Cultural appropriation is when members of the dominant culture use symbols and elements of the minority culture, usually in a manner that is misinformed and ignorant of the cultural symbols purpose.
The following are some examples of cultural appropriation which we may encounter in our everyday lives.
Fashion fluctuates and designers love to seek inspiration from other cultures; such as symbols, colours or even from another countries landscape and heritage. While often these are considered inspired trends some fashion symbols are more in line with cultural appropriation. For example, the Bindi became a fashion trend in the 1990s by celebrities wearing them to parties and at movie premiers. However, the meaning behind the Bindi and its spiritual connection to the culture of Hinduism was lost. The Bindi is in fact worn by women who are married, and could be looked at more as the same symbol of a wedding ring worn in many other cultures.
When East met West new concepts of spirituality became more accessible to those in the West. While seeking spirituality in a religion not traditionally from the culture you were born into is not inappropriate, it is the way symbols have been used now as a commodity is culturally inappropriate. For example, Buddhist statues have become a commodity, as so many other religious symbols have. It is now fashionable to adorn the garden or other areas of the house with the Buddha statue, even though that person many not believe in the concepts of Buddhism or what Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) taught. This would be as inappropriate as say, a non-Christian hanging a cross in their house or placing a statue of Mary, Mother of Jesus, in their front lawn.
As children we all loved dress up parties, and is now often an excuse for adults to let loose and have some good ‘old time’ fun again. However, when someone presents the idea of a costume party or a culturally themed party what do people usually turn up in? Unfortunately, the cultural costumes we have are stereotypes and use cultural symbols in a misinformed way—cultural appropriation. For example, if someone suggested a Mexican themed party you would have many people turning up in a poncho, sombrero and shaking maracas. Yet do we know the significance of these symbols? The maracas are actually a spiritual item. They were used by the Arawak people (native people) of Jamaica and Cuba for various spiritual ceremonies.
It benefits all of society to take the time to research the symbols outside of your own culture before adorning them on your body, in your house or using them as costumes or inspiration at a party. This not only leads to a more harmonious culturally diverse local community and Global community but also a more socially considerate enriched self.
Now that you have an understanding of cultural appropriation take the quick quiz below to ensure you are on the right track to be a cultural appreciator rather than appropriator.