For a long time now, the United States has been a place where different people, styles, and cultures have mixed and fused. This country is a melting pot, essentially. This “melting pot” has allowed for different people with different appearances and practices to rub off on each other. If someone grows up in a diverse community, it is very likely they’ll inherit customs, dialects, or other traditions from the cultures around them. Often times, this is dubbed “cultural appreciation.” Cultural appreciation is learning about another culture with respect and appreciating it enough to take time to learn about it, interact with people among the culture, and actually understand it.
However, many confuse cultural appreciation with cultural appropriation, or often times just take aspects of a certain culture for their own, without understanding or respecting it for the sake of a “funny halloween costume” or a “joke”. This usually occurs within the fashion community. Whether it be burkas, hijabs, bindis, or cornrows, these are all stolen or “borrowed” from cultures and religions all for the sake of “trendy fashion”.
Cultural appropriation is Miley Cyrus with dreads, twerking on stage, twerking in music videos while she surrounds herself with black people as if saying, “Look, I’m not racist. I’m doing it with black people. I’m not racist”. According to Ebony Wiggins, twerking was influenced heavily by the New Orleans bounce music scene and can also be traced further back to traditional African dance forms. Cyrus has admitted to doing this, stating she “[wants] urban, I just want something that feels Black.”
What Cyrus is doing is cultural appropriation and not appreciation because she grew up surrounded by white privilege; with her father’s name, and with her family’s wealth. She has lived like that her entire life. By twerking and wearing dreads in her hair, she is stereotyping black culture, and it’s harmful and oppressive. She can twerk and pretend to be “ratchet” but as soon as she climbs off her stage, she’ll keep living the privileged life she always has.
Many people of color cannot do that. We have to deal with the awful stereotypes she is promoting. We deal with the racism, and the discrimination that comes with not being white. And she’s not the only one. Many others have appropriated cultures they don’t even bother to learn about.
This is what’s wrong with cultural appropriation: it stems from ignorance and racism. It allows for privileged people to take something oppressed people have been doing for ages, and make it “trendy”.
Because when a black girl twerks, it’s “ratchet.” Because when an Indian woman wears a bindi, she’s “a terrorist.” Because when a Muslim woman wears a hijab or a burka, or other kinds of coverings, she’s “a terrorist.” Because when an Indigenous person wears a headdress, they’re “Indians.” But when a privileged person twerks, it’s “cool.” When a privileged person wears a bindi, or a headdress, or a burka, or a hijab, it’s “high fashion.” Appropriation occurs when the person “borrowing” aspects of a culture or religion do not understand or respect what they are “borrowing.” It is when aspects of a culture or religion are generalized and are deemed “cool” or “trendy”, or “fun”, when the privileged take it for themselves.
What would America look like if it loved people of color as much as it loved taking their culture?