Opinion

Cultural Appropriation: Insensitive or Beautiful?

By Rachel Ali

rachel.ali@spartans.ut.edu

Cultural Appropriation has been discussed recently in social media. We are all knowingly, or unknowingly, impacted by aspects of cultural appropriation. If you are not familiar with the concept, cultural appropriation is the concept of individuals inappropriately adopting parts of a separate culture without properly researching or respecting those traditions or styles used. 

Appropriating a culture happens in many different ways. Examples I’ve seen of cultural appropriation have been women wearing tribal headdresses as sexy Halloween costumes. I’ve even seen many hairstyles such as different types of braids be worn by white individuals when there is a historical significance behind the styles for black women. 

There are a wide range of ways that cultural appropriation can be done but in the end, the effects are harmful. By not properly accounting for the historical and religious history behind, but not limited to, styles and clothes, many may feel offended and hurt. One of the biggest issues is the disrespect that may be given to these cultural traditions or styles but also can erase the trauma certain groups of people have endured. 

By culturally appropriating marginalized groups, I feel as though it erases history for those traditions and can even be a slap in the face for people who hold those traditions dear.

On social media, it is not  just costumes or hairstyles that can offend, but parts of U.S. culture can too. In a recent New York Times article, a new take on cultural appropriation was taken that may be seen as controversial. 

The author, John McWhorter, in his article titled, “Cultural Appropriation Can Be Beautiful,” recalls how a song written by a white composer infused a lot of Black-derived idioms in the “St. Louis Woman” musical. Initially, I went into the article thinking I was going to disagree with the author, however, I was surprised. The author goes back in history and describes how aspects of cultural appreciation in music created new genres of music, especially in musical theatre. The sentiment represented in this article is that fusing parts of culture together can bring new and beautiful ideas and inventions.

However, McHorter along with all of these points that are seemingly for cultural appropriation makes sure to outline that cultural appropriation is a real problem.

“Of course, cultural appropriation can go overboard. We are justifiably wary today of those in power mimicking, sometimes profiting from, cultural products of the disempowered,” said McHorter in the article. “However, appropriation yields hybridity that, especially after the passage of time, only the most resolutely clinical of mindsets can see solely as symptoms of injustice. People sharing space will copy one another — even if they don’t always get along.”

I have mixed emotions about this quote but in truth, there’s a point in this article. New things can come out of mixing cultures, as long as it’s done in a respectful nature. It is also important to look back and break down moments where things may have derived from malpractice. Whether you agree with the ideas in the article or not, in the end, cultural appreciation and its emotional consequences are very much an individual process that we all must come to terms with. 

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