Teaching About Cultural Appropriation

Introduction

Cultural appropriation is defined as “the use of objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that doesn’t respect their original meaning, give credit to their source, or reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression” (Verywell Mind). Appropriation is often confused with appreciation, but the two are very different. Appreciating a culture involves sharing knowledge with permission and crediting people who belong to that culture, while appropriating a culture entails exploiting a culture in any way, whether that be reinforcing stereotypes or taking credit from original creators. Ultimately, cultural appropriation is harmful because it takes credit away from groups that have been oppressed and often does not respect or show understanding for sacred parts of culture. Teaching students about cultural appropriation is important because students should be given the opportunity to learn about how the actions they may take in representing other cultures can be incentive and harmful so they can do better and teach others.

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching about cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation has been coming up more in the media as of late, and the lesson plans, articles, informational sites, and videos below will help them to make sense of what they are seeing and understand why cultural appropriation should be avoided.

Lesson Plans

  1. Addressing Cultural Appropriation in the Classroom – Tools and Resources: EducationWeek provides tools and resources for addressing cultural appropriation in the classroom. The article starts off by explaining cultural appropriation and the difference between appropriation and appreciation. It then goes on to discuss how educators can have challenging conversations and clear up misconceptions about various cultures in the classroom. Lastly, videos, discussion questions, articles and handouts, and other resources are provided to supplement educators as they begin to teach their students about cultural appropriation.
  2. Taking Away from Our Culture (Lesson Plan) | Native America in Upstate New York: PBS LearningMedia provides a lesson plan about cultural appropriation of Native American culture. First, students will watch this video in which Onondaga Storyteller, Perry Ground, speaks to students at a middle school in New York about cultural appropriation. Students will then participate in activities that will help them understand the consequences of actions they may take in representing others’ cultures. Specifically, students will learn the difference between a culture and costume and brainstorm appropriate Halloween costumes in one fun activity.

Articles

  1. Cultural Appropriation – What’s an Educator’s Role?: PBS TeachersLounge has published a post on their blog discussing an educator’s role in teaching students about cultural appropriation. The author, Ray Yang, who is a visual arts teacher, explains what cultural appropriation is before advising other educators on how to teach students about this concept in the classroom. He recommends that educators encourage students to research and educate themselves, bring authentic voices to the classroom, and reflect on the work.
  2. Understanding Why Cultural Appropriation is Wrong: The Edvocate provides a brief article on understanding why cultural appropriation is wrong. The article explains what cultural appropriation is and how to avoid cultural appropriation. The author even offers a solid method for deciding whether or not an action is cultural appropriation, which may come in handy for students who are learning about the concept for the first time. 
  3. What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm: Everyday Feminism provides an article explaining what is wrong with cultural appropriation. The piece discusses how cultural appropriation is harmful because it trivializes historic oppression, lets people show love for a culture but remain prejudiced against its people, lets some people get rewarded for things creators never got credit for, and more. Educators who want to teach their students the many specifics about why cultural appropriation is harmful should take a look!
  4. 7 Things You Might Not Realize Are Cultural Appropriation, But Are: Bustle offers an article that discusses 7 things that people might not realize are cultural appropriation but actually are. A few of these things include looks that “borrow” black hairstyles, “authentic” food and appropriation, and themed parties that exoticize other cultures. This article will help students and educators alike to understand how some of the actions they may deem as harmless are actually considered cultural appropriation and cause harm to people of certain cultures.
  5. People of Color Explain the Difference Between Cultural Appropriation and Appreciation: Insider provides an article in which people of color explain the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation. This article was published shortly after Adele posted a tribute to Notting Hill Carnival with an Instagram photo to help people understand the controversy and the difference between appropriation and appreciation. Several modern examples are given
  6. What Exactly Is Cultural Appropriation? Here’s What You Need To Know: HuffPost has published an article explaining what exactly cultural appropriation is. The article discusses when cultural appropriation is bad and when borrowing or being inspired by aspects of another culture is beneficial and informs readers about how people can appreciate a culture without appropriating it. Educators may be specifically interested in sharing with students about how particular Halloween costumes and other forms of dress up are cultural appropriation and should therefore be avoided.
  7. There’s a Big Difference Between Cultural Appreciation and Appropriation – Here’s Why It Matters: Healthline offers an article explaining why the difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation matters. The article first breaks down what it means to appreciate or appropriate a culture and offers insight into how you can recognize which one you are doing. Then, it discusses why avoiding cultural appropriation matters and outlines the steps people can take to appreciate rather than appropriate. 
  8. Appreciation and Appropriation Outside the Classroom: This article from Learning for Justice discusses how educators can help students better understand cultural enrichment spaces by having conversations about the differences between cultural appreciation and appropriation when they are participating in trips to places where a variety of cultures are represented.

Informational Sites

  1. What Is Cultural Appropriation?: Verywell Mind provides an article that discusses what cultural appropriation is. The piece defines cultural appropriation, describing its context and giving examples from popular culture. It also explains how people can recognize if something is cultural appropriation and how to avoid this harmful act. 
  2. A Guide to Understanding and Avoiding Cultural Appropriation: ThoughtCo has put together a guide to understanding and avoiding cultural appropriation. The guide defines cultural appropriation and explains how cultural appropriation takes many forms, such as in the appropriation in music and of native cultures. It also discusses why cultural appropriation is a problem and how to avoid engaging in it.

Videos

  1. The following videos provide students with an overview of cultural appropriation, particularly the difference between appropriation and appreciation. For educators who are looking to share information with their students about this topic in a different way, these videos may be helpful!

Conclusion

Teaching about cultural appropriation is so important because intentional or not, the act of borrowing aspects of others’ culture without respecting their original meaning or contributing to stereotypes is insensitive and damaging. One way to effectively teach students about cultural appropriation is to encourage them to relate the concept to their own personal experiences. Students should reflect on actions they have taken and choices they have made that may be considered cultural appropriation, so they can learn why their actions were insensitive and better recognize signs of appropriation in the future. This may be a Halloween costume they wore, a hairstyle they adorned, or a theme party they attended. The only way to do better is to learn from our past mistakes, and hopefully with the resources above, students will learn about the negative effects of cultural appropriation and commit to avoiding it in the future and encouraging those around them to do the same!

 

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