By ALISON SUMMERFIELD
June 23rd, 2018
“The intent in cultural appreciation is usually benign but as it moves to the appropriation it becomes more exploitative. But motives are often mixed, sometimes subconscious and what’s perceived as appropriation could have been intended as appreciation.”
I think sometimes there’s a fine line between appreciating a culture and even copying aspects it, and cultural appropriation. An example of this ambiguity is the reaction to Coldplay and Beyoncé in ‘Hymn for a weekend’ music video
The intent in cultural appreciation is usually benign but as it moves to the appropriation it becomes more exploitative. But motives are often mixed, sometimes subconscious and what’s perceived as appropriation could have been intended as appreciation.
Often cultural appropriation is taking an idea from a culture and applying it without real understanding of its meaning. Not involving people from that culture and simply taking.
It’s nuanced but I think some of the reasons it can feel so wrong are:
Power imbalance – usually there’s an inequality between the two cultures. For example, although American culture is copied across the world it’s not seen as cultural appropriation. Appropriation is taking from a weaker culture.
Inaccurate portrayal of the culture – it can be cringeworthy to watch aspects or stereotypes of your culture being played out inaccurately. The focus can be on the mysterious or alluring elements and miss out important wider elements and deeper meaning. This can reinforce negative stereotypes.
Insensitivity – sometimes something culturally sensitive can be used inappropriately causing real offence.
Links to colonialism – in some instances it is sensitive because of there’s been a long history of cultural appropriation in its most negative form. Indian and the British Empire is a good example.
Payment – in appropriation nothing goes back to the community that created the cultural idea. There’s no copyright in place to be enforced. Thousands of years developing an idea can be ripped off in a few days, with no benefit to those who did the original work and had the inspiration.
To be aware I do see a huge gulf between appropriating culture, which is exploitative, and genuinely learning about and respecting a culture including taking on aspects demonstrating respect such as bowing.