Are you Appropriating or Appreciating?

Cultural appropriation is the adoption and use of elements that compose a culture. It’s often applied when the culture of interest is a minority and is being portraited by a dominant culture. Pop-culture is the reason that cultural appropriation has been promoted and distributed to others because what they are selling is something “exotic and new”. Without intending to we could be appropriating. How do we know if we are crossing the line between Appreciation and Appropriation?

Cultural Appropriation has become a social issue because people do not understand that cultural appropriation differs from cultural appreciation. How so? Culture appreciation works just like a cultural exchange. When culture exchange occurs between a native and a foreigner, the foreigner practices the culture’s customs as they learn how to properly honor the culture by keeping its essence. In the article, “ 7 Ways ‘Honoring’ Other Cultures Is Really Cultural Appropriation”, written by Maisha Z. Johnson, Johnson states, “you could support a Navajo artist by purchasing designs directly from them. You could wear a South Asian bindi when invited to do so at an Indian festival. You could research the meaning of Japanese décor and honor that meaning when you include those items in your home.” Johnson points out that in order for us to “successfully” appreciate a culture we need to learn the background history because it is through knowledge that we are able to support and honor a culture without disrespecting the roots. But in reality, that’s not the best way to avoid appropriation and perform appreciation because you aren’t showing any interest in the culture’s issues. The best way is by learning how to listen to the oppressed cultures and help them by recognizing the racism that exists in our country. Johnson explains that there are different ways that people appropriate without intending to harm like “exotifying” someone as a compliment is a harmful stereotype. Because by stereotyping foreigners we create a label for anyone who looks like them making them walking targets and isolating them. But for us, as a country, we view others as different despite the fact we tend to have more in common than what we think. Americans lack historical knowledge and often forget that the country’s successes have been because of its amazing diversity.

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The main problem that follows within cultural appropriation is the misunderstanding that culture is not owned by one person but shared by a group of people. And that culture goes along with nationalism as it unifies the cultures with similarities without necessarily sharing the same race or ethnicity. In the Youtube video, “What is Cultural Appropriation?”, uploaded by Origin of Everything, the host, Danielle Bainbridge states that “ The heart of cultural appropriation isn’t just a cultural object, but power”. Meaning that cultural appropriation affects the cultures that were once oppressed because of centuries of mass murders and racism. By appropriating the aspects of the abused cultures we are allowing it to happen again, their culture to be free for the dominant cultures. Critics of the term consider cultural appropriation should be call colonialism because they are the ones been erased by the thefts. As strong as it sounds like plagiarisms without crediting or rewarding their sources and inspirations they underrate the value of the culture and the people that practice it, taking the culture source of power for self-power. Dr. Suzanne Forbes-Vierling, author of “STOP CALLING IT “CULTURAL APPROPRIATION” AND CALL IT WHAT IT IS: COLONIALISM”, states that “Cultural appropriation is a term that conveniently avoids talking about the most important issue of all: the economic benefits to colonizers for freely taking an artistic expression from subjugated cultures”. Dr. Forbes-Vierling highlights the economic center of pop-culture marketing which is the appropriation of a culture that was once suppressed to profit from it. Like Dr.Forbes-Vierling says, colonizers, demand ownership over something that isn’t part of their culture’s identification and the creativity they lack.

Cultural appropriation has been industrialized by the pop-culture. The market profits from cultures traditions, customs, and objects because for consumers/audience these “New and Trendy” products (BUT NOT THE PEOPLE OR THE CULTURE ITSELF) look different, attractive and tropical. But when it comes to celebrities appropriating they are either praised or criticized. The models presented in figure one, Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner, were both forced to publicly apologize after appropriating African American hairstyles. Yet for the model on the right, Kendall Jenner, she was still praised by many people for the elegant “afro” as a Caucasian woman. Figure one

In the same Youtube video, Danielle Bainbridge says, “As member of the dominant culture who is able to take the parts of a marginalized culture that you enjoy; divorce them from their original meaning; and use it without considering the original context or having to deal with the negative ramifications that someone from the culture would have of the results of that same action”. This was the same situation for the model Kendall Jenner, though her hair is naturally straight she was able to get away with the forced “afro” and look “elegant”. While if a woman of color has her natural hair in a real afro she would be criticized by her “distracting, unprofessional and ghetto” hair. Minorities are stereotyped and discriminated from their skin color to their physical features to their accents up to their cultures. But, when celebrities like the Kardashians-Jenners sisters or social media influencers appropriate the African American culture’s they are praised by the media for their exotic false mixed of European and African beauty expectations. Beauty standards are false advertisements targeting teenagers and women who are constantly facing impossible beauty expectations.

Blackfishing is the 21st-century for blackface. Blackfishing is commonly perpetrated by Caucasian females which involves artificial tanning, using makeup to manipulate facial features, plastic surgeries to have a curvier body in order to appear to have some type of Black African ancestry. Black women are now facing a new definition of ‘black beauty’ expectations. I used Instagram as a bridge to talk to black women and teenagers about the term blackfishing, how the term affects them as black women, how they felt when they see people blackfishing and how we should address Blackfishing. A few girls replied to my comment and were happily interested to answer. Jenna, a student at American University, told me “as a black woman, to see white women blackfishing is honestly incredibly hurtful. I remember growing up and being made fun of being dark skinned or having kinky hair… crying and wishing I was light-skinned. I feel like I was put through this color complex…on my identity for these same people making fun of me to turn around and want what I have. But, not only have what I have but have the features (they’re stealing from those that look like me) to be more celebrated than women that look like me”. Jenna says that what hurts the most is the though that once blackfishing is not a trend future generations will be damage. Brionna, a fifteen-year-old, said “Blackfishing makes me mad. Is crazy how being/looking black has become so trendy to people outside of the black community. They [caucatians] are praised for looking black, but I have never been praised for being black. People have now stupid expectations for African American and mixed teens”. Naryiah, a young activist in NJ, suggested that “We should educate people about the term and how it affects the youth in the black community and also instead of teaching kids how to self-hate, we should show them how to praise our roots as African Americans”.

Throughout the years, South America has experienced culture exchange between the native, colonizers and slaves. As a Latin teenager living in the United States, it took me a long way to understand the problems faced by African Americans, Natives and the immigrant community. I have seen Latin people appropriate the African American culture, disrespecting it and miss the meaning of slangs and customs. The

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