Cultural Appropriation Vs. Cultural Appreciation

Cultural Appropriation Vs. Cultural Appreciation

Let's have a conversation about culture.
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We continue to go around the merry-go-round of what is the difference between cultural appropriation and culture appreciation. It's hard for one person to know it all and set the rules for how to not offend anyone and keep everyone happy. We all have different experiences and appreciate different things. The hard part is walking the thin line between appropriation and appreciation.

Justin Bieber recently began to sport dreadlocks, and a lot of people reacted very negatively. Some say that it is cultural appropriation for Bieber to wear dreadlocks because it's a "black" hairstyle. However, dreadlocks have appeared in many groups throughout history, from Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, to the Greeks, and of course African tribes and the Rastafari. Who is to say one group owns that hairstyle over the next group?

Zendaya Coleman wore dreadlocks at the Oscars and the commentators said she probably smells like weed or patchouli oil. Many flocked to her side to defend her from these comments and said that she should be able to wear whatever hair she wants. Around the same time, Kylie Jenner wore dreadlocks and she was criticized for cultural appropriation.

A friend of mine recently brought up the opposite scenario. If white people wearing braids, dreadlocks, and other hairstyles dubbed as "black hairstyles" then what does black people perming their hair say? Are black people appropriating white culture? I've heard the arguments for both sides. One side says it's not the same as cultural appropriation as much as it's about the pressure to look professional. African Americans have the cards set against them when it comes to the job industry. (There is plenty of evidence that agrees, look up studies from Princeton.) American beauty has always been Euro-centric: White skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Hitler ideals. To this day, there is a conversation going on about whether or not African American hair in it's "natural" state is professional or not.

Is it really important for us to focus in on celebrities and their personal hair choices? I personally don't think so, but this conversation has been going on for several years now, and we still haven't seemed to reach a conclusion as a population. The question of hairstyles and its relation to cultures seems to be a small part of an underlying issue. When is it okay to get inspiration from other cultures? Is it ever not okay? Who makes the rules? As an art student, I am constantly inspired by Islamic, Indian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese art. Even though I grew up in South-East Asia, making it a part of my life experience, I spent around seven years in different countries in total immersion. Am I therefore not allowed to wear a traditional dress from South Korea or wear a Sari from Indian culture because my heritage isn't South Korean or Indian?

When you set limits and claims on a culture you put people constantly on the defense. Some people really appreciate the beauty of a culture; maybe they can't understand the struggles and hardships of one culture to another, but taking the time to understand it and its history is a big part of cultural appreciation. Instead of berating people for wearing their hair one way, or wearing certain clothes, perhaps you should encourage people to learn more about your culture. Educate them about why people wore that, how they made it, and so on.

Here is a scenario for you to think about:

If an [insert race here] child grows up in a predominantly [insert race here] neighborhood, is he not allowed to be influenced by that neighborhood? This includes that race's mannerisms, way of dress, and/or way of acting.

You can put any race into those blanks and you have to wonder, how can someone be at fault for being influenced by their surroundings? America is a melting pot. We have people from everywhere and every background. How can we decide what's OK and what's not OK for something that's been in such a gray area of debate for so long?

The Wikipedia definition of cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture. Cultural appropriation is seen by some as controversial, notably when elements of a minority culture are used by members of the cultural majority; this is seen as wrongfully oppressing the minority culture or stripping it of its group identity and intellectual property rights. Typically, when we think of cultural appropriation, people often think of heavy stereotyping of one culture. Cultural appropriation deals with making fun of another culture and not properly representing it. This is highlighting the lack of understanding between two cultures. The appropriator "strips" away the bad parts of the culture and lives in a sugar-coated version with no consequences.

Recently, a photo was shown to me of a "chocolate" spray tan. I'm not sure if this is real. But clearly, this is cultural appropriation. What frustrates me about cultural appropriation like this is I wonder if the appropriators love themselves and appreciate the skin tone they have. Being black and not having the struggles of being black is a clear violation of black people. Blatant disrespect for a culture should be upsetting. It's understandable.

