Cultural appropriation is a topic that has been widely discussed in recent years, and for good reason. It is a concept that touches on a sensitive topic: the adoption of elements of a culture by members of another culture. Though it can be tricky to navigate, understanding the distinction between appreciation and appropriation is necessary to avoid cultural insensitivity.
At first glance, cultural appropriation may seem harmless. Many people even believe that it’s a form of appreciation. However, it becomes problematic when elements of a culture are taken out of context, commodified, and used for profit by someone who is not part of that culture. This can result in the erasure of the culture’s history, identification, and meaning.
Appreciation, on the other hand, involves a deep respect and understanding for the culture, often paired with a desire to honor it authentically. It requires seeking permission and providing credit when necessary, not simply taking what one wants and claiming it for oneself. The line between appropriation and appreciation can be thin, but attention to details and respect for the perspectives of others can often provide clarity.
Cultural appropriation can cause harm not only to the culture being appropriated, but also to people who identify with it. Minority cultures have a long history of experiencing discrimination, and the adoption of parts of their culture can often feel like a violation of their identity. For example, wearing a sacred headdress as a Halloween costume is not only disrespectful to the Indigenous culture, but it also perpetuates stereotypes concerning Indigenous peoples.
Ultimately, cultural appreciation should be grounded in mutual respect and mutual interest. True appreciation involves more than just wearing traditional clothing or mimicking cultural practices. It involves learning from, rather than tokenizing, the cultures that are being appreciated. The goal should be ever-mindful consideration for the significance of cultural symbols, the desire to honor meaningful traditions on their own terms, and mutual celebration that uplifts and advances diversity overall.
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