Good Afternoon, readers! Lens of The People is a column dedicated to the capture of real-life scenarios and events in the local Houston area whilst also giving the thoughts and opinions of the Houston community itself its own voice to speak through.
This week I interviewed our Houston folks about a particular topic that constantly gets brought up on social media — cultural appropriation. More specifically, trying to tell the difference between cultural appropriation and knowing one from the other. As we, as people, become more culturally diverse, and by extension, more culturally aware of one another, one great example that immediately comes to mind is clothes. That is, clothes with historic significance such as African dashikis that have become popularized by African American society, even by those non-native to the continent and are unaware of its cultural background beyond the fact that it’s African. In the eyes of one culture, actions like these can come off as appreciation to the culture; while in the eyes of those native to the culture, it may come off as appropriation or a minimalization of what that culture represents. So I went around and asked people this question: What is the difference between cultural appropriation and culture appreciation? When does one cross the line into the other?
“I think someone’s actions can be defined as cultural appropriation when he or she decides to take something from another culture without appreciating the importance or meaning of it. If it was obvious that the culture was truly being appreciated, then we could say that the person was showing respect towards the culture from which they took something from. Someone is crossing the line when they are embodying an aspect of another culture as a joke or claiming it as their own.” – Morgan Olivia
“In my opinion, between the two, that being cultural appropriation and appreciation, there are many similarities. They both use other cultures as a basis but it’s more about intent that sets them apart. When it comes to appreciating, the one who’s doing the appreciation should always understand the background of the culture, but with appropriation it’s more like taking that culture for their own gain.”- Vik Hargrove
“Personally, I feel like even when people know the differences between the two there will always be people who end up taking offense to both. Obviously when you’re taking one’s culture and using it to claim or to convey some kind of stereotype it’s wrong and people should rightfully be offended. But in my opinion, it’s way too difficult to try and figure out if each individual person is doing one or the other because it’s hard to tell from a glance. Honestly, I just think it’s about who you know and knowing when to draw the line when you’re appreciating so that you’re not appropriating, and also knowing what to take seriously and what not to when you feel like your culture is being appropriated.” – Jose Pineda
“I think cultural appropriation is when you take the ideas and actions or clothing of a culture and use it for selfish reasons like money or to make yourself look better without actually supporting or caring about people of that culture. But appreciation is when you use the influence of other cultures in an effort to bring about love and understanding for those people so that they can be held in higher regard.” – Daniella Bovell
“I think the difference between appropriation and appreciation is acknowledging things that a culture does and voicing how you think it’s interesting and cool. Appropriation, to me, is when you have no knowledge of a certain aspect of a culture and haven’t educated yourself on why they do things a certain way and try to replicate it for your own means. I feel that someone crosses the line when they haven’t researched or discussed with someone within the culture that they are interested in about why they do things a certain way and if it’s okay for them, an outsider to that culture, to participate. Failure to ask questions and draw conclusions on how people within that culture feel leads to appropriation. There are just certain things you can and cannot do, regardless of your background.” – Taylor York
I definitely think that the line between cultural appreciation and appropriation is very fine, but also very clear. No one can be faulted for attempting to appreciate another culture, but it becomes appropriation when it ceases to become about the culture at all. For example, wearing cultural clothing to a cultural festival of some sort where information and examples on how to properly honor said culture are readily available is not appropriation in my eyes. However, when that clothing becomes merely a fashion statement because it looks good or because they want to show how culturally informed they are by wearing it, it becomes appropriation as it’s not done in the interest of anyone but the wearer.