Cultural Appropriation and Its Affects On Other Cultures.

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Cultural Appropriation and Its Affects On Other Cultures

                                                                By: Ashley Dwan


                                                                Indian Studies 100-S01

                                                                Prof. Heather Hodgson

        This past Halloween I dressed up as a China Doll; in my black traditional Asian dress, white painted face, rosy pink cheeks, black eyeliner, and my hair held up in a bun with chopsticks.  I originally thought that this costume would be rather attractive and fun.  However, I began to question myself after a young lady approached me and asked, “Are you suppose to be an Asian person?”  I immediately replied, “No, I am a beautiful China Doll”.  Did people believe that I was “attempting to portray a stereotyped representation of another race”?This is not what I had intended and this now had disturbing implications.  I had attended the party earlier with a Chinese friend of mine.  He took no offence to what I was wearing- this was I later found out after questioning him.  So when does cultural “borrowing” become ignorant appropriation?  This also brings up the questions of: Can cultural appropriation be defined and can it be avoided?

With the new fads of Chinese character tattoo’s, Hindu god t-shirts, and the selling of such things as Native sweat lodge kits and ceremonies, does this not show that North Americans can appreciate other cultures and that western culture has become a product of a multicultural society.1

Through examples of film and art, sports, and religion, I will answer the following questions and specifically how cultural appropriation has affected North American First Nation peoples.

        There is much confusion when it comes to the meaning of cultural appropriation. The literal meaning begins with Culture-Anthropological: the sum total of the attainments and learned behaviour patterns of any specific period, race or people; Appropriation’s meaning is to take for one’s own use.  Most people today then know cultural appropriation then as “to take someone else’s culture to use for your own purpose”.2  I believe that the argument is not that appropriation is “stealing”, as some people claim, but that it does matter how a person goes about putting to use the knowledge gained from another culture.  Far too many people today do not completely think through what the phrase “cultural appropriation” truly means.  When we become angry about cultural appropriation it is really “cultural abuse” that is the problem.2  We as human beings need to grow and adapt our cultures and to do so we sometimes “cross-culture”.  It is the way in which a person goes about borrowing another’s culture; it must have been done with the correct understanding of knowledge and respect without exploitation.

         “The debate about cultural appropriation has been conducted almost entirely by artists, art critics, and advocates of minority rights.  Philosophers have had comparatively little to say.  This is unfortunate since philosophers have precisely the skills that can contribute to the resolution of the debate”.  There are many different types of appropriation such as material appropriation, non-material appropriation, stylistic appropriation, and subject appropriation.  Many people who have written about cultural appropriation may not have been sensitive to the difference in the various types of appropriation.3  “One might grant that outsiders can sometimes successfully master the styles of other cultures”, but in order not to cause harm to a culture there must be caution and in the least “no one ought to appropriate from vulnerable minority cultures”.3  This then brings about the problem of whether we need to sacrifice the liberty of artists or protect the security of vulnerable cultures.  The specific situation addressed needs to be placed under a microscope for a closer look before some sort of decision can be made as to how much harm is caused to the culture by clumsy appropriation.

When a style of a culture is appropriated, the people of that particular culture tend to have overwhelming feelings of anger and the thought of having been used.  An example of this can be seen with Canada’s First Nations and the stylistic appropriation that is taking place.  It has become a “form of assimilation which will destroy aboriginal culture. ‘Every week we find that other non-aboriginal people are stealing our designs and paintings for decorating t-shirts, dress fabrics, restaurant menus and so on.  They are using the same old tactics of assimilation, except this time they are trying to assimilate our culture into their world because it is fashionable in their eyes and will make money.’”3  Though the claim that stylistic appropriation is playing a large role in the deterioration of minority cultures, the problem may not lie within the fact that majority cultures are being imposed on the minorities.  In fact this appropriation may be reinforcing the culture through the style in which it was appropriated.  Canada’s First Nation peoples, among other aboriginal nations, are becoming in danger of assimilation.  The loss of their languages as well becomes apparent with the exposure through appropriation this may just revamp the younger generations into learning their language and culture, in hope to save the minorities from complete assimilation.  

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Artists, or anyone for that matter, who appropriate styles should acknowledge the sources from which they appropriate from; by expressing oneself through appropriation a person also has the chance to speak out on topics such as racism and stereotypes, which can be denied the opportunity to members of some cultures.3

In the documentary film “If Only I Were an Indian” gives a Cree couple and a Ojibway woman from Manitoba the chance to see how a group of Czechs and Slovaks “get in touch with the North American aboriginal way of life and (how they) live it”.  At the beginning ...

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