Ignorance is the fuel that ignites cultural appropriation
Cultural appropriation is often misunderstood. Nadra Nittle, the editor of About.com’s section on race relations, describes cultural appropriation thus: “…typically [involving] dominant group members exploiting the culture and history of less privileged communities — often without understanding their experience, traditions, or histories.” (Nittle). Cultural appropriation is a recent phenomenon in our society. Cultural appropriation, including styles and contributions from traditional African cultures, is the most discussed controversy today. But if you ask people today to list three other cultures or how they’re being appropriated, it may be difficult to get a satisfactory answer. We use many things that are derived from other cultures without even realizing it. Olive oil was originally Jewish, and sushi is Japanese. Headdresses, fringed leather, and traditional Indigenous clothing are all examples. How can we not culturally appropriate these aspects of our culture? Cultural appropriation, by definition, is the exploitation a group that is less fortunate. The first step is to be aware of your position in society. A person who is colored is not usually considered superior to a white person. The ethnicities of colored people vary. However, each group faces discrimination. It is not possible to have your culture adapted if you aren’t colored. It is often assumed that white or non-colored people are automatically given this privilege at birth. It is because of this that reverse racism and other terms like it are invalid. Jenn Jackson from the website watercoolerconvos.com wrote an article about how reverse racism and reverse cultural appropriation are not quite realistic. She explains that the difference between whites and coloreds is what makes reverse racism impossible. Jackson writes: “Racism is a power-based ideology. Positive racial emotions without it are certainly not racist. Minority groups’ racial animus towards whites is not a first offense, because whites have oppressed us for centuries. The issue of reverse racism becomes moot.”
Racism has been a main factor that encourages cultural appropriation. However, at this time, racism has a subdiscrimination known as colorism. Colorism involves discrimination based on race, and goes beyond simply black or white. Colorism, which is the preferential treatment of darker shades over lighter ones because skin tones range in hue from pale all the way to black and white, is due to this. A lighter shade is usually preferred because of the social advantage that white skin enjoys. The pressures to conform to a “universal” image are evident in the efforts of many races. It is dangerous to bleach your skin in Jamaica. The use of lotions or topicals containing bleach-like chemicals is called skin bleaching. This process lightens the color of your skin. Although it is effective, skin bleaching is dangerous. Skin bleaching is well known for thinning the skin. Even a papercut could cause massive blood loss. This is the result of excessive skin bleaching. However, an online review website devoted to skin lightening says, “There is no doubt about the fact that using harsh skin-lightening ingredients such as hydroquinone and mercurous chloride can be dangerous for your skin, or even the entire human body.” Why do people risk their lives to achieve the perfect look? Humanity has an inherent need to accept others. In a society that accepts one culture more than another, racism, colorism and classism are all factors. Cultural appropriation can be used by dominant cultures to perpetuate oppression. You can exploit the customs from a less-privileged culture, without giving credit to them.
Conflicts over hairstyles and clothing have been a major focus in recent years. The traditional clothing of India’s Bindi, Africa’s Dashiki, and Indigenous headdresses are worn as costumes, transforming a tradition into something else. Dreadlocks, a traditional African style of hair, has created a great deal of controversy. Several celebrities have adopted dreadlocks for themselves or their work. They have also completely missed the purpose, meaning and why they were wrong. Emanuella Grindberg wrote an article for CNN explaining that “Black hair is a sensitive subject linked to beauty, politics and identity.” The hairstyles of African-Americans make a strong statement. It is complex when whites wear dreadlocks or a natural afro. The history of black people has condemned their styles, their skin color, and their culture for many years. White people do not have the same struggles in their daily lives and throughout history that colored people have. People who don’t look like Africans but want to take advantage of their traditions can be accused of cultural appropriation and disrespect by wearing dreadlocks. Grinberg states, “Rastafarians see the locks as an expression of their African heritage and a religious commitment to separate themselves from Babylon, which they consider to be a white-European imperialist system that has oppressed Africans and people of colour since time immemorial, according Migrations in History.” Many people do not use the information available to them to learn about another culture.
Cultural appropriation has more psychological consequences than you might think. There is a problem in Canada with cultural appropriation. Many people are aware that Indigenous and Aboriginal Peoples in North America have been forced to leave their land, relocated, or kicked out. Many were tortured, killed or enslaved. Debra Shubert discusses the impact of Aboriginal cultures being appropriated into Canada in an article. Debra explains how dualistic media views dehumanize First Nations girls and women. The appropriation of culture is a way to allow for racism, dehumanization and devaluing a culture’s past. The appropriation of a group’s culture is aimed at those who are less fortunate. Usually, the oppressor race will continue to oppress that race. Schubert states that media portrays an inaccurate picture or idea about these cultures, and simplifies the entire culture. This leads to an increased gap between different groups. Misrepresentation and oversimplification are also common themes in cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation allows oppression against other races in history to continue. You don’t remember when you dress as Native Americans for Halloween how many innocents lives were sacrificed, children murdered, women sexually abused, and entire villages destroyed to control their land. It is offensive to repurpose an item of another culture, which may have had thousands of symbols and meanings for many years. The original culture loses value when it is transferred to another culture. Christopher Colombusing is a common slang term for this.
It is important to learn about other cultures in order to avoid the negative effects that cultural appropriation can have. The ignorance of society makes people believe that they can ignore the traditions of other cultures and still adopt them. It is difficult to reconcile this statement, but it does play a role in the disrespect of another’s culture. People of color face many challenges every day, including cultural appropriation. Racism is interconnected with colorism. Each system is one of oppression and separation of people. Allowing one is to allow all. It is shocking how many people will defend someone who is targeted because of their race, yet sit back and accept when another’s race devalues the race of another. The appropriation of culture is often laced with racism. Celebrities like Kylie Jenner can undergo surgery to get traditionally colored or black features, and are praised for this. However, those who are born with the natural beauty of their ethnicity still face condemnation. When will it change?