Though some of you may read this and understand it to be a common sense issue, not everyone comes from environments where these sorts of issues are at the forefront of discussion. Therefore, I hope for this piece to sufficiently inform people about the fine line between embracing another culture and appropriating it.
It’s important to note upfront that I recognize I’m writing this from a position of white privilege about an issue that I personally have not experienced first-hand. This however does not mean I cannot empathise and understand the potential issues that are associated with cultural appropriation.
The term ‘cultural appropriation’ can broadly be defined as the process by which one takes certain traditional elements from one culture, often a minority culture that has been exploited, and relabels them as their own. These elements may include hairstyles, clothing, music, dance, language, to name but a few.
However, many take issue with this and wonder why it isn’t possible for different cultures to exist on a level playing field and embrace what each has to offer. From my perspective the answer to this primarily lies with the fact that in reality, not all cultures share the same privilege. Some are favored over others as being more valid or credible, when there is obviously no basis for such a claim.
For instance, a classic example of this can be seen when white people adopt something such as twerking, which has origins in black culture and is still visibly tied to it. In establishments such as the media black people are somewhat scathed for practicing it, while white people are comparatively praised and sometimes celebrated for doing so.
This was exemplified during Miley Cyrus’s performance at the 2013 VMA’s where she was not only twerking, but also spanking the black back up dancer in front of her while doing so. Cyrus’s actions sparked significant conversation and controversy.
This subsequently functioned as a political discourse that reflected the hierarchy of different ethnic groups in society – with the oppressed being robbed of the credit they deserve, and the oppressors taking the credit. Therefore, while the perpetrators of such appropriation may be not be aware of its severity it is important to call-out due to the bigger picture that comes with the supposed ‘borrowing’ of traditional elements of another culture.
In the interests of being balanced I need to acknowledge that people aren’t always aware of the conflict that stems from appropriation and they don’t necessarily have ill intent when wearing a particular item or using a particular phrase – they are simply uninformed and unaware about the potential offence of doing so.
But potential offence there is and here lies the problem that I hope to draw your attention to. Obviously no one pops out of the womb having a grasp on the dynamics of cultural appropriation, but it is still an issue that needs remedying sooner rather than later.
What are your thoughts?
Author: Harry Reid
Hi – my name is Harry Reid. I’m eighteen years old, and I’m originally from Greytown in the Wairarapa – which is approximately an hour out of Wellington. I’m the youngest of three children, with a twenty-year old brother and a twenty-two-year old sister. After finishing Wellington High last year I’m now in my first year at the University of Otago, doing a double degree in Law and Arts, with my Arts Major either being Communications or Politics – and whichever one I decide against will become my Minor. Some of my interests outside of University include photography, socializing with friends and keeping up with current affairs– among other things. Over the coming weeks I’m going to share with you some of my experiences (both good and bad) in my weekly blog. Feel free to follow my Instagram @harrrryreid for a more personalized view of what I’m up to!