On cultural appropriation and appreciation

Where can we draw the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation? 

I love learning about other cultures. I love sitting and listening to stories about people's lives, about their history, about what their grandparents did, and the further away from my own culture and experiences the better. Life is way too interesting to only celebrate my own perspectives.

In saying that, I often struggle with tiptoeing the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. (Cultural appropriation: the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture. Cultural appreciation: when elements of a culture are used while honoring the source they came from. It is important to note that appreciation involves respect and value. (Source, source. (BAM! Education.)))

For the most part, I'm happy with reading/watching/learning about other cultures and leaving it there. I don't need to wear a sari to learn about Indian culture, and I don't need to put dreadlocks in my hair to learn about Black culture and history. (Not to say I'm perfect. Stick with me.) 

However, I really like wearing henna. The patterns are stunning and the skill and talent people have for it is beyond amazing. (I had henna done while in Dubai and I was blown away by the lady's mastery of the art. (And was this lady "selling" her culture? I have no freaking clue. (*runs around in circles screaming because I know nothing*))) But I'm not a Jewish/Indian/Middle Eastern bride. I'm not an ancient Egyptian. My ancestors didn't come from Rome or Syria. To be honest, I don't really understand the history behind henna, especially not when I began using it. 

When I bought my current stash of henna, all I knew about it was that it looked beautiful and that Indian brides wore it. That's all. Since then, I've read up on it a little (check out this awesome website) but I don't feel like I understand the long tradition of henna well enough to be able to use it. 

In saying that, how can we say I'm stealing from one culture? The most obvious culture most white people think of is the Indian tradition of brides wearing henna, but that's not the only culture which uses henna. Am I also appropriating the Jewish culture? Syrian? Egyptian? Or am I allowed to use a plant to make beautiful patterns on my skin while learning about the fascinating history behind said plant? 

When I went to Japan in January, my sister and myself had the opportunity to wear Japanese kimonos and traditional maiko outfits and makeup. It was a tourist thing. We paid them and thoroughly enjoyed our photo shoot. 

I was so worried about this. The last thing I wanted to do was to disrespect a culture and people I hold in such high regard, but at the same time I ADORE all things Japanese and really wanted to experience looking like a maiko. In preparation, I read a lot about maikos and geishas as well as what each piece of their dress meant but on the other hand, this was literally taking another culture and wearing it like a costume. The kimonos were gorgeous, the wigs were breathtaking, I understood and knew the history behind it all but I still struggle. 

At the end of the day, was I wearing another culture as a costume or was I appreciating the amazing Japanese history? 

I don't know where I stand. It's not my culture that's being put in question, so I don't really have a say. The last thing I want to do is disrespect a culture, but where is the line between appropriation and appreciation? 

Congrats if you made it all the way to the end of that novel. What's your take on appropriation vs. appreciation? Let me know in the comments!


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