With summer right around the corner and finals behind us, it’s time to get some travelling in before the new school year. While it can be great to expand your horizons and experience different cultures, it is important to be aware of your surroundings and the impact of your actions around the world.
Cultural appropriation is a pretty hot topic right now, yet a lot of us might not completely understand it. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t fully understand all of the history behind the inequality that appropriation stems from, but I am always trying to learn more about it. The line between cultural appreciation and appropriation can seem a little blurred, and even I have problems distinguishing between the two sometimes.
Cultural appropriation can be summed up as taking pieces of a culture that you don’t belong to and using them as trends or fashion statements. An example is wearing a headdress to a music festival because you think it looks cool. However, Indigenous headdresses mean a lot more than fashion to the people who first created them, and wearing them to be trendy diminishes their meaning.
The appropriation of culture continues to happen, because people don’t know that it is harmful and can often be exploitative.
Appreciating and even participating in culture is part of why people travel. This is certainly a good thing, but it is important to keep in mind when you are appreciating and when you are appropriating. Here are a three things to keep in mind in order to avoid cultural appropriation when you go travelling this summer.
The first is never to reduce a part of another culture to a trend or fashion statement. If you are buying something that belongs to a cultural community that you don’t participate in or belong to simply because you think it will look cool, then you probably shouldn’t buy it in the first place.
Second, cultural appreciation has a time and a place. When you are travelling, it is a good opportunity to participate in the local customs, but it can turn into appropriation when you take a part of that culture home with you.
Third, make sure you pay attention to who is profiting off what you are buying. Souvenirs are often manufactured and sold by big companies whose employees are separate from the communities that they represent. Appropriation is at its worst when companies are profiting off the exploitation of a culture. Wherever you go, there will be local businesses where you can buy souvenirs, and that way you can give the profits back to someone who is actually part of that society.
While you’re travelling, I suggest you take the time to learn about each culture you encounter and what the different parts of it mean to local people. There are many customs and cultural artifacts that have deep meanings and histories, and when you know what the meanings are behind them, it will be easier for you to see the ways that they are being exploited.
Appreciating a culture is participating in it while travelling, learning about it and contributing to local businesses. Cultural appropriation happens when someone is mimicking it, removing important parts of it from its context or exploiting it to make a profit. All of these things are pretty easy to avoid, if you can identify cultural appropriation when it happens.
Travelling is a great way for people to share their cultures with each other. Rather than spending money on exploitative souvenirs, spend your time participating in and appreciating the communities you visit. The memories you make and the knowledge you gain will be worth much more than a souvenir.