‘Cultural appropriation is not inherently negative’

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Photo credit/Aubrey Carr

Video created by Aubrey Carr


Staff Writer/Aubrey Carr

March 28, a viral video swept the internet where a white student at the San Francisco State University was harassed because his hair was in dreadlocks and a black colleague of his felt it was an attack against her culture. In high school, I had dreadlocks for little more than a year. My ancestors include British, Russian, most of Western Europe, even Viking and none of their cultural hairstyles included dreads.

To those who call me out on cultural appropriation: You’re right. To those who condemn me for partaking in their culture, I must retort: I styled my hair in such a way because dreadlocks are beautiful and I wanted a new hairstyle – not to spite African culture. The problem begins when cultural appropriation is used in order to mock another culture or desecrate serious points. Respect is still a huge part of engaging in other cultures.

Even for dreadlocks, the media and society have portrayed a problematic double standard between races. People of color have long been professed as unprofessional, dirty and uneducated if they wore dreadlocks. People with lighter skin who, despite having the same hairstyle, do not receive the negative association.

But cultural appropriation is not inherently negative. Oxford describes the term as “the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes or practises by one cultural group from another.” Urban Dictionary might add its own definition, stating that “being of a different culture or race means you are not allowed to adopt things from other cultures. This does nothing but hinder progress in the world.”

Consider the countless ideas and material objects we wouldn’t have if it were not for appropriation.

The number zero, for example, from what is now Iraq or the U.S. governmental structure that nearly mirrors British parliament with its roots in Roman influence.

Every cultural staple can be traced back centuries, thus finding its place in areas around the world.

On the point of progress made by the contributor to Urban Dictionary, we would be nowhere today without the concept of zero and we certainly wouldn’t be colonising Mars; we would have never figured out the math to fly beyond the atmosphere.

Take China. When Marco Polo travelled to the Orient, he ate noodles and loved them so much that he brought them back to Italy, where they evolved into what “pasta” might immediately bring to mind today – tortellini, fettuccini, rotini, spaghetti and the list goes on.

The Chinese invented fireworks in the second century and Americans amongst many other countries use them to celebrate independence or other milestones. Tea leaves in hot water was originally a Chinese drink but the British turned it into Earl Grey and English Breakfast.  If you are of African, European, or Hispanic descent and have engaged in any of these activities, you have culturally appropriated the Chinese and I would be surprised to learn that you have participated in none of the above.

That’s okay, because noodles, fireworks and tea have made the world a happier place. We should celebrate their conceptions together.

If you’re Jewish, wearing the new tartan made especially for the Jewish people, you’re appropriating my Scottish heritage.

If you’re Hispanic telling your children fairy tales like Cinderella, you’re appropriating my German roots.

If you’re African with a fancy for meat pies, you’re appropriating my English upbringing – and that’s fabulous.

Please, take the Christmas-like pattern of my family’s Kerr tartan and cover your pillows in it. Drink black tea with Eccles cakes at three in the afternoon, like my mother prepared.  Tell the stories my ancestors told. I would be ecstatic to know you were as in love with my culture as I am with yours.

It’s not wrong to celebrate one another’s cultures by reverentially bringing them into our own lives. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It’s nice when something that was once on the fringes becomes normal in society and is integrated into another culture, but don’t make it seem as though cultures with less privilege feel robbed of their pride.

America has been powerful and inventive because we have so many different people from different places bringing ideas and commodities with them. This should continue through the respectful discovering of other cultures and peoples and introducing their brilliant concepts to those in our own cultural circles.


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of FIU Student Media Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.


Image from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ribenawrath/139155726/in/photolist-did9E-kE5ERJ-s9TuWk-diuA52-6ciXko-odYEiN-npxqDQ-nD5Yje-nkconb-eAUcyt-6wUgPU-f9DjqN-6ih5dF-8DNoYu-9mAFFh-mCypgn-ftwuRe-cZJAML-cbjj7h-fuqku7-cccca9-h2U1o-eaKFSk-7SLRi8-5peqTB-MxdUp-7v2pa4-bmS5VL-cKwNFo-ryXq1m-6eKBEC-bqgecU-bqQCDE-f3q6s8-bqgdZ9-ecM7FA-5rs7GN-6an2zW-bzLWyr-aPq6tp-eWWLTq-exBk2Y-i43oi3-f5KWhq-4N5Emj-g74vzx-f5K515-4nZxie-ecM7CE-ixjdSm

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