My Culture Is Not A Trend

My Culture Is Not A Trend

A quick guide to why cultural appropriation isn't honoring an ethnic group and how the practice is actually harming indigenous culture(s).
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In light of the recent article released by the Huffington Post that depicted the Upstate New York Village of Whitesboro’s seal, I realized that I need to discuss the harmful nature of cultural appropriation.

The Whitesboro village seal, which depicts a white settler strangling a Native American, recently caused a nationwide controversy. As a result, the Whitesboro officials decided to kick off the New Year by putting it to a vote on whether or not the village should keep the off-putting seal or change it. An additional article published by the Huffington Post stated that despite the citizens of Whitesboro voting 157-55 in favor of keeping the seal, the village’s officials chose to work with the local Oneida tribe to create a less controversial seal.

More importantly, this incident reminded me that caricatures, stereotypes, appropriations, and abuses of native or indigenous people remain relatively socially acceptable in the United States. Obviously, I cannot speak for the entirety of the approximately five million Native Americans in the United States, but I can state that as a woman of both Cherokee and Choctaw heritage I find the continued appropriation of Native American and indigenous cultures offensive. In general, co-opting and misappropriating any aspect of another culture disregards its meaning and value. For example, the headdress in Native American culture is sacred and important an important symbol in many indigenous communities. Wearing traditional indigenous clothing or appropriating native culture is not trendy, hip or ironic. Picking what you may find aesthetically pleasing from an indigenous culture or what you think is pretty forgoes the decidedly un-trendy history that comes with being indigenous in the United States. A history that many people forget consists of cultural genocide, residential schools, racism, stolen generations, and the eradication of entire tribes of people and their cultural traditions. Consistently, indigenous people have had to fight to maintain their cultural traditions. So when someone dons sacred garb on the whim of it being a fashion trend, it disenfranchises the very real blood, sweat, and tears that went into securing a people’s ability to maintain that traditional garb.

So you may be asking yourself what is cultural appropriation and why is it such a big deal?

Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own. Of course, this definition is only a very basic definition – to read more about cultural appropriation see this article. A more in-depth understanding of cultural appropriation refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.

That’s why cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural exchange or cultural appreciate when people share mutually with each other – because cultural exchange lacks that systemic power dynamic. So what’s the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation? The latter is having a genuine interest in learning about a people’s history, traditions, language, values and way of life. Appropriation is based on a superficial appreciation of a group and uses convenient parts of that group’s culture for commercial reasons. It is damaging because doing so ignores the experiences of minorities and marginalized people.

Cultural appropriation is also not the same as assimilation. Assimilation occurs when marginalized people adopt elements of the dominant culture in order to survive conditions that make life more of a struggle if they don’t. Some people say that non-Western people who wear jeans and Indigenous people who speak English are taking from dominant cultures, too. But marginalized groups often don’t have the power to decide if they’d prefer to stick with their customs or try on the dominant culture’s traditions just for fun.

Appropriating someone else’s culture may seem harmless, but unfortunately, it is not. Cultural appropriation manages to trivialize violent historical oppression, allows people to appreciate the culture while remaining prejudiced against its people, and it makes things “cool” for white people, but “too ethnic” for people of color. Cultural appropriation also manages to let privileged people profit from oppressed people’s labor and often lets people get reward for things that the original creators never got credit for. Cultural appropriation can also spread lies about marginalized groups and perpetuates racist stereotypes. A more thorough explanation of these effects of cultural appropriation can be found in Maisha Z. Johnson’s article, “What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation?

Consider this: if you were faced with the choice between your ability to wear a costume that stigmatized, stereotyped, or caricatured a people group – or to don an aspect their sacred ceremonial or traditional attire – and that ethnic group’s ability to maintain the sacredness of said tradition that helps them avoid harm and oppression, what would you do?

Just remember that skipping the costume or the traditional attire puts you on the side of anti-oppression.

