Cultural appropriation, cultural appreciation

Aastha Malik assesses the damaging impact of cultural appropriation at Halloween

Aastha Malik
30th October 2018
Image: Public Domain Pictures

As we step into this day of fright and terror, here’s a friendly reminder to not partake in the scariest act of all – the act of ignorance. This Halloween, let’s stay away from using someone else’s culture and heritage as a costume. As put by the editorial board at Seattle University: “your costume choice is not an opportunity to fetishize or sensationalize anyone’s culture, race, sexuality or gender identity”. In a day and age where millennials are accused of being ‘snowflakes’ and the word ‘cultural appropriation’ is said to be thrown around, it’s important to educate yourself regarding what the term encompasses and why it really matters.

To be put simply, cultural appropriation is the act of using aspects of another person’s culture without permission in unwelcome or inappropriate ways; without the complete understanding or respect for the culture in question. The term is usually used to describe a dominant group appropriating the culture of a submissive, oppressed community. There is a significant difference between appreciating someone’s culture and appropriating it.

[pullquote]Using aspects of other individual's culture without understanding the stories and values behind them minimalizes their significance[/pullquote]

Cultural appropriation is an issue because of the power dynamics that continue to exist in society today that need to be acknowledged. The use of cultural expression of an oppressed group as a commodity for aesthetic appeal by a dominant group plays a role in maintaining these inequalities. It is problematic for those in a privileged position to wear Native American headgear as a form of fashion, while concurrently turning a blind eye to the cultural genocide and land theft indigenous groups still face.  In the same way, it’s tactless to use dreadlocks as a beauty statement without acknowledging the struggle of black women and the discrimination they face daily due to their hair. Using aspects of other individual’s culture without understanding the stories and values behind them minimalizes their significance.

However, an environment where the concept has come to be trivialised has been cultivated due to people from outside the appropriated culture wrongly accusing others of cultural appropriation and overusing the term, leading to the creation of ‘not your prom dress’ memes. This frivolity must not take away from the gravity of the situation. People of the appropriated culture hold every reason and right to be offended and their claims are to be taken seriously.

[pullquote]People of the appropriated culture hold every reason and right to be offended[/pullquote]

Ultimately, what’s most important to remember is this: culture appropriation is an issue, culture appreciation is not. Learn more about people from different backgrounds, be empathetic and never hesitate to ask more questions. Understand that more often than not, people from differing cultures will not be offended by any misconceptions you hold about their heritage, rather they’d appreciate your initiative learn more about their ethos and help broaden your understanding of the world. So get out this Halloween, be your best spooky self, and by not appropriating anyone’s culture through your costume enable eradicating the horrors of an unequal world.

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