Cultural Appropriation: Dr. Hall Discusses The Negative Psychological Impact of Appropriation

Gordon Nagayama Hall is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He began his career as a psychologist at Western State Hospital. He also has been a professor at Kent State University and Penn State University. His interests are in culture and mental health. Dr. Hall’s blog for Psychology Today is “Life in the Intersection: A Multicultural Psychology Approach”. His new textbook, Multicultural Psychology, 3rd Edition, will be published in January.

What drew you to a career in psychology?

“I became interested in psychology during a class in high school. Unlike anything else I studied, psychology focused on understanding human behavior.”

What drew you to investigating cultural appropriation/cultural identity theft?

“My interest in cultural appropriation stems from experiences in Oregon. For example, I am a Japanese American. I have been to Japan several times. Yelp’s best sushi restaurant in Eugene serves sushi that has does not taste Japanese. The sushi is modified for non-Japanese people in Oregon by adding non-Japanese ingredients, such as cream sauce. This is not the best sushi restaurant from a Japanese American perspective.”

A lot of individuals when confronted with critiques or accusations of cultural appropriation, claim to not be appropriating but “appreciating” different cultures. What is the difference between cultural appropriation or identity theft and cultural exchange or appreciation?

“The difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is power. Scarlett Johansson starred as a Japanese character in “Ghost in the Shell”. Tom Cruise starred in “The Last Samurai”. Japanese actors are not cast in these roles because Hollywood directors have the power to cast whomever they wish. The directors may claim to appreciate Japanese culture but the portrayal is not authentic. And it takes opportunities away from Japanese actors.”

What are the psychological or general consequences of cultural identity theft, or appropriation? How does it impact minority groups, specifically Native Americans?

“Cultural appropriation is like discovering unauthorized charges on your credit card and your credit card company saying, “finders’ keepers”. The thief was clever enough to hack your account, so the company lets them use it. Cultural identity theft can be harmful because someone else takes control of a person’s culture. Media portrayals of Native Americans, such as sports mascots and Pocahontas, result in low self-esteem for Native Americans. Low self-esteem occurs because these portrayals were not created by Native Americans and are not accurate. For Native Americans, cultural appropriation has occurred for generations. It has involved a loss of land, culture, and identity. This is known as historical trauma. The effects of historical trauma include poor physical, psychological, and spiritual health.”

Have you ever had to personally deal with the impacts of cultural appropriation? If so, How did you?

“A colleague believed that he could explain how my Japanese American mother survived an internment camp in Arizona during World War II. His explanation was based on his own theory of coping. He did not understand Japanese American culture. But he believed he could explain my family’s experiences better than I could. I politely disagreed with his general explanation. I explained that suffering is accepted as part of life in Japanese culture. Japanese Americans may have been uniquely prepared to deal with suffering.”

Do you believe cultural appropriation is associated with ethnocentric and xenophobic ideologies? Explain.

“Cultural appropriation is similar to Manifest Destiny in the 19th Century. European Americans felt entitled to expand the boundaries of the United States by taking the lands of Native Americans. Similarly, those who engage in cultural appropriation may believe that other cultures exist for their benefit.”

What do you think is the root cause of cultural appropriation or cultural identity theft? Why do you think individuals continuously engage in it?

“The root cause of cultural appropriation is a lack of respect for other cultures. Cultural appropriation will continue as long as people believe that other cultures exist to be used rather than respected.”

In what ways can cultural appropriation be decreased? What level of belief do you have in a world where cultural appropriation is significantly decreased?

“Cultural appropriation can be decreased by learning to respect other cultures. Children can learn languages other than English. Schools can hire teachers from diverse backgrounds. These actions help a person understand that other cultures are on par with mainstream United States culture. This is already beginning to happen. Younger people are less prejudiced than older people. I am optimistic that millennials can create a world where cultures are respected rather than appropriated.”

What would you say to minority group members dealing with the impacts of appropriation?

“I encourage members of minority groups experiencing cultural appropriation to connect with others in their group. Having a personal cultural identity and finding social support is good for one’s mental health. Finding allies outside one’s cultural group can also help. Connections with others can bring societal change that will reduce cultural appropriation.”

Thank you Dr. Hall for participating in this interview!

