Aggravated by Appropriation: The Follow Up

Elaborating on the Issue of Cultural Appropriation


Alexandria Montgomery, Staff Writer

Judging from the comments on my article, the subtweets (and mentions) on twitter, and the reluctance of some of my peers to make eye contact with me in the hall (or if they do, it is a glare, a sneer, a blank stare, or an eye roll), I can conclude that my views on cultural appropriation and my articulation of my views on cultural appropriation rubbed many people here at Northmont the wrong way.

After reading through the comments under my article (some well said, some ridiculous, some pure dislike for me and not the article or my opinions), I have read and re-read my article. After much contemplation and mental revision, I have decided there are points I neglected to strengthen in my previous article I would like to more clearly articulate in this sequel of sorts.

Many have confused my disdain for cultural appropriation with a desire within me to segregate races, to isolate cultures, and to confine all elements of a culture from the natural process of cultural diffusion. This inference is partially my fault, as I apparently did not clearly express my qualms with cultural appropriation.

“The term cultural appropriation refers to the process by which elements of a marginalized culture are borrowed, or appropriated, by a non-marginalized, privileged group.”

To put the definition in simpler terms:

Cultural appropriation is when elements that distinguish one culture from another are taken by a member of another culture.

What makes cultural appropriation so bad? What makes it wrong? Why does it irritate me so? Well, when cultural appropriation occurs, those partaking in the appropriation are free of the stigma pushed on those whose culture they appropriated. For example, Iggy Azalea (some, thanks to Azealia Banks, may know Iggy better as Igloo Australia) raps in this ridiculous blaccent. Many black people talk in the same voice she uses to rap, and are resultantly deemed as ‘ghetto’ or ‘uneducated’. Yet Iggy, Igloo, whoever, is touted as a favorite female ‘hip hop artist” (???), and has been nominated for best urban album. Since when did ‘urban’ become a trend? A style to be awarded? A title to be deemed? An accessory to awful artistry? Iggy has appropriated an element of black culture, and consequently walks free of the stigma blacks face for behaving in the same manner.

Many celebrities wear the bindi as an accessory without acknowledging, understanding, or even being aware of it’s immense spiritual significance in Hinduism. Gwen Stefani, Madonna, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry, Vanessa Hudgens, and Miley Cyrus are a small collection of the many celebrities who wear the bindi as a fashion statement rather than a religious statement. Religion is not an accessory or a trend. The bindi is a significant element of Hindu and, in the bigger picture, Indian culture. It represents the Ajna (or, sometimes Agnya) chakra. Chakra is Sanskrit for ‘wheel’. In Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern and esoteric dogma, the chakra is a spinning wheel of energy within the body, influencing emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual areas of our lives. The Ajna, or third eye chakra, operates in conjunction with the pineal gland. It relates to intuition and spiritual insight. This is where non-Hindus wearing the bindi becomes problematic: In wearing the bindi, you are disregarding a history and a significance in exchange for an accessory.

Headdresses are another big issue when it comes to appropriation. This article clearly explains why wearing Native headdresses are appropriation.

To those who think I am for segregation of races and for the confinement of cultures from cultural diffusion, I definitely am not. In fact, I am all for cultural diffusion. Cultural diffusion is what makes America the great melting pot, not cultural appropriation. Cultural diffusion occurs when “cultural beliefs and social activities are spread through different ethnicities, religions, nationalities, etc.” Diffusion is immensely different from appropriation. An example of this benign exchange is the proliferation of McDonalds in foreign countries.

The difference between diffusion and appropriation? One is benevolent, a peaceful exchange. The other is not.