Before starting our cross-cultural enterprise with f.a.c.t.s., we thought long about the problems of cultural appropriation and how it is distinct from cultural appreciation. We, at f.a.c.t.s., want to give you confidence in our products and confidence in our business ethics, and we figured it would be most appropriate to simply address this issue right at the start! Because this will be a fairly long topic (we want to make sure we are thorough in our explanations), we will have to break it down into a few parts. Today, we will focus on introducing the topic. Please, feel free to join in on the conversation! Ask us any questions that you have. We will be happy to answer your concerns and address your opinions!
Let us first begin with definitions. What is cultural appropriation, in the first place? Appropriation, at its most basic level, has to do with the borrowing of traditions, symbols, or other artifacts, from cultures other than our own. It doesn’t really seem so bad, at first, considering we live in an increasingly globalized world, where cultural assimilation inevitably happens all the time. The tricky part, in our opinion, lies with the motivation for adopting the cultural element (whether it is the South African mbaqanga style of music, or the hijab) and who is doing the borrowing. It definitely changes the meaning when people from a dominant culture start assimilating elements from a subculture (i.e., when a white American might try to pass off wearing a bindi, because it “looks exotic”) when they are ignorant of the significance of those cultural elements, and even more so when they do not have respect for the people (they see the culture as an object disassociated from the people themselves). When you extract a cultural element without knowing the context behind it, you end up, whether you mean to or not,
- contributing to often offensive generalizations about the cultural group,
- invalidating how very diverse a culture really is,
- ignoring the history of oppression that is probably present, thus reinforcing the oppression, and
- often misrepresenting or distorting traditions that, for all you know, could even be sacred to the group, and
- in some cases, you might actually be cheating others out of money that should be going to them.
These 5 negatives of cultural appropriation make it a harmful and irresponsible thing to do. Another more familiar word for these 5 negatives happens to be called “exploitation.” In the West, we have a long history of exploiting other cultures and marching through life with a very self-important and either unaware or (often) indifferent attitude that the world and everything in it is ours for the taking, but not the taking care of…
So, how do we account for these 5 negatives of cultural appropriation in a world that is becoming smaller and smaller? Is there a way to show appreciation of a culture without stepping on sensitive toes and reinforcing bad caricatures and negative stereotypes? Find out answers to these questions and how f.a.c.t.s. is doing things differently in our next couple of posts!