Em Maxey ~ News Editor
Being a culturally aware individual is a crucial part of becoming a gear in a diverse society. Recently, the talk about cultural appropriation has become popular. With access to unlimited resources and information on unique cultures and traditions, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Often, I find inspiration in different cultures for my own practice. Before I engage in a new practice, I have to stop and ask myself the following things: (1) is this a closed practice, (2) do I fully understand the history of this practice, (3) am I performing this practice accurately without misrepresentation or misunderstanding, and (4) have I been invited to participate in this practice.
Cultural appropriation is the act of adopting an element or elements from one culture or cultural identity to another separate culture or identity. The issue becomes controversial when a majority takes an element from a minority group that was once discriminated against by that majority. This is especially true when the majority discriminates against the minority by using that element as a leverage point or basis for hatred or intolerance.
With that being said, ”cultural appropriation” in the 21st century is inevitable. I also find it disgraceful to not engage in alternative cultural practices and to essentially “stay in your lane.” How do we as a society continue to unify and globalize if we all keep to our own practices? The ultimate goal is to engage in these cultural elements in a respectful way. There are a couple of rules to follow if we, as a society, wish to keep our cultural diversity and maintain cultural gratitude.
First, people need to be invited.
As tempting as it is to do your own henna, get a bindi, and sport cornrows, the important thing is to ask yourself: “Is this my culture? Have I been invited to participate in this practice?” If the answer to both of these is no, then don’t. This particularly applies to closed practices. If you are not sure if the practice you are interested in is closed or not, then you have not done enough research.
This leads me to my next point which is to always do the research.
If you have found that this is not a closed practice, and you have permission to engage in this practice, continue your research. Before you begin a new practice, be sure to fully understand the history and importance of the practice.
Please never use symbols and artifacts.
Unless gifted by someone, do not use them for your own personal use. Simply put, it is disrespectful and insensitive. It is okay to learn these symbols, it is okay to teach others about these symbols, but do not use them for your personal fashion statement.
People need to engage in the culture for more than aesthetics.
If you really wish to avoid appropriation, do more than just the basics. Learn as much as you can, engage with as many people as possible, and love the people as much as the culture. Amandla Stenberg, an actress, once said: “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?”
Most importantly, please avoid grease paint.
Also known as blackface, this surprisingly does not apply to just white people in college in the 1980s. Any race pretending to be of a different ethnicity is wrong. Whether that’s squinting your eyes to be Asian or painting your face black, red, or yellow, with or without the intention to present as an alternative ethnicity.
As a white woman, it’s hard for me to speak on behalf of someone who has never had their culture taken from them and spit back into their face. That’s why I write this with a heavy heart to all those who have experienced cultural insensitivity and disrespect. It should be our duty to appreciate the beauty within alternative cultures. We should owe it to those who share their cultures with us to respect and cherish the moments that they spend teaching us about their most preserved rituals and practices.
Cultural appropriation can be avoided when we all learn to properly appreciate the fact that there is no substitute for diversity.