First things first. What is it? I’ve talked to and have heard so many people who do not know what cultural appropriation is. Thoughtco.com defined it as, “Cultural appropriation is the adoption of certain elements from another culture without the consent of people who belong to that culture.” There is a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities in America so I wouldn’t be surprised if some had similarities. But cultural appropriation is completely different than that. So, let’s break it down, Thoughtco.com defines culture as the beliefs, ideas, traditions, speech, and material objects associated with a particular group of people and appropriation is the illegal, unfair, or unjust taking of something that doesn’t belong to you. So together, this means that culture appropriation is an unjust taking of someone’s beliefs, ideas, traditions, etc. But the age-old question is why people do this.
The most common cultures/ethnicities that are targeted with appropriation are African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and indigenous peoples. African American culture used in mainstream music. Asian American culture in fashion (we can also discuss the discourse that is whitewashing in the media but that’s another story for another day). Native American culture also in fashion, and decoration. How many times have you seen concert goers wear Native American headdresses or Bindi’s on their foreheads? Cough, Kendall Jenner. Cough, Selena Gomez.
Culture appropriation in music is a hot topic nowadays. We see so many singers using black culture in their music, fashion, and videos that one could say it’s the norm. We have Miley Cyrus constantly using black culture. When she cut her hair, super short and dyed it (Katy Perry and Justin Bieber have also hopped on this train as well), her entire music video for 23. RockCity, quoted the star, saying, “I want urban. I just want something that feels black.” Need I say more? Katy Perry is another celebrity who has been in the front of appropriation and we can’t ignore it. In my opinion she has been getting away with it, Miley Cyrus has been called out, so has Justin Bieber, but I hardly see anything about Katy Perry! It’s time she does though. Katy Perry has had a history of appropriating culture in her music videos, such as Dark Horse using Ancient Egyptian themes, Roar using Amazonian/Native American themed dress, her new music video Swish Swish again using black culture. The worst of the worst however, in my opinion is for a recent video of hers called This is How We Do, which the title itself was taken from a popular R&B singer Montell Jordan from his 1995 hit song with the same title. The video itself appropriates many cultures. Mic writes, “Perry is first seen in the video reclining while wearing a long, dark, braided ponytail, holding up a watermelon and chucking up “deuces.” Playing into the tired trope of African-Americans being fiends for fried chicken and watermelon, Perry’s hairstyle and expression meanwhile can be traced back to the cultural expressions of many black women in America… Perry goes on to perpetuate the stereotype that all manicurists at nail salons are Asian people with the lyrics: ‘Now we’re talking astrology, getting our nails did all Japanese-y.’” I won’t stop there with the Asian culture appropriation, in a live performance of Unconditionally for the American Music Awards, she was decked out in a Geisha costume, her makeup being considered as “yellow face” and then with more Japanese inspired decorations and themes behind her. Now after years of appropriating you would think that Perry now understands what she is doing is wrong. Nope. Hard no. In an interview with Deray McKesson, she says “I didn’t know, and I won’t ever understand some of those things because of who I am, but I can educate myself, and that is what I am trying to do along the way.” Yet at MTV 2017 Video Music Awards she goes and comments on P!nk’s touching speech saying how she is “iconic. Wig snatched” then pulled off her blonde wig. Did Katy really plan to educate herself or was she just trying to save face?
I could go on and on but for the sake of the reader I will stop. To end this article, I will just say that cultural appropriation is not a joke. It is not something to be taken lightly. I am Asian, born in Kazakhstan and adopted into a loving family, but I am deeply hurt by the number of people in the world who think it’s ok to go out and pretend to be an ethnicity they aren’t just for views, likes, reblogs. You can appreciate culture, don’t appropriate. If you are going to a country where they have a specific wardrobe for women such as a hijab, then by all means wear it! By doing that you are appreciating and respecting their culture. If you wear a hijab to go to a music festival that is appropriating and you have no respect for that culture. This is almost a double edge sword; you just have to learn to educate yourself. Be respectful of cultures, that’s it. That’s all I’m saying.