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Cultural Appropriation: What Is and Isn’t Allowed?

Has culture become a weapon?

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America has always been considered a melting pot: a place where people of all cultures, races, and religions could live together. This idea was cemented during the decades of mass immigration after the Mexican-American War. Immigration lead to out country’s willingness to accept all who hope for freedom. These new American values were even inscribed on the Statue of Liberty since its unveiling in 1903: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Even though the mixing of many different cultures is part of our American identity, the idea of cultural appropriation is now part of the national debate. Cultural appropriation has been defined as the adoption of customs, practices, and mannerisms from cultures deemed disadvantaged by those of privileged cultures. Usually, white people are accused of adopting cultural practices of other people who are seen as oppressed. Some examples are wearing hairstyles associated with black cultures like dreadlocks or cornrows, wearing Native American costumes at Halloween, or even just eating food from around the world.
No one really complained about cultural appropriation in past generations, it’s a new debate. All societies have taken trends from each other through history. The three-piece suit was derived from Eastern European and Islamic fashion to fit the style choices of West European nobles. American clothing in the Wild West came from the style of Mexican Vaqueros of the time. Minority voices are being uplifted and given newfound importance to speak out against cultural appropriation today. At times, this uplifting of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) voices has led to the talking down of white culture. White culture is instead seen as having a legacy of colonialism.
There have been many examples of white Americans being accused of cultural appropriation. Rachel Marshall, a small business owner in Seattle, was photographed by the media. Pictures of her blonde dreadlocks were shown, and calls for her to remove her dreadlocks flooded her social media. She apologized and promised to have her dreadlocks removed. There have even been YouTube videos discussing attempts by pop-star Ariana Grande to portray herself as mixed-race through tans and skin products to hide her white skin.
It isn’t common, but some people who accuse others of cultural appropriation have physically attacked the people they see as oppressors. More commonly, people who believe in the idea of cultural appropriation express disgust with stereotypes and caricatures such as those that may be seen in Halloween costumes.
On the other hand, many argue that culture is ever-changing and that the nature of humanity is to adopt from all cultures around us. Where will this debate lead?

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Jose Backer, General Assignment Reporter, is a graduate of St. Michael's College and is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Political Science. Born and raised in Southern California, he currently resides in the Pasadena area.

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