America has long been known as a melting pot of cultures. Through the meshing of different customs, the United States has become the vast empire of cultural inclusivity it is known to be today. Likewise, it can not be denied that some of these social norms came to be through racist viewpoints behind their assimilation. However, in this progressive 21st-century society, cultures need to be appreciated, not offended. The cultural appropriation of different minority groups is a controversial topic; however, cultural appropriation often has negative effects on the appropriated group, and with proper education, society can grow to be a more positively diverse community, thus achieving equality in society.
Cultural appropriation is a very abstract concept, and it is hard to find a conclusive definition. The Urban Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “The ridiculous notion that being of a different culture or race (especially white) means that you are not allowed to adopt things from other cultures. This does nothing but support segregation and hinders progress in the world. All it serves to do is to promote segregation and racism.” This definition does not help to end the stigma behind cultural appropriation, and instead gives the term “cultural appropriation” a greater conservative, and negative outlook, without achieving any positive ramifications.
On the other hand, in their book, The Ethics of Cultural Appropriation, James O. Young, and Conrad G. Brunk define appropriation as “the making of a thing private property…; taking as one’s own or to one’s own use.” However, this definition is still vague because it does not include the cultural aspects of appropriation, and it does not show how important of an issue this is too many people.
People find it hard to put a concrete definition to cultural appropriation. Much of today’s American identity has been built on appropriated ideas, and the talks to ending cultural appropriation are only recent. As Chris Lam put it in his youtube video “Cultural Appropriation 101”, cultural appropriation, in its most basic form, is “Taking something from a culture that is not your own…[and] that is not part of who you are.” This definition, while not completely concrete, helps to give a more positive light to the topic of cultural appropriation, without calling out specific people groups.
One ethnic group that has faced tremendous appropriation has been the Native Americans. The history of the relationship between Native Americans and white people has been tumultuous. From killing them off through disease and war to confining them onto smaller and smaller reservations to the Indian Removal Acts and the Trail of Tears, Native Americans have continually faced oppression from the white majority. To add cultural appropriation on top of that is to add salt to an open wound. Americans have taken aspects of Native American culture out of context, and have warped it into their own, and not for the better. Halloween is one of the most popular days in white culture for the atrocities of Native American cultural appropriation to occur. In the video “Native Americans Try On ‘Indian’ Halloween Costumes”, people of Native American descent reviewed some popular “American Indian” Halloween costumes that are worn throughout the country. One of the participants stated that “A costume like this keeps Native Americans in the past… as if we’re not real people today”, while another said, “There actually seems like there’s something disrespectful about wearing a people group as a costume”. These quotes speak volumes about what it personally feels like to be culturally appropriate. It is unacceptable to think that it is okay to “wear a people group as a costume”, and yet many Americans have done that or will do it in their lifetime. When one chooses to wear a culture as a costume, they are disrespecting that culture by taking different clothing items out of context, and giving the culture a meaning that it never had or wanted.
It is not only the appropriation of clothing but also the use of offensive language in an everyday culture that has offended Native Americans. The term “redskin” is the equivalent of calling a black person the “n-word” or a gay person the “f-word”; it is both derogatory and unacceptable. While it is morally wrong to use this term, there is a major league football team that uses this name, the Washington Redskins. According to a CNN article published on September 24th, 2014, much progress has been made in the struggle for trying to get the name changed to something that is not offensive, however, the owner of the team, Daniel Snyder, has stated that “Our team name captures the best of who we are.” However, how can Synder say this when Oxford Dictionary states that “redskin” is “dated and offensive”? People in support of the Washington Redskins claim that the team has had that name for generations and that it is a part of their own historical tradition. However, when one chooses to use racist terminology in an everyday fashion, they are not only offending people of that culture group but are also making it “okay” for the majority of citizens to say it, which further separates the majority from the minority.
It is undeniable that the white majority has a large advantage over minorities, and yet they try to deny it. White people have privilege over all other cultures in American society. Some examples of white privilege include not being racially profiled in stores, and not being stereotyped as dangerous. White people fear that they will be lashed out against for having this privilege. However, every person who has been oppressed knows that the white majority have privilege, and yet they do not go around rioting and hurting white people. That being said, change can only come through conversations held by those in power, which does require compromise on the part of the majority’s leaders.
The white majority holds the majority of power within this country. They are the ones that have the ability to make a positive change for the many minority groups residing within the country’s borders. Likewise, with no action at all, the white majority is dooming society to repeat the atrocities of the past. The ultimate goal that both oppressed and appropriated groups want is to have societal equality. The phrase “All men are created equal” has been indoctrinated into the minds of every citizen in the United States from day one, so it is about time to finally make that equality a reality, not just for the white majority, but for everyone who calls the United States home.
With proper education, society can grow to be a more positively diverse community, therefore eliminating the cultural appropriation of different minority groups, thus achieving equality in society. All in all, it is important for the white majority to realize that equality is not a reality. However, it is up to the white majority to make the necessary changes for equality to become a reality, and this will become a reality, but only with education, willingness, time, and acceptance.