Taking a second look at appropriation

Student responds to last week’s article “Rhythmic workout or cultural red flag?”

Cultural appropriation is not a relatively new term. In fact, cultural appropriation has existed since the creation and clashing of various cultures over history. This term has recently regained prevalence, specifically to combat the use of blatantly racist Halloween costumes, as well as the use of items and clothes of cultural or religious importance for fashion purposes. These offences proved to be disrespectful to the affected minorities, and these appropriating practices began to be shamed (and rightfully so) on outlets like Buzzfeed, Tumblr, and even various social pages that hold ties to UTM and U of T. I, myself being a visible minority of South American and Afro-Caribbean descent, am glad that North American society is becoming more aware of these, which could be called micro-aggressions.

It could be, however, that we are starting to overgeneralize cultural appropriation. Let’s take a look at the definition of cultural appropriation: it is defined as the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture. Though the definition of cultural appropriation paints a black-and-white image of what is and isn’t included in this term, the boundaries of offensiveness are not as clear as we would like them to be.

And here’s why, plain and simple; we are not the U.S. We are not a melting pot. We do not expect our citizens to shed their cultural norms and adopt a “Canadian” way of living. We are a cultural mosaic. Canada (or at least the Greater Toronto Area) encourages and expects its citizens to feel free to hold on to their familial cultural practices, whether they be in religion, dress, dance, culinary tastes, or language. In such a diverse community, cultures will traverse. According to the definition, If I saw a white student walking in the halls listening to a reggae tune while on his way to buy some jerk chicken, I could technically call it appropriative. But why would I shame another Canadian, who is enjoying the fruit of what my culture has to offer? Of course, the story would differ should that same student wear a “rasta-wig” and shout Jamaican obscenities he does not understand.

I am proud of the campus I study at and I am proud to belong to such an inclusive group of students who are mindful of one another. But we need to pick and choose our battles when it comes to the term “cultural appropriation”. It is ridiculous to assume that by using music and dance moves typical of Latino, Bollywood, or Middle Eastern cultures (in a Zumba class, for goodness’ sake), that there is any mockery to be made of these cultures at all. I myself have attended several of these classes and felt no personal offence to the use of any Latin music or dance. We need to separate the term “cultural appropriation” from its negative connotation, as we are, in fact, a country that thrives off the inclusion of many different cultures. We as a student body need to be more open to discuss the topic of appropriation and its relation to cultural education, as well as to mockery or racism.

Alexander Nunez
3rd year, psychology & criminology

1 comment

  1. ‘Cultural appropriation’ is another one of those bogus battlefields upon which those who go out of their way to be offended, want to plant their flags and die with their boots on, if necessary.

    Cultural appropriation is all around us and is accepted almost without a second thought by those who do not go out of their way to be offended. That is why ‘foreign’ foods have now become a way of life for many Canadians – holobchi, dim sum, chow mein, goulash, tacos – the list is pretty well endless.

    What’s ‘cultural appropriation? A dress styled by a Parisian fashion house and bought as a copy at Sears in Canada? A symphony penned in Russia and now a standard in the repertoire of thousands of orchestral groups? A hair style originating in Cameroon and then ‘appropriated’ by the ‘avant garde’ for the red carpet set at the Oscars or Grammies? How about various forms of body piercing – where did that come from?

    In other words, those who obsess about ‘cultural appropriation’ would seem to have too much food in their bellies, too much time on their hands, and not sufficient worthwhile purpose in life – so, that toxic mix of nothingness feeds directly into their North American angst.

    We must resort to a cliche here. ie. ‘Get a life!’

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