Appropriation vs Appreciation

At least 70% of my spare time is filled with me browsing through the wonderful world of YouTube. Last week I happened to trod on a video titled ‘Is Vanessa Hudgens A Racist?’ – with the thumbnail of said celebrity wearing a dream catcher in her hair. The rather opinionated video was addressing claims made by Instagram users that Hudgens was ‘appropriating’ Native American culture.  The comment section was crammed with a mass of genuinely confused people, that is when it occured to me just how many people are unaware of what the concept means.

I searched dictionaries across the web to find the exact definition of the term, but found little. The Independent defined cultural appropriation as; the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture as a largely negative phenomenon.

My understanding of it is, that the problem with the use of elements of a certain culture by leading designers in the fashion industry, is offensive to a culture due to two main reasons:

  • Adopting an element of a culture for monetary gain.
  • Erasing the cultural or religious importance of the aspect taken; hence undermining hundreds of years of practice by the original members of the culture.

With Hudgens being mixed race and said to be part Native American, it may be hard for people to understand why she shouldn’t be able to flaunt dream catchers in her hair,  but that doesn’t take away from the fact that many ethnic minorities are appropriated time and again in the media. Such as wearing dreadlocks and cornrows is ‘cool’ when a non black woman does so, but black women are discriminated against for their natural hair in the work place. White privilege ?

Similarly, the bindi is seen as a pretty ‘boho’ aesthetic by festival goers and with that, all its religious and historic significance is lost.

It’s hard to validate such as the appreciation of a culture, especially when those who belong to the culture have to deal with the racism that comes with wearing or dressing certain things, or simply for their ethnicity.

The argument is one that has sparked a lot of attention recently, yet hardly any real understanding, what are your thoughts on the issue?


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11 thoughts on “Appropriation vs Appreciation

  1. I liked this a lot. My understanding of cultural appropriation is that people see something cool from another culture and simply want to imitate it the same way people imitate celebrities. But for cultures people should try harder to understand that culture and why that thing they find cool is important to that culture. The use of the swastika by Nazis is one great example of a group finding something cool and using it in the wrong way.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Yes this is an interesting one …. I guess my personal view is that Its both interesting and important to learn the significance of cultural heritage in terms of clothing …hairstyles ….lifestyles etc
    And it is abhorrent when this is packaged as ‘cool’ to be ‘sold’ back as some kind of commodity …..
    However, I like to think ( maybe naively) that there is a move towards a kind of ‘global ‘ understanding of different cultures and ‘belief’ systems …I personally would like to see folk LEARNING authenticity ……adopting what works …and abandoning that which is not useful from various cultures across the world ….is that ‘appropriation’? ……is that a bad thing? …..I prefer to see it as a kind of global melting pot …but then again we are a mixed race family ….so I guess with my families ‘cultural heritage’ it’s maybe only natural I would view the world that way:)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Geoff with a G says:

    This may be an unpopular opinion but I don’t really see it as an issue. People will wear what they like and haters gon’ hate just for the sake of it!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. First of all…thank you for this thoughtful and though-provoking post…very intelligent and fair-minded and non-judgemental and lacking in self-righteousness…I love the points you make…rap was not recognized for the art that it is until Vanilla Ice, and, later, artists like Eminem made it “mainstream”….not to vilify these artists…they are very talented and, obviously, have a passion for the genre…but, it is just another example of the support reserved for something that is highly-profitable by virtue of reflecting privileged ethnicity. Thanks for sharing 🙂


    1. I agree, which is why it’s a hard topic to grasp. We live in a rapidly globalising world in which multiculturalism is inevitable and hence the sharing of parts of cultures is too (and its clearly a beautiful thing) that would be appreciation. However, there have been instances within the wider media, where women are validated for wearing parts of a culture – where as the people who are actually native to the culture are mocked. It is that which offends many people and that is when it becomes a discriminatory issue. Thank you for reading and for your input 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Interesting. Culture should be celebrated, but I believe it can sometimes be held in too high of a regard. In this instance it may be wrong to devalue the culture, but in instances such as masculine culture, or pop culture, too much importance and meaning is placed in them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kindra M. Austin says:

    My mother loves Native American art. She has a dream catcher hanging from her rear view mirror. She wears Native American print shirts sometimes. I don’t feel my mother is being disrespectful–she truly admires the beauty of the culture. However, I can understand how appropriation is offensive when it comes off as a trend.


  7. Thank you for writing this! My friend and I have a lot of conversations about this, because we’re both vaguely pagan-ish. It can be difficult to know the line between appreciation and appropriation. I wear a Thor’s Hammer around my neck, and some people have been offended by it because I’m not strictly Scandinavian (I have some ancestry there, but it’s vague and far back), but I’m wearing it for religious/personal reasons I don’t feel is offensive? Since Thor’s Hammers are made to be worn around the neck as a symbol of respect for Thor, and I’m using it for what it was intended. The usage of Dream Catchers bothers me though, because they’re usually used out of context of their purpose. Dream Catchers are shamanic, and are meant to be used to ward off evil spirits when you’re sleeping, so using them as fashion/etc. bothers me. Anyway. A lot of thoughts happening. Thank you again!


  8. ANM7 says:

    Quite funny.
    When I teach, I often use the word appropriation in teaching. It is a great and awesome word when used in instruction. It is used in the context of “making it your own”, owning it. To the point where there are no secondary thoughts on the context, it becomes like breathing, automatic, subconsciously done. Point is it is a learning tool. And we pervert everything, we so easily strip meaning away from a word to make it suit a personal agenda. Funny.
    We used to say; “Don’t sweat it man”, IE no big deal.
    When a kid yelled at me while I was working Security in NYC; “Why are you sweating me man?” I didn’t get it but I did my job. It threw me. But I took time out to exchange definitions with him, and learned what they had done with the word.
    Some transformations I respect, like “My bad”, turns out to be “Mia culpa”.
    Thanks for this educational post.


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