Appreciation vs. Appropriation

The question of cultural appropriation vs appreciation is attracting more controversy than ever before, evidence suggests.

Whilst there has been recent uproar regarding the widespread adoption of cultural dress at music festivals, not everyone feels cultural appropriation is something to be concerned about.

Cultural philosopher Steve Patterson disagrees with the negative stigma associated with cultural ‘appropriation’, “to copy a culture is to compliment that culture…it’s something that should be celebrated”.

Patterson also disagrees with the view that cultural appropriation removes the worth of one’s cultural identity, “I see an individual’s humanity as being more fundamental than their group identity…people don’t always understand that when most people copy a culture they aren’t intending to be racist.”

19-year-old Australian born Punjabi Sikh Simran Kaur didn’t completely agree with Patterson, “…traditional dress represents a huge part of my identity…it’s the way I express my beliefs and values”.

For Kaur, the problem with cultural appropriation is that it involves people adopting her traditional dress in wrong contexts. Kaur said, “sometimes wearing certain garb can be interpreted in the wrong way…it might be interpreted as a form of mockery”.

However, like Patterson, she realises in many instances people who ‘appropriate’ cultures do not do so maliciously, “it is about individuals embracing cultures…it is about allowing two cultures to come together and diminish the barriers between them.”

What Kaur and Patterson can agree on is that there is a lack of education around the symbolic connotations of certain culturally unique dress, and addressing this lack of education might be a step forward to solving the problem.

Kaur was especially concerned with this issue, “it’s a problem when they don’t understand the history and sacred nature of the thing they choose to wear…they use it at their own convenience…”.

Australia is a multicultural nation and is home to a myriad of different cultural traditions, customs and dress. But there is a fine line between appreciating a culture and appropriating one.

Photo: 19 year old Simran Kaur in traditional Punjabi Sikh fashion

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