There’s a newness and excitement about traveling to new countries and learning about different cultures, religions, foods, and traditions. But there’s a line between being invited into a space and celebrating the culture and taking from a culture of marginalized people without permission and claiming it your own for a temporary time. It's become increasingly popular to take what's deemed fashionable and trendy from other cultures and it’s certainly seeped into wedding aesthetics. As a growing socially-conscious industry and global citizens, we want to be educated on what cultural appropriation looks like and how we can help our couples plan their dream weddings with their own traditions.
Cultural Appropriation vs. Cultural Appreciation
So what's cultural appropriation anyway?
Cultural appropriation stemmed from the 1980’s academic discussions about colonialism and the treatment of minority culture. It's a term that's commonly used now and can cause controversy. It occurs when a person or group from one culture adopts the fashion, style, iconography, traditions, rituals, etc. of other cultures that aren't their own—particularly those of oppressed and marginalized cultural identities—for personal interest or gain without understanding the history and meaning behind it.
This might feel confusing since there's so much diversity and cultural exchange in the world. Some cultures have similar practices and traditions and over many generations, cultures have blended and borrowed from each other. The problem rests on respect and experience.
Your couples can still eat Mexican food and sushi and play hip hop and jazz at their receptions but it’s a matter of reflecting on whether or not we’re supporting and advocating for the rights of all the cultures that are readily enjoyed.
Let’s think of it this way. There are symbols and traditions that different cultures hold sacredly. There are also cultural identity markers that specific races have been marginalized and ostracized for so being a part of the dominant group and choosing when to use these styles is a form of privilege and exploitation.
- Native American Headdresses were worn into battle as well as used for spiritual and ceremonial occasions. They represent strength and bravery to indigenous people. Native Americans are still being killed and oppressed so wearing something of this significance for fun is disrespectful and harmful. That means if the couple you’re working with is not of native and indigenous descent, they should not be using headdresses, feathers, and native icons as décor even if they love how it looks.
- Wearing dreadlocks as a wedding aesthetic choice, while Black folks have been discriminated against because of their hair. This is a choice that lacks empathy and understanding. Stenberg famously says, “What would America be like if we loved Black people as much as we love Black culture?”
- Along with henna, bindis, Hawaiian leis, rosaries, kimonos, Aztec patterns, crosses etc. used purely for aesthetic purposes.
Cultural Appreciation is when we seek to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to widen our perspectives and connect with and celebrate others’ cultures.
- A Nigerian bride and her white fiance wear traditional Nigerian clothes for the ceremony. The white husband isn’t wearing this as a costume. He's wearing it to honor and celebrate his wife’s culture.
- Being invited to your friend’s traditional Hindu Wedding where everyone of all races and cultures invited will be wearing traditional Indian clothes means that it’s welcomed and encouraged to learn about Hindu tradition and wear saris, lenghas, long-sleeved tunics, and pants.
Listen To Those Who Belong To That Culture
Still confused? That’s okay. Navigating this line is hard.
- Do research on the various types of elements in traditional weddings of other cultures (Mexican Weddings, Jewish Weddings, Israeli Weddings, Brazilian Weddings, Japanese Weddings, etc.) that way you expand your wealth of knowledge and know when to guide the couple in a different direction. You’re the expert! They'll trust your judgment. Big plus: this is a wonderful way to connect and best help couples of different cultures as well as making your services for everyone.
- Consider context. How's the couple wanting to use this typically traditional piece? What's the purpose?
- Listen to those who actually identify and experience the culture. It’s safe to say that if the dominant white culture is saying cultural appropriation is overly sensitive and a form of policing self-expression that you should respect what people from the culture are actually saying and feeling.
Discuss Personal Traditions With Clients
Ask, never assume. The best way to know what's important to the couple is by asking the right questions about their family history and traditions. If they're both white Americans, talk about the traditions that they can incorporate.
- Something borrowed, something blue…
- The throwing of rice
- Wearing white
- First dances
- Walking down the aisle
These are just some of the many western wedding traditions that most people think of automatically anyway.
In conclusion, always consider the following:
- Is it something that people have been discriminated against or shamed for?
- Does it hold sacred and ceremonial meaning?
- Is it from a mass-market?
At the end of the day, we just want to best represent and celebrate our couples and their cultures respectfully.
Hero photo courtesy: Annie Elizabeth Photography