“Cultural Appropriation”. It’s a term that has been thrown around a lot lately, and there are many cultural appropriation examples. The Cambridge Dictionary defines “cultural appropriation” as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.” But the definition doesn’t address one thing. The people that are taking or using these things are often from a more dominant culture. The people whose things are being appropriated tend to be from cultures that have experienced some kind of oppression or discrimination. Let’s talk about cultural appropriation examples and the dos and don’ts.
As travelers, we represent our own cultures while engaging with others. We strive to represent our cultures as authentically as possible while traveling. It is important to identify the line between appreciation and appropriation in how we represent other groups. This is true while we travel and while we’re at home. So let’s look at some cultural appropriation dos and don’ts.
Do’s and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation
A Quick Example
One commonly used example of cultural appropriation is the appropriation of Native American headdresses. It can often be seen on US festival goers in the summertime. In many Plains Native American groups, male leaders traditionally wear headdresses as a symbol of great honor or respect. This is earned during battle or ceremonial occasion. When worn for fun, non Native Americans remove the headdresses from the context in which they are traditionally used. They assign it a new meaning or context. This can be offensive to the tribal groups the symbol was borrowed from. The Native American population also has a long history of oppression in the United States. By wearing headdresses, others are once again taking from community that has already had their lives, land and culture taken from them.
Why Avoid Cultural Appropriation
You can appropriate anything that has been traditionally associated a cultural group or community. A physical item, a practice, a symbol, fashion, hairstyles, anything.
Domination and Oppression
Appropriation of another culture by a dominant group is all about power. It shows that the dominant group can continue oppression or discrimination against the group they’ve taken something from. And often without facing any real consequences for their actions.
Cultural appropriation can be offensive. Because the thing being taken is often misrepresented. This misrepresentation can be as simple as being used out of context. Or it can be as terrible as being straight up stolen. Like when the Kardashians thought they introduced the world to the hairstyle they called “boxer braids”. This is actually an ancient traditional African style of hair grooming.
In some cases, appropriation can add to cultural stereotypes. These often pop up around Halloween in the form of costumes. (Think “Indians”, “Geishas”, “Sheikhs”, etc). These misrepresentations can add to the oppression of the cultures being appropriated and their negative experiences.
How Can We Avoid Cultural Appropriation?
As travelers, we become immersed in a wide range of cultures. Unfortunately, sometimes we appropriate these cultures. Often this happens without realizing what we are doing. It is our responsibility to recognize cultural appropriation. We should avoid falling into the act ourselves. One way to avoid cultural appropriation is to follow a series of simple questions.
“What group does this practice/item/symbol belong to? How are they oppressed?”
Knowing where the practice/item/symbol comes from if half the battle. Education is key in understanding. Find out if you’re appropriating something. If the group is still oppressed for the practice/item/symbol, consider it appropriated. Why? Because you wouldn’t be oppressed by using it. That’s your clue.
“Do I benefit from doing this? If so, how?”
Another red flag? If you’re planning to use something because it’s trendy or would make a cool picture. It probably means you will end up appropriating the thing.
“Could this make someone uncomfortable?”
If the answer is “yes”, then don’t do it! If you aren’t sure, then do your research. NOTE: Start with Google! Someone who was willing to put in the emotional labor to educate you may have already put the answer out there. If you can’t find the answer on a website, then ask a friend. Or ask Her Adventures! Recognize that you are asking people to do work for you to explain their lives and experiences, so approach it with openness and humility.
While there are some clear cultural appropriation dos and don’ts, it is often complicated and confusing, as the lines are sometimes blurred. It’s hard to avoid offending everyone, but educating yourself about other cultures can help in the process of avoiding appropriation. It will help you in the long run, trust me.
About KB: Originally from Kentucky, KB Gamblin is a freelance writer and the blogger behind Her Life in Ruins. KB is a trained archaeologist, lover of history, and passionate traveler. When she’s not at work or on the road, you can find her hanging out with her dog, Indiana Jones.