Appropriation or Appreciation?

appropriation piece
Photo retrieved from Pinterest.

Nicole Freewalt ~ Graphic Designer

     It seems that amidst the conversation regarding recent events that we as a school need a vocabulary lesson. Today, I am going to be delving into the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation (and yes, there is a difference!). The two terms are related, but reflect on whether one is aware of cultural context or not. 

     Let us first dive into the definition of cultural appreciation. Cultural appreciation is learning about a cultural aspect and celebrating what that culture has to offer from the perspective of an outside group. It is ultimately up to those that are a part of the culture to decide what is cultural appreciation or not. A good example of cultural appreciation is food. It is understood that nearly all cultures encourage cooking, serving, and eating food even if you are not a part of that group. There is no wonder international restaurants are so popular! Cultural appreciation equals sharing and enjoying culture together and does not perpetuate any stereotypes or discrimination. It involves a sincere desire to learn from and appreciate a culture different from one’s own. Another good example of cultural appreciation is celebrating Chinese New Year. It can even be a fun learning experience for people of all backgrounds to look into Chinese customs while having a good time with friends.

     Now, there is cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is usually when a majority ethnic group uses an aspect of a minority group’s culture without knowing the context and practicing that culture in an insensitive manner. Even if the person that performs cultural appropriation does not intend to hurt other people, it can still be a very harmful act by perpetuating stereotypes or negative biases towards that group. Cultural appropriation can take several forms, but it often involves stereotypes and forms of prejudice. An example of cultural appropriation is wearing traditional Native American clothing for Halloween. Native Americans wear these traditional outfits mostly when performing rituals or other special occasions. To wear a costume that looks like something worn as part of a sincere ritual is offensive to many Native Americans. It is also important to point out that you may not offend EVERYONE that is a part of that minority group. Not everyone may be hurt by a specific act, but that does not invalidate those that are hurt. Even if a form of cultural appropriation is portrayed as a joke, it can still perpetuate stereotypes, negative feelings towards a specific group, or even lead to inciting violence. Science shows that accepting jokes that are culturally insensitive create an atmosphere of distrust, disgust, and anger. You may think Trump’s jokes are funny, but they are not so funny when they are openly referenced in several different manifestos of white supremacists that conducted mass shootings (see Tree of Life synagogue and El Paso shootings). 

     It is also important to know the difference between cultural appropriation and racism. Racism takes cultural appropriation one step further by focusing on a stereotype of prejudice and may not even involve any part of the minority group’s culture. An example of a racist act is dressing up as a Mexican gang member. If you dress up like a gang member and say that you are Mexican, then that perpetuates the stereotype that people from Mexico are gang members. Those that latch onto this stereotype can result in people justifying brutality against people from Mexico or any Latinx immigrants for that matter. This ‘costume’ can lead to race-based violence. 

     I hope this vocabulary lesson is an eye opener and leads to better informed discussions in the long run.