Cultural Appreciation Or Cultural Appropriation?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Before coming to university, I hadn’t really given the concept of cultural appropriation much thought. Living in a small town, many people dressed in the same way. However, since moving to a large, diverse city I have been exposed to people from all over the world with conflicting opinions and new styles. And especially since the Union hosted a controversial ‘Day of the Dead’ themed Halloween festival, I have seen a need to establish the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation.

Cultural appropriation is defined as a ‘concept in sociology dealing with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture’, compared to cultural appreciation which is defined as ‘someone’s understanding between themselves and people from other countries or backgrounds’.  It should be noted that this excludes adopting the clothing of a culture out of respect, an example being Kate Middleton removing her shoes and wearing a head scarf when visiting Malaysia. This was a sign of respect for the Muslim religion and Malaysian culture; cultural appreciation.

I am talking about when Caucasian girls wear bindhis, saris and henna patterns to achieve the perfect ‘Instagram aesthetic’ or an ‘indie’ look. When COW Vintage’s ‘festival’ range is an array of Desi clothes, many that adorn the wardrobes of my family members who are apprehensive to wear them in case of a racist comment or a second look. This is cultural appropriation.

Furthermore, it is essential to note that this issue isn’t only a battle between the East and the West. It applies to cultures within Europe too. For example, St Patrick’s Day celebrations in London, where non-Irish people dress in green, indulge in Irish stereotypes, drink to their heart’s content and dance to traditional music. They forget that the Northern Irish parliament were only given sovereignty in the late 90’s and ‘No dogs, No Blacks and No Irish’ policies in London existed in the post-war years.

Attending an ‘indie/festival’ themed night further challenged my perception of the matter. One drunken girl said to me ‘but you’re Asian, you should have “indier” clothes’. Firstly, my culture is not ‘indie’ and secondly, no, I should not. After years of European beauty standards telling me I need to look and be a certain way, I was shocked to see that the same girls imposing these beauty standards were the ones trying to share and uphold emblems of cultural minorities; my culture.  

The cherry-picking of cultural aspects and random elevation of certain traditions allows people to remain ignorant to the hardships faced by natives of that culture. Many can embrace and incorporate the positives of non-native cultures and avoid the necessary education, thus, maintaining the archaic marginalisation of minority cultures, which has no room in a modern world.

It should be noted that I’m not taking the role of a gatekeeper, nor am I being ‘selfish’ for protecting my culture’s music, traditions, food and clothing. I’m the first person to decorate my friend’s hands with henna, knowing that they would not insult my heritage and discriminate against immigrants.  I’m advocating the end of hypocrisy that renders minority cultures marginalised due to our ethnic differences, and asking for people to learn the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.

Zahra Iqbal


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