Cultural Appropriation: where to draw the line between honoring and mocking

Sara Flash and Tyra Christopherson

When you think of the winter months of the year, some common things come to mind: Halloween, Christmas trees and more sweets than any one person knows what to do with. But in the midst of this happy and festive time of year, it is important to recognize the traditions we are following, the ways we are expressing ourselves and how our actions are being perceived.
A few weeks ago the different cultural and religious clubs at the University of Washington published a video speaking out about the importance of honoring traditions of different cultures. This video, published in time for Halloween, addressed a long standing controversy of where to draw the line between honoring different traditions and mocking those traditions for one’s own gain.
This cultural appropriation has always been a sensitive topic for many, but in this time of year of harmless costumes and holiday traditions, it is important to be aware of what may be too far.
What is cultural appropriation?
In a raw sense, cultural appropriation is a concept that describes the adoption or use of parts of one culture by people of a different culture. But, the adoption of these parts is done in a negative and condescending way.
Creating a costume which resembles the looks of a Native American woman might look like a well done, intricate costume to some, but others might view it as inappropriately mocking the Native American culture.
Is it copying or honoring?
There is a fine line between what is considered respecting and honoring one’s culture and what is mocking that culture. The Patriot Press staff fully believes that having curiosity and doing research about an interesting culture is respectful but taking in the traditions and physical appearance of that said tradition is not okay. Understanding and appreciating a culture is okay as long as there is no intent of malice.
The consequences of cultural appropriation
It is a major issue when a person benefits from a culture that is not his or her own. This benefit might be preventing the people who actually follow that culture to use it for their own good.
For example, the Patriot Press would consider opening a yoga studio and taking in Buddhist culture for your own gain to be cultural appropriation, yet simply enjoying Buddhist culture by understanding and participating in the traditions is not. Being privileged enough to profit from the culture is taking away the opportunities for the people who actually belong to the specific culture.
Outside the holiday season: how does this relate to the rest of the year?
It’s often hard to decide whether something is going to be considered cultural appropriation if you are not connected to the specific culture in any way. Even if this decision cannot be made, everyone has the ability to examine whether what they are doing is honoring a certain culture or not. Chances are, many of us have adapted styles, costumes, and recipes that could connect to cultures we have no previous connection to.
So, we challenge you this holiday season and throughout the year to make sure you understand, honor and appreciate the many cultures that make up the different aspects of our country and lives today.