Cultural appropriation versus appreciation


Jessica Wang

We can appreciate each others’ cultures by wearing and displaying it. Wrongly labeling actions as cultural appropriation can have negative consequences.

by Isabella Lo, Co-Opinions Editor

What’s the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation? Based solely on the definition, appreciation is about honoring traditions while appropriation is the inappropriate adoption of aspects of a culture. However, in practice, that definition leaves room for interpretation, leading people to view the line separating the two in different ways.

In cultural appropriation, someone usually from the dominant culture profits from taking an aspect of another subdominant culture without giving credit to the original ideas and inspiration. Cultural appropriation also has the potential to exotify other cultures, where traditions are reduced to simple stereotypes.

Certain items like Native American headdresses hold religious significance in their culture, so when people choose to wear the item as decoration, implying its lack of worth, their actions can convey a sense of disrespect. Thus, in order to appreciate a certain dress, it is necessary to understand the significance and culture of a clothing.

However, cultural appropriation does not refer to all instances of using another’s culture. For example, when a non-Chinese high school student wore an adaptation of the traditional Chinese qipao as her prom dress, people online criticized her ignorance of Chinese culture while many, from mainland China, actually supported her wear. She later wrote on twitter that her motivation for wearing her dress was to “show love” and not to profit or mock another culture. Nevertheless, many still accused her of cultural appropriation. 

As long as there is mutual benefit, cultural exchange can help build a greater sense of community and help others understand the diversity of culture.

With social media, any video or photo has the chance to go viral, leaving people open to more scrutiny and criticism. Each aspect of every post is analyzed, and innocent gestures can be overblown into offensive symbolism, where “cancel culture” shreds each post apart. Quick accusations online can have the negative effect of turning many away from learning about other cultures when it should be shared and understood.

Wearing dresses from traditional sources of culture can spread awareness about different cultures. If a celebrity wears traditional dress, they can use their platform to spread awareness about different cultures; their actions can become symbols of representation and appreciation. A society where traditional wear is not stigmatized is inherently good because it allows more people to be comfortable with their own culture. Oftentimes, when a cultural symbol is considered abnormal in an area, people choose to assimilate into society, prioritizing fitting in over celebrating their own culture. Thus, when people in prominent standings choose to show their appreciation of another culture, that act can make a considerable impact upon the mindsets of others. At Harker, these acts are similar to culture day, which helps minority students by raising awareness of our multiethnic community and promoting inclusivity.

America itself is a mixing of different cultures, with many of its influences stemming from different places. When people choose to wear a certain traditional dress, it’s important to acknowledge the culture is not from one place; it’s a mix of different people and ideologies, which means that while it holds a greater significance with a certain group, it is meant to be shared. With a greater appreciation of other cultures, we can form a greater understanding of each other.