Cultural Appreciation and Appropriation Are Different

The line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation is very thin and very blurred. For me, it’s somewhere in between white people listening to hip-hop and Khloe Kardashian fattening her butt and lips, darkening her skin, putting her hair in braids and calling herself a “Bantu Babe.”

Cultural appropriation has existed for as long as different races have had access to one another, but it seems that it’s only being brought into the ongoing narrative about racism in this country fairly recently due changing worldviews and social media. One of the biggest hubs of cultural appropriation is probably the music industry. Selena Gomez sporting a Bindi and Katy Perry dressing up as a Geisha are just a couple of infinite examples of appropriation in that business. Even the style of music can be appropriating. Time after time we’ve heard Drake change his accent to fit the feel of the song. He’s Canadian, Latino, Caribbean, depending on the sound of the song. Sometimes, he might even decide he’s from the hood, too. The problem with this is that he’s doing it for personal gain. He’s not appreciating the cultures. He knows that these aesthetics are in right now, and he’s willing to exploit them to sell records.

The fashion industry is another huge center of cultural appropriation. In 2013, Numéro magazine featured a white model at the center of a spread, calling the shoot “African Queen.” On social media, just recently, a trend has started in which white girls are filming themselves imitating dances popularized by the black community. As someone who grew up in the U.S., but is still immersed in multiple African cultures, the latter of the two examples of appropriation are difficult for me to see. While it might be a joke to the people doing it, for me, it’s disheartening and emotionally tiring.

The thing about appropriation is that the line is drawn at different places. I, for one, can’t help the pang of insult I feel when a white girl puts her hair in cornrows (which will destroy your hairline if you are white-be warned), but I have a friend who welcomes it, and says we should be flattered that people are appreciating our culture. This is where the line blurs. It can be argued that Khloe Kardashian is appropriating women of color by darkening her skin, but was Beyonce appropriating white women when she bleached hers? When 2Pac dressed up as an African chief, was he appropriating African culture? All these variables and personal opinions make it impossible for us to draw a line where appreciation ends and appropriation starts.

My personal belief is that if you’re going to “appreciate” a culture, you have to appreciate all parts of it. You want to wear Timbs, put your hair in cornrows and bump rap music? That’s fine, but I don’t think its right to stay silent when the character of the people who gave you those things is being questioned. The frustration comes from having your own culture taken, ruined and thrown back in your face by people who choose to bury their heads in the sand when racial issues are discussed. Every day, I hear people discuss their favorite basketball players, see them dance to black music and wear urban clothes, but when racial issues are brought up, they choose to bury their heads in the sand. Why the sudden silence?  If you choose to appropriate and imitate the lives of other cultures, make sure you stand up for them, too.

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