Am I Guilty of Cultural Appropriation?

Yes, I’m about to get real serious, and break down cultural appropriation. What is cultural appropriation, you ask?

It’s when members of one culture adopt, use, or “borrow” elements of a different culture, largely perceived as a negative phenomenon.

Although originally a term reserved for contention in academic circles, it’s permeated the web. There’s normally more coverage around Halloween when members of one culture borrow Native American, Asian and other cultures’ attire, traditional or reinterpreted, for their evening of debauchery.

The Youtube video embedded below, produced by MTV News debunks seven myths associated with cultural appropriation.

Ramsey said:

Imitation is the highest form of flattery. But what happens when it isn’t?

Yes, that’s exactly what compelled me to touch on this subject. As the WF in an AMWF marriage, when I wear a 旗袍 am I exchanging, appreciating, or appropriating?

Of course I would fashion myself exchanging and appreciating my husband’s culture, due in part to the vested interest we both share in learning about one another’s culture, including ZJ engaging in Jewish traditions.

What if, one day, we finally do have a Jewish wedding ceremony, and ZJ dons a yarmulke. What guidelines would govern the cultural event?

Well then, where does the line get drawn? Yes, the line gets drawn by the recipient culture. But, in accordance with the myths outlined by Ramsey, you can’t simply ask one or two representatives of said culture.

Let me elaborate. Say the cultures in contention are American (my culture) and Chinese (the culture I am either exchanging, appreciating, and appropriating). What does this mean for those in an AMWF coupling, particularly Chinese males and American female pairings?

Don’t take a Thor-inspired hammer to me, but it’s safe to say, having a Chinese partner may preclude you from appropriating his/her culture. It doesn’t mean you are off the hook from doing so to other cultures, or speak to the racial privileges, biases, and even discrimination existing in all AMWF partnering. More on that in an upcoming blog post…

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What’s your take on cultural appropriation? 

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12 thoughts on “Am I Guilty of Cultural Appropriation?

  1. Susan Blumberg-Kason says:

    I think it’s fine to wear a qipao. I do and I know a lot of non-Chinese women who do. It’s fashion. And I know some Asian men who wear yarmulkes in synagogues because they are Jewish or are showing respect for Judaism. It’s kind of like non-Muslim women covering their hair when they travel to Muslim countries. I think that’s just showing interest and respect for the other culture. But when people dress up as other cultures for Halloween, that’s completely different because it’s a costume. It’s the same as if someone in China dressed as a Jew for a costume party. Fascinating topic and something people should discuss more so they can get a better understanding of what is appropriate and what is not.

    • maklu001 says:

      Yes, there’s nothing wrong with wearing a qipao. In fact, it’s to show respect, exchanging of cultures, and convey appreciation, however, the line between exchange, appreciation, and appropriation is a very fine one, at least in my opinion, as evidenced by fetishizing of the different culture in question. A topic, as you said, worth exploring more…loving all your new posts about Shanghai, Art Deco, and HK! 🙂

  2. Jocelyn Eikenburg says:

    Great post Marissa! It’s a topic I’ve thought about myself. There’s definitely a fine line. I think if you wear a qipao respectfully — understanding the cultural background, appreciating it, and knowing how to wear the dress — then you are doing it right. But as Susan said, if you treat it like a costume or wear it in a way that’s not consistent with the culture, then you’re probably on the wrong side of things. We should certainly talk more about this.

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