Thursday, February 18, 2016

Bacterial Culture - How to navigate the fine line between Cultural Appreciation and Cultural Appropriation

Canadians have it rough. I’m not talking about the frozen-snot inducing winters (so not chic), or the fact that we are the country responsible for Justin Bieber (apologies to any Beliebers out there). I’m talking about the fact that, as one of the most multicultural countries in the world, Canadians are exposed to, on a daily basis, a smorgasbord of other cultures’ fashions. Multiculturalism makes Canada what it is, and we should all be very proud of that. The danger arises when the line is blurred, and people become so acclimatized to seeing, even donning, the garb of another culture that they lose sight of their deep cultural meanings. Here are some tips to ensure you stay an appreciator, not an appropriator.
Use Your Head
Before adorning yourself with feathers, jewellery, and symbols you think look pretty, learn about the symbolism it represents for that culture. Unless you are a warrior or the Chief of a Native American tribe, it is not okay to wear a feather headdress (I don’t care how well it matches your fringe purse at Coachella). These headdresses carry deep meaning in Native culture, as warriors earned a feather each time he did something the tribe felt was a brave act. The warrior was not just given the feather, he had to prepare himself to receive such an honour, requiring days of fasting and meditation. It’s not that all Native apparel is off limits, there are many ways to partake and appreciate. Instead of visiting your local Soft Moc, consider supporting an Aboriginal-owned company like Manitobah Mukluks which supports Aboriginal communities and keeps traditions alive.
The Answer is Not in the Stars
I know, I know – “but celebrities are NEVER wrong!” Shockingly yes, even our beloved Hollywood celebs make mistakes. Katy Perry performing at the AMA’s dressed as a Geisha does not give us the green light to follow suit. Gwen Stefani is still answering for her whole Harajuku girls phase (perhaps insisting that the girls don’t speak wasn’t the most PC direction that a bleached-blonde Caucasian could give). These performances were met with great criticism and labelled offensive. Geishas have a long and complicated history in Japan and the appropriation thereof is considered an insult. Again, this does not mean that all Japanese influences are off limits, there are still plenty of ways to incorporate Japanese silhouettes, and their beautiful colours and prints, without offending anyone.
This one goes back to basic human decency. Be sensitive to other people and their cultures. Just because something doesn’t seem like a big deal to you doesn’t mean it isn’t to someone else. It is not up to you to decide what someone else should or shouldn’t find offensive. So the last tip is the ABC of incorporating aspects of other cultures into your wardrobe and world – Always Be Celebrating. If you are truly coming at it from a positive and appreciative perspective, then you will be more inclined to be careful and aware, taking the time to learn about cultures outside of your own, and finding ways flatter that culture and perpetuate positive symbolism. So go get that henna tattoo done before Way Home Festival, but be sure you are aware of any cultural or ceremonial significance of the designs you choose.

Knowledge is power. Learn, use discretion, but be ready to explain your actions. If you’re walking down the street and are invited to a Pow Wow based on your outfit, chances are you’ve gone too far. It’s time to remove the glitter headdress and move out of your uber-chic urban teepee in Parkdale.

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