The Cambridge dictionary defines the term “cultural appropriation” as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture”
While travelling, we are often in situations where we want to experience the local culture and, more often than not, participate in local events. Where does it become offensive?
We can’t help but notice that some people dress differently from how they would back at home, which makes us wonder if while trying to fit in they might be offending the residents of the country in question.
Well, there are a lot of gray areas, but cultural appropriation starts when someone uses or borrows something from a community they don’t completely understand. The behaviour is normally lacking respect for the other culture and, in most cases, the act comes from a dominant community or nationality.
There have been many cases in the press of renowned brands and fashion designers that have taken a traditional piece of clothing, copied it and sold it as their own creation. In many cases they claim to be honoring this culture but only after they have been caught.
While one of the best things of living in a more global world is to be exposed to so many different cultures and traditions at the same time it is important to be respectful and sensitive towards others. Most of the time as members of the majority it is hard to realize if we are being harmful or not.
The truth is that, as long as there isn’t a clear abuse of a dominant culture making a profit from a minority, it is a very personal matter and it is up to them to decide whether they feel copied or celebrated.
What can you do to avoid it?
- Be respectful.
- Educate yourself beforehand.
- Ask yourself, would you be offended if it was the other way around?
- When in doubt, ask!