Cultural Appropriation Vs. Appreciation


Chiara Gutierrez, Senior Staff

Look at the photo above. When you look at this photo what does it feel like to you? Do you think it’s cultural appropriation, or appreciation? Every culture is unique and beautiful in their own special way, and sometimes we want to appreciate how amazing it is. However, there’s a line between appreciation and appropriation. Many people at any age may appropriate different cultures and some are oblivious to what they’re doing because they’ve never learned what appropriation is. But, some people do know right from wrong and purposely try to appropriate cultures to try to be funny. From sports to Halloween, appropriation is a big problem and whether you do, or don’t know what you’re doing, it’s still harmful and needs to be put to a stop. 


In America, we see different cultures everyday, that’s one of the best qualities about living here. But, with different cultures, comes racism and appropriation. Appropriation, according to ThoughtCo is “The adoption of certain elements from another culture without the consent of people who belong to that culture.” It can also be defined as, “Members of a dominant group exploiting the culture of less privileged groups. Quite often, this is done along racial and ethnic lines with little understanding of the latter’s history, experience, and traditions.”  


Halloween is a huge problem when it comes to cultural appropriation. Most of the time you can walk down the street and see people dressed up in a costume that others perceive to be a Native American. You’ll also see people dressed up as a “Mexican man” with a sombrero, and a traditional Mexican poncho. These are only two of many different types of degrading and racist costumes you can find. One NPR article states, “ ‘It goes deeper than what you’re dressed like,’ she said. ‘When you really look at it and you really study these tropes and stereotypes and what they mean and how they affect us as Native people, you know they’re all rooted in a historically violent past.’” This shows that something you may see as harmless is way deeper than how you perceive it. When you, or someone you know, dresses as something that is cultural or of importance to a culture, it’s like you’re mocking it’s people, such as Native Americans who have endured violence and discrimination not only in the past, but even now in 2021. 


However, Halloween isn’t the only issue. Another issue is in fashion. A lot of times you can see different pieces of fashion and most of the time they’re fine and they’re creative, but, sometimes you can also find different designers using specific parts of a culture and turning it into a high end fashion piece. Many Asian fashion designs and the culture gets appropriated in fashion, for example, on The Guilfordian, it states, “With the widespread attention upon Asian cultures, businesses began to take advantage of this extreme demand, ‘spinning off’ many elements of Asian tradition to monetize. PrettyLittleThing released a collection with British girl band Little Mix, which featured many items resembling the material of the traditional Chinese dress, the qipao. These items were highly sexualized, and altered to be provocative to viewers-one of many examples of the alternation of Asian culture for monetization by (often white) titans of fast fashion.” This piece of evidence shows that even many famous people, such as the girl band LittleMix, and Kim Kardashian who was previously looked down upon by appropriating black hairstyles, appropriate cultures too. These people have huge fan bases and have a very big influence over people, so by them doing it, other people think it’s okay too, which isn’t okay at all.

Speaking of famous people, and people who have a big influence on people, sports are also a very big issue when it comes to appropriation. From the Washington Redskins, to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves, cultural appropriation seems to be a big theme with these teams. According to CNN, the text states, “There is also evidence to suggest that caricaturing Indeguineous culture in sports causes depression, low self esteem, substance abuse and even suicide among Native American youth.” It also states, “The use of indigenous culture in sport is, therefore, an act that reminds Native Americans of their historic oppression at the hands of colonizers.” This shows that appropriating parts of Native American cultures, or any cultures in general, can have a more harmful effect on people. It also makes people feel like their culture is only what their past is, and the discrimination they had to go through, instead of what is actually practiced and important to their culture now. 


Appreciating a culture and learning more about certain aspects of it is awesome, but someone’s culture should never be your costume. There is a thin line between appreciation and appropriation and by educating yourself and others you can stop it, and help people part of the culture to show off how amazing it truly is.