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Some Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

Adrian Patenaude

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and it just spilled out on Twitter, so I thought I'd share. Still fairly new to the nuances of cultural appropriation, but here's my personal take.

I want to be respectful when it comes to cultural appropriation, but I fear the angry attitude that's often attached to the discussion. Here's my concern: as a white girl, I could be called out for displaying Asian cultural aspects (✌🏼 in photos, for example). But what critics don't realize is that I grew up in Thailand, so it's not that I have an obsession - I'm actually expressing *my* culture.

I feel this tension most strongly among the Asian-American community.* I'm white, so I could never belong. I'm viewed with suspicion. If I think an Asian guy is hot, it's a fetish. If I like anime, I'm a weeaboo - despite the fact I grew up watching Doraemon in Thai dub on hotel TVs.

My fear is that by focusing on eliminating cultural appropriation, the "us versus them" mentality deepens, meanwhile excluding those who walk the line between cultures. Because I so greatly fear being misconstrued, I actually limit my cultural expression. Which is the opposite effect we want, right?

So please be sensitive. Cultural lines are blurring. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Don't make assumptions. Let's teach and share - gently, not angrily.

 

* In Thailand, my expression of Thai culture was more readily accepted as a friendly gesture rather than appropriation. My experience with Thai international students in Austin has been similar. And dressing in culturally appropriate clothing during my internship in India was met with immense gratitude (some young men we met made a point to thank the women in my group for respecting Indian values of modesty).