By: Asma Mohamed
Cultural appropriation is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs and practices of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society. Cultural appropriation is something that is heavily prevalent in our society and has been for years. Throughout history marginalised communities have been forced or profusely encouraged to assimilate into the dominant culture. However, their culture still remains targeted by people wanting to try something “different” and more “exotic” all the while claiming it as their own. The appropriation of culture can range through a number of things such as music, cultural garments, customs and styles e.t.c. Unfortunately cultural appropriation is still a concept people are either unaware of or don’t fully understand. It’s important that people grasp knowledge of what it really is and how it can affect different communities.
A lot of times when people are called out on their cultural appropriation they often respond saying how they only meant to honour the culture as it’s something they love and respect. However people don’t realise that there is a fine line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Cultural appropriation is the cultivation of certain practices within a culture without acknowledgement of its origin. Cultural “appreciation is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally”.
Cultural appropriation relates to white privilege as it stems from colonisation and the stripping of customs. It is predominantly dependent on the erasure of the culture being appropriated. This relates to the concept of cultivation without consent as when Europeans first came to North America they viewed Indigenous people as barbaric and uncivilised for having different customs. Due to this misjudgement they took land away from the Natives, enforced white supremacy whilst profiting on their culture. Europeans in America would sell fur clothes to people in Europe and presented it as a new fashion trend even though Indigenous people had been wearing it far longer. However, cultural appropriation doesn’t end there. There are plenty of modern examples of cultural appropriation within various other cultures. For instance, the integration of yoga into mainstream society. Yoga is an ancient spiritual Hindu, Jain and Buddhist practice that has been so watered down in modern culture that it's now referred to as another form of physical exercise. This relates to white privilege because white people have the power to take the easy psychical parts of this practice without simultaneously disregarding all the hard mental and spiritual work that has to go into yoga and make it as if it is their own.
Celebrities and public figures play a key role in normalising and endorsing cultural appropriation. Celebrities and people of large followings hold high influential power that is immersed throughout the public. Thereby creating universal opinions normalising appropriated culture. This occurs because when people see someone they look up to or view as someone superior to them they begin to follow the actions or tellings of that person. This factor directly impacts not only the level of cultural appropriation we see in modern culture, but also our attitudes towards it. Seeing celebrities that we admire and view as superior nonchalantly appropriate culture without a second thought allows many members of the public to not only think this is okay, but also to follow suit and appropriate the same culture themselves. This is clearly illustrated through the rise of “influencers” and the ways in which despite the amount of negative feedback influencers receive because of cultural appropriation, their influence never subsides.
Overall cultural appropriation is a dangerous practice in our society as it only helps to push further into the marginalisation of different communities. As these communities have to watch their culture be stolen and profited from. This is why it’s necessary to recognise cultural appropriation in our communities and call them out for what they are. Seeing as if you really think about it throughout school you are told never to plagiarise as credit should be given where credit is due. Therefore shouldn’t we acknowledge the cultures that introduced us to the different things that we love. This is incredibly important for the betterment of society as it helps to give people of colour the recognition and space in this world that they deserve in order to create a more inclusive world.