Difference between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation

Key Difference: Cultural Exchange is basically when one culture tries to learn about another culture. Cultural Exchange is an exchange of information, where information about their respective cultures is exchanged. Cultural Appropriation is taking things or ideas from a culture without accepting the culture itself or, without understanding or honoring the idea or practice behind it.

Cultural Exchange is a good and natural thing. In fact, in today’s increasingly smaller world, it is a necessary thing. Cultural Exchange is basically when one culture tries to learn about another culture. Cultural Exchange is an exchange of information, where information about their respective cultures is exchanged.

The sociologist Nicki Lisa Cole defines culture as the practices, beliefs, ideas, values, traditions, rituals, language, speech, modes of communication, material objects, and performances that are essential to the social life of any given group of people. Hence, any information about these things is considered as cultural exchange.

Cultural Exchange help facilitates understanding about cultures other than one’s own. It helps eradicate prejudices and misunderstandings, and most importantly stereotypes and racism. Hence, cultural exchange is a necessary part of a modernizing world, especially in one where one is constantly interacting with people of other cultures.

Cultural Appropriation, on the other hand,  is a highly controversial term, as many people don’t even realize that it is happening or that they are doing it. If fact, when they are accused of it or faced with it, some defend it or deny it completely. So what is Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural Appropriation is taking things or ideas from a culture without accepting the culture itself or, without understanding or honoring the idea or practice behind it. For instance, think about how Americans and Europeans like Ethnic Cuisines such as Indian, Mexican, or Chinese, but are racist against the people from that culture. Americans and Europeans are often complaining that these ‘outsiders’ come into their country and take all their jobs.

It’s not only about food. Keep in mind the times, when Americans wear Native American headdresses, despite the fact that headdresses are a scared symbol in the Native American culture. Also when Westerners wear saris and bindis, or kimonos, and head wraps. The problem is not that they wear them, but rather that they wear them without understanding their significance or importance to the original culture. It is even worse, when they sexualize it, such as a sexy sari or a sexy Pocahontas outfit, especially as costumes.

Cultural Appropriation is basically when a culture takes something and misrepresents it. It is often a byproduct of colonialism and oppression. The oppressing or ruling culture often adopts something from the culture it oppresses that it finds cool or interesting and exotic, without understanding the importance or significance of it for the oppressed group. This cool and exotic thing might be of religious and spiritual significance to the culture. Hence, to the oppressing group it feels that their oppressor are taking an important part of their culture and making a mockery out of it. It comes across as disrespectful and ignorant, and it acts only to alienate the other culture.

Comparison between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation:

 

Cultural Exchange

Cultural Appropriation

Definition

Cultural Exchange is an exchange of students, artists, athletes, ideas, traditions, culture, etc., between two countries to promote mutual understanding.

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by a member or members of a different culture.

Knowledge

Knowledge and sharing of information

Taking something and misrepresenting it

Understanding

Understanding different cultures

Adopting something from the culture without understanding it

Respect

It is respectful of the other culture

It is disrespectful to the other culture

Example

A man stays in another country for some time to understand or learn their culture.

A man learns yoga and acts like a guru without knowing the history or importance of yoga to the original culture.

Image Courtesy: dreamstime.com, theodysseyonline.com

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