Engles Schwarzpaul states “Identity relies on difference as much as it does on sameness.” Here she is pointing out the method of realization through recognition of differences between self and Other. In defining and reaffirming the European identity, the West has often looked to “primitive” cultures thus projecting their inner conflict between nature and culture, desire and reason (Engles Schwarzpaul 2).
Through cultural appropriation circulated through media, the West trivialize and diminish the significance of cultural elements through separation from context. Thus, as Engles Schwarzpaul notes, appropriation of aesthetic style, removed from its social, political, economic, and ceremonial context, erases meaning (Engles Schwarzpaul 4).
There is a difference, however, between cultural engagement and appropriation. Cultural engagement is a form of derivation that acknowledges the core whence it obtains. While acquired by another culture or people, its intended meaning is still considered. Appropriation, however, generally focuses more on aesthetic traits and treats culture as a commodity. This separation distorts traditional meaning into dominant ideologies of privilege and legitimization of what is essentially theft. Rather than an exchange of ideas among participants, appropriation objectifies that from which it draws inspiration, disregarding consultation with the custodians of said culture.
While there is no easy way to engage with external cultures, it is important to consider one’s intentions behind doing so, thus remaining true to the cultural context from which it is derived.
Engels Schwarzpaul, Tina. Dislocating William and Rau: The Wild Man in Virtual Worlds. AUT University, 2008.