Where Appreciation meets Appropriation

There’s a huge difference between appreciating someone’s culture and appropriating it; and this tends to be a very awkward and difficult conversation between people of different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities. But it really doesn’t have to be! With all the craziness happening in the world these conversations need to be had. People are growing up today not realizing who they could be offending with simple actions that they hadn’t thought twice about. Most times it’s simply because one isn’t aware of, or hasn’t been exposed to, what other groups of people have been through. If you don’t know something or want to be sure that what you’re doing isn’t offensive, I you promise that people would much rather you ask them than make assumptions.


Cultural Appreciation

This tends to involve using elements of another culture and paying tribute to where these elements come from and respecting them. One super easy example is if you go to a Muslim country and wear a hijab, congrats! You are appreciating that culture, because you have entered their way of life and are following their rules and regulations. But you wouldn’t just wear a hijab (if that is not your religious belief) for the heck of it outside of that situation!

Here Angelina is paying respect to the people of Afghanistan by wearing a hijab.


Cultural Appropriation

This is where things get tricky, because there can be such a fine line between appreciating a culture and appropriating it. Appropriation involves taking an element from another culture and using it as your own without permission or paying respects to it. When appropriation happens, the culture that one is taking certain elements from usually ends up being made a mockery of; the history behind it is not being respected and that is usually where the problem comes into play. Too often, appropriation happens when a marginalized/minority group who has a history of being exploited or oppressed has elements of their culture, and what makes them who they are, used by those of the majority group. A pretty straightforward example of this happens to be a lot of Halloween costumes. Every year, I walk into Halloween stores and I’m amazed at the type of outfits that are actually, for some reason that is beyond me, allowed to be in the store. If you’re not of Native American descent, then you’re simply not supposed to wear skimpy ‘Native American’ outfits for Halloween with feathers and the works.


The picture below shows two women wearing very similar hairstyles. Now, personally I don’t have a problem with anyone wearing their hair like this. The problem begins when women of colour are ridiculed and seen as ‘ghetto’ but when celebrities do the same hairstyle, they are seen as ‘beautiful’ and ‘exotic’. See where the issue happens? People have a right to do what they want, but it is important to pay attention to this scenario where aspects of black culture are viewed more favourably when they are adapted by another culture.


If you’re not black, and you want to be a black character from a tv show or movie, for the love of God DO NOT PAINT YOUR FACE TO BE 4 SHADES DARKER THAN YOU REALLY ARE. This is just the biggest of all no’s and I couldn’t stress it anymore if I tried. There has been a trend lately where people have begun to take elements from the black culture such as the type of hairstyles worn and even worse, darker skin tones for endorsement deals and a few hundred likes on Instagram. As a black woman, I find this super disheartening, not only because these individuals are profiting off of features that many people of colour have fought for years to show that they are acceptable in the workplace (eg. Naturally curly/coiled/kinky hair); but because these individuals have no idea what people of colour really go through in terms of oppression. Bottom line is, it’s just not okay.


Do some research

One of the most important things is knowing where something is from, this way you’re able to appreciate it better and be able to answer any questions that people may fire your way. Another important thing when it comes to research is where you are getting these items from. Buying an artifact from a giant retail store is not helping the people of that culture. Simple things such as buying a dreamcatcher (if that’s what you’re into) from an actual Native American and not just picking one up at a retail store because you think they are cute can really help that community.


Embrace who you really are

At the end of the day, it’s important to first understand your own heritage and your own culture. Then you can move on to learning about and appreciating another. We’ve all heard the term you can’t really love and appreciate something or someone else until you learn to love and appreciate yourself. This is not to say that if you don’t like something about yourself it’s wrong to surgically enhance or remove or something else; just be mindful of what you do and ensure you’re doing it for the right reasons.









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