Multicultural fashion: Appropriation or Appreciation?


Artwork by William Mun

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Townsend Harris’ student body is a prime example of diversity in New York. Whether students are first or second generation citizens, facets of their respective cultures will always remain a part of their lives. In such a diverse community, it is inevitable that some cultures will borrow aspects from others. Some Harrisites consider this an appreciation of cultures; others consider it appropriation.

In Native American culture, feathers on the headdress are awarded only to the brave and powerful members. Similarly, the bindi, a red dot in the middle of the forehead, symbolizes many religious and traditional notions in the Hindu culture and is generally worn by married women. Despite the cultural ties that both the headdress and the bindi carry, popular culture has transformed them into mere accessories.

Sophomore Daniel Khaldarov believes that appropriation is a “ridiculous concept.” He considers the adoption of another culture a form of appreciation, stating, “no one should feel like their culture is being stolen. You will always be able to practice your culture the way you see is right.”

Similarly, Freshman Naasiha Ahmed stated, “I don’t mind when people wear salwars or a sari because they’re embracing it….I appreciate the way people take part because they don’t do it mockingly.”

English teacher Joseph Canzoneri also believes that taking parts of different cultures is a form of appreciation. On the subject of appropriating languages specific to other cultures, Mr. Canzoneri said, “[Appropriating words] is cool in that [you’re taking] something that someone else created and are saying, ‘I’ll take this word and make it my own and reuse and refashion it; I think that’s permissible if it’s done tastefully.”

Junior Yaseen Mohamed stressed that celebrities should be wary of the influence they hold on society, stating, “I think it’s fine for any celebrity to use these types of ideals from minority groups. They just have to know that it can have a major effect on the public outlook of the aspect and group, for better or for worse.”

Yaseen identified the problem that exists in appropriation. He said, “The value that the symbols held could be lowered significantly. This doesn’t have to happen if the aspects celebrities do use are used in a way that respect the origin.”