My first memory in matters of race, culture, and cultural terms, was at my Nepali friend’s house when I used the word “oriental” to describe something. Following my comment, she explained to me that people could not be described as oriental, the word was created for rugs and other things owned, but never people. She was right and I took that with me for the rest of my life. I was approximately 7 years old at the time. I’ve never given a second thought to how I grew up or to the friendships I’ve made throughout the years. The people in my life, who I love so dearly, were never in my life because of our differences (or similarities) in cultural background or religious beliefs, but instead because of the things we loved about each other. I was excited with every visit my Nepali friend made to visit grandparents. I had two of the thickest, most colorful handmade sweaters for winter and my arms were constantly covered with (very fragile) beautifully colored glass bangles.
I joke with my mother about her misuse of the word “especial”, though I know she has overcome obstacles, close minded individuals, and more, to assimilate into American culture to become a prominent, seriously-taken hispanic woman here. Regardless, at some point or another she will be treated as a second class American because of her heavy accent, and presumed to be an uneducated individual because her second language is less than perfectly perfect. Are there Colombian stereotypes that exist? Absolutely. Do we laugh once a week at the “typical colombian woman” character, Gloria on Modern Family? Yes. Do all her characterized stereotypes fit every Colombian woman? No, not at all, we only relate to some. Can Colombians get offended by someone in a Juan Valdez costume or associating all Colombians with drug cartels? Yes, but the entire race will not. To say that all members of one race or culture will feel pain by one stereotype, keeps us separated into groups of who is better, who is not, who has struggled more, deserves more rights, etc. Do I personally find offense in Colombian stereotypes? Not really, because even though I come from a partially Hispanic background, I don’t feel any more of a connection with my Colombian side compared to my Canadian, however I am an American. Have Americans oppressed other races and cultures? Yes. Does that mean that all Americans are insensitive or uncaring to real hardships or even racism? No, not at all. To think that all people who take part in positive or sensitive cultural appropriation are ignorant or disrespecting a race, culture, or religious attitude, only increases the a unneeded power struggle between each other.
I can’t say I’ve never given a second thought to how my family’s background has affected me, because it has, just as each of our upbringing and backgrounds affect all of us, and I know it. Differences were the norm. Did these childhood friends from other cultural backgrounds experience the same positive and/or negative experiences as I did as a child? No, many of their experiences might have been harder. Are all of our lives the same, as individuals or even races, experiencing the same past, present, and future hardships? No. Do other groups of people experience more difficulties than others? Yes. Are there still issues of racism on this earth? Yes. Is that okay? Absolutely not. Can we argue whose past trials have been more difficult? Yes, but with no end. We need to stop pulling out a race card or (many times misused) cultural appropriation term at every moment. Jumping quick at a moments reaction because of how we were taught to think and because we were raised to feel like we are supposed to be offended, is not actually forward or progressive thinking, but instead creates a larger, negative gap between our cultures.
There’s no denying that symbols play a huge role in our different cultural lives. However, does that mean that sharing or using a symbol from another’s culture is insensitive, oppressing, or lacking in cultural awareness? No. It can be, but it most circumstances that’s not the case. Granted, I can’t speak for everyone, nor would I want to, but I think it’s safe to say that most people choosing to take part in, explore, dress, or display items from another culture are not doing it from a malicious, disrespectful, uneducated place. We put each other and ourselves in stereotypes by symbols and most prominent characteristics. Is all stereotyping bad? Its subjective of course, but it’s pretty clear that in an age where you can YouTube or google “what (insert any cultural or social group) say” and find hundreds of videos, threads, and memes of people making light of their own personal boxes, stereotyping doesn’t always have to be an issue of insensitivity. Can stereotyping hurt others? Absolutely. THIS is a perfect example of how in a world of differences we need to not only be sensitive to stereotypes that can cause racial, social, cultural, physical, etc defamation or harm, but also celebrate each others differences.
I like to call the term “cultural appropriation” a trend, not because it’s a new idea, rather because there has been an undeniable boom in the term’s popularity over the last year or so. We as people in this world have been borrowing or taking ideas from each others cultures for as long as we have existed. At some recent point another we stopped looking at the agreed blending of cultures as a positive melting pot and started enforcing the forever negative-sounding term “cultural appropriation” on every individual who chooses to wear, own, display, or enjoy an item from a culture other than their own. Is cultural appropriation bad? Not necessarily. Can cultural appropriation be negative? Yes, absolutely when it’s lacking respect. Who decides what is respectful and what is not? There is no definitive answer to the question. It’s subjective. No two individuals, not even in similar groups or families will ever share the same exact idea of what defines what is respectful and not. We were taught and trained to think that certain things are right or wrong and we have lost the ability to step back and really address what is in front of us and whether it is truly an issue or something to be offended by. In a generation that claims to be so progressive in its thinking, we should be able to understand how misuse of the term cultural appropriation and pulling out a race or insensitivity card at every first glance is actually detrimental to the progress of celebrating each others differences.