Q:Where does one draw the line with an issue like cultural appropriation? Like, for example, rock music evolved from jazz, and the vast majority of early rock and rollers were black. Is it cultural appropriation that, due to Elvis, and later The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, it became something predominantly done by white people? Similarly, Western culture in general is defined by adoption of other cultural traits. As such, when does it become unnacceptable?
With cultural appropriation, there are a lot of factors at play. Honestly I’m not the best person to ask this question, but I will try.
First of all, anything that is sacred and religious to a marginalized culture should never be appropriated. So that’s Native American war bonnets and the concept of spirit animals, for example.
Second of all, anything that is inherent and vital to the culture and history of a marginalized group. So, for Saami, reindeer husbandry, or for the Japanese, geisha.
Third of all, languages, modern culture, and behavior. I fully support people going out and learning new languages, and I’m talking more about non-Japanese people giving themselves Japanese names (a common form of fetishization), and non-Black people twerking and speaking with AAVE and wearing their hair in dreadlocks, the common use of Native Americans as sports mascots, and of course generally attempting to be a part of a culture that is not open to you.
If what you’re doing can benefit someone from a marginalized culture, I think that’s okay. For example, I know people really like the concept of dream catchers, from Native cultures. I think if you’ve got one that was a gift from or a purchase from a Native person, that’s okay. Similarly, eating foreign food is totally cool as long as you’re getting it from a place that is run by people part of the culture the food comes from.
So I guess the line is kinda squiggly at times. But if you’re doing something and you think “hey, maybe I shouldn’t do this”, I advise asking these questions to yourself:
- am I about to do something that non-white people get treated badly for?
- am I about to do something that is religious and sacred to marginalized cultures I am not a part of?
- am I about to dress up or act in a way that reflects a culture I am not a part of and therefore cannot understand?
- am I about to do something that I know many PoC are not okay with?
- am I about to do something that might be harmful to someone from another culture?
Hope this helps!
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