What is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is a concept of anthropology that means the use of elements of a minority culture by another dominant one, which can be: symbols, customs, clothing, objects, behaviors, habits, artistic expressions, etc.


Thus, cultural appropriation occurs at the moment when an individual (or a group) adopts elements of a different culture, appropriating them and offering them a new meaning. Here, it is worth remembering that the term “to appropriate” means “to return to you”.


Many cultural issues are anchored in the power relations that have been developed throughout the history of the world and prevail (even if veiled) until today. In other words, the existing relationships that are perpetuated (and still continue to be perpetuated) happen between an oppressed or dominated culture and another oppressive or dominant culture.


Examples of cultural appropriation

Several examples of cultural appropriation determine forms of identity and resistance in many cultures.


Turbans : in African culture, the turban is seen as a symbol of struggle, resistance and cultural affirmation and has a religious significance in Afro-Brazilian culture. It is worth mentioning that many Asian peoples also use the turban as a cultural element, for example, in the countries of the East. In general, in these places, the turban is directly related to the religious universe.


Afro braids : of African origin, braids in the culture of these peoples can be related to social class, religion, rites of passage, life stages, etc. Note that they were used by several peoples, including antiquity, however, for African culture it is also considered a form of female resistance.


Dreads (dreads): originating from ancient peoples, dreads were disseminated by the Rastafarian movement, which originated in Jamaica. It is a hairstyle used by many cultural groups and is related to religious reasons.


Cultural appropriation in Brazil

In a multicultural country like Brazil, the theme of cultural appropriation is quite recurrent. An example is funk carioca, a musical rhythm that became popular in the favelas and suburbs of Rio de Janeiro.


Originally, it had a negative character, however, over time, it started to be played in different places, gaining space and visibility for everyone, regardless of social class.


Currently, several funk singers have appropriated the rhythm from marginalized peoples and, with that, this cultural expression has come to be more accepted by society.


The consequences of cultural appropriation

One of the most striking consequences of cultural appropriation is the mischaracterization of some element of a given culture. When something is removed from its cultural context and attributed to it (s) other meaning (s), that element loses its original value, emptying its genuine meaning.


In the fashion industry, this type of appropriation is recurrent. It occurs when an element of a minority culture is transformed into a profitable consumer product, which is seen positively as something “exotic”, “different”, “stylish” or ” fashion “.


On the other hand, when the same element is used by the dominated culture, that is, to which that element / symbol belongs, it does not receive this positive value.


An example of this is the use of accessories or clothing of African origin called by the fashion industry “ethnic”.


Most of the time, models of different ethnicities parade with clothes or hairstyles from other cultures and, thus, the individuals belonging to that culture and who produce those elements are excluded.


cultural appropriation in the fashion industry

At the fashion show of designer Marc Jacobs, accused of cultural appropriation, white models parade with dreads

Within the logic of the capitalist system and the consumer society this happens many times and, undoubtedly, globalization has been a determining factor for examples of cultural appropriation to increase more and more.


In summary, we can mention some negative points associated with this theme, such as:


emptying the real meaning of some cultural element or symbol;

trivialization and commodification of culture;

disrespect for certain cultures;

creation of stereotypes and reinforcement of stigmas.

Is cultural appropriation a crime?

Although there is no specific law that ensures actions directly related to cultural appropriation, it is associated with other concepts such as discrimination and racism.


Understand more about racism .


Quotes about cultural appropriation

“ Cultural appropriation IS NOT A CRITICISM ABOUT THE WHITE INDIVIDUAL, but about a harmful racist structure that erases and silences others .” (Stephanie Ribeiro)

” When talking about cultural appropriation, we are questioning a branch of this tree of structural racism that affects several non-white peoples, commonly criticized, persecuted and massacred for their identity .” (Stephanie Ribeiro)

” Cultural appropriation is a pasteurization of black culture .” (Leci Brandão)

” Cultural appropriation is a racist way of saying that this or that cannot be black, but Brazilian or multicultural .” (Leci Brandão)

“ Black culture is popular, black people are not. Cultural appropriation forgets ritual practices and makes the struggles of these peoples invisible. People start wearing clothes and accessories without knowing their meanings and origins. In other words, it gives scope for elements of a culture to be trivialized, stereotyped or simply reduced to “exotic” ”(B. Easy)

“ To say that cultural appropriation is limited to wearing a turban or not, eating sushi or not is, at best, a great intellectual dishonesty, in addition to opening up the racist face still so present in Brazilian society .” (Juliana Borges)

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