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 Time to Talk about it: Cultural Appropriation or Appreciation?

 Cultural Appropriation Vs Cultural Appreciation has been a long-debated topic and a controversial one at that however, understanding the difference between both concepts is key. To begin, let us differentiate the two: cultural appreciation is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in order to widen their perspective and connect with other cultures, whereas cultural appropriation is simply taking or “hand-picking” one aspect of a culture that is not your own and using it for your own personal interest. In Imani Kai Johnson’s chapter, “Black Culture Without Black People,” she refers to Cultural Appropriation as “colonialism at the scale of the dancing body or the sacred ritual object, its life and dynamism reduced to a thing for consumption or a costume for play”.

A plethora of celebrities and influencers have had their run ins with appropriating culture, from Kim Kardashian’s ‘Bo- Derek Braids’ to Adele’s questionable look at Notting Hill’s carnival last year. Well, it’s just a hairstyle, it’s just an outfit isn’t it? As put simply by University Professor Susan Scafidi to Jezebel in 2012 ‘If you’re imitating something but you’re not actually giving credit where credit is due, in academic communities we would call that plagiarism’.

Appropriation is defined as the utilisation of black culture for commercial advantage, such as white fashion models sporting traditionally black hairstyles. It exploits black people because they are the ones who are subjected to discrimination as a result of wearing these styles. The most disputed response is “Black women straighten their hair all the time!” rather than wear their natural hair. This is an example of assimilation is not the same as appropriation; it is not the same because marginalised communities are forced to adopt a dominant culture in order to thrive. Therefore, more often than not black women are straightening their hair to fit in with society’s ideal image. This is evidenced by the fact that black women frequently report they feel unable to leave their hair in its natural state. The BBC cites cases of women being told by employers it looks “unprofessional”.  

Showing respect in a culture with permission or full credit while ensuring that you do not benefit is what cultural appreciation is all about. Hairstyles like box braids and dreadlocks hold specific cultural significance for various black communities and are a key part of black hair care. When non-black people wear these styles just because they look nice its exploitation. Further trivialising the discrimination that black people face for wearing these styles. If you are white, then white privilege means that you’ll likely face less discrimination for wearing these styles. There is always a need to be culturally aware to ensure that our self-expression isn’t exploiting others.

In the new age of Instagram filters and TikTok we have moved on from outward racist images of blackface to the subtle appropriations of ‘Black-fishing’ and ‘Digital Black Face’. ‘Black- Fishing’ is a very new concept but is essentially when non-black people alter their appearance to seem black using make-up, fake tan or photo -editing. People who blackfish get the benefits of blackness without the negatives that come from existing as a black person. My features may get me likes on Instagram but put me at a disadvantage at job interviews for example. When you reduce blackness to a ‘look’ it undermines the prejudices that black people face on an everyday basis.

Exploring many aspects of culture with open-mindedness to the cultural and historic value is significant in expressing cultural appreciation, for beneficial and respectful cultural exchange and in turn avoids appropriation.

Adele’s Carnival ‘Look’ Adele causes stir with Notting Hill Carnival celebration photo | The Independent | The Independent

Kim Kardashians Braids Kim Kardashian West Responds to the Backlash Over Her Braids | Glamour

Link to Digital black face – What Is Digital Blackface? – Experts Explain Why It’s Problematic (

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