Previous Experience Required: Cultural Appropriation


Photo collage by Zara Ferro.

Recently, a form of separatism has arisen in which people can not enjoy specific types of music, dance, or food. Through social media several people, particularly celebrities, are being bashed for cultural appropriation. Although many of the ones who are trying to stop the appropriation have the best of intentions, several of them have no true knowledge of what cultural appropriation is, because they not a part of that culture.

Cultural appropriation, by definition, is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture, typically inappropriately. A good example is when people wear specific jewelry, head pieces, and tattoos without understanding or acknowledging the cultural significance, but for aesthetic purposes only.

People have become obsessed with shutting down cultural appropriation; however, it is difficult to draw the line between what would actually be offensive versus a harmless fashion trend. While it is important to stop cultural appropriation, it has been thrown around so much that it lessens the validity when someone tries to address an actual cultural appropriation issue.

Things such as listening to certain genres of music, eating different foods, even doing yoga labeled as cultural appropriation. In Ottawa, a university yoga class was shut down due to complaints of the class not being authentic, “I guess it was this cultural appropriation issue because yoga originally comes from India,” the instructor of the class told a CBC reporter. After hearing about this, I asked a relative, who is of Indian descent, what his thoughts were: “Personally, I am not offended when people do yoga. It has many benefits. If people want to use it for a healthy activity rather than a kind of spiritual enlightenment, that is okay.” He went on to explain how “it is upsetting to see those who are not of or are not practicing the Hindu culture wear a bindi (characteristic dot between the eyebrows). It is often hard to get culprits of cultural appropriation to understand why it is an issue. They don’t get the difference between yoga, an activity of several uses, versus a cultural symbol.” He explained to me that he and his other friends, who are Hindu, feel silenced when it comes to trying to explain real appropriation, “people’s lack of knowledge and constant use of the term has made it even more difficult to get people to understand the inappropriate cultural adaptations.”

People must learn that it is both inappropriate to appropriate culture, but also to shame others for doing it if you have no true understanding on the issue. Understanding the difference between the benefits and harmless enjoyment of elements of another culture, compared to using something for aesthetic purposes is an important realization some people need to make. Unless you have a full understanding or experience, it is best to remain silent on certain issues as to not silence those who are truly being affected by it.

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