DIVERSITY: Appreciating appropriation
Cultural appropriation has received negative connotation in America where social justice advocates view white-skinned folks as unredeemable.
Allow me to loosely define what ‘cultural appropriation’ is. It is a word widely associated with the white Western world adopting a minority’s culture for fashion as a costume or as a form of self-expression.
This is a huge no-no with social justice warriors, who continue to espouse the same rhetoric that a person of the culture must invite an outsider in order for them to participate in a cultural activity and event, or even a traditional garment. Some even argue that language must require the approval of a native speaker for one to learn it.
I often see that these advocates ignore the cross-pollination that naturally occurs within an environment, namely the entire world. The U.S. in particular is not a homogenous society — it’s multicultural — despite the apparent whiteness of the media.
It is true there are some individuals that avoid or restrain from wearing their culture’s traditional or ceremonious garb due to fear of being targeted out of xenophobia (the fear of anything foreign or seen as different e.g. hate crimes), whereas a white person can don a bindi and be fine. But let’s not confuse culture as being synonymous or equal to race and ethnicity because it extends past these concepts. For example, a sport can have its own culture.
Cultural appropriation is a complicated topic, as there are layers of intersectional values sewn together, like race, and beyond that identity. Culture is an abstract concept that has developed throughout history within ethnicities and geographical regions. It is a family quilt in humanity’s home.
On the surface, cultural appropriation looks like cultural hijacking, but we cannot talk about cultural appropriation without discussing cultural exchange. The lines between the two will always be blurred because it is never neutral. Cultural exchange promotes understanding. Cultural appropriation is not always wrong — it inspires growth and evolution.
I believe the reason why the topic of cultural appropriation is difficult and oftentimes painful in America is because growth is uncomfortable. It is especially in a country whose origins are bound up in theft. The topic of cultural appropriation is a reminder of America’s original sin.
But I believe in exercising empathy. The engagement between cultures allows an individual to fulfill literature’s unshakeable reasoning that entering another’s consciousness expands our own.