Cultural Appropriation is a topic that gets a lot of people into debates and arguments. However, in this globalized society, it is important to know when cultural ‘exchange’ becomes inappropriate and offensive to minorities.
I first understood the essence of the term ‘cultural appropriation’ when I saw Selena Gomez’s MTV Awards performance of her 2013 hit single, “Come and Get it”. She had worn a flowy red dress and a red Bindi on her forehead. Members of certain Hindu groups argued that the Bindi holds religious significance and is an auspicious symbol, sometimes referred to as the third eye and cannot be thrown around to suit the convenience of white people.
Cultural appropriation refers to the act of taking elements from a culture which doesn’t belong to them; it refers to the act when a culturally dominant group takes elements of a culture which has been systematically oppressed over the years. However, it cannot be mistaken for cultural exchange. There exists a very blurry line between the two. One needs to know when the cultural engagement turns into cultural appropriation and becomes offensive. So, when does this happen?
If the culturally dominant group ‘borrows’ products which have deep symbolic meaning attached to them, and uses them in a way which dishonours and mocks them then that becomes disrespectful and is cultural appropriation. It trivializes the oppression and the violence which the people faced. The trauma resulting from it lasts for generations and using their products as fashion accessories is deeply offensive. One can also observe the difference between the way in which the products of a certain culture are received and how people belonging to them are received by the dominant group. They show love for their culture but are highly intolerant of the people belonging to them. It is a matter of concern as the dominant group is able to make money off of it and reap profits and the original creators of the product never get any sort of credit. Cultural appropriation plays a key role in propagating racist stereotypes of a certain culture and spreads false information about them.
It is important to know how one can appreciate a culture without degrading it. It is necessary to take permission whether a certain product can be taken/ used or not. One can also learn about their histories. One should always consider the context of borrowing before using things from another culture. We need to call out appropriation whenever we see any cruel stereotypes and make others aware of it too. As long as such toxic cultural ‘borrowing’ is kept in check, one can be assured that such cultural ‘borrowing’ never crosses the line and becomes appropriation.
Feature Image credit– Lucy Nicholson for Reuters