Shopping for Culture

Over the past few decades, many western artists have started adopting select parts of other cultures into their music and work. The “borrowing” of another culture’s language, music and dances exploitatively robs minority groups. While there is no shame or wrong on celebrating and honouring other cultures, there is a stark difference between appreciation and appropriation. Often times when one faces cultural appropriation, it is obviously not intended to offend or harm. However, the problem of cultural appropriation stems from a lack of education and recognition about the negative effects of cultural and religious appropriation. Until this root of the problem is fixed, groups of people can only sit and watch their culture be stripped of its sacred significance.

Culture appropriation is defined as taking intellectual property, cultural knowledge or religious expressions from another culture without permission. It is a phenomenon so widely prevalent in the music industry that it has become a norm. Madonna’s iconic ‘voguing’ actually began in African American and Latino sectors of the gay community while Gwen Stefani’s profitable Harajuku line came from Harajuku culture in Japan. Miley Cyrus’ infamous twerk is a dance style with roots in the African American community and Katy Perry’s geisha dress during the American Music Awards back in 2013 completely misrepresented Asian culture.

Since it is already so widely prevalent in social media, is raising awareness for culture appropriation in vain? When the portrayal of a certain culture is already so ingrained in people’s minds, no matter how misrepresented, people are willfully ready to ignore the injustice. Even though cultural appropriation does not seem like a social issue with immediate ramifications, like racism and sexism, it indirectly fuels discrimination between cultural groups. The one doing the misrepresentation projects their perceptions onto the victims of cultural appropriation while the victims become frustrated and trapped in a criterion arbitrarily created for them.

Schools around the world need to teach students the significance of different culture. A heavy emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of cultural appropriation and respect. Culture is not a mere trend where students get to dissect and choose aspects to their liking. There is too much historical weight and significance attached to it. Teachers need to incorporate more relevant examples on how certain objects and symbols of cultural significance are exploited and used freely. Artists need to understand that using motifs from another’s culture is not a profitable tool. Furthermore, cultural appropriation and exaggerated portrayals of cultural stereotypes should also be banned in movies. An easy system to regulate such disrespectful images are rating systems. Similar to restriction for excessive violence or nudity, countries should introduce rating systems in movies to enforce cultural respect. Since directors have to be aware of cultural appropriation, they will be mindful during production. Brutally offensive content should be restricted for certain ages or banned to enforce cultural respect.

Despite such recommendations, since cultural appropriation does not offend the majority, the world will continue to stand by idly as people’s values and struggles are disrespected. Instead of dismissing this issue, engage in introspective thinking and figure out what brought upon such indifference to other’s struggles. People’s untapped empathy have led to unnecessary division and hurt.

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