OPINION: Cultural appropriation hurts everyone

Black Lives Matter protests are on the rise, and people are starting to educate themselves about racism, dicrimination and systemic oppression, among other topics. A large issue in society is cultural appropriation, and the root of the problem is ignorance through lack of education.

Cultural appropriation, according to BBC, is “the adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity for the purpose of amusement or entertainment.” In other words, cultural appropriation reinforces the idea of race supremacy and makes fun of cultures. It exists to demonize and humiliate cultures different from one’s own and to deem them as inferior.

According to PBS, “the late 19th century began the era of the transfusion of certain aspects of cultures to other cultures.” Some examples of this “transfusion” came in the form of blackface in minstrel shows, and the adoption of traditional Japanese kimonos by the wealthy white class. While completely normalized in the 19th century, this behavior was racist to begin with. Still, some of these derogatory actions are seen today. This ridiculing of culture to nothing less than a joke harms the deep-rooted meanings behind the culture of various ethnic groups.

Cultural appropriation trivializes the culture of people of color and can be detrimental to one’s health. The American Psychiatric Association states that “discrimination based on race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity (is linked) to many negative psychological and physical health outcomes.” In an act that one may see as a funny Halloween costume, for example, another may take as blackface, and the effects are harmful. The damage runs deep, and if not combatted, will make mental health worse for people of color.

The solution to reducing cultural appropriation is education. Christina Torres of tolerance.org states, “Teachers must help students understand how privilege works at a systemic level that may have given students an (advantage).” Those who have privilege because of their race often don’t understand why cultural appropriation is offensive or harmful. Educating people about systemic racism and cultural appropriation helps people to understand the harm that comes from their negative actions.

People often downplay the significance of cultural appropriation. Many have heard the dismissive phrases “It’s just a dress” or “You snowflakes are so sensitive,” but that is simply not the case. Each culture has significant components, such as clothing and traditions, and reducing them to a costume or a joke is offensive. One who appropriates another culture tells others that their pride and heritage is a joke. Education would reduce the ignorance from which most cultural appropriation stems and create a more compassionate future.