BackTalk: Cultural appropriation raises questions regarding ethics

Culture misappropriation takes away from original meaning

by Matt Molinar

America loves to appropriate culture.

In order for cultures to be taken seriously, a line has to be drawn that divides cultural appropriation from appreciation.  There is a large gray area between cultural appropriation and misappropriation, which is offensive.

To understand why culture is important, you must know that culture is how a society interprets the world.

America is basically a crock pot filled with a variety of cultures and subcultures as the ingredients. This sets a stage for any culture to be appropriated.

It is quite acceptable to have appreciation for another culture and express appreciation for that culture in outward appearance in good taste.

It is not acceptable for someone from a dominant culture to appropriate pieces of a culture that they have systematically oppressed. It is also not acceptable to sexualize or make fun of an oppressed culture’s outward appearance, especially when there’s money involved.

When people of a dominant culture appropriate a minority culture, they ignore the many historical contexts associated with that culture. Whatever piece of culture somebody of a dominant culture appropriates loses its original meaning.

One great person to reference when you’re talking about cultural appropriation is Katy Perry. One example of her very terrible instances is when she dressed in a Japanese Geisha costume in her American Music Awards performance of “Unconditionally” in 2013.  Her version of a Japanese Geisha was tacky and inaccurate.

She came out on stage wearing a modified kimono and an extremely pale face, mimicking the look of a Geisha. After her performance, the comments calling her offensive began circulating.

Not only did Perry look stupid during this performance, but she offended the culture.

Her performance leaves naïve Americans with an inaccurate representation of a fascinating Asian culture.

Perry’s original intention was nothing negative. She may have been trying to show appreciation for the Geishas, and she has since apologized, but she used a culture for her own benefit.

Taylor Swift also did the same kind of belittling of a culture when she featured a bunch of black girls twerking behind her in her music video for “Shake it Off.”

While you might assume that twerking originated in American strip clubs, you may be very surprised to discover that twerking actually has deep African roots. There are several traditional dances practiced in West African cultures, such as mapouka, that exhibit the same movements as twerking.

Learning this made me realize that appropriating a culture in a negative way will indeed dissolve its original meaning into videos of white girls arching and flexing their backs to a song by Miley Cyrus.

Singer Gwen Stefani has also done appearances with a group of Japanese girls she uses as props. Stefani is so inspired by the Harajuku culture in Tokyo that she decided to hire four Japanese girls to stand behind her in public appearances, dance behind her in music videos, and say absolutely nothing.

If you have seen the music videos where she features these four Japanese girls, you will understand how Stefani has taken Japanese youth culture and turned it into how most Americans view young Japanese women to be: submissive, giggling Asians.

The main reason why cultural misappropriation is harmful is because it exposes the dominant western culture to inaccurate stereotypes. And yes, it is possible to show appreciation for a culture without adding to the attention of an inaccurate stereotype.

You can’t blame somebody for unknowingly misappropriating a culture because it looks cool. But you can educate him or her on why it’s wrong and how they can possibly find a better way to show appreciation for culture.


Appreciation of minority cultures not appropriation

by Riley Golden

There is a fine line between cultural appropriation and appreciation, and it isn’t always fair to deem something as appropriation.

When I was in middle school, I dressed up as Lil Wayne for Halloween one year. I did what I now know is called “black-face,” which, for good reason, has quite a negative connotation. For as far as this country has come in the treatment of black people, there is still a long way to go. I saw a viral Snapchat post of some white girls who had dark cosmetic facemasks on and they were “acting” like black people. It was extremely offensive and derogatory, but that is because those girls were specifically making fun of black people.

When I dressed up as Lil Wayne, my goal was the exact opposite. I loved Lil Wayne – I still have somewhere around 100 Lil Wayne songs in my music library – and I was, if anything, paying homage to him. He was my favorite artist at the time, and, in truth, all I was trying to do was show that appreciation.

Since showing that photo to people in college, I’ve come under light fire, being told that I would be forgiven for it because I was in middle school. I’m no longer as naïve as I was in middle school, and I realize now that I could have done that entire outfit the same, minus the “black-face” make-up, and my outfit still would’ve delivered Lil Wayne.

But, shouldn’t intent factor into how people receive things like that? I think so. It’s similar to non-black people using the “n word” followed with the “a” sound. Travis Scott, one of today’s biggest names in hip-hop who frequently uses the word in his music, gave an Asian kid permission to say it in the concert. Scott’s reasoning for this was because he’s at the concert, showing appreciation for him and the music he makes.

But, some would point to white people using that word as appropriation, especially because of its origin. Not to dismiss what Europeans did to the African people, and not even to say that the communities aren’t still dealing with the horrors that Europeans brought down on them, but we are not our forefathers.

My best friend is black, Kenyan-American to be exact, and we have a lot of conversations about this topic. I wanted to get myself a dashiki, an African-style shirt, because I like his culture, the shirts look cool, and I want to show my appreciation for it. To him, wearing a dashiki outside of Africa is kind of appropriating the culture. But, if I didn’t know him and still had an appreciation for the culture, I would’ve worn it out of ignorance.

I have the utmost appreciation for the black culture, as well as all other cultures, and often times I want nothing more than to be accepted into it. But sometimes, like with the Lil Wayne costume, or my Migos hat (Migos are a black rap group) my appreciation can be taken as appropriation because of how a large number of white people view black people.

Appropriation is definitely an issue that people deal with on a daily basis. But I think people should stop and think, “is this person really appropriating my culture, or are they showing appreciation for it in a way that they don’t know is offensive?”

Author: Plainsman Press Staff

The student newspaper of South Plains College.

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