Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Exchange- What’s the Difference?
Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. However, cultural appropriation is often portrayed as controversial or harmful, framed as cultural misappropriation and sometimes claimed to be a violation of the intellectual property rights of the originating culture. Therefore, it refers to taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, and religious symbols.
Features of cultural appropriation involve cultural “misappropriation,” which refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner.
Elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture. These elements are used outside of their original cultural context, sometimes even against the wishes of representatives of the originating culture. Often, the original meaning of these cultural elements is lost or distorted, and such displays are often viewed as disrespectful by members of the originating cultural. Cultural elements which may have deep meaning to the original culture may be reduced to “exotic” fashion.
What makes cultural exchange different from cultural appropriation is power.
Most notable is the power of the privileged to try on and normalize a cultural element of another group, while the group being appropriated from is often demonized and then excluded from participation in their own cultural expressions. There are many instances of wrongful misappropriation, such as when the subject culture is a minority culture or is subordinated in social, political, economic, or military status to the dominant culture or when there are other issues involved, such as a history of ethnic or racial conflict. Cultural boundaries are fluid and shifting. Cultural systems may be significantly transformed by different forces and influences. The larger process of cultural evolution also involves cultural borrowing, acculturation and cultural exchange.
Cultural exchange implies a mutual and beneficial sharing of cultures and beliefs. It is viewed as inevitable and contributing to diversity and free expression. It is seen as something which is usually done out of admiration of the cultures being imitated, with no intent to harm them.
Mutual exchange happens on an “even playing field”, whereas appropriation involves pieces of an oppressed culture being taken out of context by a people who have historically oppressed those they are taking from.
Usually there’s an inequality between the two cultures, one which appropriates and the other which is appropriated. For example, although American culture is adored across the world it’s not seen as cultural appropriation. Appropriation is taking from a weaker culture. For instance, a member of a dominant group can assume the traditional dress of a minority group for a Halloween party. Yet, they remain blissfully unaware of the roots of such dress and the challenges those who originated it have faced in Western society.
Inaccurate portrayal of the culture and perpetuation of stereotypes can be hurtful and it might be offensive to watch aspects or stereotypes of your culture being played out inaccurately. The focus can be on the mysterious or alluring elements, resulting in the missing out of wider elements and deeper meanings. This can reinforce negative stereotypes. Sometimes something culturally sensitive can be used inappropriately, causing real offence.
Cultural appropriation is often deeply problematic due to its ties to a long and drawn-out history of subjugation, in its most negative form, making it strikingly similar to the effects of colonialism. The British in India, or the Europeans with the Native Americans are good examples.
During colonialism, colonial powers not only extracted natural resources but also cultural booty. This history of cultural imperialism is tied to the debates that link present-day appropriation to the colonialism environment that flourished in the previous centuries. The contemporary cultural appropriation debate reflects a justified sensitivity about this historical legacy of extraction, and how colonial powers often extracted this rich cultural heritage of their subjugated countries. Whether it’s the British in India or Africa, cultural expressions belonging to subjugated cultures is now heavily appropriated. One example includes how the British stripped Shahajahanabad and The Red Fort of its gold and silver, and put an end to the culture of the court which had employed a large number of people for many centuries. An example of a cultural artifact appropriated can be the Kohinoor. This colonial booty was taken without permission, or compensation, or any act of reparation.
In appropriation, nothing goes back to the community that created the cultural idea. There’s no copyright to be enforced.
Thus, this sort of “borrowing” is exploitative because it robs minority groups of the credit they deserve. Art and music forms that originated with minority groups come to be associated with members of the dominant group. As a result, the dominant group is deemed innovative and edgy.
African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and indigenous peoples generally tend to emerge as the groups targeted for cultural appropriation. Black music and dance, Native American fashions, decorations and cultural symbols and Asian martial arts and dress have all fallen prey to cultural appropriation.
A common example of cultural appropriation is the adoption of the iconography of another culture, and using it for purposes that are unintended by the original culture. Examples include sports teams using Native American tribal names or images as mascots, or using Native American artifacts as edgy jewellery. Critics of the practice of cultural appropriation contend this as divorcing iconography from its cultural context.
The phenomenon of White people adopting stereotypical Black mannerisms, speech, and apparel has appeared in several generations since slavery was abolished in the the United States. This can be seen evidently in the contemporary Hollywood music scene, where singers and songwriters such as Madonna, Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus appropriate and demean black culture. The idea of a “squad” espoused by Taylor Swift is a centrally black attribute, and so are the hairstyles of cornrows and dreadlocks worn by Miley Cyrus in order to be seen fashionable. Both can be taken as examples of white people appropriating from a culture which is not their own.
In conclusion, I would like to say that cultural appropriation as a practice in the context of the 21st century remains deeply problematic and can only be countered with sufficient awareness, since it often arises out of ignorance.