Cultural Appropriation: Why TCKs Should Care

Cultural Appropriation: Claude Monet's wife, Camille Doncieux wearing a kimono, 1875
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By Abbieblach

Cultural appropriation. It’s a heavy term that comes with a lot of questions and heaps of backlash. From Coldplay and Beyonce music videos to college fraternity parties, cultural appropriation seems to be everywhere. But with media running as rampant as it does now with the internet, the impact of cultural appropriation can get lost in all the noise.

So what is cultural appropriation? How common is it? How can we correct it? And why should you, a Third Culture Kid (TCK) care about it at all?

Looking at college campuses like Colorado State University, on the outside individual culture seems less seldom to be seen. But with social media and music, the influence of cultural appropriation is constant, and with a lack of education on culture the risk of potentially offending others continues to grow.

White people dressing in Native American outfits (1909)

So what are the potential offenses of cultural appropriation? For starters, it perpetuates stereotypes. When you think about Native Americans what do you think of? Feathers, tomahawks, headdresses, sports mascots, maybe even casinos? When I say Cowboys, do you automatically think of Indians? Seem close to what you’re thinking of? That’s because those stereotypes have been ingrained in our culture through cultural appropriation.

Those images aren’t a stretch in how college campuses, and the world as a whole, view stereotypes and in turn, continue to appropriate culture. The bigger issue is that culture is part of identity, and identity is a tricky concept to understand. So when someone who sees part of their culture, part of their identity, being misused or misrepresented it can create a rift in how they feel the world views them — and how the world treats them.

But how common is cultural appropriation? Common, without a doubt. Artists use it their music videos, fashion designers practice it to add to their designs and fashion shows, and cultural appropriation is used in everyday life by people who may mean well but lack the knowledge to improve their behavior.

The video below dives into this further:

Often when it comes to cultural appropriation, race seems to be at the forefront, except by definition that’s not accurate, and the video puts that at the forefront. What’s often overlooked is the significance of what is being appropriated.

Looking at music videos like Iggy Azalea’s Bounce and Coldplay and Beyonce’s video Hymn for the Weekend, both were guilty and faced backlash for misusing Indian culture. Though some accusations of racism were hurled, the issue at hand was that both music videos disregarded the significance of what they were representing: the sacredness of Indian dress when it comes to Indian women. Selena Gomez took this even further in a performance of her hit single Come and Get It, making the Bindi, a religious marking of Hindu significance, something sexual.

Remember the Native American stereotypes from above? Well, the fashion industry like the Victoria Secret Fashion Show televised to millions just how open the door is for cultural appropriation actually is, as they flaunted models in Native American headdresses.

Now, it could be chalked up to an honest mistake. There were apologies that were made and efforts of catharsis, yet appropriating Native American culture hasn’t diminished.

Tiffani Kelly from the Colorado State University Native American Cultural Center (NACC at CSU), discusses in the video below not only cultural appropriation as a cultural standard, but how it can be shifted, reacted to, and ultimately fixed:

Take a look at the CSU Basketball game example that Tiffani gave: Cultural appropriation wasn’t directed at Tiffani, but it did directly impact her. Tiffani and other Native Americans having to see images of non-Native Americans wearing traditional and sacred Native American attire, is offensive on its own. But coupled with the stereotypical rhetoric associated with Native Americans like Facebook page descriptions saying “Woop and Holler and Celebrate as the Natives do” does little to help Native Americans shake those stereotypes, and also impacts their interaction with the world based on their identity.

And that’s the key here: identity. Culture is tied to identity, and when culture is tampered with on mass scales such as it is with cultural appropriation, what does it do to someone’s identity?

As a TCK, that concept of identity is integral to an individual just as identity is tied to culture when it comes to someone appropriating one’s culture.

It’s a tall order for TCKs to be leaders in stopping such appropriation, but the experience TCKs have not only in being culturally aware and impacted, but to know firsthand what it feels like to struggle, find, and maintain identity, makes them the ideal candidates to be allies in ending this.

So how about it TCKs, think you have it in you?

Want more information on cultural appropriation? Check out the soundbite below where Tiffani Kelly talks about the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation.

By Abbieblach

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  1. I really enjoyed this article because it gave a lot of examples of people and organizations disrespecting a culture. Some of the examples I wasn’t aware of, for example, the Selena Gomez one I didn’t even think to categorize that as cultural appropriation. There are so many people who don’t realize what they’re doing is wrong and I am glad to live in a generation where no one is afraid to call out someone for being disrespectful to a culture with their actions. Hopefully people will learn and do better in the future.

  2. For me, being a female from an Eastern European country, living in America, I do have a lot of cultural holidays or ways I live my everyday life. Unfortunately, there are so many people who does not think what they are doing or saying to a person who is from a different culture and still want to do things the way they used to it, is disrespectful. Not just only towards to that person but towards to their entire culture and country. I agree with Sierra about living in a generation that people are not afraid to call out one another if they think that they are doing something inappropriate.

  3. Cultural Appropriation is something that has been hard for me to grasp and truly understand. The first time I heard of cultural appropriation was in regards to children wearing Halloween costumes that appropriate cultures that they’re not a part of. For example, the specific article that I read about Halloween costumes said that white parents shouldn’t allow their children to dress up as Pocahontas because they are not a part of that culture. I didn’t agree with the article, and as a mother I struggled to see why I wouldn’t allow my children to dress as someone they viewed as an idol or role model simply because they weren’t ‘like us.’ The more I read about cultural appropriation, though, the more I understand. Thanks for writing this article and helping me further educate myself on the importance of avoiding and not allowing cultural appropriation.

  4. I think you did a great job with this piece. Cultural appropriation is something that needs to be addressed, understood and stopped. I think that if people express why dressing a certain way can be taken as offensive than others will be more inclined to stop their actions. I especially liked the part where you mentioned culture is identity, it is so much more than what one person feels it impacts so many.

  5. I think this piece is very well written. Cultural appropriation is not discussed nearly as much or as openly as it should be. This article highlights a huge issue with how society discusses (or rather fails to do so) these kinds of things and the effect that has on the larger whole of society. Overall great job!

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