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The Problems Posed by "Cultural Appropriation"
By Gypsy Mack
Cultural appropriation, a term that almost always comes with negative connotations, usually means the appropriation or adoption of "cultural property," usually!the property of a cultural minority. Cultural appropriation is using the art, religion, behavior, or traditional dress from a culture that is not one's own, using it for things it was not originally intended. Cultural appropriation seems to be most easily found in fashion, style, and aesthetics. Cultural appropriation, in its most clear-cut form, is offensive and disrespectful.
But now, with the Internet, the search for cultural appropriation and the act of appropriating other cultures itself, has been raised to a whole new level.
Last year I went to India for nine weeks, and that was when my cultural appropriation problems began. I got super interested in Hinduism, I started wearing bindi, and I loved everything Indian. For me, none of it was superficial, or just for style and fashion, or without deeper understanding. I wore the bindi to signify my third eye, for a focus point in meditation, for an affirmation that I too could be Hindu despite the fact that I was American. I still wear it now, and have been for over a year.
I sometimes feel like people view this as cultural appropriation, as disrespectful to the Hindu faith. I sometimes feel like everything I ever do is "cultural appropriation." But in truth, it is not. I respect Indian culture and Hinduism, I learn the significance of something before I "appropriate" it, and I don't love Indian things for superficial reasons. I view my love of Indian food, religion, and dress as a form of multiculturalism in an individual. I only do what wouldn't be offensive and disrespectful. If someone starts getting on me about wearing bindi, I can whip out my knowledge of Hinduism and the religious significance of the bindi.
In India, "cultural appropriation" was, to a certain extent, practical. It was respectful to adopt forms of Indian dress, to be modest, to act a certain way around the temples and shrines. It was essential to adopt many social customs such as taking off your shoes, being modest, eating only with your right hand, and not pointing your feet at anybody. I found that I had an easier time because I was with a family who respected the local culture and adhered to certain cultural customs.
But the Internet and the modern world easily finds fault with anything and everything. My parents gave me a tip for Internet browsing: don't read the comments. They're almost always hateful, nitpicky, untrue, or misinformed.
It seems that there's a lot of cultural appropriation going on right now, and even more accusations of it. People find fault with everything, give opinions on anything, and are often misinformed about what's really going on.
However, some cultural appropriation is true cultural appropriation, as clear-cut as it can be. Like Selena Gomez's use of the bindi, for example. At the 2013 MTV Music Awards, her performance of "Come And Get It" was Bollywood-inspired. But she took a bit too far, and wore a bindi, too. It's one thing to take inspiration from a different style of pop music, but it's another matter to start wearing a religious symbol for performance ane fashion. Selena Gomez is obviously not Hindu, and her appropriation of the Hindu symbol was disrespectful.
I'm sure that almost everyone is familiar with the use of the headdress worn by Native American plains men. It is an item of great spiritual and political importance, worn for ceremonies. In modern society, it has been taken by quite a few for a fashion or style statement. This is cultural appropriation, because the history of white colonist/Native American relations is a violent one, filled with white disrespect of native beliefs and culture. So, of course, the appropriation of the headdress is disrespectful because 1) it is an item that is earned, an item of respect 2) appropriation Native American culture by a white woman or man is harmful because the wounds of history are never healed.
Cultural appropriation, unlike multiculturalism, lacks genuine respect and awe for the tradition or culture that the appropriated object or idea comes from. Iggy Azalea, for example, is a "rapper," but she's not a real rapper. She's an imitation, a fashion/style figure, a "fake rap cover girl," because she does not appear to respect hip-hop culture as a whole, she doesn't seem to understand the significance of rap and hip-hop, and she can't freestyle. She appropriates a culture without understanding it or respecting it.
Despite all of the insulting and ignorant appropriations of indigenous or "exotic" (I personally don't like the work "exotic." It is a relative term that is, quite frankly, ideological and slightly 19th-century) cultures, there are some times when "cultural appropriation" can be beneficial or good. Take the practice of yoga, for example. Yoga is an Indian spiritual practice, and the practice of it by Westerners could be viewed as cultural appropriation. But Western yogis have gone past the accusations of cultural appropriation, because they respect the practice, the philosophy, and the history. Yoga is for everyone, and it could be argued that culture is for everyone too, as long as it is respected and not degraded or misused.
The Internet and modern society as a whole should learn restraint. Don't jump on people for misusing culture or appropriating it, until you know the story behind it or the person's history. People can often be like me, where they adopt religious beliefs, practices, and appearances out of genuine awe, respect, and love for another culture and tradition.
#Real #CulturalAppropriation #Misappropriation #Hinduism #NativeAmericans #Race #Ethnicity #Culture #Respect
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