Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation

If we want to be anti-racist and teach our students socio-cultural competence, we need to learn to avoid cultural appropriation and teach our students/children the same. This, of course, does not mean that we should cease appreciating and/or learning from other cultures.

Culture is defined as the behavior, customs, and norms shared by members of an identity group. Culture is important to people because it affirms their identities. But what  happens in our ever shrinking world when we “borrow” from others’ cultures?  How does it impact people’s identities?

Cultural borrowing can be an act of appropriation or appreciation. Cultural appropriation is the “adoption or taking of specific elements of one culture by another without substantive reciprocity, permission, compensation, understanding, or appreciation” (Chepp, 2012). Cultural appropriation often insults the target culture or reinforces stereotypes, thus causing harm to people’s identities.

However, cultural appreciation is the true desire to embrace a different culture. For instance, learning to cook Mexican food from a Mexican friend or taking Martial Arts from a culturally adept instructor are examples of cultural appreciation. In contrast, wearing Native American clothing as a Thanksgiving costume or practicing yoga without understanding its cultural origin are examples of cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation often occurs unintentionally. How can we ensure that our behavior is appreciative rather than appropriative? First, take time to truly learn about the culture from people who actually belong to the identity group before you “borrow” cultural elements. For instance, visit authentic restaurants, attend (virtual) events, and watch films from the country of origin. Next, when you do borrow, make sure you give credit to the culture of origin. Finally, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Is there a history of discrimination against this identity group? 

2. Does my action perpetuate negative stereotypes? 

3. Am I depicting the culture incorrectly? 

4. Am I using someone else’s cultural or religious symbols out of context? 

5. Does this offend anyone from the cultural group of origin?

By following these guidelines, you will more likely be on the side of cultural appreciation than appropriation.

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