Appropriation or Appreciation?

By DEVIKA RAJEEV and CHRISTINE BAE

Cultural appropriation, the adaptation of a culture’s customs, has become a widely discussed topic. Wearing accessories such as a Native American headdress, an Indian bindi or a hijab may seem like a harmless costume, but it is a form of appropriation. This topic has recently instigated a lot of buzz on social media with many individuals defending these actions as a form of appreciation, while others label them as offensive ways of exploiting culture.

 

“I think the awareness has changed. For me, and again this is a limited view, it’s about the intent,” said Jericho’s social worker Mr. Benjamin. He explained that it is not always considered appropriation to adopt the look of other cultures. Mr. Benjamin gave an example saying it would indeed be acceptable to wear a kimono that a Japanese friend gives to you as long as it’s worn out of respect. However, it is not okay to use someone’s culture as a punchline for your joke or some sort of decorative costume without understanding the true meaning behind it. “I’m Jewish and if I saw someone walking around mocking that in some way, I would be upset by it,” Benjamin said.

Middle school teacher Ms. Waters offers a class called SEEDlings in which she teaches students to be aware of the world around them. It upsets her when people decide they can take on other people’s cultural identity and call it their own. Waters explained that often people take pieces from other cultures that can be considered traditional apparel and use them as a costume. She added that she would feel, “uncomfortable and inappropriate” wearing it that way. On Halloween two years ago, Ms. Waters’ piñata costume was mistaken by some as a Native American costume. “I dressed as a piñata not in a sense to marginalize Mexican culture, but actually because when I lived in Mexico, I had the unique opportunity to apprentice under a piñata maker.”

Jericho Middle School Principal Dr. Gately has been determined to make sure all students feel their cultures are accepted. Dr. Gately made an announcement warning students to be careful

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Dr. Gately warns his students about appropriating another’s culture.

to make sure their Halloween costumes weren’t offensive to the other students’ cultures. “I don’t think I said ‘don’t wear.’ I said students need to be careful of the way they choose to dress up.” He added, “I would say that it’s a matter of sensitivity and education. I’m pretty certain there’s no disrespect meant by it, but people need to be educated.”

This topic has been discussed all over social media and has had recognition from various celebrities. In the video, “Don’t Cash Crop on my Cornrows,” actress Amandla Stenberg explains how although it may not seem like a big deal to the individuals adopting the styles as some sort of decorative costume or trend, the culture that created those styles are indeed being affected. Certain cultures have struggled to survive in the past when facing hardships, so the customs that have survived are valued and cherished by that cultural group, and it may seem like their importance is being belittled when others use them as a part of a costume. Awareness through social media has caught the attention of many and has been a great way to communicate a message. However, many comments still portray ignorance. In relation to the media use Ms. Waters said, “What I find most frightening about how the media works with this is actually reading the comments that people leave.”

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