The Normalization of Cultural Appropriation


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Cultural appropriation has been a Popular topic lately. Maisha Z Johnson, a pop culture researcher, defines cultural appropriation as “a power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.” This means that a dominant culture uses elements and characteristics from minorities that they are or previously have discriminated against. It is often confused with cultural exchange which is when people share their culture with each other and there is the absence of systematic dominance. In society today, cultural appropriation is normalized by celebrities and people with strong influence that are uninformed on the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange.

An example of this was Katy Perry’s American Music Awards performance. Lauren Duca, a pop culture analyst for The Huffington Post, says that the dance included “The Great Wave off Kanagawa and a Chinese fan dance performed by kimono-clad women who were seemingly neither Chinese nor Japanese.” Many people were outraged at this, her using another culture as an accessory, without permission or representation of that culture. Though it was clear that she was trying to celebrate the culture, Duca says “it reinforced uninformed stereotypes in it’s disrespectfully confused presentation of Chinese and Japanese traditions.”

Another example of celebrities and cultural appropriation are the Kardashians. Kim and Kylie have both been seen on multiple occasions wearing cornrows. In March of 2016 Kim Kardashian posted a cornrows tutorial. In the video she calls them her signature “KKW braids.” This is an issue because she is taking a widely used style from a minority and renaming it and claiming it as her own. It is a style that has been criticized for years when people of the African American culture have worn them but when she, a person not of African American decent, wore them many praised her for this “new and innovative” look. Doing this erases the culture and history behind cornrows.

Another issue is when cultures are used for Halloween costumes. A popular costume over the years has been an Indian costume. This not only takes away the culture’s history, but it is culturally incorrect. Different Native American tribes have different cultures and by mashing all their cultures into one costume it erases the distinction. Also, these costumes very often include a headdress. These feathered headdresses were only worn by tribes in the Great Plains region. Native Languages, a Native American culture website, says “Native American war bonnets were important ceremonial regalia worn only by chiefs and warriors.” Wearing them for a costume is disrespectful to their culture.

When asked about how she sees cultural background being removed, Sociology Teacher Theresa Thompson says “most people don’t understand where it [products of other cultures] originated and the difference between the American product and where it originated.” She also believes that people aren’t normally interested in learning about where an item or style originated. Thompson states “People aren’t perhaps as culturally sensitive and aware as we need to be.” Cultural appropriation is an issue in society. It can be avoided by appreciating all cultures and learning about a culture before using an element from it.

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