A topic in cultural appropriation that continues to be at the top of the list is Native American headdresses and Halloween costumes. The reason that wearing headdresses is indisputably cultural appropriation is because there are rules surrounding who can wear it. It's not a widespread item of clothing. Every year, festival goers and celebrities pull out a cheap headdress from their local Party City and hit the town. Headdresses were reserved for respected elders and men in the tribe, therefore by tradition, women do not typically wear full warbonnets.

There are plenty of examples of artifacts and items of government and culture that are not to be duplicated because they are restricted items. Think of it as stolen valor: Wearing a military uniform to get discounts and recognition when you never served in the military. We did nothing to earn wearing the headdress; therefore, we should not wear it or make mascots of a culture that is still very much in existence.

Cultural appreciation is when elements of a culture are used while honoring the source they came from. It is important to note that appreciation involves respect and value. It's okay to find things beautiful. It's better to appreciate it and learn more about it. Especially before you put an article of clothing on.

Cover Image Credit: Foothill Dragon Press

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I'm A Christian And I Have A Tattoo

Stop judging me for it.
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Like most people, I turned 18 years old during the course of my senior year of high school.

I'll never forget the months prior to my birthday, though, because I spent hours making a decision that would be with me forever, the decision of where I would go to get my first tattoo and where that tattoo would go, and of course I spent a lot of time deciding on the font, the colors, and all of the other aspects of the tattoo I wanted.

Throughout this time, two things stood firm 1) the fact that I was going to get a tattoo, and 2) the six letter name that it would consist of.

Now, three years later, I'm 21 years old and I still get the occasional dirty look at church on Sunday or in line at Walmart, and more often than not this look is accompanied by the following words: “Why would you do that to your body when God says not to?"

A few weeks ago at a new church, a woman came up to me and said, “How can you consider yourself a Christian when you have that blasphemous thing on your foot?", I simply smiled at her and said: “God bless you, have a good week." I let it roll off of my back, I've spent the past three years letting it “roll off of my back"… but I think it's time that I speak up.

When I was 8 years old, I lost my sister.

She passed away, after suffering from Childhood Cancer for a great deal of my childhood. Growing up, she had always been my best friend, and going through life after she passed was hard because I felt like even though I knew she was with me, I didn't have something to visually tribute to her – a way to memorialize her.

I, being a Christian and believing in Heaven, wanted to show my sister who was looking down on me that even though she was gone – she could still walk with me every day. I wanted it for me, for her. I wanted to have that connection, for her to always be a part of who I am on the outside – just as much as she is a part of who I am on the inside.

After getting my tattoo, I faced a lot of negativity. I would have Leviticus 19:28 thrown in my face more times than I cared to mention. I would be frowned on by various friends, and even some family. I was told a few times that markings on my body would send me to hell – that was my personal favorite.

You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks on you: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:28

The more I heard these things, the more I wanted to scream. I didn't though. I didn't let the harsh things said about me and my choice change the love I have for the Lord, for my sister, or for the new precious memento on my left foot. I began to study my Bible more, and when I came to the verse that had been thrown in my face many times before – I came to a realization.

Reading the verses surrounding verse 28, I realized that God was speaking to the covenant people of Israel. He was warning them to stay away from the religious ways of the people surrounding them. Verse 28 wasn't directed to what we, in today's society, see as tattoos – it was meant in the context of the cultic practice of marking one's self in the realm of cultic worship.

