Cultural Appropriation

[TW: racism, slurs]

This is what cultural appropriation looks like:

Cultural appropriation is when people, usually white people, take something that is native to another culture and decide it’s totally fine for them to have it too. This often follows from said white people deciding said thing is not ok for the native culture to have, like the dreadlocks scenario above.

You see it all over the place: t-shirt stating that “[unicorn/monster/totally arbitrary thing] is my spirit animal”, dreamcatcher tattoos, white folks with locks, white boys thinking they can out-rap the black artists.

Sports teams using racist images as their logos, like the Washington Red Skins.

And it is really not ok.

Cultural appropriation takes something that is sacred and treasured by a people and turns into marketable tat, or “edgy” fashion choices for white people. It dehumanises and delegitimises the (often) indigenous culture, erasing people and history all for the sake of a new t-shirt.

For example, spirit animals are an important part of many (though not all) Native American peoples spiritual belief systems, such as the Manataka and the Anishinaabe. It is not ok for us to walk in rough shod, and take an important part of their culture to make a cute slogan. Besides, we have thousands of other terms we can use instead – the ever popular one is Patronus, but I’ve already explained my problems with JKR. (You can read them here.)

It’s ever pertinent in our society too: how many times have we seen news stories about Black girls being told they can’t wear their natural hair in school, instead having to pay a fortune to have it chemically straightened into “acceptable” styles? Or that Black folx with locks look “unprofessional”, and are often turned away from jobs?

The one I’ve had most personal experience with is the fetishisation of Japanese culture: I studied Japanese as my undergrad, because I love languages and history, but the amount of people who assumed it was because I loved anime was disturbing. Worse was seeing classmates who gave themselves “Japanese names” and then refused to answer to their Western ones, or claimed they only found Japanese women attractive (they tended to be straight men). It weirded me out in a way I didn’t quite understand at the time, but can look back on it now as complete appropriation to fit the fetish they had.

And it’s gross.

White people have a lot to answer for, we ruin a lot of things, but cultural appropriation goes beyond merely upsetting people: it’s a disregard for the humanity, history and reality of cultures around the world, and it’s time we stepped up and did better.


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