Cultural Appropriation

Cultural Appropriation

In my experience, people do not appreciate being corrected.  

Whether it is the pronunciation of a word, the fastest route to a destination or even just an answer at pub trivia on a Tuesday night. It is so easy to take offense to anything, especially when it could bruise your ego.

I for one am extremely defensive and refuse to take criticism lightly. Rather than accept defeat I will overly defend my position as if I’m in the Hunger Games Arena and then spitefully shoot the critic a feisty glare to make them feel small.

But sometimes we deserve to be corrected.

We deserve to be called out even if it is difficult to swallow.

Especially when it is difficult to swallow.

Recent conversations in the media surrounding cultural appropriation by celebrities has allowed this topic to creep further into young people’s radars. This coverage was especially prevalent in the Australian media after comedian Chris Lilley took to black face to offensively impersonate a woman of colour. Just last week, Ariana Grande faced intense backlash online with accusations of the performer appropriating black and queer culture in her choice of costuming on her current tour.

But, it is not only celebrities who are participating in this concerning trend. 

Rowi Singh who is a proud Punjabi woman of colour, recently called out cultural appropriation in festival fashion on the popular Shameless podcast. Singh addressed the personal offence she takes to women picking and choosing the “shiny new parts of Indian culture” by wearing bindies to music festivals.

As a white person who has never experienced discrimination for my own ethnicity, hearing this interview cemented my understanding of the offensive nature of cultural appropriation for the sake of a costume or what you think will make a great Instagram pic.

For many, cultural appropriation is a foreign concept or one you may attempt to excuse with blissful ignorance. But whether it is wearing cornrows, Native American headdresses, traditional Japanese kimonos or chopsticks in your bun – the conversation around appropriation has been trending far too long to be completely ignored.

And before you jump to the excuse of celebrating culture or meaning no harm by what you wear, the choice is not up to you. The choice is that of members of cultural communities who have been vilified and discriminated against throughout history. There are so many groups that feel targeted and disrespected when elements of their culture are reduced to “costumes” and “accessories”.

It doesn’t matter if you think you look attractive in a sexy Chinese print dress, correctly known as Qipaos. It matters to members of the Chinese community.

I’m sure we have all witnessed cultural appropriation of a non-white culture first-hand. Whether it is the theming of parties and formals, to the costumes worn on a Silly Sunday that circulate on social media. It is concerning that people in positions of privilege must so frequently be explained the dangers of attacking minority groups wearing pieces that simply make them look ignorant.

It is simply, just sad. For everyone.

But, it would be hypocritical for me to write this piece without openly admitting my guilt for appropriating Balinese culture in a year 8 Halloween costume. Whilst this is something that I am only ashamed about now, it holds to testament the ability for people to learn from their mistakes and take progressive steps to engage others in the conversation about making respectful decisions.

Like I said, sometimes the hardest thing to do is accept criticism without getting defensive or blowing up in the comments section of a heated Facebook discussion.  

There is nothing excusable about cultural appropriation. It is not the same as being corrected for using the incorrect grammar. It is being corrected for disrespect.

If you are called out – listen, apologise, do your research and don’t be defensive.

Violet pictured on the right

Violet pictured on the right

Violet Williams

Fr 2017

B. Media and Communications


Photo: Shvets Anna from Pexels