Opinion

When appreciation becomes appropriation

By TRISHA DANG
Staff Writer

Ariana Grande was looking really “cute” with Japanese culture in her “7 Rings” music video. Having been nominated twice for the 2019 Grammys, Grande’s recently released single, “7 Rings,” has been rated No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100s chart for its third week. Different from her usual style, “7 Rings” features the artist “sing-rapping” about her successes. While her previous single “thank u, next,” which also made the top charts, was about her accomplishments and learned lessons, the overall response Grande received from “7 Rings” criticized the artist’s ignorance of cultural appropriation.

Culture is not an accessory. It is not something for you to “look cute” in.

Though Grande argued that she didn’t showcase cultural appreciation, many signs point to the artist exhibiting cultural appropriation without even recognizing it. For example, one specific lyric stood out to many fans and critics: “You like my hair? Gee thanks, just bought it.” In essence, this particular line refers to Ariana Grande’s notoriety for wearing hair extensions, though in this line, it appears that she is referring to her hair as a weave since the particular line mimics a phrase from Puerto Rican rapper Princess Nokia’s “Mine,” in which she raps, “It’s mine- I bought it.” Princess Nokia’s song is literally about the efficacy of a good weave, which is a charged topic for many black women. In addition, Grande also publicized the premiere of her song with Instagram captions and merchandise detailed with Japanese kanji. The “7 Rings” music video also displayed scenes of Japanese style used as an aesthetic for the video.

When fans called Grande out for her appropriation of black and Japanese culture, Grande ignored the claims and instead contended that she was appreciating the cultures. Even after Grande addressed the claims of her ignorance and removed all merchandise that featured Japanese kanji, the main controversy revolves around the question of where the fine line between culture appreciation and appropriation stands.

In its simplest terms, cultural appropriation is the adoption of certain practices and customs of another culture by member of a more dominant group of people in society for personal interest. Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, refers to when people seek to understand different cultures to broaden their perspectives.
The central idea around cultural appropriation is that, essentially, stealing is immoral. In fact, there are very few people who would be willing to debate that stealing is not immoral. It’s even worse when the people stealing are the people who are relatively more dominant in status within the public.

For instance, a bindi, which originated from Hindus and Jains, is worn for religious and cultural significance by a number of different cultural groups. However, you can easily spot a bindi being worn as a fashion statement at Coachella. Or yet,the historically significant clothing of the different indigenous peoples, who were mocked for the way they dressed and the practices they held on to. Now, you can spot a “Native American costume” at nearly every Halloween store across America. Cultural appropriation, in other words, resides in most aspects of our lives. It’s not the rare occurrence that we would like it to be.

“It’s clothing brands stealing the prints and textiles of Asian traditional clothing and tossing it onto a mini skirt, calling it ‘oriental.’ It’s ‘Tumblr girls’ using Google Translate to make Japanese and Korean characters into their grunge home screens. It’s people wearing qipao and ao dai with chopsticks in their hair,” junior Alex Tran pointed out. “I don’t learn my ancestral language and wear ao dai [or traditional vietnamese clothing] to weddings to honor family and tradition for someone else to use it because it’s just pretty.”

Some may argue that curly-haired girls straightening their hair is equivalent to cultural appropriation. It’s not. It’s cultural assimilation. The difference between the two is that cultural appropriation is the degradation of someone else’s culture, whereas cultural assimilation refers to minority groups of people being forced to adopt certain features to fit in with dominant cultures. To put it in basic understanding, straightening your hair is not the same thing as wearing a bindi to Coachella.

Cultural appropriation degrades the emotional and historical value which the certain practice of a culture comes along with. It devalues the trauma and hardships that people face even today for celebrating certain aspects of their culture. It allows for the continuation of the oppression of non-dominant cultures and does not give people credit for their own culture. Of course, some argue that cultural appropriation is an exaggerated perversion of what is meant to be cultural appreciation. While the line between cultural appropriation and appreciation may be difficult to define, there is an absolute difference between the two. Using someone else’s ancestral culture as a fashion trend is most likely insulting to the culture and its people. Whether it may be intentional or inadvertent if someone is offended by another person’s adoption of their culture, there’s a likely chance that a form of appropriation is coming into play.

“Cultural appreciation is completely acceptable and I think it should be celebrated whole heartedly when your appreciation comes from a place of education and understanding of the cultural significance and history around it. But making a culture and it’s language into your personal aesthetic and degrading the emotional and historical value of it obviously crosses the line.” Tran said. ”People should be denouncing cultural appropriation and celebrating and appreciating our differences respectfully.”

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