Opinion: Cultural appropriation and ‘cancel’ culture

“Cancel” culture, by very definition, is the mass backlash to individuals that take actions deemed unfit by the public, in usually forms of social media. “Canceling” someone is a way anyone online could publicly call for accountability if they did something wrong or offensive. The purpose is to bring justice onto online platforms through collective means by the public. However, recently these moral ideals have become twisted to essentially restrict the very idea of freedom of speech in daily life. 

A huge part of the reason “cancel” culture exists is cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is the adoption of customs, ideas, and other elements of one cultural group by another. In the fashion industry, high-end companies such as Gucci, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, and Urban Outfitters have received public backlash for using traits and ideas of cultural fashion from different groups. These companies have been accused of using stereotypical and shallow traits from different cultural fashions. 

There is certainly a fine line of difference between genuinely appreciating cultural ideals and using stereotypical traits to mock a certain group. People online are quick to attack others that wear culture-inspired clothing and demand apologies. But how does one know for sure if the victim is appreciating or mocking the culture? It is confusing and generally stirs up many mixed opinions about this controversy. 

However, when “cancel” culture spirals out of control with cultural appropriation in hand, it quite literally restricts every type of cultural diffusion. Whether if it is cultural mockery or appreciation, positive or negative, all are faced with a wave of public anger and backlash. Cultural traits become something that only an individual part of that cultural group can have. People of African heritage become the only ones allowed to have dreadlocks. Asians become the only people who can wear qipaos and hanboks. This is the mindset of someone who participates in active “cancel” culture. If a foreigner were to adopt some traits, the result is a public mob coming to criticize and demand apologies.

As this continues, more and more people realize that interacting with new cultures and experiences will only result with them suffering from the public. Essentially, this can lead to little to no one trying to experience different cultures, which is necessary for different groups to understand and acknowledge each other. 

America is a prime example of cultural mixing. According to the New York Times,  “Pizza, hot dogs, and soft drinks are often considered characteristically American, but they were originally Italian, German, and Swedish, respectively.” Different people from different parts of the world immigrated to the United States, bringing and sharing cultural traits. This is the foundation and base of American culture. However, if the same logic is applied, America should be “canceled” for trying to steal or imitate such cultures. This is clearly false, but as stated by Maggie Strauss, “what makes drinking a carbonated beverage so different from wearing a Chinese-inspired prom dress?”

Is there really a definite solution to this global problem? No. As stated, it is hard to distinguish people who appreciate or mock cultures on social media. However, if people were able to wait and think before immediately criticizing, “canceling” someone would not happen as often. Being quick to angrily lash out online is not being a justified hero. Instead, all that happens is adding to the wall of reluctance to participate with different cultures. 

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