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Has culture appropriation gone too far?

By Kiah Lewis | Online Editor
On November 8, 2017

The idea of cultural appropriation has been around for as long as we know, but in today’s society there is no excuse for not educating yourself to avoid appropriating a culture. So yes, it’s gone too far.  

Cultural appropriation is the use of elements of one culture by members of another culture and is generally applied when an oppressed culture’s elements are mocked and compromised by the dominant culture.   When used by the dominant culture, they are called “trendy” or “high fashion” but at the same time called “too ethnic” when the oppressed culture uses the same.  These oppressed cultures include African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and any other indigenous group.

The concept of cultural appropriation was not always referred to as such.  Historical forms of cultural appropriation include imperialism, Capitalism and systematic oppression.

Dr. Ameenah Shakir, Assistant Professor of African American History, says cultural appropriation’s historical context dates to the mid nineteenth century with the rise of entertainment for urban audiences.

“To a large extent, the rise of minstrelsy represented a significant effort to exploit the traditions of black performers without acknowledgement or recognition of the producers of this work,” says Shakir.

The most prevalent forms of cultural appropriation are seen in popular culture in forms such as fashion, art, music and sports. The insensitivity of sports’ mascots such as the Washington Redskins and Florida State Seminoles against Native Americans reinforce the issue. 

Katy Perry's 2014 "Dark Horse" music video recieved backlask after singer dressed as
an Egyptian Queen | Photo credit: Michael Tran 

This time of year - Halloween - is usually when cultural appropriation is heightened. Dominant cultures become extremely offensive when dressing up in traditional cultural wear, wearing race-related hair or accessories and representing a culture that is not their own.

One of Kim Kardashian West’s costumes this past Halloween was of the late singer Aaliyah from the video of her 2001 hit song “Try Again”. This costume stirred a lot of controversy on the internet.

West believed she was paying homage to an iconic music legend while much of social media users criticized her cultural insensitivity.

Other recent forms of cultural appropriation have been seen by musical artists such as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and fashion designer Stella McCartney.

Appropriating a culture is insensitive because most likely the culture you are adopting has been historically demeaned and laughed at for wearing what you have on.

Jordan Roberts, a Freshman Environmental Science student believes cultural appropriation has become too widely accepted.

Pop culture has created “culture vultures” and appropriation has been done so often that its almost become the norm,” says Roberts. “It’s even more annoying that people don’t see how it’s offensive.”

There is a difference between culture appropriation and cultural appreciation. There are ways to immerse yourself in a culture and appreciate it, without appropriating it. Affinity Magazine gives 5 tips on how to appreciate a culture without appropriating it.

Dr. Reginald Ellis, Associate professor of history says the cultural appropriation isn’t going away.

“The concept of cultural appropriation has been around and will always be around because people tend to gravitate towards what they like,” says Ellis.

“The idea that people culturally gravitate to other cultures but don’t want to be in the same socio-economic status as the culture is what’s occurring.” 

Oppressed cultures fail to be recognized or compensated for various artistic phenomenon’s taken from their culture since the beginning of time, So, yes, cultural appropriation needs to be stopped or redirected to appreciation. As long as we allow cultural appropriation, it will continue to happen.


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