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The Difference Between Cultural Appropriation and Appreciation Outside of the U.S.

The year is coming to an end, yet there are still misunderstandings on social media on important topics due to a lack of knowledge or just sheer ignorance on their behalf. One of these topics is about cultural appropriation. As someone who is not from the U.S., I cannot speak on behalf of them. However, I can speak on behalf Malaysians.


If you do not know much about my country, let me give you a simple breakdown. Malaysia is a multicultural country in South East Asia which consists of a wide range of different races and ethnic groups with the majority being the Malays, Chinese and Indians followed by smaller groups consisting of the Kadazandusuns, Ibans and many more.

So what is the correlation between cultural appropriation and Malaysia? Simple. Cultural appropriation does not necessarily apply in Malaysia.We Malaysians pride ourselves on sharing each other’s cultures and traditions, not by stealing them and claiming them as our own.

The reason cultural appropriation has to be addressed is that just because cultural appropriation happens in countries such as the U.S., that does not mean it happens everywhere else in the world. Just a few months back, I saw a group of people on Twitter harassing a non-Chinese girl for wearing a cheongsam, the traditional Chinese costume worn by females. This did not sit right with me for a few reasons because firstly, she was not even from the U.S. Secondly, the people harassing her for her choice of dressing were all white people. People need to understand that just because a non-Chinese person is seen wearing a Chinese traditional costume, that does not mean they are appropriating their culture.

In Malaysia, especially on our independence day, we wear each other’s traditional costumes. You can see the Chinese wearing Meludusthe Malays wearing sarees and the Indians wearing cheongsams. I myself have worn baju kurungs and cheongsams multiple times as a Malaysian Indian. Where I am from, we can call this cultural appreciation.

In countries like Malaysia, it is our culture to share each other’s cultures. In our everyday lives, we see people of all races wearing baju kurungs and punjabi suits. Therefore, for a group of white people to be telling Asians what we can and cannot wear, is highly ignorant on their part on how we live our lives in a multicultural society.

Cultural appropriation might apply in the U.S. due to their long history of racism and marginalization and I cannot speak on behalf of them. However, I can speak on behalf of Malaysians by saying that cultural appropriation does not necessarily apply in my country. That is not me saying we do not face racism in Malaysia. We do have racial tensions and disagreements. However, we have learned to respect each other’s cultures, traditions and values. Therefore, for a group of white people on twitter shouting cultural appropriation blindly without understanding just to seem “woke” is highly misinforming and steering people away from what cultural appropriation truly is, stealing another groups culture and taking it as their own.

Therefore, let me as a Malaysian Indian speak on what is and is not cultural appropriation in my country and have Twitter folks actually listen, instead of blindly shouting cultural appropriation when you saw Beyoncé wearing henna and a saree.

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