Appropriation or appreciation? In a time when yoga, Taco Tuesday, and social experiments are popular under the guise of wellness, appreciation, and learning experience, it is difficult to decide the difference between appreciating culture or appropriating it.
We all understand the obvious offenses of appropriation, like geisha Halloween costumes, but how do we tell the difference when certain items and activities begin to blur the line between the two?
The word appropriation is used so little that the context it is used in has created a misunderstanding of its true meaning. Many people believe that cultural appropriation is a phrase simply used to police the actions of white people; it has become an accusation only made by supposed self-righteous feminists and extreme social justice warriors, rather that oppressed minorities.
White people who have dreadlocks or choose to wear a bindi feel personally attacked because they are white people, so they can’t wear what they want. These people genuinely feel like they are being targeted for expressing themselves in a way that makes them feel comfortable, but why is that?
Why does the accusation of cultural appropriation automatically make people push back rather than acknowledge their own downfall?
The problem with accusing people of cultural appropriation is the seldom use of the term in our society, and rather than hearing it come from oppressed minorities, we hear it come from people who are also in privileged positions. There are multiple issues to be found in the way we talk about and acknowledge cultural appropriation.
A large part of this problem arises from the fact that most people in our society do not fully understand cultural appropriation. I, myself, do not understand it as much as I would like to. Cultural appropriation is loosely defined as a member of a dominant culture using the traditions, fashion, symbols, language, food, or music of a minority culture outside the original setting or context.
Most people who are guilty of cultural appropriation do not have any malice toward the minority group that they are all appropriating, but most people do not understand how to appreciate a culture without appropriating it. Appropriation arises when the complexities and struggles of a minority culture are ignored by the privileged party in the act of appropriation.
This issue usually occurs when someone decides to purely imitate surface level aspects of a culture without understanding the culture itself. People who appropriate a culture can make the decision to stop and no longer be a part of the culture or its struggle.
Many people from privileged backgrounds view appropriation as a method of censorship instead of an act that affects and offends real people. This is such an overwhelming reality because most people have never been taught about cultural appropriation and how they can properly appreciate a culture.
Appreciation happens when there is a willingness to exchange ideas between privileged groups and minority groups instead of a mere imitation of a culture. Yoga is a traditionally Buddhist, Hindu, and Jainist practice, but it has become insanely popular among Americans since the 1960’s. Yoga is a spiritual experience for some people while it is just a workout for others. The question is whether participants have done any research about its origins or its cultural meaning.
Yoga blurs the line between appropriation and appreciation because it can be done both ways. Many people do not understand the cultural significance of yoga which is problematic in that it leads to an imitation of culture because people do not know anything about it. You cannot appreciate a culture while knowing nothing about it.
There is also the extreme popularity of cultural foods. Now, I am not one to turn down a taco or some teriyaki chicken, but I can still understand the problem surrounding its popularity. Many people eat these foods, but most dishes are not even true to how they were originally made.
Most cultural foods have been americanized and are no longer the same as when they were made in the country they came from. This shows how these foods have turned into inaccurate imitations of a once cultural food.
I must admit my own faults in that I did not know or understand the true extent of cultural appropriation before writing this article, and while I feel I understand it better now, I still do not know as much as I would like. I feel my own ignorance is a symptom of a larger societal problem that needs to be addressed, more so than a problem with myself that also makes it difficult for me to distinguish between appropriation or appreciation.
When the line becomes blurred between the two, we must realize that we need to more openly discuss the distinctions and flaws in our society in order for us to better understand the reality of appropriation.