Appropriation vs. appreciation: A culture is nothing without its people

Header image for the article Appropriation vs. appreciation: A culture is nothing without its people Credit: WILDPIXEL
This month is a fresh reminder to take stock of the beauty and depth in the arts, sciences and politics that Black culture has infused into our everyday lives, and to spotlight those offerings.

Black History Month is an acknowledgment and celebration of the contributions that Black culture has made to society, not just in Canada, but in countries all over the world. Contributions that have unfortunately become a neglected part of the national narrative and even absorbed silently into Western society without recognition.

This month is a fresh reminder to take stock of the beauty and depth in the arts, sciences and politics that Black culture has infused into our everyday lives, and to spotlight those offerings.

The way we look at freedom, the way we dress, even the music we listen to (whether it be hip-hop, R&B, country, or rock n’ roll), all have their roots firmly planted in Black culture; this is probably something we don’t, but should, give a second thought to.

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While taking stock of all these treasures, we must be conscious and discerning about where the line between appreciation and appropriation is drawn. We must consider that having to remind a society that is drenched in Black culture, yet still struggles to acknowledge its origins, is triggering to say the least. The truth is that a culture is nothing without its people. It’s the people we honour or don’t honour. It is the people we weaken or empower.

Appreciation vs. appropriation points to remember

Example of appropriation: Fashion brands that frequently cherry pick items/clothing that have a spiritual or cultural significance and disrespect their importance to sell clothes, taking traditional clothing and making it into a costume or an accessory. This can feel like an insult because it is.

Example of appreciation: When a Western brand (or an individual) is inspired by a hairstyle, clothing or even a musical sound of a culture and finds a way to contribute or give back to that culture. One way to do this is to educate yourself about the culture’s origins. Fashion brands should choose models in their advertisements that represent that culture. For individuals who adopt certain hairstyles, styles of clothing or music, it is respectful to have an understanding of their origins.

The conversation about appreciation vs. appropriation should be a nuanced dialogue, involving more questions than answers. The beauty of Western societies is they are a melting pot of cultures, where we get to learn from one another and grow together. When it becomes obvious that one sector of society isn’t reaping the benefits of what it is obviously offering to the beautification of society, then we are headed in the wrong direction.

Black History Month is a celebration of the Black culture embedded in our everyday lives. It is a time to celebrate, acknowledge and contribute to the empowering of community that has given so much and has been given, historically, so little. February is an important opportunity to also observe where appropriation and systemic racism persists and give visibility to the ways we can support those who are promoting change. Diversity is what makes us stronger and is something we should all reap the benefits of. When the level of the water raises all the ships rise.

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.