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What Is Cultural Appropriation?

Written by Ezgi Cakirgoz


Culture is defined as the things that are unique to societies themselves such as knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, and habits. Since culture belongs to particular ethnic groups, it harms culture when a person adopts a style, custom, or habit from a culture that is not their own. It is called cultural appropriation.


If we make the definition of cultural appropriation, which became widespread in the 1980s when discussing postcolonial critiques of Western expansionism, it is the inappropriate or unapproved imitation of any part of one culture or identity by persons belonging to another culture or identity. Cultural appropriation may involve the use of the traditions, dance, fashion, symbols, language, and music of another culture's religion. What makes it negative is that the disadvantaged minority members of a dominant culture adopt the culture for their benefit. This appropriation is seen differently from assimilation, which is the process of a minority group getting affected by the majority group’s culture, values, behaviors, or beliefs fully or partly, because it is copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context.


When we look at the examples of cultural appropriation in daily life, we realize that people do this unconsciously. For example, when a non-black person wears dreadlocks or does hip-hop, it is considered cultural appropriation. If we add other examples; blackfishing, asianfishing, the use of the head that is used as a warhead by the Indians as a fashion product, the use of religious symbols without knowing their meaning, smoking caps based on the Islamic fez to be worn by Victorian gentlemen, Japanese-inspired kimono dresses to be worn by the turn of the century ladies, singers who use the style, fashion, decor, hair or make-up of other cultures in their clips or performances to draw reaction, the rock music genre to be known as the invention of white musicians, but this music style to be taken from Black musicians or wearing clothes belonging to other cultures as costumes at parties such as Halloween can be said.


Although cultural appropriation is seen as a negative thing by many people, some think the opposite. As some examples of these people; columnist Jonah Goldberg described cultural appropriation as something positive and dismissed opposition to it as a product of some people's desire to be offended, John McWhorter, a professor at Columbia University, criticized the concept, arguing that cultural appropriation is not a negative thing and is something that has no intention of harming imitated cultures.



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