Black? Check out more information on those fighting for equality and diversity in Hollywood.
‘Ignorance is bliss’ can only take you so far in life. And at some point it’ll turn around and bite you. For example, Kim Kardashian’s shapewear line being called Kimono was met with huge backlash because it appropriated a traditional Japanese outerwear and was reduced to an undergarment for financial gain. The fact that not a single person in her team was able to point out the insulting ramifications of using the term is alarming.
And whilst it was not intended to offend, clearly accurate research was not performed and because of that, they completely missed the mark. See what we’re trying to say here?
#2 Help Educate Others
Call it out but not in an aggressive way that puts people on the defensive. No one likes to be told they’re in the wrong, it’s a natural thing for people to try and justify their actions. Don’t crucify people unless they’re unwilling to see your point of view, then by all means go full steam ahead! Sometimes, in cases such as these people can be so close minded that there’s almost no point in trying to fight against them or increase their awareness – it’ll just fall on deaf ears.
Social media has provided minorities with an avenue and outlet that enables them to call out and raise awareness about cultural appropriation. We should use it to have open conversations with different cultures around the world and learn to understand their perspectives. It’s important to not jump the gun and assume.
#3 Be Transparent About Your Inspirations
Pay homage and credit to the cultural sources you draw inspiration from. Remember in school as a kid, how you would get annoyed if someone copied your painting and claimed it as their original idea? Would your reaction be different if they had said, ‘your painting is so cool is it okay if I used your ideas on my own?’ We’re not trying to simplify the complexities of cultural appropriation. But it helps bring out the point that, in a lot of cases any form of imitation isn’t appreciated unless there is permission.
#4 Is it Necessary?
The complications that can arise from taking certain aspects you like from a culture for your own personal interest, is that you are adopting the culture of people you’re likely to not fully understand. If you’re not a minority, you can’t begin to even comprehend the hardships that group has experienced or imagine what it’s like to walk a day in their shoes. If you do fall into a minority but of a different type, you can relate to these difficulties in some way, but each culture’s struggles vary still. So, you should ask yourself, out of all the items of clothing and accessories I could wear – Do I really need to wear this?
#5 Dress Appropriately at Halloween and Other Themed Parties
If there’s ever going to come a time where you should be culturally appropriate, it would be at one of these events. There’s just something about Halloween and themed parties that people think allows them to just pick anything they like and racism is thrown out the window. Let’s get things straight.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself when you’ve got these events on.
· Are the terms tribal or traditional used to describe the clothing? For example, a traditional Japanese Kimono.
· Are there items that are specific to a certain culture that hold deep significance? For example, a Native Indian Headdress.
· Are you contributing to or perpetuating stereotypes of a culture that could be viewed as offensive or damaging? For example, painting your skin a different colour and putting on an accent.
#6 What to do When Your Culture is Privileged
If you happen to be born into privilege, use your power to support minorities. Don’t talk for them or over them, just raise awareness to what they have to say. For example, sharing a blog or retweeting a post made by a minority on cultural appropriation saying that you support and agree with what they have said. Often, Caucasians feel uncomfortable or afraid to participate in the conversation because they are worried they will be shunned, dismissed or attacked. People of any culture should be allowed to ask questions in a safe space that educates and enlightens people to different perspectives. Without getting vilified.
#7 When You Understand its Significance and Still Want to Wear It
Australia is a multicultural country and university tends to be a very diverse place. Because of this you will find a variety of people from difficult cultures in many areas. Wherever you go, you’ll find pockets of South East Asian, Indian and Chinese influences, amongst others such as Eastern European. With so much appreciation for these cultures such as their cuisine or having travelled there, it can sometimes be a hard line to define when there are people who genuinely admire and understand that culture.
Also, if you grow up in a community and neighbourhood that is mostly influenced by, for example, a Vietnamese community, you may naturally adopt traits and preferences that are typically Vietnamese. It’s not fair to assume that every person is carelessly appropriating.
It is your social responsibility to constantly check in with yourself on your intentions. Increase your understanding of the relationship between your culture and the culture you are wearing, be educated on its cultural significance and stay engaged in a dialogue with that culture.
Cultural appropriation is complicated but greater understanding is gradually happening.