Since I’m as white as a saucer of milk, I’d like to open this by saying that I am extremely open to correction on this - provided those corrections don’t come from other white people, obviously - but I’m fairly sure, after trying to learn as much as I can about this over the last few years, that I have a pretty good understanding of what cultural appropriation is, and what it isn’t.
What cultural appropriation is is taking elements from a culture other than your own, with a complete disregard for that culture and the people in it, and having them for yourself because you think they’re aesthetically pleasing, or “exotic”, or “cool”, or whatever. For example, wearing Native American headdresses with no regard for what they mean because you think they look cool is cultural appropriation.
A good metaphor to help people understand this, I find, is the way that a lot of us who have been on the internet for a long time get pretty fed up when we see that the meme we noticed floating around last week has made its way onto t-shirts, stationary and fuck knows what else IRL, and that people are buying and wearing these things around because TROLLFACE IS FUNNY AMIRITE GUISE. The reason it annoys you is because those memes arose from a specific in-joke that your community made amongst themselves, and when a company decides to take that in-joke and slap it on a t-shirt for people who weren’t there for it to buy because they think it’s “funny”, they’re taking you and your community out of the equation and completely sucking the context out of the joke. It’s rather grating to see it happen time and time again every time a meme becomes popular, isn’t it?
Now imagine that happening to the time-honoured traditions of your culture, the things that make you and your family and your community who you are. Imagine that happening to things that are sacred and special to you. If seeing a company struggling to use the doge meme properly on their website or in their advertising irritates you, try to imagine how it must feel when someone else sees some central element of their culture being tossed around as a fashion statement for profit.
What cultural appropriation isn’t is white people taking part in other cultures and having other people share their culture with them. For example, a Mexican person teaching a white friend about the Day of the Dead so that they can celebrate it together, as in one of the examples in that post that’s going about, isn’t appropriation, because the person to which that culture belongs isn’t being excluded from it.
I eat a lot of Indian food, and I’ll wager that plenty of you guys eat Chinese, or Thai, or Mexican food, too. That’s not cultural appropriation, either - it’s just a result of cultures coming together and becoming ingrained. In England, we’ve always had lots of people from all over the world coming through over the centuries, and when they’ve come here, they’ve shared their culture with us. We’ve had Chinese and Indian restaurants here, run by Chinese and Indian people, for hundreds of years, so long that it’s become part of our own culture, too. It’s a natural result of diversity and multiculturalism, and that’s a good thing!
Likewise, white people taking the time to actively learn about other cultures besides their own and learn other languages is also a really good way to experience those cultures without excluding the people those cultures belong to, and I’d heartily encourage everyone to broaden their understanding of other people and other cultures by doing it. The best thing you can do is learn about a culture from the people it belongs to, so if you’re interested in other cultures, that’s the way to go.
That’s my extremely white, extremely English understanding of what cultural appropriation is: taking things from other cultures without understanding or appreciating those things, and excluding the people to whom that culture belongs.
It doesn’t mean that white people aren’t allowed to touch anything that isn’t theirs, it doesn’t mean that non-white cultures need to get put in a little box and hidden away to be kept “safe”. It doesn’t mean that we should all keep ourselves to ourselves and stick to our own cultures and our own kind.
Because that’s segregation, and that’s the opposite of what you’d ideally be trying to achieve by speaking out about cultural appropriation.
I might be off the mark, and if someone wants to set me straight, I’d really welcome it! I do my best to listen and learn about these things so I can be a pretty okay white person, and the better my understanding of these things is, the easier it’ll be for me to achieve that.
Have a good night, folks!