Appreciation and Appropriation

Cindi Dean Wafstet
6 min readJul 6, 2022

In the 1960s, the TV show “Here Come the Brides” showed the Native Americans at the beginning of the city of Seattle as Plains Indians complete with teepees and feather headdresses. The tribe closest to the Seattle settlement at that time was the Duwamish. It’s too bad that the show’s writers didn’t bother to do the research, or perhaps they thought the viewers were not smart enough to know the difference. In this episode, they even call the tribe shown the Shoshone, which didn’t live close to the Seattle area.

In the past, it was very common for white actors to play Native and Asian characters instead of hiring Native and Asian actors. In an episode of the first version of Hawaii 5–0, Ricardo Montalban, who was Mexican-American, played a Japanese-American character. Michael Ansara often played Native American characters, although he was of Lebanese descent. Even Katherine Hepburn played a Japanese woman in a movie.

In the 1800s, minstrel shows were very popular, depicting black people, all played by white people in blackface makeup. They were an extreme form of racist cultural appropriation, and it still is.

But we should know better by now. We should, but sadly, we don’t. White people still appropriate looks and attitudes from other cultures and races. Some don’t know any better and remain ignorant. But others know and still decide to cash in on someone else’s traditions.

There is a thin line between appreciation and appropriation. When you have your children dress up as Pocahontas or Ghengis Khan for Halloween, you might consider this cute or funny if you even think of it all. But cultures are not Halloween costumes. It’s never appropriate to use other people’s cultures as a joke.

And for another viewpoint:

“Ethnic hairstyles. Sports mascots. Runway fashion. We’ve all seen examples of cultural appropriation. Yet, the difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation is not always clear.”

I also feel it’s appropriation not to know the difference between the different cultures and countries of Asia, Africa, or tribes of Native Americans. For example, the countries of China, Japan, or Korea, are not the same. They each have their own languages, cuisine, and even traditional dress. While American Indians fall under the umbrella term of Native Americans, each tribe has its own culture. Do you know the difference? Do you take the time to learn? And you do know that Africa is a continent and not a country, right?

Look at these three pictures of native dress. Do you know what each one is called and what country they come from? Do you think all three are Japanese kimonos?

The one on top IS a Japanese Kimono, the one in the center is a Korean Hanbok, and the bottom one is a Chinese Hanfu. While there are similarities, there also are distinct differences. All three can have wide sleeves, Hanfu and Hanbok tend to have wide flowing skirts, and Hanfu and Kimonos often have a wrap and tie front. Because most Asian cultures have a common origin, it’s not unusual for them to have parasols and fans as part of their ceremonial dress.

Can non-Asians wear the traditional dress of Asian countries? It depends on who you ask and the context of when and where you will be wearing it.

In many cases, people of other cultures enjoy sharing theirs: how they dress, what they cook, the furniture and decorations in their homes, language, and history. They don’t want people using these things to belittle them and make fun of their lives.

“Social media, print media, and television programs can inspire us to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of people from different backgrounds. Appreciating different cultures and traditions is encouraged with some caution — culture is not a hobby or a collectible item, it is a meaningful part of life, identity, and community. To start appreciating a culture different from your own, begin with good intentions and learn about the culture. This involves avoiding the temptation to assign new meaning to “cultural markers (such as food, clothing, or physical appearance).”

What makes it appropriation is the dominant society using their majority to take advantage of the minority: white over non-whites; Christians over non-Christians; straight over LGBTQ; young over old; thin over fat; rich over poor; able-bodied over disabled. They have come to believe that “accepted” means “acceptable.”

Is wearing a bindi and/or getting Mehendi designs on your hands appropriation or appreciation? I use to think it was appreciation. Now I know it’s not.

Celebrating Cinco de Mayo while wearing a sombrero and drinking Corona beer and Margaritas without knowing the history before the holiday is both racist and cultural appropriation.

Wearing feather Indian headdresses as a fashion statement is appropriation.

“Indigenous patterns have exploded in popularity elsewhere: major companies like Zara, Anthropologie, Carolina Herrera, and Mango have incorporated similar designs into their clothing under the pretext of inspiration. Fashion houses have profited without acknowledging the origin of the designs or compensating communities.”

“Mexico’s Indigenous and Afro-Mexican communities are being sold a solution — or, at least, something that looks like one. To fight back against the plagiarism and dispossession of Indigenous art, Mexico has approved a law meant to protect and safeguard the cultural heritage of Indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples and communities. It recognizes the collective right to intellectual property of these communities, calls for the creation of a National Registry of Cultural Heritage, and allows the government to prosecute theft of a cultural work. On the surface, it’s a bold step toward dealing with cultural appropriation and remedying some of the ways these communities continue to be marginalized.”

“Appreciation is when someone seeks to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden their perspective and connect with others cross-culturally. Appropriation on the other hand, is simply taking one aspect of a culture that is not your own and using it for your own personal interest.”


Defined as the use of a culture’s symbols, artifacts, genres, rituals, or technologies by members of another culture, cultural appropriation can be placed into 4 categories: exchange, dominance, exploitation, and transculturation.

“Look for obvious context clues. Were you invited to a cultural event and asked to wear traditional clothing? Or did you notice that a culturally inspired style is trending and decide to wear that trendy outfit on your next night out? Appreciating culture often involves community, connection, and learning, whereas appropriation is typically an individual choice influenced by popular media.

So, what are some ways to celebrate a culture without exploiting it? Start with these basic tips:

  1. Examine your own culture and beliefs. Knowing your own culture is one of the best ways to understand and appreciate other cultures.5
  2. Recognize and embrace cultural differences.6 Allow these differences to spark healthy dialogue.
  3. Refrain from using sacred artifacts or symbols from another culture as an accessory.7
  4. Ask yourself why. Ensure your intentions are sincere and genuine.
  5. Be an ally! Engage in important conversations and help others learn about cultural appropriation.”

“What steps can you take to appreciate rather than appropriate?

If you’re concerned you might have mistakenly appropriated cultural elements in the past, these tips can help you do better in the future:

  • Choose books, music, art, and food that originate from and accurately represent specific cultures, instead of “culturally inspired” experiences.
  • To amplify cultural voices, look for books, essays, or other creative works written by members of the culture, instead of works by outsiders looking in.
  • Purchase art and other cultural items from the creator.
  • When studying other cultures, take the time to learn how to correctly pronounce the names of people and places.
  • Skip terms taken from other cultures, such as calling your friends your “tribe” or saying you have a “spirit animal.”
  • Avoid adopting false accents.”



Cindi Dean Wafstet

Writer, reader, teacher, student… Daughter, Mother, Grandmother, Great-Grandmother, Widow Resident of Washington State