Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation

Alyssa, staff

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A big topic in a society as integrated as today’s is, and has been since the beginning of documented history, is racism. Racism, as we are all likely familiar with in its basic form, is a discrimination against another culture as a whole due to personal or learned prejudices. However, sometimes we don’t stop to think about what really counts as racism. Recently, the topic of “appropriating another culture” or “misappropriation” has been very rampant in society and has been used as a sub-category of racism in a world that is as heavily integrated as our own. Some people, however, contend that they simply want to participate in acts of homage, that they do not see a problem with something that can be covered lawfully as an act of free speech. That they have the right to use things that they find in order to make profit or improve their own aesthetics. So, in turn, what counts as cultural appropriation, and what counts as cultural appreciation? To simplify the concept, let’s look at two of the most high-risk and controversial platforms for misappropation: Music and Fashion. Keep in mind that this is not an all-inclusive list, as we are trying to avoid being legalistic here.
Music and Cultural Appropriation
Generally, under a stance of freedom of press, speech, and expression, in the United States, we assume that we can portray ourselves creatively in whatever way we please. However, when doing so, it is important to make sure that our creativity is truly creative and not an insensitive exploitation of something in the back of our mind fed to us by what society deems acceptable. Here is a small summation of what to avoid in terms of music and its relation to racism.
Stealing music that is common property of a group or culture because of its sacred or personal value in order to produce profit
Taking advantaged of less developed cultures’ poverty and poorly structured laws in order to steal music from their own artists
Writing lyrics that portray lies about a culture or portray yourself as part of a culture you do not truly sympathize with
Using media presence in the music culture to ignorantly portray cultures through lyrics or performances in such a way that would produce a generalization about said culture
Collaborating with artists from other cultures in ways to steal revenue and/or fan-base in a purposely calculated way
Adopting songs as your own style in order to make yourself as the dominant culture seem “cooler” or “more eclectic” as well as claiming yourself as a fan of a foreign artist to gain public relations when you know little about said fanbase or only like one popular song they wrote
These things, in fact, can happen today, and many of them do. When music creates a presence as big as it does today, it is always important to be careful what sort of influences you create.

Music and Cultural Appreciation
Even though being careful of what you do with music in terms and the effects of it on other cultures, it is also notable to mention that music is meant to be appreciated, regardless of culture in many cases. This is still contested by some activists of cultural decency, but I believe the following to be good guidelines for appropriate ways to appreciate cultural music.
Casually listening and browsing music by artists from other cultures
Naturally becoming a fan of music of other cultures and treating their music with the same version of appreciation as music from your own cultures (not making their music seem “exotic”)
Singing in collaboration with artists from other cultures in a consensual way that benefits both parties as equally as possible
Writing lyrics about experiences you have personally had in honest ways regardless of cultural ties
Making sure you use disclaimers when talking about or dressing in certain ways for a performance that clearly explain creative liberties and their intentions
As long as you have your intentions clearly marked and you are being truly honest and appropriate with your content, it is perfectly acceptable to like and express tastes in whatever music you are naturally inclined toward, as well as create music that is meaningful to you. Music is made by everyone, for everyone.

Fashion and Cultural Appropriation
Here is a list of don’ts in the fashion category regarding appropriation or cultures.
Making fun of other cultures by wearing their clothing
Wearing things other cultures find sacred in a disrespectful or light way
Using other culture’s fashion statements as “cool” for the majority while adversely chastising said culture of making fun of their fashion when worn by them
Refusing hire based upon clothing worn by another culture’s members
Creating costumes of other cultures’ fashion or marginalizing history surrounding them
Making other cultures’ clothing considered “exotic”
Using the ability to dress as another culture in a way or at a time that causes generalizations to be made based upon your influence
Marketing other cultures’ traditional clothing as a fashion line of your own without due credit or consent

Fashion and Cultural Appreciation
Here is a list of otherwise acceptable behaviors in the category of fashion when trying to avoid racism. Even though some will claim otherwise, I feel this is the most American way to look at the issue.
Wearing clothes of other cultures or made by other cultures in a way that you would treat any other outfit that spawns from your own
Buying clothes made and marketed by other cultures for the general public
Adopting recommended fashion advice from other cultures in order to share health, love, and body positivity across cultures
Being accepting of integration of cultures by the minority so that they can feel unalienated when wearing their own clothing, a mixture, or the clothing of the majority
In conclusion, there are a lot of ways people can offend other cultures or individuals without even realizing it, but there are also a lot of ways people can get too caught up in legalism and cause tension where there should be integration, creativity, and appreciation. There are many kinds of cultures and many ways of looking at everyday affairs. It is more important to remember that we are all the same, regardless of where we are rooted in, and that every culture’s style of life can be just as equally loved.

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Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation