Note: Since I cannot speak for every single culture and group of people in the world, all the points made in this article are based on my experiences as a South Asian living in Canada.
In an era where political correctness and social justice are more prevalent than ever in our society, one issue that rarely goes unnoticed by people is cultural appropriation. The most simple definition of cultural appropriation is the act of taking and using elements of a culture other than one’s own. There are other parts to that definition, such as the difference between appropriation, appreciation and assimilation, but that is not the topic of this article.
Many people, especially the younger generations who live in Western countries, openly condemn cultural appropriation. But, as always, there are people that do not perceive appropriation to be a huge issue. One of the most common arguments that I’ve seen being used in favour of appropriation is that “people from those countries whose culture is being appropriated don’t care.” I do not deny that this is true, but it is important to keep in mind the reasons why those people do not care about their culture being appropriated.
Non-white people around the world have been led to believe that they are somehow inferior to Europeans, and that they should aspire to achieve the same features as Europeans.
This belief is embedded deep in many societies around the world, such as South Asian cultures, and this is clear when you go to one of those countries. For example, in 2009 the skin whitening industry in Asia was worth an estimated value of $18 billion. European colonialism has had major impacts on several countries around the globe and has affected the way that the people in those countries perceive themselves. Almost every South Asian I know who is of the older generation believe that lighter skin is more beautiful than their dark skin.
People living in countries whose cultures get appropriated by white people do not see it as a big deal because, for the most part, they believe that white people liking their culture is a sort of validation.
Furthermore, cultural appropriation is a major issue for young people of color living in western countries because, for many of us, those pieces of clothing or those hairstyles or those religious symbols are some of the few connections we have to our heritage. Many of us do not get to experience our culture as much as we would like to because we live in a different country.
Young people are much more aware of “white supremacy” and have seen it effect our people. Combine that with the inability to properly enjoy our culture and you will definitely create a group of people who are more defensive of their cultures and traditions.
So, yes, maybe people living in other parts of the world are more tolerant about people who are not a part of their culture wearing their traditional clothes and symbols. But, before you go out and interview those people to prove that appropriation “isn’t a big deal” understand why those people are more tolerant and realize that you’re using a group of people to prove a point to a completely different group of people with completely different experiences and perspectives.
Image Source: Iggy Azalea, “Bounce”