How to not Appropriate Someone’s Culture

I’m taking a Concept Development class for media and the arts and have to market a chocolate. Starting with an abstract concept I have to name the chocolate, design a package and ultimately produce a commercial.

My abstraction is feminism and my idea is that the proceeds of this chocolate would go toward aiding female cacao farmers gain economic independence. I want to name my chocolate in line with a mythology and specifically after a goddess because of the role of women in the cacao industry. Most of the cacao beans are grown in Central and South America or Africa and to be accurate I would then choose a goddess from a Central or South American lore or African lore. This, thankfully, got me thinking about cultural appropriation and that if I were to go the route I am considering I would have to do so with care, research and caution.

So, what is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is when someone takes certain aspects of another culture for their own, without understanding the culture they are using and without asking permission. This occurs when someone, knowingly or unknowingly, believes the culture of another can be used as a trend, a fashion statement, or a symbol without acknowledging the origins and oppression that are ingrained in that culture’s history.

So, here is a quick list of questions to ask yourself if you think you might be in danger of appropriating another’s culture. This is not an exhaustive list and I would love to get feedback and suggestions to expand.

  1. How much do you know about the tradition/fashion/religion/symbol (etc) you seek to use? Does your use align with the original intent?
  2. Why this particular tradition/fashion/religion/symbol (etc)?
  3. Would you feel comfortable with someone using your culture’s tradition/fashion (etc) in this way?
  4. Can members of this culture practice their tradition/fashion (etc) in public without social ridicule/stigma?
  5. Does using this tradition/fashion (etc) in any way rely on stereotypes (positive and negative) of this culture?
  6. Does this using this tradition/fashion (etc) in any way elevate your culture above the one you are representing?
  7. Do you know anyone from this culture who might be able to offer some insight on your idea?

If your answer exoticizes another culture in any way, or places the culture as a trend to be used instead of an ethnic heritage to be understood, you should rethink your idea. Cultural appropriation is racist and even the best intentions are not always free from this prejudice.

Question yourself before you take a racist step. There are ways to learn about the cultures of others and appreciate their beauty, but it is through research and understanding.

You Deserve to be Beautiful

When I was a child I loved dressing up in fancy outfits. I was in elementary school where boys had cooties and if you were a girl you couldn’t be friends with a boy.  If you were friends you were obviously dating. There was such a divide between the boys and the girls that I never thought about why I wanted to dress up. I liked the dresses I wore, I felt beautiful so I wore them.

But as I got older and understood my asexuality it became embarrassing to look pretty. I didn’t want the attention from men and dressing up made me feel awkward, as if I were borrowing someone else’s body.

I was-and to a certain extent, still am though I’m working on overcoming it-operating under the sexist lie that women should look beautiful to impress men. Because garnering the attention of the opposite sex never applied to me, I thought I didn’t deserve to be beautiful. No matter what my mother or grandmother told me about how pretty I would look when I dressed up for a family event or party, the compliments that were supposed to matter the most were from my grandfather and brother. I would always go downstairs on display so my grandfather could tell me whether I looked right or not. To the entire family, his opinion was the one that mattered the most. I’m old enough to make my own choices and I choose to ignore his advice on how to be beautiful. But ignoring the advice of one man is not the same as speaking out about changing the notions of beauty.

A woman should be beautiful for herself. Single or married, straight or not it is wrong that women are not only judged based on their beauty but that beauty is only relevant through the eyes of men.

I ask all women who have ever felt they didn’t deserve to feel beautiful to take this day and dress for yourself, in whatever brings you the most joy and however you feel most comfortable. Be beautiful by being you. Be beautiful for yourself.