What is cultural appropriation, and what’s the difference between appropriation and cultural exchange?

The United States has always been a melting pot of the world. Despite the beliefs of some, multiculturalism pervades all of America’s history, society and culture. Cultural exchange is an exchange of culture from two parties to better understand one another through equal sharing and mutual respect.

On the other hand, cultural appropriation is when one party takes the culture of another party and applies it without respect or knowledge of the culture’s true meaning. Typically the difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation is when one party degrades another culture through practice. For example: Let’s take Halloween.

Halloween is a long tradition practiced internationally in different ways. For the U.S., like many other countries, we tell spooky stories, there’s treats involved and people throw parties in celebration of a holiday. The problem America sees is the close ties we have to so many cultures.

On Halloween, many women like to dress in sexy Halloween costumes. Note: There is absolutely nothing wrong with women expressing their sexuality, and I say more power to us, but the issue can lie in disrespecting other cultures.

Sexy Native American? Should probably cross that off the list. Sexy Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) face makeup? Scratch that too.

Why can’t we, as Americans with so much multiculturalism, dress in another culture if there is respect to that culture? Well, if there was complete mutual understanding and respect, there wouldn’t be a costume to begin with. Many of these cultural aspects lie in tradition.

We, as Americans, have already disregarded so many cultural traditions during Western colonization and forced assimilation. As a nation, we don’t need to erase any more culture. Many of these traditions go far deeper into tradition than we may realize.

Native American dress is practiced ceremonially now by Natives Americans in remembrance of traditional Native American culture and ceremonies. Dia de los Muertos is a ceremony that includes prayer and celebration of lost loved ones. This practice focuses on the lasting impacts of loved ones and the happy memories associated with them.

It’s difficult to understand why this is important, knowing America is one of the leading countries in the world for inspiring art, music, and fashion. These materialistic trends can bring people together by discovering a new outlet for artistic design. Culture and tradition, these are intangible parts of people’s heritage and should be respected.

It’s time we focus back on our roots and remember there’s so much to learn beyond our own world views. Ultimately, it’s mutual respect and understanding that will bring people together as a unified community.