Analysis of Cultural Appropriation in the Modern Day Society

Analysis of Cultural Appropriation in the Modern Day Society

Through globalization, immigration/migration, and developments in the technology the world became a place where different cultures intervene. Cultural diversity is the presence of a variety of cultural and ethnic groups within the population. Cultural diversity is a positive phenomenon, but at times due to lack of cohesion between races, religions, and cultures could lead to misunderstanding and stereotyping. One particular issue which can potentially arise with cultural diversity is cultural appropriation which is absorption of knowledge, cultural expression, or folklore of a certain culture by a member of another culture without permission. It is evident that cultural appropriation can occur in a number of forms, but I will be focusing on national costumes and ceremonial dresses.

A blog article with the title of “An Open Letter to Non-Natives in Headdresses” written by a Metis woman from Alberta touched on the topic of the appropriateness of wearing native headdresses by other cultures. She pointed out that wearing headdress without consent from the Plains nation community can be considered inappropriate and even disrespectful. Headdresses (war bonnets) are worn by Plains nation man during ceremonial occasions. Not all native man have the honor to wear the headdress since it is an honorary degree. If majority of the Plains nation members do not wear this ceremonial headdresses, then members of other ethnical groups should have even more respect towards Plain nation values and tradition. Non-indigenous people may have misconception about the meaning of headdress because they usually do not understand that it is not only a national costume, it is rather a ceremonial symbol with a strong spiritual meaning. Lack of knowledge of other cultures heritage and a tendency of young people to get public attention for their physical appearance or behaviour may be a possible explanation for using headdresses. Wearing the headdresses by other ethnicities can be seen by indigenous people as a form of colonial logics of conquering cultural objects, symbols, and traditions. It can also be perceived as a way of losing its sacred and venerable content and identity. First nations could also be concerned about assimilation of their culture and loss of the core features of their heritage. Beside headdresses there are other Plains nation objects or costumes with sacred ceremonial significance that also should not be worn by other cultures.

Non-indigenous people may see headdresses and other cultural objects as a demonstration of understanding, acceptance, and promotion of the indigenous people heritage. From the other hand, others can simply use the headdress as a fashion accessory. Nowadays the fashion industry is looking for uniqueness and distinctiveness of their brand, without considering cultural dimensions. The fashion industry is insensitive and uninterested in regards to cultural appropriation and to a certain extent encourages all people to behave similarly in the name of fashion. One striking example of this point is keffiyeh which is a traditional Middle Eastern headdress made from smaller square scarfs. The keffiyeh emerged as a fashion item around ten years ago and became an instant hit amongst non-Arab population due to numerous marketing campaigns from the fashion companies. Keffiyeh was in the past mostly used by Bedouins as protection from the sun and sand, but in the last century it also became a symbol of revolution within the Arab world and can be associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The keffiyeh was not only used as a clothing item throughout the Middle Eastern history, but it also holds a deeper meaning within the region. The keffiyeh demonstrates how designers and fashion companies imitate different culture’s items and ideas without looking into the history of those items and without making sure whether it is appropriate to globalize them.

Other people believe that they should have the freedom of choice to wear traditional costumes and use ceremonial objects of other nations and that should not be perceived in an offensive way. Some non-native people also believe that wearing headdresses and other cultural symbols is a form of art and they appreciate the aesthetic appearance of those objects. These non-native individuals view wearing of headdresses as a harmless artistic expression or even promotion of native art and culture. First nation people may perceive this process of overtaking their folklore as a way of theft of their cultural heritage.

I think that a balanced approach is essential in considering cultural diversity and cultural heritage exchange. If a particular cultural and spiritual ceremony with subsequent dressing is a part of cultural identity and possess a significant importance for a certain cultural group, other nations should be respectful towards it. However, this need to preserve its own culture should not be excessive to the extent of cultural isolation and losing contacts with other ethnicities and cultures. Besides cultural heritage of certain nations and ethnicities we should foster a global cultural heritage as a way of developing a well-established multicultural society.

References:

Coombe, Rosemary. The properties of culture and the politics of possessing identity: Native claims in the cultural appropriation controversy. 1993.

Damluji, Nadim N. Imperialism Reconfigured: The Cultural Interpretations of Keffiyeh. Diss. 2010.

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5 thoughts on “Analysis of Cultural Appropriation in the Modern Day Society

  1. In future writings, it may be beneficial to cite your definitions such as the one about cultural appropriation to give its meaning more credibility. I completely agree with you when you state that lack of knowledge of other cultures heritage may be a reason why many people wear Native Headdresses. I think this means that school programs should implement teaching of the cultural importance on headdresses and other costumes during history classes as a way to teach people about cultural appropriation starting at an early age. I also enjoyed how you gave a lot of background information about the issues regarding headdresses before you mentioned the article you decided to discuss. The part you mentioned about the fashion industry taking styles from different cultures and using them in a possible negative way is a really unique addition to your arguments. However, do you think the fashion industry will ever actually stop taking ideas from other cultures? I feel like this may be a good first step towards changing the way society views the importance of cultural objects.

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    1. Unfortunately not since the fashion industry is profit oriented and as long as they make profit from selling certain items they will not take into consideration cultural dimensions. In order to sell more the fashion industry is constantly coming up with something new and unique and in this process they neglect the fact that they might be imitating one cultures symbols, clothing, etc.

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  2. I totally agree with your belief that one of the reasons headdresses are being worn is because young people tend to gain attention from what they wear. Teens are easily influenced by their peers and by role models, so when other people wear cultural pieces they think it’s okay to do as well. This is one of the main problems with music festivals because wearing headdresses have become so popular at these events and now wearing them is considered “cool.” I agree with the comment above mine from 12sp57 that schools should start educating students on cultural items, the significance behind them, and that they should be respected. Without this education youth will grow up not knowing that what they’re doing is restricted, which is currently happening and needs to be changed. I really like the way you included information about the keffiyeh in Middle-Eastern culture because you demonstrated that it’s not just Native headdresses being disrespected but symbolic items in other cultures as well.

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  3. I believe that your opinion on needing a balance between people attempting to appreciate a culture and the representation becoming appropriation is insightful. How would a society be able to implement rules or laws that may monitor cultural representations? This task may seem difficult. However, it is essential to maintain the dignity of certain cultural aspects. This is clearly represented in your example of how other cultures wear the aboriginal headdress that is deemed for use in a honorary ceremony. By wearing this headdress, the prestige is diminished from the aboriginal culture. There is a line between people wanting to indulge and celebrate cultures and offensive misrepresentation. For this reason I believe people need to be educated on the topic to ensure that society no longer conforms to colonial logics.

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  4. I thoroughly enjoyed your analysis, of the cultural appropriation that occurs with regard to the native headdress. I feel that a lot of individuals use ignorance as an excuse to avoid backlash when misrepresenting the symbols of specific cultures. However, I do not feel as though this explanation should be taken. It is the responsibility of each member of society to be aware of what is appropriate and what is not. I am by no means stating that individuals have to be well versed in all aspects of other cultures, nonetheless, I do feel that a certain level of awareness should be promoted and taught to individuals so that they can make informed decisions about how they respond to certain aspects of other cultures. As well, I find he idea that it is for “fashion” purposes to be extremely disrespectful. I agree totally with you when you say that “the fashion industry is insensitive and un interested in regards to cultural appropriation”. I feel as if nowadays the fashion world is playing a “shock value Olympics” so to speak, in the line that can cause to most stir and publicity will create the most success. In this case not all publicity is good publicity when it is disrespecting the at times scared aspects of cultures. How can we as a society learn to move form appropriation to appreciation and where do we draw this line?

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