In my experience, I believe the modern concept of cultural appropriation is flawed. Frankly, I believe that it has totally spun out of control.
Today’s society is a confused one. We currently live in a world where we simultaneously do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings and all feel included, but also want to segregate ourselves and claim things that we can enjoy, but others cannot. I am of course referring to what some call “cultural appropriation”. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “cultural appropriation” is defined as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture” – or in other words, not really racism, but something for us to be offended about.
Now, I understand and sympathise with someone when their culture is blatantly being disrespected or mocked. However, I believe the term “cultural appropriation” has since evolved into something that no longer represents what the term is intended to reflect. It is now something we desperately cling to as a way to preserve our individuality and feel special about something.
We are all just humans who have been creating and sharing things for years. Culture stems from practices of old that were created in a much smaller world, so essentially, the only people we had around to share things with were our own kind. Today, I believe “cultural appropriation” is becoming less and less significant as the world gets more connected, and the term is increasingly being misused and thrown around.
Recently in the news, I have seen social justice warriors getting up in arms about an American teenage girl who decided to wear a Chinese-style dress to her prom. Her photos were met with abuse and backlash because she is not Chinese and has “culturally appropriatedÆ this style of dress. This very type of behaviour in an effort to “defend” your culture is what is pushing society further and further away from a completely inclusive and united world, and only segregates us further.
The whole argument of “cultural appropriation” has grown quite ridiculous. If wearing an Asian-style dress because it is a beautiful design is cultural appropriation, then is eating at a sushi bar also cultural appropriation? If we cannot wear certain clothes, why would we be allowed to eat certain foods by that logic? I’m positive the workers at said sushi bar love having customers, regardless of race or ethnicity.
We live in countries that are getting more and more multicultural by the day. We all fight, or at least like to appear as if we do, for a completely inclusive and fair society; we strive to no longer judge by the colour of someone’s skin or discriminate because of race, gender, or anything but one’s integrity. Yet, while sharing our land and welcoming all, we have the audacity to exclude each other from certain practices by virtue of birthplace. It is one thing to actively mock one’s culture and traditions, but to exclude everyone entirely from enjoying the beautiful things your culture has to offer, and abusing all who do so, is ridiculous.
I want a completely inclusive and equal society for all…when used in these ways, terms like “cultural appropriation” become tools of segregation and attack.
In the situation with the dress, the original photo of the dress posted by the wearer was met with a retweet that stated “my culture is not your prom dress” by an Asian teenager, living in America. It is ludicrous to think that someone who is living away from their original homeland, wearing American brands, eating American food and indulging in American life can abuse and call someone out for wearing a dress that has “culturally appropriated” his culture.
This term, “cultural appropriation”, has evolved from being about genuine concern for tarnishing one’s culture, to being a term that applies to “white people doing things that are not white”. We cannot throw such terms around in such a one-sided manner and defend them so long as they are not directed at ourselves.
I am born and raised in Australia, to a completely South-American family. I love eating asado and drinking mate, but I am not going to claim that no Australians can ever indulge in such things, when I have been living in this country and enjoying Australian culture my whole life.
Enjoying the many things that different cultures around the world have created over the years in a polite and respectful manner, such as wearing the dresses, eating the food, or listening to the music, is absolutely not what we call “cultural appropriation”. It is simply enjoying the many things that this world has to offer, and expanding our knowledge, and indulging in the rich history of human civilisation.
I want a completely inclusive and equal society for all as much as anyone else, and throwing around terms like “cultural appropriation” in such ridiculous ways is only ever going to make that goal so much harder to reach. These are not terms of defence; when used in these ways, terms like “cultural appropriation” become tools of segregation and attack.
We’re all just humans, trying to enjoy things that were created by other humans.
Take pride in your culture, but don’t use it to exclude others and dismantle what we all claim we are working so hard to reach.