Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation (Originally written in 2017)
When I was mowing the lawn last week, I had my headphones on listening to my Taylor Swift Pandora music station. Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” started playing and for some reason, I had never really listened to the lyrics to that song until that moment, as I was raking the newly cut grass, I thought, what the heck? Why didn’t I realize that’s what she was singing about? I remembered watching the music video and thinking, wow, I feel like her use of ancient Egyptian imagery for this song is kind of weird. But why exactly was her metaphor of an Egyptian Empress doing away with potential suitors who weren’t matching up to her standards, bothersome, and verging on the offensive?
“Make me your Aphrodite Make me your one and only But don’t make me your enemy, your enemy, your enemy
So you wanna play with magic
Boy, you should know whatcha falling for Baby do you dare to do this Cause I’m coming atcha like a dark horse Are you ready for, ready for A perfect storm, perfect storm Cause once you’re mine, once you’re mine There’s no going back…”
I understand the idea of art and the use of metaphor and imagery to evoke a feeling and a mood. But, seriously, Aphrodite was a Greek Goddess of love and beauty. How did we end up in Egypt?
I read a current article in Huffington Post, called “Katy Perry’s Cultural Appropriation Meat Grinder.” The article criticized her for not actually immersing herself in the culture she takes from, and it’s not an equal relationship. She takes what she wants from the culture, sends it through a sickly sweet pop filter and voila, we get toe-tapping Billboard Music hit songs. Everything that she does, like all things from the commercialized entertainment industry, is surface level. Without truly understanding the cultures she is borrowing from, she is exploiting them for profit and nothing else. She is not helping to promote cultural understanding or honoring the cultures she borrows from in any way.
What is cultural appropriation?
“Cultural Appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture.” – Wikipedia
Cultural Appreciation is much harder to define because it involves true engagement and investment in the culture you are trying to take inspiration from. When done well, appreciating other cultures can have its benefits, especially, from the culture that is being appreciated. For example, Yoga became big in the 60s, where folks from the U.S. and UK, were interested in the practice. So, East Indian Yoga instructors got paid while Westerners got yoga. Win/win.
In, "5 Things White People Need to Learn about Cultural Appropriate," Derrick Clifton said, “A Japanese teen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a big American company is not the same as Madonna sporting a bindi as part of her latest reinvention. The difference is history and power. Colonization has made Western Anglo culture supreme–powerful and coveted. It is understood in its diversity and nuance as other cultures can only hope to be. Ignorance of culture that is a burden to Asians, African, and indigenous peoples, is unknown to most European descendants or at least lacks the same negative impact.”
The difference between ‘cultural appropriation’ and ‘cultural appreciation’ lies in how we are engaging with the culture. Are they actually part of the process with the co-creation of music, fashion, or food. Or, are we just taking what we like and mashing it up into some type of bastardized version of a cultural Frankenstein creation.
What Logan Albright, in Conservative Review, “Why is cultural ‘appropriation’ a bad thing?” get’s wrong in his article is that he truly doesn’t understand the harm that is created when cultural appreciation is done poorly. We can eat burritos and pizza with guiltless abandon and practice yoga because as Westerners, as Americans, we can. We’re the dominant culture. Is someone being harmed while I eat a burrito in Chipotle? No, but like Zoya Patel said in “How to appreciate a culture without appropriating it,” she grew up wearing traditional Saris and was ridiculed and made fun of, for being different. But, when Beyonce puts on a Sari and Henna tattoos on her hands it takes on a different meaning. It becomes a magical and exotic thing.
You’re truly not appreciating a culture when you’re not listening to the criticism coming from the particular culture you are borrowing from, well, more like taking from. There in lies the problem. America is a nation founded by immigrants, from all over the world. There will be a mix and match of different types of cultural flavors that have interwoven into the fabric of American culture. Over time, its just become who we are and we stopped questioning where something comes from and what the historical significance of it is.
You know when you are appreciating a culture or not. When a First-Nation person tells you that calling your school mascot a Redskin is offensive and perpetuates the bloody history of Native Genocide, your response would not be. “It’s just a name, and we’re appreciating your culture not appropriating it.” Your answer should be, “I hear what you are saying and I can see how the name Redskin is offensive to the Native experience and misrepresentative of our bloody US history.”
Here are five ways that White People can show appreciation versus appropriation: You can find the detailed explanation of the 5 ways here: 5 Things White People Need to Learn About Cultural Appropriation
Cite your cross-cultural influences publicly and often.
Don’t wear very culturally-specific clothing if you don’t understand the significance
Speak or sing in your normal voice, not what you think is another culture’s accent
Stereotypes aren’t your toys. Don’t play around with them.
An authentic cultural exchange should feel free and affirming, rather than plagiarizing or thieving.
If you want to truly appreciate and understand other cultures then do it. Visit a different country, read a book, speak to people from those different cultures, and learn about them. Be an ally instead of a tourist. At the end of the day, how we treat other people is all that matters. As long as we treat them with respect, kindness, and mutual understanding of who they are and what makes them who they are. We should all be just fine.
WikiHow to Respect Other Cultures.: http://www.wikihow.com/Respect-Other-Cultures
Albright, Logan. (May 2017). “Why is cultural ‘appropriation’ a bad thing?” Retrieved May 29, 2017 from https://www.conservativereview.com/articles/why-is-cultural-appropriation-a-bad-thing
Clifton, Derrick. (Dec. 2015). “5 Things White People Need to Learn about Cultural Appropriation.” Retrieved May 29, 2017 from https://www.dailydot.com/via/5-things-white-people-cultural-appropriation/
Fragoso, Brianna. (2016). “Cultural Appropriation Vs. Cultural Appreciation.” Retrieved May 29, 2017 from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/cultural-appropriation-vs-cultural-appreciation
Mechanic, Jesse. (2017). “Katy Perry’s Cultural Appropriation Meat Grinder.” Retrieved May 30, 2017 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/examining-katy-perrys-cultural-appropriation-meat_us_592464ebe4b0e8f558bb2a3a
Mecking, Olga (Nov. 2014). “6 Tips for Appreciating Other Cultures in a Non-Diverse Environment.” Retrieved May 29, 2017 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/olga-mecking/6-tips-for-appreciating-o_b_6066274.html
Patel, Zoyya (March 2016). “How to appreciate a culture without appropriating it.” Retrieved May 29, 2017 from https://i-d.vice.com/en_us/article/how-to-appreciate-a-culture-without-appropriating-it
Perry, Katy. (2014). Dark Horse. Retrieved May 30, 2017 from https://youtu.be/0KSOMA3QBU0
Uwujaren, Jarune. (2013). “The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation.” Retrieved May 29, 2017 from http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/09/cultural-exchange-and-cultural-appropriation/