26 "You shall not eat anything with the blood, nor practice divination or soothsaying. 27 You shall not round off the side-growth of your heads nor harm the edges of your beard. 28 'You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD. 29 'Do not profane your daughter by making her a harlot, so that the land will not fall to harlotry and the land become full of lewdness. 30 'You shall keep My sabbaths and revere My sanctuary; I am the LORD. 31 'Do not turn to mediums or spiritists; do not seek them out to be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God."
Leviticus 19:26–31

The more I have studied my Bible over the past few years, the more I pity those who rely on one verse in the Old Testament to judge and degrade those, like myself, who made the decision to get a tattoo for whatever reason they may have for doing so.

This is because, you see, in the New Testament it is said that believers are not bound by the laws of the Old Testament – if we were, there would be no shellfish or pork on the menus of various Christian homes. While some see tattoos as a modification of God's creation, it could also be argued that pierced ears, haircuts, braces, or even fixing a cleft lip are no different.

24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."
Galatians 3:24-25

In Galatians, we read that the Old Testament law was created to lead people to Jesus. However, we know that Jesus has come and died on the cross for our sins. He has saved us, therefore we are no longer held to this law in order to have a relationship with the Lord. Our relationship with Him comes from believing that Jesus came to Earth to die on a cross for our sins, and repenting of our sins – accepting Jesus as our Savior.

I am a Christian, I have a relationship with the Lord that is stronger than it has ever been, and - I HAVE A TATTOO.

I have a beautiful memento on my left foot that reminds me that my sister walks with me through every day of my life. She walked with me down the red carpet at my senior prom, she walked with me across the stage the day I graduated from high school, and she continues to be with me throughout every important moment of my life.

My tattoo is beautiful. My tattoo reminds me that I am never alone. My tattoo is perfect.

Stop judging me for it.

Cover Image Credit: Courtney Johnson

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The Pulse Affect

Where do we stand 2 years later?

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It's been 2 years since the infamous Pulse shooting and everyone, including myself, is still affected. I remember so clearly how I was too scared to go to any pride events afterward. I knew that's what the shooter wanted, was for us all to retreat back into the closest we so bravely came out of, but still, I couldn't bring myself to leave the bed.

The news had hit me harder than any of the previous shooting. While it was still a mass shooting such as what was happening at the schools, the target was more specific. He went in there with the mind of not just killing people, but people associated with the LGBT community. The scene was so horrible, that some of the first responders have even mentioned having PTSD still from the scene.

The news had sunk everyone's heart and many flocked to social media just to find out if friends were there or not. The toll was 49 innocent people who had lost their lives to a despicable individual I refuse to name. I feel he received too much attention in the media as it was.

It also didn't take long for the focus to switch from the victims to the "how could we prevent this"—which isn't a bad question, but the two sides who seemed to differ on opinions so much just turned it into yet another screaming match. That being said, those who weren't on the extreme end of it found themselves seeking comfort from each other. For many people, this attack did scare them, but I think within the horrifying event came a new sense of community.

For those who had family or friends that were victims of such an attack, my heart goes out to you. The mourning doesn't stop, and while I know there are no words that can be strung together to bring closure, I can show my support and continue to fight for equality and help educate whoever I can. The tragedy isn't something I wish on anyone, and the wound stills fresh to me despite not having any personal connections to anyone.

To end this story on a hopeful note, today people are doing positive things in honor of the victims of the pulse attack. One article writes about a couple who spends their time cleaning up the area of litter and mentions others donating money, objects, or their own time in hopes to help anyone in need. One direct quote from this article is "Last year, more than 2,500 people volunteered their time in support of Acts of Love and Kindness, and while there was no official tally yet for this year's outpouring, it seems likely that many will go uncounted."

I encourage people today to reach out to one another, no matter orientation or identity. Love one another and don't let things strip others of their human qualities. We are all human and have the ability to do good. The shooting was tragic, but we should not let it keep us from celebrating who we are and embracing each other with open arms. Don't let the worlds hate scare you or stifle your creativity. We will not let anyone push us back into the dark, no better their best effort. Live on and keep your heart open to love.

Cover Image Credit:


https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-gathered-near-building-holding-flag-at-daytime-919194/

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