Cultural appropriation exists all around us, and we may be involved in it without even realising. It exists in music, fashion , food and other forms. As we are starting to have more conversations about cultural appropriation and privileges that we hold in society, it is also important to talk about how we could start to avoid and minimise our participation in such problematic behaviours.
Here’s a list of 5 ways in which you could minimise cultural appropriation:
1. Remembering the historical tragedies:
Historical events such as colonisation and slavery are root causes for the existence of cultural appropriation as they made hatred towards certain races and cultures ok. A clear example of this is “Black Face”, slavery made it unacceptable to be dark skinned, and Black Face was a way of poking fun at this issue, the effects of racism are still in place, and it is still not ok to be black/dark skinned, unless you’re a white person doing black face…
But it’s not always about white people either, countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran were also involved in slavery, which makes them inherently anti-black. It is important to look at the history of your country and take responsibility for how you behave today.
2. Should you be wearing that?:
What does this ethnic item mean traditionally? Who is allowed to wear it in that culture and who is not. For example, using Native American feather head dresses, which were made throughout the chief’s life time and are a sacred item. Should you be wearing that? Remember if you don’t’ know how to wear it, you probably shouldn’t be wearing it.
3. Respect the culture:
Do you understand and respect that culture? It is understandable that other cultures are exciting to look at and colourful and beautiful. But what do they mean? Do you understand the tradition well enough and respect its people? Or is it simply about how “Exotic and Spicy” they look? It may a religious/belief connotation that you do not understand/believe in, in which case it would be disrespectful to the people for you to use/own it.
4. Support the people:
Cultural exchange is a beautiful thing and nearly as old as humanity. It’s ok to appreciate someone else’s culture and learn about it through your friends who keep those traditions and even exchange parts of your own knowledge about your own culture with that person. But where is the item you’re purchasing coming from? Was it given to you by a friend? Or was it bought at the “Buddhist Shop” in central London owned by a Caucasian person? You need to be wary of where the item is coming from and who is benefiting from it? Is it people of that culture or someone who does not belong to that culture? #SupportBlackBusinesses
5. Check your privileges:
One of the biggest issues with cultural appropriation is that it is more acceptable for people who are not from that culture to use those items, as a result of colonisation and establishment of white supremacy. As people of colour some of us have a fear of being “too ethnic” and not passing as western enough for survival reasons. For example, if it is traditionally acceptable for a brown person to wear a bindi, they may avoid wearing it as they may receive abuse for it. Do you have the privilege of passing as someone who won’t receive abuse for wearing such items? In other words if you are white is it not likely for you to receive any abuse for looking “ethnic”. However, under white supremacy for people of colour, it is far more likely that you will receive negative remarks if you choose to wear items associated with ethnicity. If you are white and choose to dress in this way, then you are using your privilege to appropriate that culture.
As a brown Iranian person, I need to check my privileges, as I am aware that my country historically dominated other brown folk and many black folks, therefore our people are guilty of racism/ anti-blackness and cultural appropriation as well.