Cultural appropriation disrespects minority cultures at the benefit of the privileged

Tania Ortiz, Opinion Editor

The debate surrounding cultural appropriation and appreciation is nothing new. While we have  come across social media forums on the topic of cultural appropriation versus appreciation, it still tends to happen.

If you are still confused about the differences between the two, I’m pretty sure you aren’t the only one.

Cultural appropriation happens when members of one culture adopt aspects of another culture without their consent. Typically, we see the appropriation done by members who belong to a privileged culture and those who fall victim to the appropriation belong to an oppressed or minority group.

 Appropriation leads the privileged group to have a narrow perspective on the appropriating culture and are often exploiting it. This also means that when people appropriate a culture, they tend to pick and choose which parts they want to participate in.

 Markers of appropriation happen when elements of a culture are presented in ways that give a skewed or inaccurate perspective, reinforce stereotypes, create a conflict with the intended use of those elements and take credit or receive compensation from the culture.

 A recent example of cultural appropriation we can examine is The Mahjong Line, a Dallas-based company, who appropriated the Chinese tile game of mahjong. The three founders, who are white, attempted to give a “respectful refresh” and “modern makeover to the centuries-old Chinese game. 

According to their “About Us” page, the idea to give a “modern makeover” to the game came from one of the founders feeling that the tiles’ designs did not reflect the fun she and her friends were having.

 The Mahjong Line redesigned the tiles to accommodate their style. Consequently, they disrespected the game’s cultural value and centered around the idea that white rebranding is luxurious while insinuating the Chinese original lacks personality. On top of that, the sets were selling for a few hundred dollars.

In contrast, cultural appreciation involves having a desire for knowledge and a deeper understanding of a culture. When we take the time to learn about all aspects of a culture, we respect the culture and the traditions that come with it.

Remember that appreciation comes from a genuine understanding. This goes beyond books; having an appreciation also covers the social and emotional connections to the culture. While we can appreciate a culture’s music, language and traditions, many can cross the fine line if it isn’t done appropriately.

Seeing as America considers itself a “melting pot” because of the diversity, so many people are exposed to various cultures, whether it be through food, clothing or music. While that is seemingly true, many take the liberty and only focus on the parts they like.

Someone else’s culture should not be considered a costume you can take off by the end of the night, nor should it be regarded as a trendy aesthetic. If you ever feel like you may be crossing the line of appropriation and appreciation, think to yourself: are you respecting culture or making fun of it?

Tania Ortiz is the Opinion Editor for The Cougar Chronicle. She is a senior at CSUSM as a Communication major. Tania plans to pursue a job in the media industry after graduation. In her free time, she enjoys reading, going on runs and spending time with friends.