Culture Representation

The question that seems to be most frequently asked when dealing with portraying cultures that aren’t your own is, “How do you appreciate the culture and represent it well without perpetuating stereotypes.” This question seems to be a more difficult one to answer then it seems. For example, white performers that are emulating Asian culture often cross boundaries of representation and being to perpetuate stereotypical images of Asian culture. However, as I will explain, the other option may be far more dangerous.

To illustrate this “other option”, I will use black culture as an example (being black I know this well). Blues music, rap music, street clothing, and many other widely accepted cultural staples of America have come from black culture. What has happened over the centuries is that white culture has not merely represented it, but tried to take it over. Elvis Presley took blues music and made it rock and roll. Eminem took rap music and become one of the most successful artists in recent history. Street clothing has become a totally acceptable part of white culture and often has come to hardly resemble the clothing that resulted from hip-hop movements in the inner cities.

This phenomena is exactly what can happen when the alternative to representing cultures becomes owning cultures. I am not saying that blacks no longer have agency or culture – in fact I think it is still an extremely strong and unique culture. But in the question of how to represent Asian cultures without perpetuating stereotypes, let us be careful to not allow the alternative to be ownership.


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