Why Cultural Appropriation Is Real And Hurtful

Why Cultural Appropriation Is Real And Hurtful

It isn't just people of color being whiny.

I understand that racism has bigger problems than cultural appropriation. Problems like mass incarceration, deportation, police profiling and shootings, etc. However, I do feel that people undermine the fact that cultural appropriation goes beyond just wearing bindis and Native American headgear at Coachella.

The fact that cultural appropriation is the literal translation of plagiarizing someone's culture while continuing to undermine that culture is pretty shocking. And it hits on an individual level affecting even children. Even in my own life, I have seen the terrifying truth about cultural appropriation. For instance, coconut oil today is hailed as the ultimate cure-all for any beauty related problem by every western fashion and health publication, but as a child when my mother and grandmother, who have known the benefits of coconut oil for generations, would put it in my hair, my caucasian American teacher would pull me aside and tell me that my hair looked dirty and I should tell my mother to never put oil in my hair again.

I remember when I was fifteen, seeing an Indian actress go to the Cannes Film Festival and dressing in traditional Indian clothes and accessories. She wore a gold and white saree and a gold nose ring. I genuinely thought she looked stunning and I felt proud that she was representing her culture on this global platform.

However, western fashion critics felt differently. They put her on worst-dressed lists citing her nose ring as grotesque and her outfit as over-the-top. I felt startled as someone who loves fashion and reading fashion publications, I thought they would celebrate her novelty and confidence in wearing her cultural garbs. What bothered me even more, however, is when the French luxury design house Givenchy put out a whole collection of nose rings that same year, the same publication showered the collection with praise and called the fashion house "innovative" and "cutting edge."

I felt robbed. How can a South-Asian woman upholding generations of beauty traditions be called grotesque and a western fashion house stealing from that same culture be called innovative?

What bothers me the most is not that white girls wear bindis to Coachella or the fact that western fashion houses make nose rings. It is the fact that credit and knowledge of the origin of these items and concepts are not known.

That white girl has no idea the cultural history and significance of a bindi and yet she touts it around as if it is the latest seasonal trend. How can I explain to these people that my culture is not a trend?

In college, we are told that we can get kicked out of school for plagiarizing, but what about the centuries of cultural plagiarism that has gone untold and unpunished?

Cover Image Credit: Sarah Larkin

Popular Right Now

The 17 Best Unpopular Opinions From The Minds Of Millennials

Yes, dogs should be allowed in more places and kids in less.

There are those opinions that are almost fact because everyone agrees with them. Waking up early is horrible. Music is life. Sleep is wonderful. These are all facts of life.

But then there are those opinions that hardly anyone agrees with. These ones -- from Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit -- are those types of opinions that are better left unsaid. Some of these are funny. Some are thought-provoking. All of them are the 17 best unpopular opinions around.

1. My favorite pizza is Hawaiian pizza.

2. Binge watching television is not fun and actually difficult to do.

3. I love puns... Dad jokes FTW.

4. Milk in the cup first... THEN the bloody tea.

5. I wish dogs were allowed more places and kids were allowed fewer places.

6. "Space Jam" was a sh*t movie.

7. Saying "money cannot buy happiness" is just wrong.

8. People keep saying light is the most important thing in photographing. I honestly think the camera is more important.

9. Bacon is extremely overrated.

10. Literally, anything is better than going to the gym.

11. Alternative pets are for weird people.

12. Google doodles are annoying.

13. It is okay to not have an opinion on something.

14. It's weird when grown adults are obsessed with Disney.

15. This is how to eat a Kit Kat bar.

16. Mind your own business.

17. There is such a thing as an ugly baby.

Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Netflix's 'To All The Boys I've Loved Before' Is The Best Kind Of Social Justice Statement

...and that's because it doesn't try to be.


Netflix recently released a teaser trailer for its new rom-com, "To All The Boys I've Loved Before." Based on the novel written by Jenny Han, the film is set to be released on August 17, 2018.

To remain as spoiler-free as possible, the general plot follows Lara Jean Song Covey, a teenage girl who writes love letters to all of her crushes. She stows them away in a hatbox, only to discover that, somehow, all of the letters have been delivered to each boy.

Oh, and Lara Jean also happens to be half-Korean.

This fact isn't touched upon in the teaser trailer, and if the movie stays faithful to the source material, it plays a small component in Lara Jean's overall identity (aside from the sweet, genuine efforts her Caucasian father makes to preserve her connection with her Korean heritage).

Speaking from my own perspective of an Asian-American, this is exactly what we need.

I don't mean to downplay the significance of representing one's culture in a person's identity; movies and books that explore that deep connection in Asian-American lives, like "The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan and "The Woman Warrior" by Maxine Hong Kingston, are riveting and powerful tales. They thread the intricacies of cross-cultural experiences through memories of the ghosts of countries left behind that linger still.

But this style of storytelling about an Asian-American, biracial teenage girl sweetly falling in love is refreshing. This is not only because it's rare to find fleshed out Asian characters in mainstream media, but it's also because it doesn't make a big deal of it.

Lara Jean is part-Asian, but there's so much more to her than simply being a check mark for diversity. She's treated like any other protagonist found in typical teenage rom-coms. She's normalized. And for now, that's all Asian representation really needs.

You see, the fact remains that there is very little visibility of Asian-Americans in the mainstream media. I won't pretend to know an exact cause for that, and I don't believe there is a singular answer. Part of it may be rooted in the cultural values of stability that Hollywood isn't notorious for providing, and part of it may be rooted in the lack of fulfilling and well-rounded roles for Asian-American actors.

Nevertheless, Asian-Americans only account for three to four percent of all roles in scripted broadcast and cable shows, at least in a UCLA report cited by The Guardian. They are overwhelmingly underrepresented across all types of media.

So when this teaser trailer came out and I saw Lana Condor, an accomplished actress of Vietnamese descent, playing the protagonist in a movie whose trailer already had over 2.5 million views, I couldn't help but feel a giddy surge of elation. Because Netflix has done it right.

They gave diversity a place on the big screen, but they didn't make a billboard out of it. They didn't market this story as one championing diversity in a political and social climate that demands it. They didn't portray this movie as a groundbreaking step for people of color or women, even though it is in both respects.

In the vein of recent films like "Love, Simon," underrepresented minorities are presented casually, focusing on the character development and story above all else. "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" follows suit, offering a story that normalizes seeing minorities on the silver screen even more. And that's the truest and best way for social justice and representation.

Because you see, I'm one of many. I grew up barely seeing people who looked like me in roles that fully explored the depths of their character beyond gross oversimplifications or stereotypes of Asian-American cultures and personalities.

My story is not unique, and I won't pretend that it is. It's been told again and again before me.

So when I read books like "The Joy Luck Club" and "The Woman Warrior," I appreciate and admire the face of the Asian-American experience that they portray. But "To All The Boys I've Loved Before" gives that experience another face; perhaps, as some may say, a more assimilated one. A more relatable one.

Because it's not the color of Lara Jean's skin or the shape of her eyes that people focus on when they see this trailer. It's the gentleness of her character, the sweetness and earnestness and shyness she shows about falling in love that many of us understand.

And for that, there is a powerful universality to Lara Jean Song Covey, a girl whose heritage may belong to two different worlds, but whose experiences belong to us all.

Cover Image Credit:


Related Content

Facebook Comments