What is Cultural Appropriation? (And why you should cut that shit out)

Cultural appropriation happens when someone takes things from a culture that is experiencing oppression. Furthermore, appropriation refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systemically oppressed by that dominant group.

Learn the difference:

Cultural appreciation: Appreciation is honouring and respecting another culture and its practices, as a way to gain knowledge and understand.

Cultural appropriation: The ‘cherry picking’ or selecting of certain aspects of culture, whilst ignoring their original significance for the purpose of belittling it as a trend.

Examples of cultural appropriation:

  • Excessive fake tan
  • Wearing bindis at festivals
  • White women altering their body to get a big bum, bigger lips and a smaller waist
  • Cornrows, dreads and Bantu knots
  • Wearing Native American headdresses at festivals
  • Halloween costumes that depict cultural stereotypes
  • Themed parties that exoticise other cultures
  • Use of ‘spirit animal’

How can you Appreciate without Appropriating?

  • Consider the context: don’t adopt sacred artifacts or practices as accessories
  • Do your research: fully understand the cultural, historical and religious significance of the items and actions you are engaging with
  • Put your money where your mouth is: if you want to participate in an aspect of a different culture, do it by supporting people and businesses that belong to that culture
  • Engage with a culture on more that and aesthetic level: don’t ‘cherry pick’ only the elements that you find fashionable

Resources for further learning:

  • “What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal its Harm” by Maisha Z. Johnson for Everyday Feminism
  • “What is Cultural Appropriation?” a video from Origin of Everything
  • “Cultural Appropriation Viewing Guide” from PBS
  • Dear White People (Netflix)
  • White Shamans and Plastic Medicine Men
  • yellow apparel: when the coolie becomes cool
  • Cultural Appropriation Bingo Card by Dr. Sheila Addison, LMFT

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