Cultural appropriation is just borrowing something from another culture. “Offensive” appropriation occurs when the culture that is doing the adopting has oppressed, subordinated, or otherwise abused the culture from which it is adopting ideas, dress, etc.

This is such a broad definition that it’s hard to possibly see what couldn’t be offensive cultural appropriation. Every idea in the world is borrowed in some capacity (as Oscar Wilde put it so eloquently— “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation,”) and, I’m sorry to say, that white “Western” culture has oppressed just about everyone else at some point in time. So should this mean that, in order to respect other cultures, we need to burn our yoga mats and chevron shirts, cease to consume ethnic foods, and stop doing math… because the arabic numerals we use were developed by Indian mathematicians? India is where yoga comes from. If yoga is cultural appropriation, so is math.

I propose that the answer is no. I look at this much in the same way I look at my frustration with our patriarchal society as a feminist. I could point out ten things to you, in almost any piece of pop culture, that are degrading to women and that support the sexist institutions that our country (and, arguably, the world) is practically built on. But, I don’t. I don’t because it’s exhausting and because whining is not making a difference. If anything, it builds antagonism toward feminists. If someone says something that is overtly offensive, or has repercussions that could be immediately harmful to women, I speak up. But otherwise, I acknowledge that it’s wrong, and move on, seeking to make a difference in other ways.

I also propose that those who constrain a specific way of dress like that exhibited in a “gangsta” themed party, or brand of music like “trap,” to a specific race where it is closely associated or originated, are moving us further backwards than the fraternity brothers who are choosing the music and themes for their parties in the first place. To get to a place where people of all backgrounds could enjoy the music and dress of different backgrounds from their own would be a move toward a place where we no longer pigeonhole or stereotype, would it not?

Our lives are made richer by the influences of customs, dress and food from backgrounds and cultures different from our own. Purging our society of them for fear of someone taking offense is a terrible idea. There will always be those who are insensitive and don’t give credit where credit is due, but a good many people do appreciate the cultures from which they are influenced. In fact, the influences of cultures apart from our own actually help us become more informed, sensitive and thoughtful and in turn support those who need it. Too much fear of offensive appropriation is not a good thing. Cross cultural exchange makes us stronger as a society.


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