By Larelle Jones (Correspondent)
Cultural appropriation, the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture, is nothing new. However, those who are being appropriated are just now finding their voice with the help of social media.
The main controversy with cultural appropriation lies within the difference between admiration and appropriation — when does admiration become appropriation? Writer Kathleen Jolly, in her article “Admire Don’t Acquire,” says that understanding the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is important if for no other reason than because, “it cultural appropriation) brings harm to people, plain and simple.”
Appreciating a culture that is not your own, for example learning the history of a bindi, a decorative mark worn in the middle of the forehead by Indian women, or respecting the Muslim culture and wearing a Hijab, a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women, when visiting Dubai is fine. On the other hand, such an admiration becomes appropriation when someone decides to wear a bindi to Coachella because it’s trendy or chic.
In her article,“Why a Bindi is NOT an example of Cultural Appropriation” blogger Anjali Joshi makes the argument that “We can’t accuse non-Hindus of turning the bindi into a fashion accessory with little religious meaning because, well, we’ve already done that. We did it long before Vanessa Hudgens in Coachella 2014, long before Selena Gomez at the MTV Awards in 2013, and even before Gwen Stefani in the mid-90s…Most South Asians won’t be able to tell you the religious significance of a bindi,” said Joshi.
So, is it ok for Hindus to do such a thing because it is normal not to know the significance of something that has been a part of their life and those around them since as long as they can remember?
Many black women understand the spiritual importance of the hairstyles they have been wearing since a young age and how they are an important part of their culture. Cultural traditions are so important for people of color because they are often denied many things by society.
In a world where race shapes one’s entire life, cultural appropriation is a problem because privileged groups are taking ideas from oppressed groups in society and using them to enhance their reputation or look. Jolly cites Miley Cyrus as, “a wealthy white woman, who is taking elements from black culture in order to achieve a specific image.”
“Cyrus demonstrates the role white privilege plays in cultural appropriation. As one Twitter poster said, “Miley Cyrus exploited hip hop culture then bashed it and hopped back into her white girl innocence phase; having white privilege must be nice.”
“Cyrus picks and chooses what parts of black culture she wants to embrace without having to deal with the racism and racialization that black women live with everyday,” said Jolly.
“Cultures are not to be exploited while people of those cultures are oppressed for it. Miley Cyrus’ attempt at becoming a ‘hip hop’ artist was a journey full of appropriation,” Jolly added.
Society can spread awareness on why cultural appropriation is not okay and why people should be more considerate of others. Such actions would cause more people to think twice about the cold hard truth that comes with the term. Also, harassing people for culturally appropriating will not do anything except reinforce the stereotypes people of color are subjected to.