With a population of over 7 billion, today’s world is a diverse place where people of different social, religious, and educational backgrounds live. Their differences are made even more pronounced by their races, languages, cultures and traditions.
There is so much to be learned about the way humans live and organize themselves into a society that there is even a field of study called Anthropology. For the many students majoring in human society, continually learning new and fascinating things about it is a kind of a revelatory experience. However, the intense pressure they find themselves under may cause them to buy an essay from someone. In fact, sometimes, that’s the only way to reduce their heavy academic workload.
If you follow reports in the mainstream media, you’ll easily come across various sensitive and controversial issues, such as religious beliefs and practices, sexual orientation, gender, and race.
One such controversial issue is cultural appropriation. But what exactly does it mean? According to the Cambridge English dictionary, it is defined as “an act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.” Oxford Living Dictionaries defines it as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc., of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”
In our increasingly globalized world, this issue has been a subject of intense debate for over a decade. In fact, it wasn’t until 2017 that the term was officially added to the Oxford Dictionary. Broadly speaking, there are two main sides to the debate: 1) those who argue that it is offensive and culturally insensitive to dress or behave like representatives of other cultures 2) those who contend that it is a show of admiration or affinity.
Given the two opposing viewpoints, it’s not hard to see why it is such a sensitive and hotly debated topic. Those taking the second side of the argument claim that it should be termed ‘cultural appreciation’ as opposed to ‘appropriation’. More so, they believe there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. However, people taking offense at acts they consider culturally inappropriate, claim that it is minorities that historically faced oppression, discrimination, and marginalization from the majority of people in western society that get their cultures appropriated. Hence, they interpret such acts of appropriation as a subtle exhibition of imperialism or prejudice, against which they feel obliged to defend. Whether the views are factually and consistently accurate is not clear.
So, let’s have a look at five well-known instances of cultural appropriation.
1. Katy Perry’s Performance at 2013 American Music Awards
The iconic American pop star was one of the performers who graced the stage of the 2013 AMA show. But it wasn’t her impressive rendition of “Unconditionally” that made headlines but rather her outfit. Katy Perry, a white female singer who was the first to perform, was dressed in what looked like a cross between a Japanese kimono and Chinese cheongsam. Her hairdo was also made to look Japanese, and so was her dress. Also, her face had a heavy layer of makeup on it, which made her look like a Geisha. To complete her look, she used an oil-paper umbrella.
Her appearance caused a bit of a storm in the media, with people describing her choice of attire as racist and insensitive to Japanese culture. Many of the offended ones (especially Asians) viewed her fashion decision as commoditization of traditional Japanese/Chinese culture. Some of them even challenged her to wear Asian-inspired garb on a daily basis. However, people who found nothing wrong with her outfit argued that she meant no offence; rather, she used the style to show her appreciation of Japanese culture.
Katy was also accused of appropriating African American culture by wearing cornrows – one of the several hairstyles she wore in her This is How We Do music video. After several more similar accusations were leveled against her, she acknowledged her wrongdoing and apologized.
2. Taylor Swift’s Using Africa as a Shooting Location for Her ‘Wildest Dream’ Music Video
Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dream video was shot in 2015 in California (USA) and Africa. The latter featured wild animals (e.g., lions and giraffes), gorgeous landscapes, and magnificent waterfalls. It also showed the Grammy-winning artist as a colonial-era lady who fell in love with a charming white guy (Scott Eastwood) in Africa.
But that wasn’t what rubbed critics the wrong way and caused the clip to be censored. What did that was the distinct absence of dark-complexioned Africans in the scenes shot in Africa. Critics interpreted that as a very selective form of appropriation. In fact, throughout the entire clip, there wasn’t a single non-white person. The artist and her production team were, therefore, accused of romanticizing Africa’s white colonial history. Were it not for the choice of location, some critics argued, the clip would be a truly beautiful portrayal of love.
3. Rachel Dolezal’s Posing as African American
Rachel Dolezal, a white lady who identifies herself as being black, made headlines around the country and world in 2015 when her biological parents appeared on TV and pronounced her biologically white. Larry and Ruthanne Dolezal showed the press photos of their daughter as a white teenager with straight blonde hair and blue eyes. This was in sharp contrast to the curly hairdo and ‘tanned’ skin complexion she has as an adult. But perhaps even more shocking was the fact that she identified an African American man called Alfred Wilkinson as her dad, much to the dismay of her father, Larry Dolezal. In his words, “It hurts deeply because she used to call me ‘papa’.”
This resulted in her being severely criticized for appropriating black culture. However, there were those who considered her behavior as a show of true appreciation of African culture. In her defense, they cited her adopting four black kids, becoming President of NAACP in Spokane, Washington, and even taking an African name.
4. Nicki Minaj’s Speaking Chinese and Wearing a Traditional Chinese Costume in her ‘Chun-Li’ Music Video
Nicki Minaj’s ‘Chun-Li’ song was clearly inspired by Chinese/Asian culture. To eliminate any remaining doubt you might have about it, you should watch the identically named video and the singer’s subsequent live performances. In case you didn’t know, Chun-Li is originally a fictional character in the Street Fighter cartoon series.
There are quite a few allusions to Chinese culture in the video: Mandarin Chinese being spoken, Nicki Minaj appearing in traditional Chinese costumes, and the singer’s dancers having traditional Chinese hairdos. Also, the men dressed in military uniforms were Asians, and so were some of Nicki Minaj’s male dancers.
Accusations of cultural appropriation grew stronger after her debut live performance on SNL in which she appeared in Chinese attire and was surrounded by Asian dancers. Critics accused her of using Chinese culture for hype and not having any genuine interest in the country’s history and traditions.
5. Gucci’s Using Sikh Turbans and ‘Blackface’ Neck Jumpers
In February 2018, Gucci’s autumn/winter collection was presented by Caucasian models wearing Sikh turbans. This didn’t go down well with the critics who considered that offensive and irresponsible. To prove their point, they cited the fact that the actual Sikh models weren’t used due to the religious significance of the turban.
In late 2018, the fashion house released a polo neck jumper that extended upward halfway through the face. It also had a red border around the cut-out area reminiscent of a mouth. This led to the brand being severely criticized for an offensive depiction of a black person’s face.
In fact, the fashion industry has long been accused of cultural appropriation. Although fashion designers claim they get their inspiration from different cultures, the use of cultural elements in their clothes is deemed controversial by many.
To sum up, the topic of cultural appropriation remains a controversial one. People have all sorts of opinions on the issue, and whatever they may be, it’s always helpful to understand the history behind a different culture before using some of its elements.