Cultural Appropriation - By Jacob Gryvelius
You might have heard it in the media multiple times, but never truly understood its meaning or the big deal behind it. First, before we try to establish any kind of judgement on the subject, we have to understand what it really means. As soon as you google the term you get the Oxford definition: “The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, what it basically means is that a person or a group of people adopt typical features and perform it as their own, simply copying other cultures features or violating them in some other ways. This happens very often by media or specific groups, such as artists trying to market themselves using a style stolen from other cultures, or a group of people doing the same thing, but usually for making changes to their personal style. Currently, cultural appropriation in music will be the main focus as we dig deeper.
According to Rogers, R.A(2006)’From cultural exchange to transculturation: A review and reconceptualization of cultural appropriation’, there are four different kinds of cultural appropriation: Cultural Exchange- mutual sharing of elements to provide understanding and create bonds, Cultural Dominance- subordinated cultures using elements from the dominant cultures in the context of being imposed by the dominant culture, Cultural Exploitation- a dominant culture ”borrowing” elements from a so-called subordinated culture without permission, and Transculturation- a term to describe a phenomenon of merging and converging cultures to create something new. All of them will be judged later in an analysis if they could be counted as justifiable actions.
Firstly it is always best to look at the good of a subject before moving on to the negative aspect of it. I believe that cultural appropriation can be used for good if not overly done or if it is used in a way that doesn’t praise the culture you’re trying to duplicate. This is shown clearly in a music video by the Swedish artist Yung Lean in a song by the name of ‘Hurt’ where he is shown together with a variety of symbols related to American pop culture, yet this does not in any way violate the culture as the only thing he’s really doing, is paying his respect and expressing his love for it. He praises the culture, but he still stays original while doing so. His leaves and branches might be inspired by America, but his roots remain Swedish, original and he never tries to be something he’s not. Yung lean, in this case, uses transculturation is a mix of Japanese and American culture from the 90s and 2000s while basing these specific elements on personal experience, which in my opinion, is completely fine.
The other form of cultural appropriation I personally believe could be justified to some point is cultural exchange. While the definition remains quite unclear, I believe creating understanding and trying to create change in a good way is completely understandable and rather important for us to establish friendship and solidarity between distant cultures and nationalities.
Now onto the bad. While cultural appropriation can be seen as a positive phenomenon, many like to, and should, focus on the negative. It’s actually more common seeing people criticising cultural appropriation more than praising it for countless reasons. As previously mentioned, we have concluded that there are four different kinds of cultural appropriation and as far, we have two remaining, cultural exploitation being the one you see much more often. Focusing on cultural dominance firstly, it’s much more common seeing traits of Cultural Dominance in history books and media from the past than in our usual EU-lives today. Generally, cultural dominance is more often seen in America where typical suburban white culture is dominating the country, rather than its native ancestry, something many people believe should.
If you look back in the day when America was invaded by southern Europeans, we see obvious and extreme signs of Cultural Dominance even back then, but in today’s public, Cultural Exploitation is much more prevalent and noticeable. This is what we see on social media when kids from rich, suburban areas play wannabe-gangster because they are surrounded with it on social media every day and quickly grow to build up a false lifestyle based on the rappers’ on the platforms they use. This is why kids from Lidingö begin to play gangster in a reality they’re not familiar with that originates in the criminally exposed outskirts of Stockholm, not the places they’re originally from. While creating your own style and socializing with people who share the same style and interest as you, being someone you’re not is not exactly a healthy way to live and express yourself. The other side of Cultural Exploitation is when pop artists, such as Katy Perry, violate the aspects of a culture on stage and generally being disrespectful, which is something we’d like to avoid. Therefore I believe being yourself is a rule I recommend you abide by.
So what can we learn from this? Cultural appropriation is a result of misunderstanding and lack of thought. I think the golden rule of all this, no matter what you do, is to always have respect in your backhead for the other side. With respect, you go a far way and your actions can at least be justified by you only making mistakes which creates hope on the opposite side in you still learning. Remember that cultures from communities and nationalities are sensitive and should be treated as such.