Are you appreciating or misappropriating?

Cultural Appreciation is learning about a culture different than your own with respect and thoughtfulness. It is appreciating what you can learn from a culture and genuinely taking the time to interact with people within that culture and understand their history; trials, tribulations, triumphs — all of it.

The opposite, is Cultural Misappropriation; when an individual takes something that has specific cultural relevance from a culture different than his or her own, without respecting or understanding the significance it holds. Rather than celebrating the culture for its value, you steal something from the culture looking only for what you can gain from it.

“In high school I remember considering dressing up as an indigenous woman for Halloween, but when I mentioned the idea to some friends of mine — they explained to me why it was wrong and how it would further damage relationships between one another,” said 27-year-old Natasha Kapoor, a speech pathologist in Newfoundland. “I wanted to dress up in that costume because I thought it was beautiful, I didn’t think that what I was doing would be considered misappropriation — I ended up going out that year as something different.”

Misappropriation is a disrespectful act that happens a lot across the globe and many would say, in general, it is not a good thing. Individuals have been called out on misappropriating things like — being not of African descent and sporting cornrows or, taking sacred jewelry to wear as an accessory. For some reason, at Halloween parties and when children are out trick-or-treating, some individuals choose to wear costumes that completely disrespect other cultures. Whether it is out of apparent lack of respect, or, an individual simply having not been educated on why it is disrespectful — it’s still not OK.

“You can go about it as cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation,” American actress Zendaya Coleman told the Huffington Post. “You have to be very careful. Some things are really sacred and important to other cultures, so you have to be aware, politically, about those things before you just adopt them.”

Some costumes are a little more obviously racist and inappropriate than others. Blackface, for example, “is a racist form of theatrical makeup used by non-black performers to represent a black person,” reads a Wikipedia article. “The practice gained popularity during the 19th century and contributed to the proliferation of racial stereotypes such as the “happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation” or the “dandified coon”.

“In 1848, blackface minstrel shows were an American national art of the time, translating formal art such as opera into popular terms for a general audience. Early in the 20th century, blackface branched off from the minstrel show and became a form in its own right, until it ended in the United States with the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s,” reads the article.

Then you have costumes like “Indian War Chief” and “Native American Reservation Royalty”. When it comes to costumes like these the issue is, that to that culture and people group, they are not costumes and have never been used as costumes throughout history. There are many sacred and special items and pieces of clothing that make up an entire outfit that is worn by First Nation or indigenous cultures across the world.

A traditional war bonnet, for example, has spiritual and ceremonial significance. Only specific members of certain indigenous nations have earned or been given the right to wear the item should be wearing it. An article of clothing may signify that the individual wearing it is a chief; a certain string of beads or what looks like a simple accessory may mean that the woman who carries it is a clan mother — when it comes down to it, if you don’t know what you’re putting on or the cultural significance that an item holds to a people group that differs from your own, don’t wear it.

In 2012 a U.S. company pulled a costume called ”Sassy Squaw” off the shelves after having received a lot of media backlash. It’s mind-boggling to think that someone somewhere, thought that that costume was a good idea.

Some educators have suggested there may be a link between this blatant objectification of indigenous women and the problem of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women in Canadian culture.

Education is key and vital to inciting change within the non-indigenous (Canadian) mindsets.

There are people in this world that know they misappropriating, like someone who might wear the scantily clad “Sassy Squaw” costume, but there are others too, like, Kapoor who were unknowingly committing misappropriation.

“Now that I know why it’s wrong, I disagree with people that choose to wear inappropriate costumes,” said Kapoor. “Think twice about your costume this year.”

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