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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'As A Woman,' I Don't Need To Fit Your Preconceived Political Assumptions About Women

I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

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It is quite possible to say that the United States has never seen such a time of divisiveness, partisanship, and extreme animosity of those on different sides of the political spectrum. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are saturated with posts of political opinions and are matched with comments that express not only disagreement but too often, words of hatred. Many who cannot understand others' political beliefs rarely even respect them.

As a female, Republican, college student, I feel I receive the most confusion from others regarding my political opinions. Whenever I post or write something supporting a conservative or expressing my right-leaning beliefs and I see a comment has been left, I almost always know what words their comment will begin with. Or in conversation, if I make my beliefs known and someone begins to respond, I can practically hear the words before they leave their mouth.

"As a woman…"

This initial phrase is often followed by a question, generally surrounding how I could publicly support a Republican candidate or maintain conservative beliefs. "As a woman, how can you support Donald Trump?" or "As a woman, how can you support pro-life policies?" and, my personal favorite, "As a woman, how did you not want Hillary for president?"

Although I understand their sentiment, I cannot respect it. Yes, being a woman is a part of who I am, but it in no way determines who I am. My sex has not and will not adjudicate my goals, my passions, or my work. It will not influence the way in which I think or the way in which I express those thoughts. Further, your mention of my sex as the primary logic for condemning such expressions will not change my adherence to defending what I share. Nor should it.

To conduct your questioning of my politics by inferring that my sex should influence my ideology is not only offensive, it's sexist.

It disregards my other qualifications and renders them worthless. It disregards my work as a student of political science. It disregards my hours of research dedicated to writing about politics. It disregards my creativity as an author and my knowledge of the subjects I choose to discuss. It disregards the fundamental human right I possess to form my own opinion and my Constitutional right to express that opinion freely with others. And most notably, it disregards that I am an individual. An individual capable of forming my own opinions and being brave enough to share those with the world at the risk of receiving backlash and criticism. All I ask is for respect of that bravery and respect for my qualifications.

Words are powerful. They can be used to inspire, unite, and revolutionize. Yet, they can be abused, and too comfortably are. Opening a dialogue of political debate by confining me to my gender restricts the productivity of that debate from the start. Those simple but potent words overlook my identity and label me as a stereotype destined to fit into a mold. They indicate that in our debate, you cannot look past my sex. That you will not be receptive to what I have to say if it doesn't fit into what I should be saying, "as a woman."

That is the issue with politics today. The media and our politicians, those who are meant to encourage and protect democracy, divide us into these stereotypes. We are too often told that because we are female, because we are young adults, because we are a minority, because we are middle-aged males without college degrees, that we are meant to vote and to feel one way, and any other way is misguided. Before a conversation has begun, we are divided against our will. Too many of us fail to inform ourselves of the issues and construct opinions that are entirely our own, unencumbered by what the mainstream tells us we are meant to believe.

We, as a people, have become limited to these classifications. Are we not more than a demographic?

As a student of political science, seeking to enter a workforce dominated by men, yes, I am a woman, but foremost I am a scholar, I am a leader, and I am autonomous. I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

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It's Hard To Stay Friends With A Kavanaugh-Lover, But It's Possible

Or hater.

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If you don't have your head buried in the sand these days, it's impossible not to realize how viscerally raw most people's political emotions are. And unless you live in a bubble, you likely have friends or family who have very different political beliefs with you. If you want to cut off those relationships, read no further. But if you view your relationships more T. D. Jakes style—"I like to see myself as a bridge builder, that is, me building bridges between people […], between politics, trying to find common ground"—then play on.

Before beginning a conversation with a politically-differing friend, put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: what aspects of their life might have influenced them in this way? Accept that you just don't know what their experiences have been like. Maybe your gun-supporting friend had her house traumatically burglarized when she was quite young; maybe your friend who believes the government should solve all our problems was only able to get hot lunches at school because of government aid. View it as a thought experiment if you will: imagine a sympathetic reason (rather than a judgment-worthy reason) that your friend has this differing viewpoint.

We have two ears and one mouth. Ask them questions and then genuinely listen. As humans, we often listen to respond, not to understand. Try to understand without demonizing or judging your friend. David Livingstone Smith, author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, said that when we dehumanize or demonize others, it acts as: "a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable." Try to accept that your friend's point of view—no matter how much you disagree with it—is (in their eyes) just as valid as your own. Your goal is to listen first, persuade later, argue rarely (or never).

It's not about you. Your friend's support of Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court means just that: they think he should have been confirmed. Or if they are angry that he got confirmed, it means just that: they think he should have not been confirmed at the time. Use our earlier thought experiment: perhaps the supporter found fault in the accusations against Kavanaugh or genuinely viewed it as a false accusation, and (whether that happened here or not), we can agree a false accusation is concerning. It doesn't necessarily mean that they think the assault he was accused of is okay—perhaps they think any form of sexual assault is utterly appalling and should never be tolerated, but just didn't happen here. Your friend's view is not personal to you, no matter how personal it may feel.

There's a difference between supporting a politician and supporting an action. If your family member voted for Trump, that doesn't mean they support his personal behavior. (If they DO—that's a different story.) It's like watching Lady Bird (great movie) and someone saying that means you think all children should treat their mother like Lady Bird treats hers. The two could be equated but aren't necessarily. Have you ever gone to the theaters and seen a movie that had elements you didn't agree with or like? The same can be said for politics.

If it seems appropriate, when they are done sharing and seem receptive to conversation, share why you may disagree with them. Times to NOT share: if they are angry or closed off. (Observe both their words and their body language. If their voice was raised or their arms are crossed, not the time.) If they just shared something vulnerable with you (eg. they are vehemently pro-choice because they've been assaulted and got an abortion), now is not the time.

Remember, your goal is not to argue, but to listen and then to persuade. If they're not in a place where they can listen to you being persuasive—then let it go and try again some other time.

When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. However—sometimes you shouldn't always maintain these relationships. Politicians your friends support don't necessarily fully reflect who your friends are, but political views are an aspect of who they are. To use the above analogy: when you see a movie at the theater, you are supporting it. Even if you disagree with it and warn your friends away, you still paid for the ticket.

And sometimes you don't. Understand when you need to disengage. It's okay to have some things you can talk about civilly and rationally and some things that you just can't. If my friend thinks communism is the way to go, for example, I am able to speak respectfully and rationally about it. But if a person tries to support child abuse, I absolutely cannot have a conversation with them where I try to understand where they're coming from and listen to them without telling them how wrong they are. It's okay to have some topics that mean so much to you that you can't engage with all of them or respect every differing point of view.

When you win, be gracious. And lastly, if you supported Kavanaugh, your friends who opposed his quick confirmation are crushed right now. It's okay if you think that's silly or not a big deal. But go back to the first point: put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if some political issue you felt really strongly about was dealt a crushing blow? You'd want the people on the winning side to be gracious, or try to understand, or at least not rub it in. Maybe you didn't like how the situation unfolded, but your guy's in now. Think of the golden rule and be kind to your friends who are struggling with this.

Just remember:

"Be sure when you step—step with care and great tact. And remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft—and never mix up your right foot with your left."
Dr. Seuss.

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