Many Find Cultural Appropriations Offensive


L. Bashin-Sullivan

Hamsas are often appropriated. Street vendors sell cheap knockoffs to customers. Wearing them for decoration can disrespect the true symbolic meaning treasured by some cultures.

Meghan Rogers, Staff Writer

Everyone has a favorite book that they’ve read. A book they feel has meaning behind its words. Imagine having someone say that this book, which means so much to you, is their favorite book even though they have never read it. Cultural appropriation works in these ways. Cultural appropriation is a phrase unknown to most; however, its presence has been around for as long as culture itself has existed. It is often compared to cultural exchange, which is the adoption of specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. This is a positive trade that enriches cultures. However, cultural appropriation takes it one step further. It is often acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture, and is frequently done with little to no sensitivity or humility.
An example of cultural appropriation would be a non-Hindu wearing a bindi for fashion purposes. A bindi represents the sixth chakra in Hindu culture and is said to protect women and their families. It has a very deep and religious meaning to Hindus, but they are sold in stores across America as stick-on gems after Selena Gomez made them fashionable with her music video of “Come and Get It.”
Cultural appropriation awareness is on the rise and is often exposed on websites such as Tumblr. However, the topic can be difficult to discern because of it’s sensitive nature. Is someone appropriating, or are they appreciating the culture? The line between the two is blurry and unclear, and far from black and white. Because of this, it is important to take measures to make sure you don’t fall into the appropriation category. By being cautious and gentle, you can avoid potentially awkward or morally uncomfortable situations.
Of course, it is crucial to do some research. Before you buy that Evil Eye pendant, figure out what it means and realize it’s not just blue and white circles with a black dot in the middle. Although the symbol’s meaning varies in different cultures, it typically wards against evil and protects the wearer. This simple understanding is easily achieved by reading the Wikipedia page, but it is important to understand that all cultures are significantly deeper than anything you can read. Words on a page can rarely encapsulate the importance and meaning behind symbols and clothing. Always be willing to listen to someone from the respective culture – as they will always know more than the Wikipedia page.
However, most appropriators simply don’t understand the magnitude of what they are doing. Often they think they are just appreciating the culture, which in a sense they might be, but usually they are unaware of the power that piece of clothing or symbol can mean to others that treasure their traditions. Cultural admiration is very beneficial, but only when executed with sensitivity and respect. Understand that that cool knockoff hamsa necklace has a very different meaning to you than to another, before you make that purchase.