• Simply GenZ

Things everyone should know about cultural appreciation or appropriation

Cultural appropriation refers to the use of objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that doesn't respect their original meaning, give credit to their source, or reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression.

In this way, cultural appropriation is a layered and nuanced phenomenon that many people may have trouble understanding—or may not realize when they are doing it themselves.

It may be natural to merge and blend cultures as people from different backgrounds come together and interact. In fact, many wonderful inventions and creations have been born from the merging of such cultures, such as country music. However, the line is drawn when a dominant cultural group makes use of elements of a non-dominant group in a way that the non-dominant group views as exploitative.

It’s relatively easy for us to experience another culture today. Film, television, and social media keep us connected at all times, giving us a glimpse into how other people around the world live. How they dress, What they eat, What holidays and traditions they celebrate, All this connection can inspire genuine cultural appreciation. But experiencing another culture doesn’t automatically mean you understand it, or that you should start claiming elements of that culture as your own.

Cultural appreciation can easily turn into cultural appropriation. Instead of honouring another culture, appropriation demeans and dishonours. It perpetuates harmful stereotypes and deepens divides between communities. But it can be avoided. We can honour and celebrate other cultures without inadvertently diminishing them along the way.

Appreciation is to learn more about a culture so you can better understand it. This quickly transforms into appropriation the moment you try to use that culture for yourself. Appreciation has you looking to others to guide the conversation. It keeps you clearly in the role of student.

Appropriation is where you take from others and then put yourself in a position of authority. A lot of the time, this goes unnoticed. When you use the word “tribe” to describe your friendship group, you don’t actively going out of your way to hurt Native Americans. You may not mean to cause any disrespect, yet taking from another culture for your own gain is a form of stealing, just as taking someone else’s words and using them as your own is plagiarism.

Defining Cultural Appropriation :

  • Culture refers to anything associated with a group of people based on their ethnicity, religion, geography, or social environment. This might include beliefs, traditions, language, objects, ideas, behaviours, customs, values, or institutions.

  • Appropriation refers to taking something that doesn't belong to you and most often refers to an exchange that happens when a dominant group takes or borrows something from

  • Cultural appreciation is the respectful borrowing of elements from another culture with an interest in sharing ideas and diversifying oneself. Examples would include learning martial arts from an instructor with an understanding of the practice from a cultural perspective or eating Indian food at an authentic Indian restaurant. A minority group that has historically been exploited or oppressed.

Good intentions alone are not enough to steer clear of cultural appropriation. But they do matter.

Those questions again:

  • Do I understand the significance of what I’m doing here?

  • Am I honouring this culture, or simply imitating it?

  • Am I perpetuating a stereotype and hurting people who belong to this culture?

  • Am I doing this as a personal opportunity to interact with and experience another culture, or am I doing this for a photo I can post online?

Ignorance is not bliss. Cultural appropriation is a real issue in today’s connected world. Everyone is capable of connecting with almost everyone else. It’s easier than ever to gain a basic understanding of many cultures. Yet a time is sparse, we’re more easily distracted, and we often don’t do the work to discern the good information from the truly Snopes-worthy content on the internet.

Cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation often come down to one thing: intention.

Wearing henna for a summer music festival can quickly turn into cultural appropriation.

But wearing henna to your Indian friend’s wedding may be a sign of cultural appreciation and respect.

Cultural appropriation divides people and reinforces toxic stereotypes. It leads to misunderstanding and prejudice. And it sets us all up to be at odds with one another.

The differences between cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation are often fine.

What begins as a celebration of another culture can quickly transform into appropriation because it’s done for the wrong reasons or because we don’t take the lead from the right people.

We live in a beautiful and diverse world. We should celebrate and enjoy the many different and contrasting cultures. They help give texture and creativity and diversity to our world. But as we appreciate other cultures, let’s be sure we’re doing it with the right intentions—to learn, to gain understanding, and to ultimately show honour and value.

Writer - Hrishita Dev

Editor - Jigisha Hota

Illustrator - Shaina Rahman

Graphics - Thea Sinsin