While scrolling through tumblr one evening, I saw a very interesting, albeit confusing, text post. The user wrote something along the lines of, “I was at Hot Topic and saw this cool t-shirt for some band or something called Bring Me the Horizon and idk what bring me the horizon is and don’t really care but the shirt is cool so I’ll wear it”. Now, if you’re not a fan of the band Bring Me the Horizon, you may just be confused. Why would you buy something when it clearly showed something you didn’t like or didn’t even know about? Or, if you really wanted it, wouldn’t you look up what it is? Just so you know what you’re promoting?
If you have no idea what Bring Me the Horizon is, it’s a British rock band, bordering on screamo. Others may classify it slightly differently, which is okay! I’m not an avid listener, so I do not know as well as someone who listens to them regularly. And I feel as though it wouldn’t make much sense for me personally to buy one of their t-shirts, because I am not a fan, and I really have no idea who they are. However, I also understand that this makes people upset, too, rather than just confused.
Several responses were sent to the user in anger. “You’re making a fool of yourself and everyone who likes them,” and “If you don’t know who they are stop wearing their f*cking shirts and let people who actually like them wear them,” were some of the responses thrown at the original post creator. While the messages were harsh, their points were clear: if you don’t know what it means, why would you buy it or wear it? If you don’t like it, why would you advertise it on yourself? Sure, it was “cool,” or “cute,” but it doesn’t really excuse the action. We’d be mad if someone dressed as a doctor came to help us, but they have no idea what being a doctor means. They didn’t go to medical school. It’s a slightly different example, but it’s similar enough that you should understand if you don’t care about band t-shirts.
This text post was made to simplify what cultural appropriation is for those who don’t really get it. If you are confused as to what cultural appropriation is, or how it can be upsetting, this is a great example. Not perfect, because band t-shirts aren’t exactly their own culture, and it’s not necessarily harmful to the band if you wear their merchandise (hey, free advertising), but it gets the point across. The actual definition of cultural appropriation is “the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.” And while this doesn’t directly have positive or negative meanings associated with it, it often is extremely negative. It allows for a misrepresentation of a culture to the point of stereotype, creating ignorance amongst yourself and the people around you. Rituals and traditions that are based in the history of a culture are very important to certain peoples. Taking those on just because you can, or because it looks and/or sounds fun, is disrespectful and offensive.
So, now that you know what cultural appropriation is, how do we avoid it? Don’t simply avoid taking in other cultures! That isn’t the point of this. It’s better to learn from original sources of a culture about what you are interested in, before playing around with it. You may have the wrong information, and it could be a stereotype and not part of the culture at all! Research definitely helps eliminate this, and it helps you become more knowledgeable of the world you live in. Though, doing this does not make you an expert on whatever culture. Just try and remember that we don’t know everything about anything. When in doubt, ask for guidance from someone who knows the culture better. Don’t perpetuate stereotypes that you have seen or heard about, and inform yourself of things different from you.