In Defence of Cultural Appropriation

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post called Cultural Appropriation (Or Why that Bindi is Racist). Without rewriting the original article, allow me to briefly summarise my key points.

Cultural appropriation is defined as when “people from a dominant culture take cultural elements from a marginalised group without knowing or caring about how their actions affect marginalised people.” I later stumbled upon a slightly more detailed definition that I think also fits the bill: “Cultural appropriation… is a form of oppression for members of an identifiably dominant social or ethnic group to make use of the history, personages and/or habits of another, for the purposes of literature, music, art, entertainment, fashion. In short, for culture.”

Since publishing my blog post, I have shared a number of thought-provoking conversations with friends that have challenged my perspective on the issue. Dissatisfied, I decided to update my opinion — a part two, if you will — and to argue against what I originally wrote.

To begin, I am going to explore the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. There is a tendency to conflate the two, a misunderstanding which is arguably as dangerous as cultural appropriation itself. Whilst cultural appropriation tends to concern the power dynamics between two unequal groups, cultural exchange refers more so to the sharing of practices between two different yet balanced groups. In many — I’d even go as far as to say most — cases, cultural exchange is criticised for being cultural appropriation. Whilst I myself am persuaded that cultural exchange is justified, cultural appropriation is still something of a delicate matter.

Should we amend cultural appropriation to cultural misappropriation? Maybe it is possible that this whole discourse hinges around semantic specificity. From henceforth, I shall use cultural appropriation as somewhat interchangeable with cultural exchange, and refer to the detrimental kind as cultural misappropriation.

One of the central arguments for cultural appropriation is that it offers an opportunity for people to be educated about the rich diversity of human culture. After all, isn’t a more connected and compassionate society an objective goal? The topic of cultural appropriation also opens the door to what it truly means to own something. In my previous article, I discussed how it’s dangerous because it is as though a dominant group has ‘stolen’ a practice that belongs to a marginalised group. But do practices really belong to someone? Cultural practices are meaningful because of the ideas attached to them — can someone really claim ownership over an idea?

“Cultures are not intrinsically valuable, nor should they be preserved by virtue of their uniqueness. Cultures emerge from different groups of people trying to best navigate the world.”

The author of the above quote also put into words my exact thoughts: “… cultural ‘pride’ is absurd… there’s nothing to be proud of. (Cultures) aren’t superior or inferior to any other. You have nothing to preserve.” This message ties into the flaws of group identity. If you consider major conflicts between different groups of people, you’ll observe that that main source of conflict is the (often symbolic) trespassing of identity politics. We cannot abolish this discord without challenging our relationship with cultural pride.

By maintaining the mentality that cultural appropriation is in and of itself a ‘bad thing’, we are only causing further destruction. Through reinforcing exclusivism, some would even go as far as to say that it is as racist as cultural appropriation itself claims to be. If we cannot explore other cultures through participation, how are we — as a collective civilisation — expected to evolve and develop?

Perhaps cultural appropriation is indeed a positive thing, and participation in diverse cultural practices ought to be encouraged throughout society. Perhaps it’s the most constructive path to a more global, shared culture. “It is not an evil but rather a public good when different cultures are assimilated into the mainstream”, writes J. Wilson.

I have expressed why I believe cultural exchange should be condoned, and (hopefully) no one needs reminding that this should always be done respectfully. We know that malicious intent – whether that be through racism or whatever have you – is never acceptable. We know that there’s nothing respectful about dressing up as a ‘slutty Indian’ for Halloween in a costume you bought from Walmart, and we know that there’s nothing respectful about mockery. The key therefore is to strike a balance whereby different cultures are accessible and celebrated whilst still bearing courtesy and consideration for their history.

To what end does maintaining divisions between people serve? Cultural misappropriation can be harmful and leave devastating effects on persecuted peoples by reducing them to an idea. But cultural appropriation might be the answer to societal segregation rooted in identity politics.

Photographs sourced from Unsplash.

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Vlog: Madrid Edition

It’s that time again!

Putting together vlogs is without a doubt one of my favourite parts of being a travel blogger. There’s just something about collecting raw footage over weeks – months even – and then spending hours upon hours editing it into a two minute montage.

