Caroline Lozano/Opinion Director
Cultural appropriation is usually a sensitive topic for many people, especially within certain Internet circles. Oftentimes, the mere mention of the term triggers instant outrage and vitriol from both ends of the argument—some claiming its legitimacy and others calling out our generation’s apparent oversensitivity.
By definition, cultural appropriation is the “unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society,” according to English Oxford Living Dictionaries.
I definitely do think cultural appropriation is legitimate and prevalent within our society than the naysayers think. However, with all the talk of dominant cultures appropriating aspects of a minority culture, there’s one aspect of the concept that’s never really been addressed before: religious appropriation.
While I firmly believe that a culture, with all of its religious traditions and beliefs, should be shared and appreciated, the practice of watering down religious symbols to fashion statements or money-making schemes is a notion I will always reject.
Unfortunately, it’s everywhere.
This is problematic because the significance of these figures, objects, and symbols are lost for the sake of looking good or making money. Buddha, evil eye talismans and rosaries are among the few religious symbols often used in fashion or sold in stores.
Rosaries are one of the most common religious objects used by celebrities, like pop singers Lady Gaga and Madonna, as part of their outfits for a concert or fashion event.
The usage of these religious items without context can be pretty insulting because rosaries, in particular, are not meant to be worn as fashion accessories. To use it as such would give off the impression that it’s just a necklace when in actuality, there are actual prayers and meditations associated with every bead.
The most recent example of religious appropriation from public figures occurred back in May, when the annual Met Gala fashion event took place in New York’s Met Museum. Because of its Catholic theme, many celebrities came to the event dressed popular Catholic saints, wearing nativity pieces, and showing off their “pope” dresses.
Needless to say, many Catholics, including people I know, were offended by the blatant appropriation of Catholic art and iconography.
Personally, I was not as offended by the event, due to the Vatican’s involvement and apparent acceptance of the theme, but I understood the anger and frustration from my fellow Catholics, especially since some of these public figures have been previously critical of the Church and/or Christianity in general.
Apart from Christianity, Eastern religions have also been appropriated in fashion. Even now, I often seen images of popular Hindu deities, Ganesha and Krishna posed on psychedelic-print shirts and leggings at department stores.
If I hadn’t taken the time to google the names and histories of these deities, I would’ve never known their significance within Hindu philosophy and religion.
The same goes with Buddha, whose image and sayings I’ve also seen displayed on various T-shirts and items of clothing, reducing the highly revered figure to namaste quotes and “good vibes” slogans.
Of course, I’m not saying that those who choose to wear fashion depicting Ganesha or Krishna have no knowledge of Eastern religions as I’m sure there are many who practice or know about these customs.
Likewise, I’m not trying to claim that the celebrities at the Met Gala event shouldn’t be allowed to wear these items. I’m also not questioning the personal faiths of these individuals. I’m aware that many of these celebrities were either raised Catholic or Protestant Christian and likely have an idea of the significance of the saintly figures and other religious symbols they were emulating.
Regardless if any of them publicly profess faith in Christianity, it wouldn’t be my place—or anyone’s for that matter—to question their beliefs. I just wish that there was more consideration when it comes to religious items and symbols.
Wearing or using these symbols as fashion or as a way to make money can incite others to do the same, which may cause them to lose respect for the religion being appropriated. Whether you practice a religion or not, respect is always necessary to foster a harmonious community.
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