Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation


Sarah Shawver, Writer

Cultural appropriation is a term that started circulating around twitter in 2010. However, it has been apparent that cultural appropriation has really been around for a long time. Everytime a Kardashian happens to post a photo with a new hairstyle, “exottical” outfit, or whenever Ariana Grande is compared to great singers before her, there are sure to be thousands of tweets citing cultural appropriation and abuse. But really, what is cultural appropriation, and how does it differ from cultural appreciation?  


Cultural appropriation is an act in which people take or “steal” elements that heavily originate from another culture to exploit, profit from, change or revamp into their own. A more in-depth analysis would include a dominant group stealing elements from smaller and historically oppressed cultures. But is there really a difference with wearing a popular hairstyle, and wearing traditional clothing of other cultures? Where is the line?


Depending on who you ask, cultural appropriation includes intentional or unintentional racist roots. For example, an individual wearing a qipao (a traditional Chinese dress) when they are not from that culture, would be deemed as doing something offensive or even as committing an act of theft. Cultural appropriation to some people is where a definite mockery of one’s culture is made, and is pretty evident. Prevalent examples could simply be black face, donning Native American costumes on Halloween, or overall just having a lack of respect for other cultures and simply using their elements as pawns. 


What exactly is cultural appreciation? Cultural appreciation is a term deemed to counteract cultural appropriation. It suggests that those of other cultures, especially within a dominant one, can ethically take pieces and varied elements from other cultures, and implement them within their life with respect. There is no fine line between the terms, but one who is practicing cultural appreciation usually means no harm, or they show an authentic interest in the culture. 

Examples of Cultural Appreciation:

This image was shared repeatedly over social media a few years back, and was deemed as being flat out racist, stereotypical, and was even seen to be an act of “yellow-face”. It wasn’t until more details were shared about the party’s theme, and why this girl’s mother chose it. Her daughter was a fan of Japanese culture, specifically geishas. Really, no feelings were hurt. Her mother spent a lot of time planning and decorating, so her daughter could get a more authentic grasp of Japanese culture. One Japanese social media user even stepped in to explain that there was nothing racist about the theme, and that only a racist, dividing person would think that way. 

A few years ago on Halloween, Kim Kardashian stuck to her theme of musical icons, no matter the race. The only difference here is unlike a lot of ignorant people, she did not implement black face or specific cultural items for her costumes. Aside from going as her fellow Armenian Cher, she dressed as Selena ( La Reina De Tejano) and the princess of R&B, Aaliyah. Even though she meant no harm, some still saw it as insensitive. Suzette Quintanilla even praised Kim for her costume, despite her not being of Latina descent. 


Examples of blatant cultural appropriation:

Native American costumes may appear exotic or fun to some, but they really help to devalue those of Native American ancestry. It is very stereotypical and demeaning. Dressing up as, or taking elements from one’s culture is definitely cultural appropriation.

It may just be a hairstyle to some, but Bantu knots actually have a significant meaning. They are traditionally an African hairstyle that means a lot to some, so seeing someone of a different race wearing them can be unsettling. It is more than just Khloe Kardashian rocking a hairstyle that originates from another culture, it is really about the trend. As trends usually follow, they will soon go out of style, so I believe  no one’s culture should become really a “trend.” Sure it should be appreciated, but never thrown away or labeled as “out of date” and quickly forgotten about by the mainstream media, where all roots are lost.