By: Subha Ali
The United States is known to be the land of opportunity, leading people to immigrate and start a new life in this country. America has several ethnic groups living in one country, making it highly diverse in many states.
What Is Cultural Appropriation & Why It Matters?
Cultural appropriation is the improper adoption of a culture's traditions, ideas, and practices by a person of another culture. Culture includes customs, beliefs, art, habits, knowledge, and institutions of a community from a specific region.
Cultural appropriation can also be seen as using stereotypes to adopt traditions, ideas, and practices. Professor of multiracial and interracial studies at the University of Washington, LeiLani Nishime, says, “media is an important part of the perpetuation of stereotypes. A lot of mainstream media tends to fall back on stereotypes. The media will focus on those stereotypes and repeat them over and over.”
As of 2020, there are 44.8 million immigrants living in the United States, making the U.S. exceptionally culturally diverse and easy for people to intentionally or unintentionally culturally appropriate.
Opening The Eyes Of Society: What Does Cultural Appropriation Look Like?
One may think they are appreciated another’s culture when instead they are appropriating. Cultural appropriation could look like several different things. Some examples include the following:
Clothing & Accessories: Purchasing traditional clothing or jewelry and using it as a statement when it has cultural significance is appropriation.
Ethnic Jewelry Stand
Social Media: Posting ceremonies, events, or anything with traditional and cultural significance to get likes or attention on social media.
A Sacred Ethnic Wedding Ceremony
Symbols: Using symbols, names, or images for a tattoo, brand, team, etc., connected to a culture with traditional values.
"...tribal face tattoos also known as 'moko,' which were regarded as marks of high status. In ancient Egyptian tattooing, there is also the example of placing tattoos on the bellies of women as a means of safeguarding women during pregnancy and birth." - tattoostylist.com
Art: Copying or creating artwork with cultural aspects incorporated to gain money or attention when you are not part of that culture.
Graffiti Art Composed Of Multiple Cultural Symbology Combined
Hairstyles: Using accessories or styles and saying they are “borrowed” from a culture is inappropriate and inaccurate.
"Dreadlocks are ropes of hair. This style is also known as Jata, Sanskrit, dreads, or locs, which all use different methods to encourage the formation of the locs such as rolling, braiding, and backcombing." - curlcentric.com
A cultural appropriation is a form of disrespect. Using anything connected to religious or spiritual aspects of one’s culture, using ideas withing giving credit or respect to the culture it came from, keeping up with stereotypes, and being offensive is all part of appropriating one’s culture.
How Are Individuals Affected By Cultural Appropriation?
Members within a culture are affected because appropriation reduces the significance of an aspect of their culture and dishonors the culture. It also keeps alive stereotypes, inequality, injustice, and racism.
Stereotypes and appropriation can also affect your choices and everyday life. Nishime states, “stereotypes are limiting and, in a way, limit your life choices. You have narrower possibilities if people are already making assumptions about you that may not match your experience or how you feel.”
Many of these cultural groups are minorities in the U.S. Through appropriation, they have no choice but to conform to stereotypes and discrimination. The U.S. is meant to be a land of equality and opportunity. Still, communities cannot feel welcome when they are being appropriated.
Taking A Look Within: Why Should You Care?
The diversity in the U.S. becomes the reason why you should care. Friendships, work relationships, and the community you live in can all include people from a culture different than yours. Nishime adds, “it is bad for every person because you can’t make an authentic connection. If you are stuck in these repetitive stereotypes, it acts as a screen between you and others.” Understanding and respecting their culture will build and sustain the relationship with them.
Treating others how you want to be treated as a part of equality. If you expect someone to understand you, where you come from, and respect your beliefs and cultures, then you are expected to do the same for them.
What It All Comes Down To: How To Respect & Understand Another Culture?
Before “borrowing” or adopting practices or traditions from another culture, think about why and how you are doing it. Go against stereotypes instead of becoming a part of implementing them. Nishime says, “...look outside of mainstream media, and it takes more effort to seek out other images that aren’t based around stereotypes.” Expand your knowledge. Learn about other cultures and take the time to understand the reasons something is traditional and essential to another’s culture.