Cultural appropriation

Cultural appropriation is the act of taking traditional knowledge, cultural expressions or artifacts from another culture.

Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts parts of a culture that’s not their own. More specifically, though, it’s when people of a dominant culture adopt aspects of an oppressed/marginalized culture.

Cultural appropriation is different from cultural appreciation in that it often adds to the exploitation of a minority group by a dominant group.

Recently, Amandla Stenberg of The Hunger Games pointed out Kylie Jenner’s cultural appropriation, after Kylie posted a picture of herself wearing cornrows. In this case, Stenberg’s problem is not that Kylie wore cornrows per se, but that she did so without any visible care for members of the (black) community the hairstyle comes from. Appropriation is harmful because of the way it erases the cultural context of something, usually something that originates from an already marginalised group.

Another common example of cultural appropriation is the use of Native American headdress by non-Native Americans, who often wear the headgear as an accessory.
The reason this is a harmful practice in Native American culture, the headdress is only supposed to be worn by people who have earned a particular status in their culture. Wearing the headdress without respect to the culture it comes from is appropriation.

Other examples can include the misappropriation of bindis, henna tattoos, geisha costumes, burquas, Día de Muertos symbolism & Basotho blankets when used in a way that shows no respect or understanding of the culture of origin.

It’s important to note that assimilation is not the same as cultural appropriation. There is a difference between adopting aspects of a dominant culture because that culture is enforced on you, and adopting aspects of a marginalized culture for personal gain.

So, if a Zulu person wears a business suit to a job interview, they’re not appropriating ‘white culture’ because it’s expected, it’s the norm, it’s seen as professional. Often people have to assimilate to be accepted and to survive. But if a white person wears a Native American headdress just for fun, that’s appropriation.

Image by Michelle Avenant

Image by Michelle Avenant

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