Cultural Appropriation: Do You Even Know What it is? And, Who is the Other? Why Does it Matter?

Credit: Foothill Dragon Press

Cultural Appropriation, most of the time people do not know what this even means, let alone if they are culpable of doing it. It is a topic so scarcely discussed that even I tend to forget about it till someone brings it up in conversation. However, it is a very important topic that needs more attention drawn to it, for the simple fact that is has repercussion severe to our way of life. It may sound a bit dramatic but as we take a closer look at Bell Hooks article called Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance, we can see these consequences and we can better comprehend why they need to stop.

First and foremost, for those that might not know, cultural appropriation, as defined by Wikipedia, means the “adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.” Taken at face value this might not seem like a big deal because most might assume it is just one person representing another one but, according to bell hooks that is not the case. The reason being that she says cultural appropriation helps cement this idea of ‘otherness’ or in this case other races/cultures to the point that, “Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.” To be more specific, cultural appropriation is another way to lessen the value of minority races in the sense that it makes them seem as an accessory to the ordinary.

Now, why would this all be such a bad thing? why is looking at someone as the exotic be bad, if and when most people believe it to be true consciously and subconsciously? And, what about all those famous music stars that do it in their music videos, why can’t everybody else do the same? Well as Hooks says,

“When race and ethnicity become commodified as resources for pleasure, the culture of specific groups, as well as the bodies of individuals, can be seen as constituting an alternative playground where members of dominating races, genders, sexual practices affirm their power-over in intimate relations with the Other.” (bell hooks).

Bell Hooks is saying how allowing cultural appropriation to continue is another way of allowing the dominant (white)culture to continue exerting their power over everybody else that does not fit into their category. It continues reinforce those ideas of racism, of patriarchy, of white supremacy and so much more because culture appropriation is another way in which whites hold control over us, the minorities, the Other.

Furthermore, cultural appropriation is so evident in today’s culture yet so many people don’t seem to notice it. Take for example all those famous artists who get corn rows to look more ‘black’ for hip hop videos, no one seems to criticize them. Another example would be going to a bar or restaurant and them having a ‘fiesta’ night with tacos, a salsa bar, some cervesas (beer)and what not. Those examples and more make those cultures seem so exotic, and they, the dominant race, celebrate them but only when they deem worthy, not when those cultures themselves do it. What I mean is, that if I were to throw a ‘Mexican’ party, it would not be called that, nor acknowledged as that because to me it is my culture, the way I live, the way I was raised; it would just be called a party. But, to those that are the dominant race, it would be a ‘Mexican’ party, an exotic party and it is another way for the white’s to define us as the Other and make us seem less worthy than them.

Credit: Statepress.com

As Crystal Valentine and Aaliyah Jihad say in their poem Hide your Shea Butter,” “It’s not that we don’t trust white people. It’s that y’all really think my black looks better on you.” They, along with Bell Hooks, bring up another dilemma in cultural appropriation, the fact that sometimes it get to be too much and the dominant culture will try to absorb (or eat the other)bits and pieces of another culture and make it their own for many reasons. Some examples that Hooks gives are,

“Market surveys revealed that black people buy more Pepsi than other soft drinks and suddenly we see more Pepsi commercials with black people in them. The World of fashion has also come to understand that selling products is heightened by the exploitation of otherness.”

Bell Hooks quote only gives a few examples of the many that exist of what happens when cultural appropriation goes too far; of when one tries to take over the other. It is most common in companies of all sorts, and it is because we see it so much in our daily lives, through ads, social media, fashion styles, etc., that one could almost say that we have become numb to this term. We have become numb to cultural appropriation, to one eating the other and that is why I encourage you all to speak up, to make a statement and let this continue no more. Just as the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania spoke out against Luxury fashion labels for appropriating their culture; we too have to speak up. Starting here would be one step in removing these ideas of white supremacy, of racism and many more similar ideas.