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Cultural Appropriation Phenomenon

Cultural appropriation refers to the practice when a dominant culture or identity adopts authentic artifacts or practices of other non-dominant identities or cultures in a way that highlights uneven power relations between them. In that case, intent does not matter because appropriation is usually viewed as a negative and disrespectful practice. Nowadays, in the highly globalized world, when people can easily experience and learn elements of other cultures via social media, the wise blending and merging of cultures is a normal process. The majority of inventions and masterpieces have been created by people who interacted with individuals coming from different backgrounds. Nevertheless, appropriation usually occurs disrespectfully regarding the original meaning of adopted cultural elements or reinforces racial stereotypes.

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As it was mentioned above, appropriation is usually done by the dominant culture, identity, or social group. For instance, rock and roll, the famous musical style performed by white musicians, was created by Afro-Americans. The former appropriated the style resulting in white performers’ dominance on the stage in the 1950s. The practice can be adopted with admiration or respect as well as with contempt and ridicule. Cultural appropriation may be easily spotted in the arts, sports, fashion, and pop culture industries.

In the modern world, representatives of a dominant group usually appropriate features of another culture for commercial reasons. It can be done with the initial intent to have fun or because of admiration; however, it eventually leads to profit off them. Artists in their struggle to achieve aesthetics and authenticity often turn to cultures different from their own. For instance, Katy Perry’s geisha-styled performance at the American Music Awards in 2013 involved female dancers dressed in attires with little respect to the traditions of this garment. They also incorporated traditional gestures in their dance routine which offended Japanese Americans due to the performance’s careless exploitation of stereotypes. It is an excellent example of a situation when it is difficult to identify where creativity ends and the perpetuation of racial stereotypes starts.

The more recent case occurred with British singer Adele who posted a picture of her on Instagram wearing a Jamaican-flag bikini and Bantu knots, a traditional African hairstyle. It quickly generated backlash from social media users accusing her of blatant cultural appropriation. Nevertheless, many celebrities of Jamaican origin including Naomi Campbell supported the artist. Their arguments were based on the fact that Adele is from Tottenham and was raised in African-American culture. Moreover, her look was dedicated to London’s traditional celebration of the Caribbean and black culture which was held remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic (Minelle, 2020). In that case, her American fans took positive cultural appreciation for a mean appropriation.

In general, appreciation is a practice of cultural elements’ adoption caused by the willingness to learn it without making odd judgments and comparisons. It is not just a forthright co-opting of rituals and symbols by individuals who do not know what they dealing with. Hence, I believe that cultural appropriation should be limited to the action’s essence, the way how and why adoption was done, not only how it looks like. For instance, when Western tourists visit Muslim mosques they wear a head covering treating other cultures with respect. However, wearing a hijab for Halloween would be a blatant appropriation perceived as an insult to followers of Islam.

Popular activities like yoga, decorating bodies with henna, and tattoos come from other cultures but feel like ours. I believe that such practices have their place in our culture being an indispensable lifestyle element of thousands of Americans. To my mind, if people understand the cultural element’s essence, purpose, and know where it comes they should not be blamed for practicing it. What is more, this phenomenon enriches a specific culture, making it more versatile and simultaneously more tolerant.

Reference

Minelle, B. (2020). Stars defend Adele against cultural appropriation claims after the singer shares photo in Bantu knots. Sky News. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, March 9). Cultural Appropriation Phenomenon. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/cultural-appropriation-phenomenon/

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