Charter Oak High School

Opinion: The irony or cultural appropriation

Cultural appropriation does not exist. “Cultural appropriation” as described by Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University, is “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone’s culture without permission.” In simpler terms, cultural appropriation is the idea that because someone does not belong to a certain culture, that person is not allowed to adopt aspects of the other culture.

In a society so bent on being offended by the smallest matters, certain people have taken it into their own hands to call out cultural appropriation. At the University of Ottawa, a yoga teacher was told to stop her yoga classes due to “cultural implications involved in the practice.” Brendan O’Neill wrote in his article on cultural appropriation, “So desperate is this new generation to take offense, and to smash the thing that had the temerity to offend them, that they can’t even see people relaxing without thinking: ‘I wonder if this form of relaxation is problematic?’”

Often times, the idea of cultural appropriation is blown out of proportion. Suddenly, people are not allowed to have braids without being accused of being “problematic” or “culturally appropriating people of color.” Singer Jenna McDougall, who is prominently known for fighting for animal rights and equality, was publicly criticized for having box braids. Mallory Merk was cyber bullied for enjoying box braids. “I saw a woman on the street with box braids and I really liked them,” said Merk in an apology tweet. “I had no idea that it would turn me into a ‘racist and stupid white girl.’ I just wanted a hairstyle.” She is 12 years old.

With the same logic, it is equivalent to a Chinese person saying, “You can’t eat Chinese food because it’s not yours.” By definition, cultural appropriation is the unauthorized adoption of other cultures. With this said, who ‘authorizes’ and says that it is okay to adopt an idea? Nobody owns culture. No one can give ‘permission’ for others to adopt aspects of a culture. Nobody can define the borders of a culture. Culture is fluid and constant. Ironically, culture has roots in other cultures. For example, many South Asian countries have similar cultures since, at one point, they were dominated by China. As a result, they have adopted similar customs. Is this cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is thought to belittle minority groups. Those who call out others on cultural appropriation believe they are doing justice for the “victimized minority.” Instead of directing their anger and words at such pointless matters, people should direct their energy into actually making a difference. Calling somebody out behind a computer screen on cultural appropriation is not going to help the community. Instead of spreading negativity and hate over something as petty as braids, people should go out and donate or volunteer to better communities in need.

This ridiculous notion of cultural appropriation essentially states that sharing and mixing cultures is unacceptable. Ironically, we live in an era where equality is heavily emphasized, but cultural appropriation could be called a racist idea that ultimately calls for cultural segregation.

–Agnes Tran