A person's cultural identity forms one of the most important and most vulnerable parts of who they are. We tend to define ourselves by what we believe, and the way we express our beliefs is through certain symbols that are generally representative of our culture. With culture comes a sense of identity, a sense of self, and when our culture is stolen from us, there is this deep sense of loss. This is the very reason why cultural appropriation is grossly discriminatory and grossly wrong.
It is no surprise that most of the time the culture of minorities is the culture that is being appropriated by others. This is because, at the very crux of it all, appropriation mirrors a colonial culture. During colonization, the colonized countries lost a lot, because not only where they forcibly being indoctrinated into a culture that was not their own, but with that indoctrination, they lost pieces of their culture as well. In this present day, there is a phenomenon not simply of political and economic neo-colonization, but of cultural neo-colonization as well.
Sanaa Hamid did a very fascinating photography project on cultural appropriation. She took photographs of the appropriator and the person whose culture is being stolen from. This juxtaposition of the two sides in one photography series really does help us see why at the heart of it all cultural appropriation is bad and 'corrupting'. You take a part of a person's culture that means everything to them, and you make it meaningless. You were the symbols that represent their cultures without actually understanding the power of what these facets of their culture means to them.
The contemporary culture today is largely celebrity centered, and so people literally buy things because one of their favorite actors, musicians, etc. is wearing it. Honestly, it is madness personified. But, why I bring this up is because there has been a trend of certain celebrities with very huge fan bases, appropriating cultures that they cannot even comprehend. Katy Perry did this when she did a 'geisha-inspired' performance. Selena Gomez did this as well, with the Hindu culture, during the MTV movie awards. It is not to say that they should be responsible for people's choices other than their own, but the reason I chose to highlight these two celebrities is because they have a large fan base of teenagers and children. When people like this appropriate these cultures, their fans think that it is okay to do so as well, and they grow up thinking it is right to steal without understanding the value of what it is that they are taking from other people.
When Rihanna wore a 'doobie' hairstyle for the American Music Awards (AMA), as a womyn of colour, I felt a sense of pride. I felt a sense of pride because not only was she representing a huge part of the Black culture that existed in America, but she was also challenging the culture and pushing social boundaries. This sense of enlightenment and pride is the feeling one gets when their culture is being represented. Now, imagine if a non-black person wore this hairstyle to the AMA's? There would be this sense of loss that one feels, as though an important part of their history and their culture has been bared meaningless in society.
This culture of taking without consideration is a culture that has run deep since the time of colonization. It is a culture that still runs deep today with the culture of neo-colonization. This is why we feel as though we can wear, represent and corrupt important parts of people's culture. Well, you can't, you simply do not have the right to do!