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Cultural Appropriation: Is It Bringing Us Forward or Backward?

Lately anytime I log onto facebook, my feed is flooded with posts of people calling out racism in the form of cultural appropriation. My question is—Is this really warranted and are these acts really racist? Cultural appropriation, as defined by The Cambridge Dictionary is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that […]

Image Source: Mixing Cultures by Kristina Miseviciute
Image Source: Mixing Cultures by Kristina Miseviciute

Lately anytime I log onto facebook, my feed is flooded with posts of people calling out racism in the form of cultural appropriation. My question is—Is this really warranted and are these acts really racist?

Cultural appropriation, as defined by The Cambridge Dictionary is “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”

Before I go into all my thoughts regarding the subject, I would like to say I am not white and I am a woman, so fit into at least two minority categories.

Racism?

In my opinion, what is happening now is a form of reverse racism. Any little thing a white person does is considered racist and cultural appropriation. Most recently a restaurant in NYC, Lucky Lee’s, aimed at providing a healthy American Chinese inspired cuisine option has experienced a lot of backlash. First of all, they are selling “food inspired by American Chinese cuisine.” For any of us who have had American Chinese cuisine, we know that is not “real” aka authentic Chinese food. Second of all, the founder, Ariel Haspel, is a nutritionist and is NOT calling this Chinese food.

Know there is a lot of anger out there because of the word “clean”, but it is being taken out of context IMHO. I eat “clean” food, which means prepared in a certain way and New Yorker’s know this. Ariel is not the first to do this and the fact that the media and public opinion has taken it in another direction is reprehensible. She found a void in the space and is aiming to fill it; her only crime here is being white.

I think it is about time that someone offered a healthy alternative to American Chinese food that is actually tasty to eat—seems to me, like a version of one of my NYC faves, Hu Kitchen. Every time I am back in NY I go and have American Chinese food because I grew up with it and miss it. The casual Asian food in France that I have experienced is a mish-mosh of different Asian cuisines. The name that describes them “traiteur asiatique”, pretty much sums it up. I, for one, am looking forward to trying Lucky Lee’s when I’m in NYC in the hopes I won’t gain the normal 5 lbs I gain every time I go back to the US. Whether or not I will like it is another story, but I applaud the creativity and definitely deserves a try.

Or Inspiration?

Going back to the restaurant example, another thing that I would like to point out is that the food is “inspired”. I think one of the great things about living in the US, especially NYC, is that is a melting pot of cultures. I, for one, think it is great that individuals can glean inspiration from other cultures and create a version of their own. A great example is yoga. Yoga originated in India; however, as we know many variations have been created and adopted all throughout the world. You do not see or hear about the people in India up in arms that we have taken something from them, though you could make a strong argument that yoga is a prime example of cultural appropriation, as yoga in it’s truest form is something of mindfulness and inner peace, and what exists today is a version that has been transformed into one of the biggest capitalist industries out there. My point is that if another culture inspires someone, who are we to say that they are not allowed to appreciate it because they are not from that culture/born into that culture. For me, life is about inspiration and creativity and we should be free and to experiment.

Inconsistencies

A great example of when people choose to ignore this tenet of cultural appropriation is Justin Timberlake. He fully admits that he is inspired by soul music and you can hear that in his albums. Though some people do call this out, the majority is okay with it. But why? Is It because he is considered an A-List Celebrity? Is it because he has black friends? Or is it because we, as a society have decided it is okay for some people and not for others? I honestly stand with Justin and believe it is all about the human race vs multiple races, which he expresses beautifully here.

Moving Forward

I understand shit has happened to all cultures in the past but that should not define or shape who we are today and who and what we want to become in the future. We are on the precipice of repeating our ancestor’s mistakes by fostering this concept of cultural appropriation and will soon be apologizing just for being human.

As a society we need to be more cognizant of the choices we are making as we are shaping the world and the future of this world. Just because someone is white, does not mean they are taking another culture for granted. I think it is great that we are inspired and influenced by other cultures. We should all inspire and love each other instead of making our world so PC and sterile. Even if you bring it down to food, fusion restaurants are one of the most successful models since it brings a merging of two cultures and it is beautiful. That is what has made the US great and that is what has made NYC one of the most coveted cities in the world. Instead of standing against each other and deciding what a person can do based on their race or upbringing, we should be cultivating a culture of acceptance, inspiration and love.

I think we should lose the term “cultural appropriation” from our vernacular and replace it with “Cultural Inspiration”.

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