A View on Cultural Appropriation

By: Anjali Patel
The concept of cultural appropriation has been sparking several debates. When individuals of one culture dress up in another culture’s clothes or wear particular symbols that have significant meanings from religions that the person wearing the symbol does not follow, they are often accused of cultural appropriation by a decent number of people.
The main factor that I think should be the indicator of whether one is appropriating or appreciating a particular culture is knowledge or the willingness to learn. One should maintain the desire or the readiness to educate themselves even more on cultural practices they have already or have not researched. One should also maintain the desire or the readiness to listen to a wide variety of people (those who are different ages or come from different circumstances) within the demographic who follow those cultural traditions. One should maintain the desire or the readiness to explore the complexities of a tradition the individual may attempt to emulate as the particular custom could be valued in different ways or in different amounts depending on the various populations of people who historically follow that practice. Most importantly, one should always remain respectful and not discriminate the people especially if the individual is replicating some of their customs.  All of these factors sound good in theory and I will always encourage individuals to take these steps or put in the extra effort to learn something new especially if they are wearing another culture’s clothing or religious symbols.
One of the largest flaws that have emerged in our internet culture is also the readiness to point out cultural appropriation when people do not personally know the individual wearing traditional clothing or following a certain exercise. Cultural appropriation can be extremely individualistic as it many times comes down to if someone is educated about the culture, is willing to accumulate more knowledge, and is open minded. These qualities cannot necessarily or always be determined from an Instagram photo or a tweet. This crossroad between seeing a social media post and lacking thorough insight into the person’s intentions or willingness to learn is wear the dilemma is often highlighted. At this point, it is tricky to conclude whether someone one does not know personally is appropriating or appreciating something.
Altogether, throughout this article, I have discussed my views on cultural appreciation or appropriation taking place on the smaller, individualistic scale. However, this issue also takes place on the greater scale, especially through pop culture. For example, when artists use certain clothing or symbols in their music videos, they must somehow convey that they appreciate the people who come from those cultures and genuinely respect them. Artists have the responsibility to express this in some shape or form because their works will ultimately have influence on an audience and can sway the audience to either appreciate or appropriate. The universal problems that emerge with this concept include the fact that everyone interprets the way things are presented differently. While I may think that the way one artist presents Indian culture is not problematic and quite appreciative, someone else of Indian heritage or descent may disagree because every single person is different and has distinct experiences. That is okay. We have to be okay with that because that problem will always prevail. I am not saying that one should not advocate for what they think is right--you should, because that is what drives progress (at least through your perspective). I am saying that we should recognize this dilemma that ultimately comes down to human nature in order to approach this issue of cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation in a more rational, willing-to-listen manner.
Overall, the issue of cultural appropriation or appreciation is definitely a complex one. Throughout this article, I just wanted to explore the nature of the controversial issue and hopefully provide more insight into where different types of people come from.



  1. There is no difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation. The concept is in the eyes and prejudices of the beholder. If a white American wears a African Shirt in West Africa he is greeted with smiles. The locals see as it as a complement. If he likes the shirt and wears it while touring Berkley he would likely get assaulted. In both cases, he would be showing appreciation of the culture that produced it, only the eye of the beholder has changed. Cultural exchanges, and adaptations are part of life, and what brings people together and even helps them advance. Stifling these exchanges is divisive, and creates animosity without benefit to either party. the truth is, there is no virgin culture in modern societies. All are a mixture of hundreds if not thousands of cultural exchanges over thousands of years. Accept this, and take it as a complement that others want to emulate you and the issue goes away.