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Appropriate Use of Culture… Or not

Appropriate Use of Culture… Or not

Cultural Appropriation… What is it?

It’s wrong! That’s what it is. No, but seriously, cultural appropriation is the adoption or theft of icons, rituals, aesthetic standards, and behavior from one culture or subculture by another. Why is cultural appropriation so wrong though? Just think of it from their perspective. You’re someone who has been marginalized, or treated as insignificant, for all of your life for wearing a hijab in public.

You then are scrolling through Instagram and see your friend Sarah who is trying one of her friend’s new beauty tips and posts this photo with tons of likes and comments that are filled with compliments.


She is appropriating your culture and is even getting praised for doing so. This happens more and more now in the media. Even so with marketing! One of my biggest pet peeves with companies is when they take a stand on a social issue. 99% of the time, the company itself doesn’t give a shit about that social issue. However, they have had a crew do strategic research on the market and have found evidence supporting an increase in revenue if the company is in favor of one side of a particular issue. Thankfully, I see it being called out more often. For example, one of the most well-known cases is Kim Kardashian’s wearing of box braids, which she calls “Bo Derek Braids.”

Many argue that because Kim is a white woman that she is unable to wear these braids as it is an appropriation of African American culture. Some protest that argument with the idea that because she is dating a black man she is able to take part in that culture. Kim spoke on these issues saying “Sometimes I think maybe if you don’t communicate where you got the inspiration from — and I’ve done that in the past — then people might not understand it. But yeah, I think as long as it comes from a place of love and you’re getting inspired, then it is okay.”

Ariana Grande has also been receiving major pushback from fans who claim she is appropriating Japanese culture. Ariana has been promoting her 7 Rings with merchandise that contains Japanese phrases on it. The backlash became apparent, however, when she got a tattoo that was incorrectly translated. After attempting to fix it, she actually made it worse by going from “BBQ grill” to “BBQ grill finger.”

She responded to fans in a statement saying “I can’t read or write kanji obviously,” she said. “What do you want me to do? It was done out of love and appreciation. What do you want me to say? U kno how many people make this mistake and DON’T care just cause they like how it looks? Bruh… I care sooooo much. What would u like me to do or say? Forreal. There is a difference between appropriation and appreciation.”

This, however, leads me to my next point; cultural appreciation!

Cultural Appreciation is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally.

How do you know when someone is appreciating a culture and not appropriating it? Well, that’s the tricky part. Here are my thoughts. I think that if someone is actively trying to educate you and bring attention to that communities issues through displaying aspects of their culture through aesthetics, rituals, fashions, icons, jewels, etc. then I do not see an issue with this being done. I feel as though every marginalized community needs an ally and white people are the perfect allies to stand up and say “This needs to change.” On that note, however, when someone is just casually wearing clothes or something of that nature that is specific to someone’s culture just for fashion, that’s where the line becomes thin and errs on the side of problematic. When you throw on that headscarf, you’re not subjecting your white skin to the same type of outward discrimination and stereotypical behavioral pattern someone with darker skin will experience.

Transitioning to a similar issue, I become annoyed with straight people attending gay bars when they have no clue of the history of why we have gay bars in the first place. Same thing with pride. Straight people, pride is not an event for you to take photos at. Pride is a revolution for us to ensure that we retain our rights.

It’s one of the few safe places we have to come together and be ourselves with lack of judgment, and I say lack of judgment because there are still protestors and even violent threats on that day. (Look it up if you don’t believe me). Even that day can have a cultural appropriation, though. You can have many straight, white women who view gay men as an accessory who view pride parades as a fun time killer rather than a historical event. To them, it’s an Instagram picture rather than a necessary piece of activism.

There’s a thin line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Many of us seem to cross it every day simply because many of us simply just don’t realize what the difference is between them.

If you’re still confused, check out this video!

About The Author


I am a junior at The University of Tampa with a major in Advertising and Public Relations. I enjoy drag queens, gay culture, LGBT Social activism, and LGBT History.

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