How to Avoid Cultural Appropriation at Weddings

A number of you have asked me to discuss cultural appropriation on here, so your wish is my command.  

Cultural appropriation seems to happen a lot in the fashion industry and with our desire to theme our wedding days and for fancy dress, the wedding industry is not unscathed either. But as we are becoming more socially conscious –  the desire to share our weddings with the world online means we need to take more responsibility with being aware of when inspiration turns into appropriation.

People care about diversity and equality (certainly on this corner of the internet), in a way I haven’t seen before. If you want to be a better ally (which I am assuming you do if you follow Nu Bride), if you want to be a feminist whose feminism is intersectional – you need to be aware of the many subtle ways of causing harm. Even as innocent as wedding celebrations and being inspired by others cultures and since we seem to have an obsession with theming and fancy dress, cultural appropriation can trip up even the most well-meaning people.

 

If this is the first time you are hearing this phrase – allow me to introduce you it:

 

What is Cultural Appropriation?

‘Cultural appropriation is when a dominant group of people take on the culture of a minority group of people who have been marginalised / oppressed in some way. In a way that stereotypes and or exploits in some way and generally without consent

 

Confused?

 

OK let me put it to you in this way. Lawyer Susan explains it far more eloquently than me:

 

“Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a ​minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

 

Make more sense?

Great.

 

The key component to remember with cultural appropriation is that it can only cause problems when a dominant group of people (for example, white people) take on the culture of a minority group of people (for example Native American Indians) who have historically been marginalised / oppressed in some way and who still face discrimination pertaining to their culture. It could be anything from clothing or food, to sacred religious artefacts, to hairstyles like braids or dreadlocks. It is generally considered offensive when it is done in a way that stereotypes, exploits for commercial gain, or is taken without consent.

 

Here some examples to bite your teeth into Here and here   – Gucci came under fire for using Sikh turbans as a fashion statement in a recent catwalk show. Not only is the turban a sacred religious item and NOT a fashion item, but Gucci chose to have white male models wearing it. Perhaps they would have avoided the appropriation tag if they had chosen to cast Asian male models within the sikh community. Why the outrage? Many people in Indian communities still face discrimination as a result of their race and for openly expressing their culture and religion through items such as the turban. In contrast, a person in a white majority group can wear a turban or bindi without any connection to the culture without facing discrimination and without being hurled racist slurs and instead being seen as cool or trendy.


Aren’t people just being over-sensitive?

Well, not if it is true appropriation, no (and yes, there can be a fine line, context is everything). And definitely not if the objection is coming from someone who actually belongs to the community that is being appropriated. It shouldn’t take away from our own experience to be sensitive and respectful of others cultural identity, particularly those who still face discrimination for simply being themselves. Being inspired by and showing appreciation is not the same as appropriating.

Check out this brilliant and very relevant video discussing cultural appropriation, and celebrating culture at weddings and use this wedding example and also this take on sharing culture such as Henna, to see if you have fully understood the concept. I will let you decide if this is appropriation or appreciation after you have digested these articles in full.

One of the things I love about the wedding industry, particularly Nu Bride couples, is how beautifully couples fuse their families and in turn their cultures together. Weddings are naturally intersectional that way. We want to encourage being inspired by others cultures and fusing cultures together, but there is a fine line between appropriation and appreciation.  Ready? Let’s go.

AVOID RELIGIOUS ITEMS

The largest forms of offence caused by appropriation often occur with religious items. My genuine advice? Don’t mess with this. If both you and your partner don’t belong to the religion, leave it alone. If you are inspired by another’s culture and you want to incorporate aspects within your styling, think about authentic music, food, or entertainment or decor touches, rather than wearing sacred religious items of clothing to express that theme if it is not part of your culture

The same with any culture that has experienced genocide by westerners. There are so many other ways you can choose to express your personal taste and personalities.

 

BE MINDFUL OF PHOTO-BOOTHS

Fancy dress in photo-booths are riddled with opportunities to culturally appropriate.

I still can’t understand what the obsessions with fancy-dress is, but maybe I am getting old.  (LOL) Essentially, if you are using stereotypes to enhance your theme and perpetuate bias and negative stereotypes about a group of people you are culturally appropriating. Ditch the Mexican hats, moustaches and sombrero. How about a chic alternative like London Lightbox or a unique audioguest book instead? 

Being more mindful of appropriating it should take nothing away from you or your lived experience to consider stop causing harm to others.

R.E.S.P.E.C.T

In the words of Aretha. Just have respect. Rage from cultural appropriation often comes when people of the community being appropriated feel they are being exploited or misrepresented.

It is not a bad thing to be inspired or appreciative of another culture, in fact it should be encouraged. Diversity adds a richness to all of our lives. Just think about how much we regularly experience culture through music or food. BUT there is a fine line between appreciation and appropriation. Let’s take Mr Jamie Olivers’ Jamaican Jerk Rice incident for example. At face value it seems totally blown out of proportion.  “Jerk” is a form of marination thought to have been originally developed by African slaves in Jamaica as a way to preserve their meat.

If he was being mindful of its origins and wasn’t using it for mainstream commercial gain and considered giving back to the community with which it originated, maybe it wouldn’t have blown up.

 

THE POWER OF MONEY

You have the power of choice. If you wish to show appreciation or if you are fusing more than one culture together, exercise your power of choice and actively choose where to spend your money.

 

If you are having a multicultural celebration with traditional wear that you would like your guests to embody as part of the union of your two cultures together,  hire or buy from suppliers and vendors from the community with which you are celebrating the culture from. Buy cloth from artisans and use your wedding information card (or website) to not only recommend where to buy items from, but to educate about the meaning behind the cloth, colour, symbol or outfit for example.

 

BE MORE AWARE

Understand the bigger picture.

No one is telling you what you can or can’t do, that is ultimately your choice, but if you don’t understand what appropriation is or why it’s so offensive and you want to better understand appropriation so you can avoid causing harm, spend some time doing some research. No-one expects you to know about every single origin of every single culture on earth. But they may expect you to be more aware by educating yourself. We can be inspired by, and we can respectfully borrow from without appropriating by simply being more aware.

For more information on being more inclusive at within business, visit my consultancy and diversity review services and explore my online diversity course.

The Talent

Images by Julia and You Photography from Sheila and Vinoy’s beautiful fusion wedding and Hindu ceremony in Mauritius

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