Appropriation or Appreciation?

One of society’s biggest questions to date

Cultural Appropriation

noun

When I was in fourth grade, just like millions of other students, I was forced to do the dreaded “Walkthrough California”, which involved students dressing up as everything from police officers to Indigenous people. Interesting combination. The sad part is, students were forced to dress up as Natives, who were sadly referred to as “American Indians’’, even in the textbooks. One day, before the Walkthrough California, one of my classmates walked up to me and told me, “You’re Indian, right? I should come to your house to learn about American Indians.”

I’m not “that kind” of Indian.

As I tried to explain the distinction between Indigenous Americans and Southasian Indians, the girl stared at me blankly. My teacher, with a historically inaccurate textbook in hand, then proceeded to tell me why I was wrong.

The next week, the day of Walkthrough California, my classmate wore a costume that was supposed to resemble Cherokee traditional clothing, not being Native, and not knowing anything behind the significance of the clothing.

That is cultural appropriation.

Taking people’s culture, knowing nothing about it, like using it or wearing its clothing, and not appreciating its origins and practices. This means saying, “It’s just clothing.”, holds no meaning whatsoever.

Another example of cultural appropriation is when H.E.R (Gabriella Wilson), a half Filipino and half African American musician, wore a Kimono, to the 2020 Emmys. Kimonos are Japan’s national clothing item, a very notable article of traditional attire. Many were quick to defend Wilson saying that she was Asian, so it was okay. If anything, equating being Filipino and being Japanese in itself shows an insensitivity to the unique identity of each culture. Being Filipino and wearing Kimonos is the exact same thing as being French and wearing Kimonos. It’s still not your culture.

When I was in seventh grade, I was watching a friend play a game called Smite. They scrolled through the list of players to choose from aimlessly, and I watched, bored. This went on for a moment until I saw a little icon of the Hindu god, Ganesha.

I’m Hindu. I have been my entire life. But at that point, in seventh grade, I hadn’t seen such a random thing as seeing my God as an option in a violent action game. It was surprising to see that people just walked around not caring about religions that they’re not a part of. It’s completely fine to disagree with different religious beliefs, but not respecting other religions is a whole separate thing. Hinduism is one of the world’s leading religions, so it’s quite simple to just look up if you’re taking things from it or not.

Throughout the past year, on the world’s biggest social media platform: Tik Tok, I’ve seen countless amounts of people with Hindu god posters. When asked about those posters, they simply replied with a variation of, “I’m not Hindu, but it’s for spirituality.” Usually ending with some line about their chakras aligning. Now, I could go on and on telling those people how those comments make zero sense, but basic Googling will tell them the answer immediately.

While Hinduism is known as an ideology, not knowing what it is or how it works while participating in its practices is not okay. The same goes for Buddhism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism. Every religion or ideology deserves its credit. This is another example of cultural appropriation; religious appropriation. Now, you’re probably thinking. If I’m appropriating Hinduism by hanging up a poster of one of our gods on my wall, then isn’t the Percy Jackson series cultural appropriation of Greek Mythology?

Yes, it is.

Unknown information presented blindly in a situation where the culture discussed while being misrepresented, is cultural appropriation. If someone, who believes in the ancient Greek religion that Percy Jackson was based on, comes along and says how the series and others similar to are misrepresentations of their religion, then they have the right to say that. They also have the right to want the series to be changed accordingly. Basically, the unknown information of Hinduism and cultures that are in the same situation is leading to the issue of appropriation. If people understood everything a little more before involving themselves in other cultures and religions, it would be a lot more simple.

Still, sadly enough, a lot of people consider cultural appropriation to be a “critical step in human progress”. It’s really not. The best way to phrase how cultural appropriation feels is to draw a picture of something you made up in your own art style, and then later seeing your classmate draw the exact same thing, but with different colors. Then that classmate proceeds to tell you that “It’s just art.” which leads to you replying with, “But I made that style, you could at least credit me.” The classmate follows with, “No.”

Feels weird, doesn’t it?

It’s true that culture is spread across entire ethnic groups, usually consisting of hundreds of millions of people, but as I said before, it gives you a sense of unity with your people. Someone taking that way just really isn’t necessary. Now, imagine a different ending to the art scenario. Your classmate sees your art and tells you their admiration. Then they change their art, adding their own design to it, and then say, to people that see their art, that it was inspired by yours. It’s simple, really. Just giving credit when needed and staying in your own lane would allow hundreds of years of culture and practice to continue to stay with their rightful owners. The world would run a lot smoother if people gave credit for things. In any case, if you like someone else’s cultural clothing or something of the sort, just tell them that you like it instead of taking it without credit.

And when you do that,

It’s cultural appreciation.

student voice press corps fellow