Cover Image Credit: Pexels

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17 Empowering Bible Verses For Women

You go, girl.
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We all have those days where we let the negative thoughts that we're "not good enough," "not pretty enough" or "not smart enough" invade our minds. It's easy to lose hope in these situations and to feel like it would be easier to just give up. However, the Bible reminds us that these things that we tell ourselves are not true and it gives us the affirmations that we need. Let these verses give you the power and motivation that you're lacking.

1. Proverbs 31:25

"She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future."

2. Psalm 46:5

"God is within her, she will not fall."

3. Luke 1:45

"Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her."

4. Proverbs 31:17

"She is energetic and strong, a hard worker."

5. Psalm 28:7

"The Lord is my strength and my shield."

6. Proverbs 11:16

"A gracious woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth."

7. Joshua 1:9

"Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

8. Proverbs 31:30

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised."

9. 1 Corinthians 15:10

"By the grace of God, I am what I am."

10. Proverbs 31:26

"When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness."

11. Psalm 139:14

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

12. 1 Peter 3:3-4

"Don't be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God."

13. Colossians 2:10

"And in Christ you have been brought to fullness."

14. 2 Timothy 1:7

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."

15. Jeremiah 29:11

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'"

16. Exodus 14:14

"The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm."

17. Song of Songs 4:7

"You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way."

Next time you're feeling discouraged or weak, come back to these verses and use them to give you the strength and power that you need to conquer your battles.

Cover Image Credit: Julia Waterbury

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The Disrespectful Nature Of My Generation Needs To Stop

Why choosing phone games over a Holocaust survivor was my breaking point.

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While many students that attended Holocaust survivor Hershel Greenblat's talk were rightfully attentive, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a few outlier students tapping away on their phones. They were minute movements, but inappropriate nonetheless.

Immediately I became infuriated. How, I thought, fuming, did my generation become so blithely unaware to the point where we could not proffer basic respect to a survivor of one of the most horrific events in human history?

Perhaps the students were just texting their parents, telling them that the event would run a bit long. 10 minutes later, my eyes diverted from Greenblat back to the students. They were still on their phones. This time, I could see the screens being held horizontally—indicating a game or a show was being played. I wanted to get up, smack the distractions out of their hands, and ask them why they thought what they were doing was more important than a Holocaust speaker.

I will not waste any more time writing about the disrespectful few. Because they could not give Greenblat the time of their day, I will not give them mine. Instead, I want to focus on a massive trend my generation has mistakenly indulged ourselves in.

The Greenblat incident is only an example of this phenomenon I find so confusing. From young, it was instilled in me, probably via Chinese tradition, that elders should be respected. It is a title only revoked when unacceptable behavior allows it to be, and is otherwise maintained. I understand that not everybody comes from a background where respect is automatically granted to people. And I see that side of the story.

Why does age automatically warrant respect? It is the fact that they have made it this far, and have interesting stories to tell. There are exceptions, perhaps more than there are inclusions.

But this fact can be determined by the simple act of offering an elderly person your seat on public transportation. Sure, it can be for their health, but within that simple act is a meaningful sacrifice for somebody who has experienced more than you.

Age aside, at Greenblat's talk, majority of the disrespect shown might not have been agist. Instead, it could have been the behavior students just there for the check-in check-out extra credit that multiple classes and clubs were offering. While my teachers who advertised the event stressed the importance of attendance not just for the academic boost, but for the experience, I knew that some of the more distracted students there must have been those selfish, ignorant, solely academic driven cockalorums.

I stay hopeful because majority of my classmates were attentive. We knew to put aside our Chromebooks, regardless of note-taking, and simply listen to what Greenblat had to offer.

It would be wrong to label my generation as entitled— that's a misnomer for the generation before. We are still wavering between the line of automatic respect and earned respect, but we need to set a line for people whom we know the stories of. Especially a Holocaust survivor.

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