Cultural Appropriation of the Air Nomads
Cultural appropriation is somewhat of a tricky topic these days. Some people seem to jump on any instance of one culture replicating another, condemning it as racist. Others defend these instances saying that if cultures never try to adopt parts of each other, we are creating walls between us. For the most part however, it seems that much of the argument surrounding this issue stems from a misunderstanding of the definition of cultural appropriation. A more accurate definition of cultural appropriation would be the taking of elements from another culture, often sacred or symbolic, and presenting it in a shallow manner. This can help us distinguish when instances are genuinely offensive, and when individuals are just trying to learn more about something different from what they have always known.
Examples of this in the Avatar series are extremely sparse, having no notable instances of cultural appropriation in the TV show. The comic on the other hand, deals with this subject directly by way of Aang’s Air Nomad culture. In the comic he encounters a “fan club” which adore Air Nomad culture and have gone so far as to dedicate their lives to the practices that they think to be genuine. Practicing air bending forms, wearing their garb, and even giving themselves the traditional tattoos that air bending masters are given upon completion of their training. Upon seeing this Aang is genuinely hurt and offended that such sacred symbols of his culture are being worn by the unworthy as a sort of costume, no matter how good of intentions the fan club had.
Aang is especially hurt because he is the last of his kind, and although he wants there to be a resurgence of Air Nomad culture, he has little faith that it can be exhibited in a proper way due to the imbalance of power and understanding between cultures.
This instance contrasts directly with a meeting with another fan club from another city. These members did not give themselves tattoos or claim to be masters of air bending forms, but instead surrounded themselves with other more casual aspects of the culture such as food and music. Aang is overjoyed to share these aspects of his culture with people who are interested, and the distinction between this fan club and the other is a good illustration of what cultural appropriation is.
It is okay for you to be inspired by other cultures and try out new things. Many cultural practices in the world were originally inspired by other cultures, and learning about and implementing different practices is how new ones are created. It gets offensive when people fail to fully understand the significance of what they are doing. Many practices are steeped in dedication and are taken extremely seriously by those that grew up with it, and when others misrepresent the seriousness of something it can be very frustrating. Your heart can be in the right place and you can still offend someone if you fail to do your research beforehand. People need to be aware on how their own privilege factors in when emulating other cultures, and while taking interest in different things is part of what makes people unique, it is unfair to claim that you are a master of another culture simply for self expression, especially if theirs is less dominant culture. Overall, educate yourselves and be respectful of other cultures, especially in regards to serious practices, but know that it is okay to like stuff, as long as you give credit where credit is due.