The Improper Understanding of Cultural Appropriation

“With many cultures already dying out, we can’t risk watering any more cultures down.”


How much does our generation truly know about cultural appropriation? Our generation is the one that will soon lead the world to a hopefully more prosperous future. However, many Copper Hills students were interviewed for this piece and not a single one knew the correct definition of the term. They can’t be heavily blamed either with the phrase getting thrown around on social media as much as it is. It becomes difficult to pin down the exact definition.

People are desperately hungry for approval and trying to fix the world, so they hastily try to call people out and “cancel” them without truly knowing what the person did wrong. How are we supposed to know the definition of cultural appropriation and its importance? Simple answer: Research. Just because it’s more time consuming doesn’t mean people in our age of convenience can’t educate themselves. If we educate ourselves, it makes learning easier for others as they are more likely to listen to a friend as opposed to doing their own appropriate research. Nonetheless, we need to be spreading the correct information and definitions. 

What is cultural appropriation? According to the definition from Oxford Languages, cultural appropriation is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” Put in simpler words, cultural appropriation is using or performing a tradition from another’s culture that’s not your own, without doing the proper research, doing it improperly, being disrespectful, poking fun at the tradition. Or sewing the tradition into your life while being ignorant or disrespectful to the community the tradition is originally from.

It’s essential for us to know this definition because when appropriation happens, it tears a tradition from its culture and turns it into a trend. It can also easily create or advance harmful stereotypes about cultures. With many cultures already dying out, we can’t risk watering any more cultures down.

This happens a lot in regards to halloween costumes and businesses. Both don’t always consider what they’re selling and whether it’s appropriate or correct, they only consider the capital they can gain. A point that was brought up by a sophomore at Copper Hills was the sexualization of traditional Chinese dresses (usually the QiPao) for halloween costumes. This is a good example of appropriation as the dresses are worn at inappropriate lengths. The dresses like to be pushed to the high thigh when the dress should be no more than 10 cm above the knee. A popular term that gets thrown around is “Cultures aren’t costumes,” which is a good base level of thinking when considering if something is cultural appropriation.

This doesn’t mean you can’t do or wear something from another culture entirely. If done correctly, it’s actually considered appreciation rather than appropriation. You can honor the culture by doing your research, knowing why the tradition exists, its meaning, and its origins. All this can usually be known by just a quick Google search. Appreciation is supporting the tradition for more than just a trend. It’s a wonderful thing to learn and take interest of other cultures, we just need to make sure we do our part to understand what we’re doing. By doing this we can help keep the culture alive and keep it from being watered down for a measly trend. It is important to stick to the thought that no matter what stage of life we’re at, there’s always more to learn and we never know everything. We need to stay open to the thought that we don’t know everything and no matter what stage of life you’re at, there’s always more to learn. I highly encourage you to go out and do more of your own research.