Drawing the line at what is appreciation and appropriation.
One might think the sharing of cultures can be considered as showing solidarity and acceptance of the beauty each of our roots hold. However, others argue that there are some things that are simply off limits and should be admired from afar. The question is, where do we draw the line?
“I would define cultural appropriation as the act of taking an aspect of a culture that is not yours and redefining it or using it for personal gain only (…) also using elements from another culture in a disrespectful manner, without giving credit and reinforcing stereotypes about that specific culture,” Oluwatoyosi Fowowe, an 11th grader from TAEHS, explained. The main issue presented is that people from the culture being appropriated are ridiculed and looked down upon for practicing certain traditions and representing their culture, while the person doing the appropriating is praised. Oftentimes, we as POC get defensive about many of our cultural practices due to the deep rooted history within them.
“In my experience, and in the experiences of my friends, cultural appropriation opens way to casual racism. Additionally, when cultural appropriation is not recognized, it can cause harm to the often marginalized cultures as they will only continue to be silenced and stereotyped,” Anushka Bhumkar, first year student at University of Georgia, said. This does open a new can of worms, but subtle forms of racism are overlooked along with having an unconscious bias. This also adheres to the fact that cultures are so much more than what is displayed of them to others.
With this understanding of appropriation, what is considered appreciation? Well, let’s say you have a friend whose family comes from a culture completely different from yours. They proceed to invite you to a cultural event and ask you to dress in their traditional wear. Or, you are on a dance team and your next performance includes cultural dances which you are representing respectfully as a way to honor them. These cases are considered appreciation, where one truly respects and admires a culture and its customs during appropriate times and as a way to learn more about the culture.
Cultural appropriation has become widely normalized due to celebrities and social media. Regardless if they did it on purpose or not, a true apology is one where the public figure acknowledges what they did wrong, educates themselves, and does better moving forward.
We all have a part in educating ourselves and doing better for our communities and others. “I believe that we are not obligated to educate others on what they can or can’t do when it comes to our respective cultures.” Oluwatoyosi Fowowe explained. “However, I believe that all individuals have a responsibility to conduct a simple internet search to educate themselves on specific cultures and determine what will be classified as ‘appropriation’ or ‘appreciation’ of that culture.”