Consider this the dos and don’ts of cultural appropriation. This is a beginners guide to the differences between borrowing, cultural appropriation, and cultural misappropriation.
Few are privy to the controversy behind President Obama’s 2008 campaign poster. The famous Hope (2008) image of President Obama isn’t a battle of candidates, but a battle surrounded by copyright laws and ethics. During that year’s election artist, Shepard Fairey (b. 1970), took an image from the Associated Press that would create artistic bloodshed. A dispute in the courtroom about copyright would last for two years. Is Shepard Fairey a political pirate or a curator of great art? “Many artists believe that without artistic appropriation, creating new art would not be possible” (Bain). Perhaps Fairey was borrowing an already existing image like a curator to create an original work of art. But this secretly scandalous poster and ethical debate is just part of a much larger controversy.
The concern of appropriation doesn’t stop at political posters. The appropriation of an image doesn’t end with propaganda or even artworks. Images of craft, design, fine art, sacred objects, and even language and customs can be appropriated from others. This appropriation, usually practiced by whites in the West, is called cultural appropriation. This hijacking of arts and culture overseas has many repercussions. A fabric used as a sacred dressing re-purposed as a pair of shoes in American belittles the origin of the textile. There is no tag on these new Pumas that say made in Africa. Even the design is altered and destroys the original purpose and meaning of the craft. Cultures are belittled, un-credited, and portrayed incorrectly through cultural appropriation.
Little do dashiki-wearing hipsters realize that they are downplaying rituals, spiritual power, politics, societies and communities, even the wealth of nations and cultures via racial appropriation. Hardworking and spiritual peoples of other lands can be made to feel small as mice in this crime called racial appropriation. Crafts made by other cultures can be reduced in value through racial appropriation. These people and their customs are important to their communities, but their value is reduced like tiny weak and invaluable rats. Fashions such as beads, bandanas, and even rows of braids can belittle entire communities of people through racial appropriation.
Katy Perry isn’t a Samari or an Egyptian goddess she is a common thief of culture without citation or accreditation. This is cultural misappropriation. Egyptian costumes and Japanise kimonos aren’t advertisements of their homelands; they are spoils of misappropriation. Wearing these things should make such cultures credited as genuine, but instead become kitschy as mere fun additions to popular cultural misappropriation. Celebrities sporting these very real outfits as just plastic costumes doesn’t give credit to the lands in which they come from. Even films like Indiana Jones embellish and popularise these costumes and discredit the cultures they come from as real. Cultural misappropriation discredits real culture.
Skinny models limping down catwalks can incorrectly make a mockery of meaningful and historical artifacts through Native American cultural appropriation. Wearing a simple Native American headdress down the runway can reduce the achievements of chiefs and elders in Native American cultural appropriation. “…A war bonnet […] has spiritual and ceremonial significance, with only certain members of the tribe having earned the right to wear feathers through honor-worthy achievements and acts of bravery” (Avins). Therefore if some obscure nameless model wears such a beautiful image of honor, they reduce it to something anyone can own. This is the root of Native American cultural appropriation. This is how Native American cultural appropriation can portray cultures incorrectly.
Movie makers aren’t thinking of offending minority cultures, but they still belittle them. Music videos are trampling over the dreams of less powerful people without proper credit. Even fashion shows misconstrue ancient and important cultural meaning. So how can a mere political poser cause problems? It is a catalyst the debate between borrowing and appropriating, but is a war in regards to the people who are a part of these cultures. It is a fiery debate but a powerfully dangerous one. So how can offense, belittlement, discrediting, dishonesty, and the destruction of peoples and their cultures be dangerous? Through the reduction of value of cultural staples. Through the lack of knowledge and acknowledgment of these cultures when they are borrowed. Through taking something special and giving access to it to literally everyone. This cultural destruction and appropriation are caused by belittling it, discrediting it, and portraying it wrong. This is cultural appropriation.
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