A Third-Culture Kid On Cultural Appropriation


I’m a third culture kid. I’ve spent a generous portion of my life traveling and exploring other cultures and grown up in ones that are not my own. Bits and pieces of the places I’ve lived and been to have made me the person I am today. I have pieces of Great Britain, United States, Philippines, India, and Germany in me.

Cultural appropriation is a delicate issue — to say the least. It is defined as “a sociological concept which views the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture as a largely negative phenomenon.” Common examples of cultural appropriation include the use of native headdresses, Bindis at music festivals and the Kylie Jenner full lip challenge.

Some argue that that cultural appropriation is not bad. It’s a sign of globalization and paying homage or tribute to the borrowed culture. Some argue it’s no different from driving a Japanese car, wearing Italian shoes or eating Mexican food. And some argue plain and simple that offended people should not stop one from expressing oneself. Borrowing from other cultures is extremely common, however the important distinction that people miss is cultural inspiration/exchange against cultural appropriation.

Cultural inspiration is to the Vikings what cultural appropriation is to the Redskins. The power dynamic between white people and Native Americans and its implications are significantly different when using the name Redskins. Redskin was a racial slur used against Native Americans who were also treated brutally and slaughtered systematically by white European invaders. Trivializing their history and genocide by using it as a name for a football team as a ‘tribute’ is inappropriate and definitely negative cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation epitomizes white privilege. My predominantly white, Christian, private school wanted to throw an “Arabian Magic”-themed prom. When I objected I was immediately shot down with “you’re being too sensitive” and “you’re the only person it really offends.” There are several people of Middle Eastern descent today in the United States who are mocked and marginalized for their practicing their culture and traditions. Picking elements of their culture that appeals to you while simultaneously degrading the people is cultural appropriation and it is wrong.

When white people get Henna tattoos, wear Bindis, get dreadlocks or cornrows they are seen as “edgy” or “hip.” When people of Indian or Afro-American ethnicity do so they are made fun of and discriminated against. What minorities have to fight for white people are complimented for. How come Kylie Jenner and Angelina Jolie are thought as beautiful for their plump lips, but some black people are thought of as apelike for the same feature?

I am the first person to advocate for multiculturalism. Appreciating diversity, cultures and different heritages are amazing things. Admiring different traditions and learning from them is truly wonderful. Trivializing, erasing the significance of and “stealing” cultural elements from other cultures is not. There is a very distinct line between multiculturalism and cultural appropriation. The line consists of years of ignorance, oppression and brutality.