Cultural Appropriation Is Merely Illusion

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According to Cambridge Dictionary, culture is defined as the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time. Examples of cultural elements are cuisine, social habits, music, arts, symbol, religion, traditions, language, and fashion. While, cultural appropriation is defined as the act of taking or adopting certain cultural elements that are not from your own ethnicity or community, especially without showing your respect or understanding to this culture. This could be controversial especially when disadvantaged minority cultures are appropriated by members of a dominant cultural background (Young, 2010). Malaysia definitely is a melting pot of culture, many ethnic groups with different ideologies and religions live together peacefully in this multicultural country. Every citizen respect tolerates and learns from each other’s beliefs and cultural practices. However, recently, a new term called “cultural appropriation” catches the eye of the world, foreigners have had apparently show a different manner on this issue. If this is the case, many Malaysian would be worry to be accused of not showing enough respect and appreciation whenever they try on and experience other culture’s traditional customs. Thus, this research strives to prove and reason that cultural appropriation is merely an illusion.

Firstly, the existence of cultural appropriation is merely an illusion because cultural and technological exchange as well as the clash of civilizations exist since ancient times. For instance, Peranakans culture is a hybridization of both Chinese and local cultures in Malaysia that result from the interracial marriage of Chinese and Malay, Baba Nyonyas who speak Baba Malay which is a mixed language of Hokkien and Malay at home (Kawangit, 2015). Also, a philosophy, linguistics as well as music history professor at Columbia University, criticized and denounced the idea of cultural appropriation, reasoning that culture cross-fertilization and cultural borrowing is something positive which is normally done by imitation and due to admiration and no bad intention to harm each other (McWhorter, 2017). The process of cultural exchange is inevitable to make a connected place for the global community and contribute to the diversity and free expression; mutual learning between cultures is significant for overall human improvement (Greenheart, 2016). A Canadian psychologist told that cultural appropriation absolutely makes no sense, and except theft, there is totally the same for cultural appropriation and mutual learning (Peterson, 2017). Every individual gets a better chance to understand and recognize each other intrinsic value to work together for impactful change. It broadens one’s horizons and increases the tendency of acceptance. (Greenheart, 2016).

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Similarly, during the independence month of Malaysia, a Malaysia actress as well as a fan of Bollywood, Mira Filzah wore Indian traditional costume, Lehenga but accused of racism and exploitation of Indian culture, not to mention Mira’s etiquette of wearing Lehenga and accessories for the filming session was also accurate and did not violate any custom in the tradition of Indian society. According to the senior lecturer of faculty art and design at UiTM Shah Alam, the term “appropriation” is popularized by Western society especially in the United States which is indeed sensitive when it comes to the way it looks similar to the dark-skinned community there. He claimed that although we take the cultural elements of society such as dress, as long as we respect and do not violate the norms and socio-cultural of society such as insulting the culture of the society, it is not faulty (Gempak, 2020). According to Remaja, as long as it is interpreted with respect and in a good manner, creative imagination using cultural elements as inspiration is a form of respect and appreciation for the culture and heritage; thus, this issue has been touted more than the scale it should be (FZ, 2020). Hence, this incident is clearly in line with straw man and slippery slope fallacies for its distortion as well as exaggerated consequences. Also, from a larger and broader perspective, every similar racist incident is a good opportunity to promote cultural exchanges as seen from Mira Filzah’s Instagram, there are abundant compliments from supportive Malaysians compared to a few of criticism.

Furthermore, no one has the right to confine one’s preference and their ways of life. In other words, nobody can tell someone whether one can wear certain traditional customs or practice certain cultural elements or not. Although one’s ancestors invented it first and every culture practiced by a large group of ‘orthodox users’, it does not mean that the particular group of “orthodox users” can monopolize the culture. Basically, all cultures are cultural appropriation because cultures like flow, reciprocate, and constantly change following human life. Therefore, cultural appropriation is indeed not a real issue. Culture is not a limited resource, and it will not make things more expensive when it is rare and overdemand. Thus, cultural sharing is about sharing knowledge, concepts, as well as ideas, and nothing about materiality or expropriation of opportunities from disadvantaged minorities. The reason being is that if only the disadvantaged can make money with their own culture, it may strengthen the stereotype. For example, only natives of the mountains can sell mountain pork for money and only Britain can release an album and sing English songs. Indirectly, this may also limit the opportunities for disadvantaged people to explore and work in different industries and lessen people’s opportunities to show their multiple potentials, and this is also a restriction on personal freedom. 

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