Honour: Respecting cultural elements is key

From Ms Arine Mboma Kiese
Customer service student based in Sharjah

The concept of adopting elements of a certain culture with very little understanding of that culture’s history, experiences and traditions is called appropriating that culture and can be very offensive because it reduces that culture and it’s people, to a stereotype.

This is a concern amongst people who find inspiration from another culture and want to explore its elements but fail to be respectful, which leads them to come across as appropriating rather than appreciating that culture.

Examples of such would be during occasions like Halloween, where people are seen dressing up in others’ cultural attire, like a Native American dress or a bindi because they think it’s ‘cool’.

It’s also inappropriate when dark make-up products are applied onto actors with lighter skin tones in order to portray people of darker skin colour then proceed onto making fun of their accents.

On the other hand, when adopting elements of a culture by honouring and respecting it’s traditions such as, visiting a country while wearing their respective traditional dresses or if being invited to a cultural ceremonial party and participating in its customs and rituals, is not cultural appropriation.

Finally, every cultural group has their own standards or what they feel is socially acceptable and we should respect one another’s cultures because at the end of the day cultural customs, traditions, beliefs and elements are more than just a fashion statement or an accessory.


Political correctness: Threat of growing apart if everything is termed appropriation

From Mr Louis Martin Antoun
Account Executive based in Dubai

The term appropriation conjures a very negative image, whereby someone is stealing from another and using the stolen item for some gains. This is ultimately the problem with the outrage behind cultural appropriation. It is another ‘progressive’ byword conjured up to allow people to espouse the faux outrage that has been sweeping some parts of the world.

I think, to appropriate is to steal and frankly cultures do not own anything because cultures are ever evolving. I say that bullying a celebrity for wearing dreadlocks is ridiculous. I don’t believe that such acts are intended to benefit or harm a community by merely using a hairstyle that is sported by a specific cultural group.

For example, the Europeans invented French fries, but you don’t see outrage when other races are consuming them on an almost daily basis. No one complains when a large part of the population purchases clothes sold in popular brands, traditionally abiding by European stylistic traditions.

The whole point of being progressive and open to multiculturalism was to embrace other cultures and to appreciate them. However, in this day and age if a person wears something typically worn by someone of another culture to a Halloween party, the ‘fake’ outrage by the ‘political correctness police’ starts. There is clearly a divide and the gap will only extend if we continue to vilify this as ‘appropriation’.

In conclusion, culture is a beautiful thing that can be used to create wonderful stories and engross us in many ways. However the continued outrage will only serve to push us further apart.


Thin line: Cultural aspects are not novelty items

From Ms Naila Memon
Dental student based in Umm Al Quwain

There is a thin line between appreciating a culture that is not your own and appropriating it. That line is often blurred in today’s world of fashion trends leaning towards ‘exotic’ and ‘ethnic’ looks.

Cultural appreciation, simply put, means to partake in a culture not your own, with complete respect for it and with total understanding of the meaning of your actions. It often helps bridge the divide between different people and nations and is also a great source of income for places that rely on tourism to boost their economy.

However, there are some things that are sacred to each culture, meant for the people of that culture only therefore have special meaning and significance in the lives of those people. An outsider to any culture should consider these things and try to understand them as best as they can and do their best not to cross that thin line between appreciation and appropriation.

Take for instance Native American culture. Many Native tribes have asserted that purchasing dreamcatchers, or wearing them on clothes, tattoos etc, is not cultural appropriation and therefore it is not an issue for foreigners to do it and in fact, it encourages trade. However, some tribes have sacred war bonnets and rituals, with special significance attached to them, which make it off-bounds for outsiders. Therefore any outsider that purchases a war bonnet for the sole purpose of fashion or trends, while not knowing or understanding the meaning of it, is guilty of cultural appropriation. This holds true for many different cultures all over the world, and the difference between appreciating a culture and appropriating it should be well understood and respected.


Too sensitive: The world is getting too touchy

From Ms Refqah Istaitiyeh
Account Executive based in Dubai

I definitely think that things are getting out of hand with the world getting more and more sensitive by the minute. It was beautiful to know and possibly adopt some aspects of a certain culture just because one admired it. Now, with the prevalence of the internet and society’s want of constant political correctness, one can’t do so without triggering keyboard warriors.

However, I am definitely against blatant disrespect. Incidents of people mocking, stereotyping and misusing meaningful attributes of others’ cultures are unfortunate but definitely do occur. Such events shouldn’t be justified below the cloak of cultural appreciation. In the end of the day a culture has the right to term certain actions as appropriation and other deeds as appreciation. One cannot speak for a culture because only they have an idea of the seriousness of the offense and their sentiments regarding it.


Poll results

Gulf News asked: Do you think adapting aspects of a certain culture by people outside of that culture is cultural appropriation?

Yes: 19%
No: 23%
It depends on how respectful they are and what the context is: 58%


Have Your Say

Does adopting aspects from a culture by someone outside of that culture promotes harmony?

Is displaying a community’s rituals, dress, customs, outside of your own culture using them as novelty?

Are people who display aspects derived from cultures other than their own promoting stereotypes?

To share your views on this topic or join future debates, write to us at readers@gulfnews.com