Okay, so maybe the idea of that doesn’t exactly appeal to everybody. But it’s my cup of tea ☕

I don’t know what I was expecting when I traveled to Madrid. For starters, I was quick to discover that it was the capital of Spain (as opposed to Barcelona, as I had previously thought). Madrid hadn’t really struck me as a touristy city; I associated the name with professional football, and had only selected it as the first destination of my Europe adventure because I couldn’t fly straight into Andalusia. But all it took was a few weeks for me to develop quite the attachment.

If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know that I arrived during World Pride 2017. Catch my experience of that unforgettable week here. Likewise, you might be interested in viewing some photographic highlights.

Last but not least, don’t forget to subscribe to the Ginger Passports’ Youtube Channel! There is very exciting content on the way. Think Paris, Andalusia, Nice… you name it.

(Yeah… I really like filming food)

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Postcards from Madrid

“I love thee as I love Madrid”

Ernest Hemingway

The bronze statue of King Philip III in Plaza Mayor, the main square of Madrid

The view from the Bella Artes rooftop bar

Beautiful tilework at a traditional Spanish café

Palacio de Cibeles during Pride Week

Instituto Cervantes

Looking after my waistline with a ‘freakshake’ at Tommy Mel’s🍦

The view from Parque de las Tetas

Reflections of the Egyptian Temple of Debod

Stunning street art in the suburb of Lavapiés

Architecture in the streets of Madrid

“I declare war upon this way of dying.”

Stay tuned for the upcoming Spain Vlog on the Ginger Passports’ YouTube Channel 📽 and if you didn’t catch my post last week on the World Pride Parade 2017 in Madrid, be sure to check it out here!

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The Pride of Madrid: World Pride 2017

I booked my flight tickets to Madrid, Spain, on a whim. A seven-days-in-advance-whim, to be exact.

So you can imagine my delight when I turned up at Madrid-Barajas Airport to discover that I had landed just in time for World Pride 2017 🌈 (because if there was ever an appropriate time to use the rainbow emoji, it’s now).

I first found out about the celebrations fresh off the plane when I was navigating the metro on my way from the airport to my accommodation. I was huddled in the corner of the carriage, hugging my suitcase to my chest, when a friendly couple sat down next to me. I wasn’t eavesdropping (spoiler alert: I was totally eavesdropping), but I recognised that they were speaking English. Hungry for a conversation that didn’t require me to butcher the Spanish language, I introduced myself.

“Did you know it’s World Pride this week?” the woman asked in a lilting British accent. I responded with a look of excitement.

The city looked like a Skittles monster had just vomited all over it — and that’s no exaggeration. Everywhere you looked were rainbows. Rainbow flags swayed from buildings, rainbow pastries lined the bakery shelves and people danced around the streets wearing the entire colour spectrum. Everyone was participating in the celebrations, and the sense of camaraderie had me quite lost for words.

Madrid is a trailblazer when it comes to LGBTIQ equality and rights, what with having been the third country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2005. This festival was the 40th anniversary of the first LGBT demonstration in Barcelona, so was all the more momentous.

The theme for World Pride 2017 was Viva La Vida; live life.

“… celebrate that we feel alive, alive because we are different, because we are unique, free… happy.”

The crescendo of the week was unmistakably the Pride Parade. Over three million people were expected to have attended – three million! No big deal or anything. That’s just a little under the population of New Zealand.

Having the opportunity to walk in the parade was indescribable. Standing wedged between a troupe of Brazilian carnival dancers and a marching band, I felt simultaneously invisible yet significant all at once. As a gender studies student – and a human – seeing so many people from all walks of life come together to celebrate diversity and identity brought tears to my eyes.

“In itself, homosexuality is as limiting as heterosexuality. The ideal should be to be capable of loving a woman or a man; either, a human being, without feeling fear, restraint or obligation.”

Simone de Beauvoir

Stay tuned for my Madrid Vlog – featuring more inspiring footage from World Pride 217 – which I shall upload to the Ginger Passports’ YouTube Channel in a couple of weeks time!

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