The official start of summer right around the corner! We now have some free time to travel with friends and family to unforgettable locations all throughout the world. The surroundings and rich culture of our excursions can create memories that last a lifetime. While experiencing various cultures across the globe can be exhilarating, it is important to respect those cultures and recognize your impact in any given country.
The topic of cultural appropriation has been a hot topic as of recently. As a result, many are left wondering what constitutes appropriation vs cultural appreciation. Cultural appreciation is the act of taking the time to respect and understand a culture and their given traditions. Cultural appropriation is the exact opposite. An individual adapts elements of the culture such as: clothing, traditions, and rituals without knowledge or respect towards that culture. In short, it is a problem because it oppresses and creates stereotypes of that culture. Before you post an Instagram picture of yourself wearing a traditional article of clothing such as a kimono from Japan to appear “trendy”, read these tips to ensure that you avoid cultural appropriation on your next destination.
Pure Admiration vs. Aesthetic Pleasure
Before purchasing sacred artifact, ask yourself a simple question: Am I buying this item because I am fascinated by the cultural values of this item? Or, am I just buying it to look “unique” and “different” to my friends on social media? Yes, the item may fit with your Instagram feed and show off your quirky self. However, you are exemplifying your part in the dominant culture by overpowering the indigenous culture and profiting off of their items. When posting on Instagram, make sure you disclose in your caption who the artifact belongs to and the background behind it. By doing this step, you are acknowledging the rich history of that given culture without suppressing it.
Avoid unnecessary thoughts/comments of trying to “save” people
Traveling expands our boundaries and opens our eyes to different lifestyles and traditions that are distinct from our own dominant culture. However, when visiting a developing country, challenges may occur with those who may be unaccustomed to what they see. Be it the extensive poverty, obsolete and run-down buildings, or cramped streets, it will probably be jarring. When walking through a village or a compact city, it is important to take every observation and involvement as a learning experience. An experience where you recognize your privilege while also appreciating the different lifestyles around you. Put aside your predetermined judgments and your attempts to “save” people and instead absorb the surrounding culture. By experiencing different lifestyles outside of your comfort zone, you can truly become a global traveler!
Avoid stereotyping people in a given location
Before you embark on your vacation, you might have preconceived ideas about the non-dominant culture and visualize a common stereotype. For example, a Hijab woman is the common stereotype for the Middle East and a geisha is for Japan. However, if you limit an entire culture into one stereotype, you will be unable to fully immerse yourself. The media is a visual that generates ethnic stereotypes that has powerful influence on its viewers. Media outlets often portray ethnic stereotypes in a two-dimensional view instead of a modern viewpoint. Instead of relying on the media’s take on what every foreign individual appears and acts like, recognize the differences between each individual. It’s also best to not assume that the people within a culture share the same characteristics as you do. If you avoid stereotyping and are eager to discover the fluidity of a culture and its people, your vacation will truly be an immersive experience!
Ask permission before you take a photograph of people within their cultural elements
Photo by Chloe Johnston Experiences & taken with consent
Of course, you will encounter a cultural object that you are dying to take a photo of. Although, it’s best to remind yourself whether you are truly appreciating the culture. You could actually be appropriating it by only posting to fit in with your feed. A culture does not only exist within its artifacts and rituals. It also encompasses its most important factor: the people. For instance, you might want to snap a photo of Buddhist monks praying or a group of women balancing baskets of fruits. You are probably fascinated to the point where you want to capture this moment forever by taking a picture. However, it is unethical to photograph people without their consent for your own benefit. Especially if you are posting their faces onto social media platforms for everyone to see. Even if you are appreciative of their culture, you are still exploiting the people and their culture. To avoid this, create a conversation with the individuals you wish to photograph and then ask for their consent. You are not only making the individuals comfortable by asking for their permission, you are also having an authentic conversation that becomes a learning experience.
Finally, always ask yourself if what you are participating in is culturally appropriative
The most important step is to become aware of things that are deemed as culturally appropriative by asking yourself questions. It’s fun to immerse yourself in a wide range of cultures, dress up in traditional garments, post on Instagram, or practice religious traditions. However, you may have no idea that you are participating in the act of cultural appropriation. If you are faced in these certain situations, ask yourself simple questions such as: Am I truly oppressing this culture? Or Am I making the people around me uncomfortable? By asking simple questions like these, you are not falling into the trap of being culturally appropriative and are truly honoring a culture.
It’s so exciting to see how different cultures shape the everyday functions and lifestyles of its people! Though we have to recognize the act of cultural appropriation in order to not offend people and their cultures. The key to a successful vacation is to not appropriate a culture, but rather engage with it in an honorable way! If you want to truly have a successful summer getaway, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to organize a personalized trip to India, France, and more!