Bringing Awareness to Cultural Appropriation Through Policy

Bringing Awareness to Cultural Appropriation Through Policy

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Elizabeth Nguyen started this petition to California State Senate and

Nowadays, multiple incidents of cultural appropriation have been circulating throughout the media in addition to creative industries, driving Internet outrage and sensitivity all over social media platforms given the rising awareness of race relations. Fashion brands such as Dior and Gucci, renowned for their luxury fashion, have been accused of practicing cultural appropriation; surprisingly, they remain unchanged and get away with their wrongdoings. Another revolves around the company, Kick It Sport, where they have taken the traditional Chinese game, Jianzi, and marketed off the shuttlecock as an invention of their own. It was until they received immense backlash on Tik Tok and Instagram that they gave credit to its origins with the excuse that they “had no idea of the game’s roots”. Their Instagram comments have been limited in attempts to maintain their reputation with their Tik Tok account being deleted as a result of confrontations.  


How does cultural appropriation deviate from cultural appreciation or exchange?

Cultural appreciation pays homage to an ethnic culture by seeking to understand and educate oneself of another culture in efforts to broaden their knowledge and connect with others cross-culturally. Such appreciation contributes to the exchange of cultures. Whereas, cultural appropriation differs from acculturation, cultural appreciation, or cultural exchange in the sense that appropriating a certain ethnic group’s culture is deeply rooted and constitutes a form of colonialism: cultural components are taken from ethnic/racial minorities by members of a dominant ethnic/racial group. These elements tend to be used for personal gain, utilized outside of its significance or against their respects even when aware of the context. Sometimes, appropriation can be made unintentionally due to the lack of broad expertise in the sociology of race and ethnic relations. As a result, such malpractices can bring offense to communities around the globe, not just in a commercial context but also in a social context. 


According to Susan Barkataki, cultural appropriation is based on a system of oppression and involves two key factors: power imbalance and harm to the source culture. The harm can be from disrespect, for instance treating a Buddha statue as a decoration, or material harm-- the harm of systemic inequity. Usually, capitalism is linked to appropriation. This can oftentimes be tricky with individuals commenting that “it’s just fashion” or “it’s just a hairstyle” or “it’s just an outfit”. Why are people so outraged? Well, the reason people are so upset is due to the power imbalance, that imbalance can be the double standard behind the matter. That dominant culture group doesn’t experience the same oppression or disprivileges that an individual from a subordinate group experiences for doing the same thing. In fact, they would be celebrated as avant-garde, or that they perpetuated this “new wave” when the person from that culture group is ridiculed for practicing their culture. We would see this occur with African American culture as society correlates their hairstyles with unprofessionalism and pimp culture. 


What can we do?

A solution would be drafting a policy within creative companies: fashion, entertainment, art, marketing, and beauty. This policy will bring cultural appropriation into conversation between employees as an indication that these companies are aware of the implications of cultural appropriation. In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre in Minneapolis has recently developed a similar policy to respond to instances of appropriation; created through several revisions and feedback from staff, artists, and board members in hopes to make this matter a huge conversation within the theatre community. Their policy is believed to be the first of its kind. I believe that expanding a similar policy to other creative companies would bring awareness within their designated communities and prevent further incidents that could potentially harm racial/ ethnic groups. A disclaimer is that the policy will not be intended to shame or ban acts of cultural misappropriation as this can occur unintentionally. It will lay out a process, if necessary, that can result in disciplinary action. Though, the overall goal for this policy is conversation, not condemnation as HOBT states.

Reference: https://hobt.org/equity/cultural-appropriation-policy/

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