by Kristin Holloway
Coachella Music Festival’s first weekend may have just ended, but worry not, festival season has just begun. With tickets still available for huge events like Bonnaroo, Burning Man, Lollapalooza, Hangout Fest and others—plus the recent youth culture interest in wearing items like headdresses and bindis—I personally cannot think of a better time to discuss cultural appropriation and appreciation.
To give a watered-down definition of cultural appropriation, it is essentially when the dominant culture in a society borrows from minority cultures without permission or an understanding of the significance of what they are borrowing. For example, Native American headdresses are sacred regalia worn exclusively by male warriors in the time of war in their culture, yet you’ll often find hipsters and other on trend people parading around in headdresses at festivals because they “look cool.”
Here’s Jennifer Weston, the endangered languages program manager at Cultural Survival (a national organization that works to defend the human rights and cultural heritage of indigenous and other oppressed people), explaining why such behavior is hurtful to Native Americans: “When modern Natives see half-naked chicks strutting around on runways or street corners completely devoid of knowledge of our real cultures and religions, AND misrepresenting and misappropriating these sacred symbolic articles, we must demand respect for our religious practices. Such misrepresentations sexualize, commodify, and pervert our traditions — and impart to children of all cultures and backgrounds that it’s perfectly acceptable to ‘play dress up’ as a Native person, without regard for our ceremonial practices that have persisted here for millennia despite historic violence, and recent legal acts that literally outlawed our religions until 1978!”
But on the other hand, cultural appreciation can be acceptable, especially in artistic format. An example of this includes Madonna wearing the bindi (which is associated with the third chakra and is believed in Hinduism to strengthen wisdom and concentration) when she performs, not because she thinks it is merely pretty, but because she is a longtime practitioner of both Buddhism and Hinduism and understands the cultural significance of the bindi.
So, please remember in between Kendrick Lamar and The Alabama Shakes’ sets this summer that showing knowledgeable and respectful appreciation for another culture is the highest form of flattery when it comes to cultural exchanges, but cultural appropriation is a huge no-no. It is disrespectful to wear another culture’s tradition without first understanding their reasoning and importance behind the object. Emulate responsibly!