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Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Appreciation

When the K-pop sensation, BTS, in 2013, debuted their song, “No More Dream,” they used many Black hip hop elements for the music video. The boys wore chains, rings, and dark and edgy clothing, made gang signs and hand gestures, committed crimes, led a gang, aggressively danced in a dark neighborhood, and were caught by the authorities at the very end. The video is a prime example of culturally appropriating in the most negative way possible. This boy band’s music video had to be one of BTS’ worst videos for displaying such offensive, stereotypical, and exploitive depictions of Black culture. The video depicts stereotypes and mocks cultural norms in a way that I did not initially understand.

Differentiating between appropriation and appreciation are challenging to identify because of the thin line of distinction between both terms. With this in mind, numerous cultures have adopted other cultures’ behaviors and standards and made it their own without proper appreciation. This realization led to exploring the concept of cultural appropriation and how it lends to the idea of adoption or theft of other people’s ideas and cultural norms in an irresponsible manner. However, with society becoming more aware and sensitive to the topic of cultural appropriation, it is frequent that many would misinterpret someone’s genuine intentions to show their love and respect for their culture. People should be more aware and cautious about the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation because the appropriation of another culture’s rituals without acknowledgment can be misconstrued as insensitive.

According to the article, “Cultural Appropriation”, Ramsey, Warren, and Owerka-Moore state that “cultural appropriation is the ignorance or inappropriate adoption of ideas from marginalized groups. This inappropriate adaptation is noted among low socioeconomic groups with a purpose of exploiting the culture for economic or social gain.” Further, the literature suggests that culture’s appropriation has led to inaccurate depictions of cultures, negative stereotypes, and plagiarism of popular culture and music without attribution. The concept of appropriation and the misuse of power in societal and economic realms have contributed to increasing cultural conflict. This conflict not only undermines cultural relevance, but it is exploitative of oppressed groups.

According to the ResearchGate article by Richard Rogers, cultural exploitation denotes the taking of elements of an oppressed society by a dominant culture without equal exchange, consent, or remuneration. In instances in which cultural exploitation is evident, the lack of choice or control is prominent. Rogers also states that often, the dominant political strength and economic influence render the sending culture powerless. He emphasizes how governments utilize their power to subjugate oppressed societies into submission, such as imposing organized religion on ethnic groups who otherwise may not have subscribed to the dominant culture’s religious viewpoints.

Cultural exploitation can be further observed in current social occurrences as well. As racial tensions continue to escalate in modern society, cultural exploitation permeates in music and fashion. Lyrics and genres, such as hip hop, have met with controversy and hostility. Hip-hop artists, writers, and producers continue to combat the challenges of foreign companies’ misuse of the genre for economic gain without appropriate attribution or respect. Western artists have been confronted with similar practices as well. The article, “Cultural Appropriation,” has referred to Kylie Jenner as a controversial figure in cultural appropriation. She was perceived by many as trendy and fashionable in her depiction of style box braids through social media. However, others deemed her actions irresponsible and exploitative. Her actions were deemed as cultural appropriation as she physically depicted black culture. Although aspects of black culture, such as box braid, may be deemed negatively and criticized in this scenario, Jenner is celebrated and admired. Therefore, exploiting culturally significant customs. Artists are seen in many instances as role models with societal responsibility. Kylie Jenner represents a majority whose actions may be construed as a premise of lack of social consciousness. Therefore, rendering those ethnic minorities who place cultural significance in expressing their beauty has no voice in protecting their cultural elements due to other dominant societies’ dominance. 

Social media’s impact and how users interpret cultural appreciation versus appropriation plays out in media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. According to the article, “Moving From Cultural Appropriation to Cultural Appreciation”, the author, Hsiao-Cheng Han, states that “the media tends to teach the general public who to be and what perspective someone should have of the world. However, people have different interpretations of what each post means.” Kylie Jenner’s box braids Instagram post is an excellent example of how people had conflicting opinions on Jenner’s post. One side of users believes that Jenner is exploiting Black culture while another side thinks she is displaying her appreciation for it. The media’s influence perpetuates conflicting opinions on fashion and music, which often exacerbates the opposing factions. 

Music has a cultural significance in black culture. The article, “Cultural Appropriation”, mentions how African Americans are credited with developing not only hip hop but also jazz, blues, and rock and roll. However, the article also states that from 1930 to 1970, White artists adopted these music traditions that were deemed unsavory and became wealthy in a still segregated society. African Americans had limited recourse in combating cultural dominance in a Jim Crow America. In the ResearchGate article by Richard Rogers, the author states that cultural dominance is the utilization of components of the prevailing culture by members of a dominant culture in a context in which the dominant culture has been imposed on by the subordinated society appropriations that sanction opposition. The article, “Cultural Appropriation”, further states that artists such as Muddy Waters, Skip James, and Howlin’ Wolf struggled to gain success for their significant contributions to the music industry for many years. Eventually, they were recognized for their achievements but never to the level of their White counterparts who appropriated black music.

Despite controversy and inequities which continue to persist, there also is a movement promoting inclusivity, respect, and understanding of other cultures. Education is crucial in comprehending the differences in appropriation and appreciation. In appreciating cultural or cultural appreciation, one honors and values another culture and its customs to gain awareness and respect. Whereas if practices or cultural items exploit another culture or reaps economic gain may be perceived as appropriation. Cultural appreciation allows for deep-rooted respect. In instances where there is a genuineness to appreciate other ethnic groups, asking permission to use cultural things, utilizing the object specifically as they are intending, researching the culture, asking questions, and acknowledging the limitations in knowing the culture. Appropriation occurs when members of one culture adopt an aspect of another culture without attribution. Often appropriation occurs from a dominated society that takes from marginalized communities. However, fostering an environment of inclusivity in which a genuine desire to listen, to learn, respect, and to provide equitable remuneration could afford opportunities for dialogue and cultural awareness.

References

Cultural Appropriation [PDF]. (n.d.). https://bento.cdn.pbs.org/hostedbento-prod/filer_public/whatihear/9-Cultural_Approp-Viewing_Guide.pdf

Rogers, R. (2006, November). From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation. Communication Theory, 16(4), 474–503. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2885.2006.00277.x

Han, H. (2019). Moving From Cultural Appropriation to Cultural Appreciation. Art Education (Reston), 72(2), 8–13. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/00043125.2019.1559575

Big Hit Labels, & BTS. (2013, June 11). BTS (방탄소년단) ‘No More Dream’ Official MV [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBG5L7UsUxA

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