What is Cultural Appropriation?

by Cougar News Contributor 1,883 views0

By Alondra Lopez
Native American, Indian, Chinese, and Mexican, are some of the many cultures whose tradition’s significance have lost meaning by being used as costumes for Halloween, accessories for music festivals, sports team mascots, and clothing sold at various famous stores, yet it is offensive and a current issue in society.

There are many factors to take into consideration such as the culture’s identity theft when one who does not belong to that culture uses their traditional clothing as costumes. For instance, women from India are known to dress in vivid color, long vestures, and a lot of jewelry. However, people outside of the culture including celebrities use their traditional vestures to make a fashion statement. For instance, singer, Beyonce, was recently criticized for the music video of her song “Hymn for the Weekend” in collaboration with the band, Coldplay. The reason being that, her video portrayed cultural appropriation as she was wearing Indian clothing, accessories and henna tattoos, while not being Indian herself.

Many fans, and people in general viewed this as a sign of disrespect to the culture as she used their traditional clothing as a sense of costume to fit into the setting of India that was used for the video. Clearly even people who do not belong to that culture are offended if other cultures are offended as college student, Lizbett Medellin mentioned, “To me wearing other culture’s clothing is disrespectful because there is significance to it and other people just wear it because it’s trendy when that’s not the point.” Additionally, in the video there were depictions of the Indian culture such as the use of colorful powders thrown in the air generalizing India’s Holi Festival making the video very stereotypical. Furthermore, Hinduism was disrespected in the video with the portrayal of the god of Shiva by having a little boy painted in all blue appear as part of the music video. Overall, Beyonce was criticized for all of this because she is not Indian herself, nor does she follow the Hinduism religion, so it was a sign of disrespect to those who seem such traditions as being sacred.

On the other hand, there’s those who believe that cultural appropriation should not exist and people should not be offended by things such as clothing of their culture being worn by those who are not from that culture. For example, student, Julie Temmerman admitted that, “Everyone should be allowed to wear whatever they want, I’m not offended by it when people try to wear Mexican clothing, clothes is clothes and whatever makes you feel good makes you happy. Clearly they like other culture’s clothes so what’s so bad about it? It’s not hurting anyone.” Ultimately, cultural appropriation comes down to freedom to self express themselves as some may not take into consideration that there’s many motives behind wearing other culture’s traditional clothing such as for admiration.

However, other cultures such as Native American’s take cultural appropriation very seriously as they have been offended through sport’s teams logos or mascots as well as in costumes for Halloween time. First and foremost, one team that has been controversial with their choice of mascot has been the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Redskins just to name a few. Inclusively, team owners or fans have tried to claim that they are honoring, The issue has been that Native Americans feel it’s inappropriate to use Indians as their logos or mascots as they are not, honoring their culture at all, nor is it needed or wanted. Yet, just like celebrities, sports teams spread more cultural appropriation and set an example that makes it seem like it’s okay to do it.

Furthermore, not only do celebrities and sports team do it, but clothing stores as well. At the top of the list of stores that sell clothing that depicts cultural appropriation. The constant image of one of the most well known gods in Hinduism, the Ganesha, on a bedspread and a tank top is just one instance of Urban Outfitters promoting cultural appropriation. Additionally they insulted other cultures like Mexican by selling T-shirts with the Dia de Los Muertos skulls, by showing catholic traditions of honoring the dead as just a good design for a T-shirt for people who don’t even know the meaning of it. Although, the list of cultures and religions Urban Outfitters has offended is endless, it includes Indian, Catholics, Middle Eastern, and the Native American Navajo culture.

Another source of cultural appropriation that has become evident in recent years is the use of certain accessories and styles used for music festivals such as Coachella. Amongst the most popular is the bindis that girl wear in their forehead as face gems and jewelry to simply make a fashion statement. But, the meaning behind a bindi it’s forgotten as it is very meaningful and sacred for South Asian women, who wear it as representation of the third eye showing wisdom. The Native American culture is affected as well, but by a different accessory being feather headpieces. Both men and women wear them on their heads to seem trendy or sometimes even as a joke to grab attention to themselves and stand out as admitted by college student Joseph Martinez, who attended Coachella this past year and feels “guilty for promoting cultural appropriation just because it wasn’t my culture who was being offended.” Yet a Native American student, Jennifer Johnson shared their thought on the situation and confessed that, “Although my grandparents were part of the Navajo tribes, and I highly respect and take pride in my culture, I do not get offended by people wearing traditional clothing even if they do not identify themselves as Native Americans because at the end of the day they are not saying insults or bad things about it, but rather embracing it, so it makes me take more pride in being Native American.” Meaning, cultural appropriation is an issue to those who see it as being a sign of disrespect to their culture, but not to those who see it as a sign of honor.

Last but not least, Halloween has contributed to cultural appropriation in previous years and continues to do so in the designing and selling of costumes that offend specific cultures. The costumes vary from Dia de Los Muertos, to Egyptian, Alaskan, Indian, Japanese and Native American, and African-American costumes. The kimono costume is offensive to the Japanese culture as in their culture it is worn to represent Japanese heritage and for different occasions and seasons, yet it has turned into a costume anyone can purchase and wear to go trick or treating, or attend a Halloween costume party. The problem is as stated by Angelin Akiyama that, “My culture is not a costume, there’s a rich heritage and tradition behind that pretty designs on the silk kimono that people just wear as a joke, and that heritage loses its meaning by the kimono being worn as a costume much like a Disney costume that portrays a movie character, my culture portrays something that is real and meaningful to people like me who are Japanese.”
Cultural appropriation it’s an ongoing issue that is not taken serious by those who are doing the offending, yet taken very seriously by those who are being offended. Some common promoters and contributors to such issue are those whom are in favor of cultural appropriation being sold or worn, for music festivals, music videos, or for Halloween as costumes. It all comes down to the level of pride one takes in their culture and if something like others wearing traditional costumes of that culture who are not part of it, is taken personal as either a sign of disrespect or a sign of appreciation.

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