Are You Cultural Appropriating Or Appreciating? POC Share Their Insight On This Issue

By now I’m sure you’ve heard the term “cultural appropriation” buzzing around. You’ve probably also stumbled across public apologies made by celebrities or other public figures for appropriating culture. People have been “canceled” for it left and right. But what does it mean exactly and what is the weight of this issue? I thought, there’s no better way to break it down than inviting POC to offer perspective and insight into this topic.


Both my parents are Asian immigrants and I grew up in a multicultural household so culture has always been an extremely large part of my life and identity. I feel fortunate to grow up in California where there is a sizable Asian population and although I’ve never experienced blatant racism, I’ve definitely had my fair share of microaggressions growing up in the U.S.

The issue is that microaggressions against minorities are so normalized, oftentimes we might not even realize when it’s happening. Here’s why it relates to cultural appropriation: they’re both ultimately rooted in racism and perpetuate that *willful* ignorance and disrespect against POC is okay. Micro acts of racism have evolved from “you’re pretty for an Asian girl” to non-POC cherry-picking parts of a culture that isn’t theirs and gentrifying the culture for profit, clout, and aesthetics, all of which ultimately come at the expense of the people of those cultures. Here are some examples:

“Three white American women redesigned mahjong tiles to sell for $425 a set, saying the game needed a ‘respectful refresh,’ and were accused of erasing Chinese culture.” (Insider)

So where do we draw the line?

Francesca (Chinese, 22): “Cultural appropriation is the stealing of a different culture that someone does not identify with by taking some aspect of the culture and using it in a disrespectful manner that implies (as is often the truth) that the person has taken little to no time to look into the history of what they took, and oftentimes belittling the cultural value of whatever they took. An example of this is when Kasey Musgraves, a white woman, wore the traditional Vietnamese Áo dài without the pants.”

Christina (Indonesian, 24): “Companies can’t just capitalize off of Lunar New Year because it’s a common holiday in the states now, but stay silent when hate crimes rise. A huge example of appropriation is also travel. People will literally travel to the cheapest places in the world and only care about their leisure instead of taking into consideration where they are and maybe taking time to learn about the country, for example.”

Faiza (Pakistani, 24:) “My first understanding of cultural appropriation was in high school when I saw people go to music festivals and get henna done and wear south Asian clothing to look “exotic,” but didn’t understand that these things have meaning to people. Using something for your own personal interest that doesn’t involve any thought other than aesthetic value is appropriating the culture for your own use. In a different situation, I remember the visit of Angelina Jolie to Afghanistan/Pakistan several years ago and she wore Pakistani clothing and a headscarf. The difference is that in this case it was done to make the people comfortable enough to open up to her about their problems. These two are very different situations that show non-POC acting in self interest vs. in a way where the culture is being acknowledged and respected.” 

“Adrienne Keene writes on Native Appropriations, ‘Eagle feathers are presented as symbols of honor and respect and have to be earned,’ and they’re traditionally worn by male chiefs in sacred ceremonies. But that doesn’t mean anything to those Coachella attendees who don’t respect other cultures.”

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Fran (Chinese, 22): “Cultural appreciation is when someone who bears an interest in a culture outside of their own and takes time to learn about it and understand it while all in the context of understanding how they themselves identify with the culture (i.e a white person learning Chinese culture). Appreciation also comes when it’s from a pure place of interest, which is where the line between appreciation and appropriation can become blurry because “pure interest” can be perceived differently depending on the person.”

Christina (Indonesian, 24): “Appreciation is when we take our time to step out and learn about someone’s culture and understand why/how it impacts them as an individual or even as a country, and then use that knowledge to grow.”

Katalina (Filipina, 24): “Personally I feel that appropriation and appreciation come from within ourselves — how we think, how we act, and a big part of it comes from how we were raised. I feel that people do things because they are inspired by someone or something.  As for myself, I’ve noticed that I don’t really like to “stand out” or have any eyes on me. Maybe one day I’d like to have my hair in dreadlocks, but I’m afraid some people may take it the wrong way. So I’d rather blend in and keep my hair the way it is. Or maybe I’m just not brave enough to go outside of my comfort zone. But I also see cultural appreciation every day. I love getting to see other people get inspired by hair styles, fashion, and art from other cultures. At the end of the day, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.”


It’s important to note that the BIPOC community may have differing perspectives on cultural appropriation, so it’s always important to ask and don’t be afraid to acknowledge your mistakes, examine your intentions, and grow from them. I hope this conversation was enlightening! Have any additional thoughts? Share below!

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