Culture is Not a Costume

By: Ziya Griffin


As an African American woman, it has become known that being looked at differently is an unfair, undermined and unjust battle. We minorities face the constant struggle of  being belittled for our self expression and demonstration of culture. But when someone else ignorantly copies–no steals– your culture, it is looked upon as cute and stylish by the general public?

This is the inequitable, overlooked, and just plain out discriminative reality of cultural appropriation.

What is cultural appropriation? Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University, defines it as ”taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.”

Media, pop culture, and fashion is appropriated the most; however, appropriation can include the unsanctioned use of anything along the lines of dance, dress, music, and language.

In 2016, Beyonce, who is considered to be a cultural icon by BBC, appropriated the culture of India. Ironic, right? In her music video “Hymn for the Weekend” featuring Coldplay, she wore a costume which is traditional to the Desi culture. How can people find the topic of cultural appropriation serious, when even those who they look up to appropriate culture?

“It is not cultural appropriation, it is cultural appreciation” those who get called out may say. How is a culture being appreciated, by others  ‘cherry picking’ what aspects they would and would not like to represent, without recognizing the history behind it? It is not okay to belittle a culture by selecting only some things in which is appreciated. Doing this while the years of oppression that these cultures have faced to construct this creativity, get ignored.


Justin Bieber: a White Canadian pop sensation, recently posted a picture with dreadlocks on instagram. When he was called out to be appropriating the African culture he replied to the public by saying ‘it is just hair’. He is perfectly right though, it is just hair. Just the hair that he appreciates of the African culture. This hairstyle was first used during a period of slavery, where Jamaicans attempted to imitate the Nazarites. This hairstyle is a monument.

Cultural appreciation is very different, it is where cultures are honored and respected, in a way that people become informed. Very different, you see? The appropriation versus appreciation of African culture is a debate which has advanced over social media.

Appreciation is defined as ‘recognizing the full worth.’ The fact that those who appropriate, dare to call wearing or using something of a culture that does not belong to them, recognizing the full worth, is just disrespectful and ignorant.

An example of cultural appreciation is when someone who is invited by an individual of a certain culture, to attend a distinct occasion where they should wear/participate in something traditional.

Halloween is a holiday where people come together to give and receive candy from complete strangers, commonly celebrated by dressing up in masks and costumes. Halloween is also the day where people feel like they can unapologetically ‘dress up’ as something from a minority culture, with the excuse being ‘it is just a costume’.

A culture that is often appropriated on this holiday is Mexico, with people painting their face like a skill to be trendy, without recognizing that this “skull” is actually the “Calavera”. The Calavera has been used since the 1960’s as a tradition for the Mexican celebration of “Day of the Dead”.

Culture is NOT a costume, and on top of centuries of oppression, minorities must now deal with people mocking their identity, right in front of their faces.

Many people believe that cultural appropriation is inevitable, in the sense that it can sometimes get in the way of self expression. However by asking yourself one easy question, you can avoid accidently appropriating a minority culture. Is the group that the practice or artifact belongs to oppressed? If yes, do not partake in the trend, it’s not worth it.


Works Cited

  1. Alang, Navneet. “Cultural Appropriation Suppresses Minority Voices: Opinion.”, 17 May 2017,
  2. “Cultural Apropriation.” Black Women of Brazil,
  3. Glembocki, Vicki. “A Woman Was Denied a Job Because of Her Dreadlocks—But That’s Not the Worst Part.” Readers Digest,
  4. Katebi, Hoda. “A Guide To Cultural Appropriation Vs. Appreciation.” BUST,
  5. Knight, Henry. “Culture – Why Beyoncé Speaks for a Generation.” BBC, BBC, 15 Apr. 2015,
  6. Malik, Kenan. “In Defense of Cultural Appropriation.” New York Times, 14 June 2017,
  7. McFadden, Syreeta. “Justin Bieber’s Dreadlocks: What He Should Learn about Locked Hair.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Apr. 2016,
  8. Phillips, Amerique. “CULTURAL APPROPRIATION OR APPRECIATION?” TheU, The University of Utah, 30 Oct. 2017,
  9. Simon, Scott. “Author Lionel Shriver On Cultural Appropriation And The ‘Sensitivity Police’.” NPR, NPR, 25 Feb. 2017,


One thought on “Culture is Not a Costume

  1. Mr. Mac

    How would you classify the adoption of Western dress by members of every culture across the globe?

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