Text 21 Jan 1,738 notes What is cultural appropriation, and how to avoid it

I think I’m going to make that previous post into a post that can be reblogged. Again, this is just one person’s opinion about cultural appropriation! Don’t take my words as absolute truth. Ask different people what they think and read different stories.


What is cultural appropriation?

The phrase means literally, “one culture taking parts from another culture”, for example, the idea of pizza spreading from Italian immigrants to become a food that people call “American”. But, it’s not as simple as that.

One reason cultural appropriation can be bad, is that sometimes, it has the power to make people stereotype the original culture, or, make them see a version of it that is mostly invented by people who are not from that culture, and, not actually true. It can cause people to see the other culture as “strange” and “exotic”, because, they only see the other culture through the eyes of the people from their own culture. This usually happens when a very powerful culture takes things from a less powerful culture, and stereotypes them or creates their own idea about them, that erases people’s idea of the original culture.

Another reason it can be bad, is that rituals and history that have a strong meaning to the original culture, can be treated by outsiders as “just for fun”. Then, the ritual or history is treated in a way that is disrespectful and offensive, to someone who has it as a very deep part of their culture.


How to avoid cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation damages cultures when a dominant culture takes things from another culture without understanding them, or uses them in ways that are not how they were originally, and replaces the dominant culture’s idea of what the other culture is like. To avoid this:

  • Make sure that when you study other cultures, you are careful to study from original sources, from people in that culture. Don’t study by using writing about that culture that is written by outsiders. Often, it is biased and racist.
  • Make sure that when you study other cultures, you take time to learn a lot of details about the culture and why things are done the way that they are. Don’t learn one thing or a few things, and decide that you “know about the culture”. Cultures are very big and complicated. If you think a small study can tell you everything there is to know about that culture, you are treating that culture like a shallow thing. If you realise that even different areas of the United States, have their own cultures, languages, dialects, food, and inside those areas, different ethnic groups also have their own cultures (that might or might not be the same as the ones in the country that group first comes from)… then, you realise, a whole country can’t be understood by learning a few cultural rituals.
  • Remember that the things you learn about other cultures from TV, school, etc. are usually the stereotypes. When you start to learn about a culture seriously, ignore the things that you “think you know”, and learn directly from that culture.
  • If you want to do something from another culture, learn about what it means in that culture, and find out if there might be any reason why it would be disrespectful for you to do it. It’s not automatically disrespectful for to do something from another culture, but, it’s important to learn whether there is an issue.
  • Just because you learn about a culture, don’t act like an expert on it. Always listen to people from that culture if they say that you have it wrong.
  • Don’t treat parts of other people’s cultures as “exotic” or “so mysterious!” Remember, they are normal to those people. Don’t make them seem like strange beings.
  • Don’t assume that just because someone is from a culture that you are studying, they want to hear all about how fascinating it is to you. Imagine that someone comes up to you and says, “oh, you’re American! I love hamburgers, too! Have you ever been in a movie?” It’s really embarrassing and feels weird and insulting, right? You think, “America is more complicated than that… and, just because I’m American, doesn’t mean I like stereotyped American things”, right? People from other cultures feel like that too. Treat them like every other person.
  • Again: this is the important thing! Remember that cultures are more complicated than you think they are! North American food is not just “hamburgers”… and, food of other cultures is not just “sushi” or “curry” or “rice”. Try to avoid saying things like “I like Japanese food”. Do you know how many different things that is? Instead, say the types of food you like, like, “I like onigiri and curry udon”. (So do I (´・ω・`))

In the end, treat other cultures like you would want people to treat yours. You don’t have to think “I never can do anything involved with this culture”, but be very careful thinking you know about a culture because you learned a few things. Be respectful and humble, and always willing to learn. Don’t jump in with your ideas, listen more than you speak. Always let the person from that culture speak first.

And if someone says, “those clothes/that word/that kind of food has an important meaning, you can’t just use it for fun”… then, listen and respect that.

This way, you can enjoy learning and moving beyond just the ideas in your own culture, without causing harm! I hope this helps (´・ω・`)

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    Mentioned the concept “cultural appropriation” at work today and blew a few minds.
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