Cultural Appropriation vs Appreciation: Where Do We Draw the Line?

Mia Shields, Design Editor

Throughout history, people have dominated regions and reshaped cultures, discriminating against the original folk and claiming parts of these identities as their own. This is otherwise known as cultural appropriation. However, currently, it is a simpler practice despite it becoming less socially acceptable than in the past. The line between appropriating and appreciating a culture is thin, but knowing what defines them can help guide future actions.  

Cultural appropriation is defined as an occurrence where someone claims ownership of another culture’s practices without recognizing its roots; it overall belittles the original culture’s voice. Whether on purpose or accidental, cultural appropriation has been done by many people, including celebrities. 

When Elvis Presley became a superstar, he accumulated many aspects of black culture. He used terms like “lawdy miss clawdy” and had a certain performance reflecting the black community he grew up with. During this time, segregation and racism were still at large so it was a common occurrence for artists to claim black culture as their own; however, this does not mean Presley’s actions should be downplayed. Now, people question whether Presley was appropriating the culture he was surrounded by or if it was appreciation. 

Cultural appreciation is when a person acknowledges another’s culture and indulges in specific parts of it all while giving the original people credit. An example of this is when Kate Middleton proudly accepted a Bindi-a dot placed on the forehead by a citizen of an Indian town she visited. Her gracious attitude, while embracing another culture with respect is an act of appreciation rather than appropriation. 

The line consists of two major factors: knowledge and checking one’s privilege. To respectfully take part in another culture, researching their history or the symbolism behind certain styles to honor the original culture, is a great way to show appreciation towards it. 

For example, the “clean girl” aesthetic has recently gone under attack on TikTok for diminishing the Indian roots from which it came. Women of color had been doing the slicked back styles for years, but always got put down for looking “too oily,” yet, now that white women have dominated the style, it has become popular. Being knowledgeable about the past can help bring a better understanding of how one can approach new styles or trends.  

The next part is checking privilege. People in a certain demographic must protect others who share that demographic, as there is a variety in levels of discrimination based on aspects such as skin color or socioeconomic status. 

When we partake in trends that come from backgrounds that have been discriminated against, we must uplift these communities and recognize the creators. Without them, these trends would not exist.