Cultural Appropriation or Cultural Segregation?

Before you read this article, know this: I am writing this with an open mind and an open heart. I am writing this with zero bias, bringing forth new points and ideas. 

Cultural appropriation is a bandwagon everyone likes to jump on, and regardless of your stance on it, you've probably culturally appropriated another culture. Oh, and your culture has probably been appropriated by someone else.

What exactly is cultural appropriation?
Let me break it down for you in simple terms.

There are certain symbols, features and practices that are associated with certain cultures, religions, ethnicities, etc. They have a deep meaning behind them.

Sometimes, people not apart of that culture, religion or ethnicity will use that symbol for their own good, ignorantly, with no knowledge of the symbol. A lot of the times the individual is privileged and is mocking the symbol. Sometimes the individual really had no harm and was just taking part in a trend. 


It all started with mainly white girls wearing native american headdresses and bindis at music festivals. Then white people wearing cornrows. Then white people incorporating other cultures in a stereotypical way in their performances and music videos. Ever since then, everyone has their eyes perched for the next cultural appropriator. 

While we can all acknowledge that the decision to mock or take advantage of a culture that isn't yours is completely absurd, I think this conversation has been taken too far.

In a sense, all this talk of cultural appropriation has it's pros and cons. It's good that this all happened so we can educate ourselves and realize maybe we shouldn't be mocking other cultures or using it to our own privilege. "Hey, maybe I shouldn't be a slutty native american for halloween. Maybe I shouldn't wear a bindi to a musical festival just to be trendy. Maybe I shouldn't use a bunch of black girls twerking as props in my music video."

Then again...

While all of that is true, this talk of cultural appropriation has gone too far. No surprise, that's usually the way social justice warriors work. But is all of this talk segregating us? Is it making us too sensitive? Is it making us afraid to try out other cultures? Are we too quick to make assumptions when we see people practicing other cultures?

The thing that makes me feel uneasy is the fact that most of the people discussing cultural appropriation are people who were born in America, raised with American culture. If we really trace our ancestry back to our roots, we may come from Asia, Europe, Africa, South America, etc...however, 90% of the time when you are raised in America, you leave the culture of that ancestry behind to adapt to the melting pot this country is. When I look back at my days in the public school system, we all came from different races, religions and cultures - but we were very similar because we were raised in America, at the same school, in the same town. 

Does the color of your skin or the history of your ethnicity give you the right to participate in certain practices while other colors and ethnicities can't?

I guess what I'm trying to say is, we can't assume that people are apart of a culture because of their ethnicity. That's only pushing stereotypes on us more. We can't assume every indian kid practices hinduism. We can't assume every black kid is from the hood and was raised with 'black culture.' We can't assume that every white kid grew up in a six-figure christian home and was raised with 'white culture.' We can't assume people speak or do not speak certain languages. Especially considering the fact that this conversation is mostly being held in America, we need to accept the fact that America is a melting pot and not everyone is what you expect them to be. Culture is much more than what you are born into. It is something you learn and grow with. 

NOT ONLY THAT, but if we are all of the sudden going to start being territorial with our ancestry that we never cared about before, there is always historical debate about where certain symbols and practices came from. For us to completely understand cultural appropriation, we would need to know the complete history of all 196 countries in the world. If we did take the time to understand that, we would realize a lot of symbols and practices aren't from just one culture. But that's another story.

So. Can we learn other cultures if we are trying to avoid them because we are afraid at being called out? Are we unintentionally segregating ourselves? "This is my culture. This is my music. This is my fashion. You CANNOT participate unless you do intensive research on it or if you are from my region of the world." Is it 1672?

Let's discuss this further. Does cultural appropriation exist, and is it wrong?
Yes.

However, you know what else is wrong? Telling people that if they want to wear a cross, a hijab, cornrows, a bindi, a headdress, - they need to do intensive research on it and wear it for a symbolic reason. Telling them that they cannot participate in a culture unless their DNA correlates with it is taking away their freedom.

To you, a cross may represent your dedication to Jesus Christ and the christian religion. But someone else may just want to wear it as a fashion statement. Or maybe it means something else to them.

To you, cornrows may have been a way to organically tame your hair and it may have been apart of your culture growing up, but to someone else - it may just be a new hairstyle they wanted to try out.

Don't get me wrong - it's annoying seeing ignorant people use cultural and religious symbols for some trendy statement or just to be ironic, but we can't stop it. There's a lot of annoying things and people in the world but we can't start banning them from society.

While tons of the points being brought up in this discussion are valid, I feel like it's also backtracking. Just because people jump onto the bandwagon of whatever's trendy doesn't mean they are intentionally being offensive. I mean, look at the history of fashion. As much as I love it, it's all bullshit. The fashion world is just copying people for money, beauty standards, and ripping off of cultures. Why are we just noticing this now?

Does anyone remember when we would pay $30 dollars for a shitty shirt that said 'Hollister' on it? That wasn't appropriating a culture, but it was a silly fashion trend almost everyone participated in without really knowing why. That's what people do and we can't stop it. People participate in trends because a lot of people are mindless consumers or just want to fit in with everyone else. That's kind of the goal of retail, too.

I guess this is apart of what I do as an open-minded individual. At my conservative family get-togethers, I'm always throwing around the most liberal viewpoints so they can open their mind a bit. But when I'm on the internet and I see it being taken over by social justice warriors, I start playing devils advocate so they can calm down, to be quite honest.

The internet paints the world to be something it's not. Perhaps it's because most of the people speaking so loudly on the internet rarely get to experience authentic life. But, hey, social justice warriors: every single day at work, school, or just going about your life: look around you. Look at the damn melting pot around you. Look at the different people participating in different cultures that probably aren't theirs. Look at the interracial relationships and friendships. Look at the people interacting. JUST LOOK.

Do you expect italian people to get mad when you eat or make pizza? Do you expect the chinese to throw a fit when you eat or make eggrolls? Does South America cry with anger every time we decide we want to eat a burrito? I don't know the history or cultural significance of any of those foods yet I eat them all with no shame.

Just because there is discrimination and ignorant people in the world, doesn't mean we should point fingers at everyone else.

Lastly, if you are going to be a social justice warrior crying wolf every time you think someone is participating in cultural appropriation, do it for everyone. Not just the celebrities you don't like. Don't focus on one demographic, either. All races and genders and ages participate in it. 

It's never just black and white. Europe and Africa have many countries inside of it and all of those countries are different. (I can't believe I actually have to say that.) It's the same thing with Asia and South America, too, you know. Hypothetically speaking, someone white can appropriate another white persons culture! Someone black can appropriate another black persons culture! The list goes on and on. 

There is a difference between appropriation and appreciation, and I hope and pray more people will start appreciating instead of appropriating. Yet before we start pointing fingers and twitter-ranting, we need to take a step back and realize what we are saying. The more effort we put into this conversation, the more 'safe' we become as a country, and we segregate ourselves more and more.