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Adele Controversy: Appreciation or Appropriation?

Posted by Axis on September 08, 2020

(Header image via @adele.)

On August 30th, popular pop artist Adele posted a controversial picture of her wearing a Jamaican-themed bikini top and Bantu knots, a traditional African hairstyle, to pay homage to the canceled Notting Hill Carnival. What many assumed to be a well-intentioned post turned into a debate of whether this kind of representation of culture is acceptable. Some people are offended by her post and insist that she is appropriating culture, while others are glad she posted the picture and believe she wanted to honor the culture. 

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to love and support other cultures respectfully. Who do we listen to when accusations and praises are being thrown left and right? How can we educate our kids about different cultures without abusing those cultures? To answer these questions, we need to explore the difference between appreciation and appropriation. 

Appreciation vs appropriation 

There’s a fine line between appreciation and appropriation. Many celebrities and well-intentioned people try to bring awareness and appreciation to a certain topic, but receive major backlash for handling it in the wrong way. The University of Utah defines these two terms to help us understand their differences:

Cultural appropriation can be defined as the ‘cherry picking’ or selecting of certain aspects of a culture, and ignoring their original significance for the purpose of belittling it as a trend. Appreciation is honoring and respecting another culture and its practices, as a way to gain knowledge and understanding.

(Emphasis ours.)

Appreciation comes from a place of humility, while appropriation comes from a place of vanity. Say someone is dressed in a full army uniform and accepting others’ thanks for serving our country, when in actuality they’re just wearing their halloween costume early. That would be upsetting, wouldn’t it? In a similar fashion, appropriation is taking praise for another culture’s work, while disregarding the important history behind the cultural artifact. Appreciation is meant to put credit where credit is due, and raise awareness by learning from others. 

Adele’s post 

Some people think Adele isn’t acting out of line with her picture at all, as she grew up in a culturally diverse area and is being praised by the Jamaican community on social media. 

Others put emphasis on her status as a celebrity and the fact that her hair is not the type of hair that needs to be put into Bantu knots. Some compared her to celebrities like Katy Perry, the Kardashians, and Karlie Kloss, who each used a cultural artifact in some way for self-promotion rather than using it for learning and appreciation. 

On the one hand, Adele wanted to attend this festival where she could have honored, respected, and celebrated Afro-Caribbean culture, but it was canceled. One the other hand, she also posted the picture without cultural context to a wide audience on social media. It’s difficult to say what Adele’s true intentions were since she didn’t release a  statement or take the picture down, but it’s probably not our place to make those kinds of assumptions anyways. 

Engaging with culture respectfully 

Embracing humility is the key to respecting other cultures well. When interacting with new cultures, it’s important for us to let them do the teaching and to learn as much as we can. Hearing how other cultures live may feel strange or even uncomfortable, but it’s important to remember that it’s our job to listen and learn the whole story, not to pick the bits and pieces we enjoy, while ignoring the rest. Acts 17:26-28 reminds us that all cultures were hand-crafted by the same God,

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being…”

God spread out the nations so that we could seek Him in unique, beautiful ways. To embrace this uniqueness is a great way to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation. And even as we value our differences, God invites us all to be unified in His unwavering love. 

Discussion questions 

Use these questions to start a conversation with your teen! 

  1. Did you hear about the backlash Adele got for wearing Bantu knots? What’s your opinion on that situation?
  2. How can we appreciate different cultures respectfully? 
  3. How would you define cultural appropriation? Is this concept hard for you to understand?
  4. What does your culture do differently than other cultures? 
  5. Have you ever felt like others didn’t respect your heritage or culture? What did that look like for you?
  6. What are the repercussions of cultural appropriation?
  7. How does God view cultural diversity?
  8. Do you think churches do a good job with embracing cultural diversity?

If you start an awesome conversation about this with your teen, let us know in the comments! We'd love to know how your family is tackling tough subjects like this.

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