Investigating Cultural Appropriation

Investigating Cultural Appropriation

Individuals are unpredictable. What offends one person may not offend the other, hence why cultural appropriation is often misunderstood. Roger defines cultural appropriation as “the use of a cultures symbols, artefacts, genres, rituals, or technologies by members of another culture.” However, cultural appropriation is more convoluted and may be blurred due to cultural diversity/globalisation. Cultural appropriation is the misuse, misrepresentation and distortion of another culture’s items – it involves wearing a sacred item, or take part in a tradition without permission. Examples of cultural appropriation are the misuse of the Bindi, Native American Headdress, Kimono and the Burqa. These are sacred items for religious, cultural and racial purposes, not for icons in pop-culture to steal for a fashion statement, nor to attract attention.

The Native American headdress, sexualised, and bastardised for the sake of a fashion show. An example of what not to do!
The Native American headdress is now sexualised, & bastardised for the sake of a fashion.
       An example of what not to do!

A recent example of cultural appropriation is the misuse of ‘cornrows’. Cornrows are traditionally worn by people of colour to maintain their hair. However, they have recently been worn by people of a white background, particularly used for a fashion statement. Kylie Jenner has created controversy by wearing this hair style in the media as some believe, ‘tells children of a wealthy, white background that they can wear and do what they want. Despite the positives for the ‘upper clas’ community, it unfortunately tells children of colour that they don’t own anything, not even if it belongs to their culture.

Kylie Jenner versus Amanda Stenberg Fashion versus Purpose
Kylie Jenner        versus      Amanda Stenberg    Fashion purpose    versus       Cultural Purpose

Understanding another culture is complex. Cultural exchange should be considered the same as plagiarism; if the exchange of an item is not accepted by the culture it belongs to, the item should not be used. The transnational film industry thrives off of portraying different cultures. Similar to ‘cornrows’, it is important to consider the ‘cultural context’. The film ‘Aloha’ received backlash for appropriating Hawaiian culture. Native Hawaiians feel their sacred word, ‘Aloha’ is bastardised because the title of the film does not match the storyline. According to Jusino, Aloha comes from two Hawaiian words: ‘alo’ — which means the front of a person, the part of our bodies that we share and take in people. And ‘ha,’ which is our breath. To outsiders, ‘Aloha’ is just a word. However to Hawaiians, the word ‘Aloha’ is ‘exchanging the breath of life.’ It is evident, film makers have used ‘Aloha’ in the incorrect context in order to gain money, therefore it is unjustified and inconsiderate to not only use a word that is significant to one’s culture.

Another element of cultural appropriation in the transnational film industry, is when an actor of one culture attempts to portray another culture. This may be problematic due to the fact all cultures are so diverse. Although the general public relate to, or are more entertained by well-known actors playing the role of a Hawaiian, the complexity of portraying one’s culture properly, in a film is barely possible. Misinterpretation and misrepresentation only lead to the creation of stereotypes. As you can see, representing another culture oppresses individuals.

If cultural exchange is forced, unaccepted or misrepresented, the true meanings of rituals, languages, traditions, dances and clothing items are misunderstood.

Clearly it is important to consider the significance of the item, or phrase you are going to use. Otherwise, it may offend or oppress another individuals culture. It is important to understand the difference between cultural diversity and cultural appropriation.


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