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  1. I really like when Dr. Hall says that the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation is power. This is so true and his example was great. I have a friend of mine that did an amazing speech in a class about cultural appropriation in Hollywood and it is honestly such a problem. It is not authentic and people say it happens for so many reasons, one being that the people that are casted are more well known, but if for example asian actors and actors of other races are not ever introduced into the industry, how will this problem ever get fixed. I really appreciate how Dr. Hall made this point because it is extremely important. I also relate to the part of the article about media portrayal and how this can skew our image of other cultures. I have watched a lot of Korean shows before and they always associate Indian people with Namaste and Curry. This honestly is a lack of knowledge of other cultures and their own image of what India is. If we had more knowledge about other cultures and better media portrayal of these cultures and do not misuse power, cultural appreciation can become more prevalent cultural appropriation.

  2. There is much controversy surrounding killers in the contemporary world – millions of people are dying everyday in the hands of people with inhumane traits, the death penalty is being issued, and netflix is streaming around 30 shows on serial killers and brutal murders alone. Truly, it has a huge impact on pop culture. And yet, I have never hear dog the Tutsi Genocide nor of Dr. Scull, which is why I decided to give this article a quick click.

    I appreciate the format of this article and I found the researchers’ insights to be very interesting. Dehumanisation and desensitisation are very real and very harsh truths. People who participate in things out of habit (imagine – killing as a habit) tend to lose perspective and tend to lose feelings for that activity. All morality is thrown out the window. But how does this happen? Why does this happen? Why has killing become a way of their life? I am very intrigued by the cultural differences present in this article.

    When he said “It is important to understand that many who were directly involved in the genocide were poor and generally not well-educated, which might have caused them to be more susceptible to deception and manipulation.” is he suggesting that one of the best ways to prevent the cynical cycle of killing is to educate them and help them become more aware? Is this trend applicable to other cultures? What is education’s impact on morality and awareness of said morality?

    The people described in his research forgave what the criminals did. I’m not sure if that speaks about the humanity that exists in Rwanda but I do know that it has an impact on understanding capital punishment.

    I appreciate this Doctor’s honest responses and insights and the fact that he made very clear the distinction between the genocide and the generalisation of serial killers. I hope he prospers in his research. Thanks for sharing this with us and I’ll be sure to check out the references he left!

  3. (((please ignore my previous comment, this was a reaction to another post that was accidentally copy pasted to your article, here is my real comment)))

    The idea of cultural appropriation has never really been explained to me. The little I know about it comes from the references shared on social media, so I appreciate the highlight on such a scarce yet relevant topic.

    First of all, thank you for putting the credentials of the researcher. Not only is proper credit important, but knowing who and why we’re reading this article and why this person’s opinions are important is a very important factor for a reader, it makes the reading more genuine.

    The analogy of cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation as a difference in power was very thought-provoking. I never really saw it that way. Sure, I understand heavy whitewashing was involved in it, but I never really saw the Japanese as having less power than the Americans, especially since they created the characters the Americans were trying to re-do Hollywood style. But I’ve seen interviews that the only people being offended by this are other Americans. Americans that prefer genuine and native Japanese blood to go through the cinema and make the creators proud. But the Japanese? they appreciate the casting because they believe it was beautiful and fitting and that the characters inherently looked American themselves. Nevertheless, only now am I realizing the saddening reality to other cultures pushed around by the mighty powers.

    I appreciate this entire article and how emphasis on respect of other cultures was established. It’s true, right now stereotypes are worth more to people that genuinely meeting and experiencing other cultures.I believe being more open-minded and welcoming other unorthodox traditions will help us make this a better world, one movie at a time.

  4. I think it’s very good that Dr Hall brought an example that’s quite very recent: whitewashing in Hollywood.

    While I’m not an American myself, I’ve quite noticed the patterns over and over again. While I’m not really affected directly by this issue, however the younger generations that come from the minority will feel left out because of the lack of representation of their ethnicity. It really hurts me to know that the fact of Hollywood keep choosing playing the same strategy over and over again without giving the ‘real ethnic’ actor a chance that they can be a ‘bankable’ performer too.

    I do agree that educating ourselves with the other cultures can lead to better understanding, but with the current media potrayal or especially with Hollywood’s whitewashing ritual, I think the task will be more difficult especially for today. Nonetheless, never give up, and keep learning, I believe slowly but surely everyone will change to be better.

  5. It was so interesting to hear about cultural appropriation from the perspective of someone who is both trained in psychology and has first-hand experience with the subject. I think we need as a society need to spread Dr. Hall’s message that the difference between appropriation and appreciation is power. This article was incredibly well-written, from the fitting title, to the straightforward introduction, to the thought-provoking questions. Well done!

  6. This is yet another topic that has been floating on smaller media platforms but not really given the attention it deserves- hence my appreciation for this interview.
    I would have liked to see some more examples of how this issue is seen in real life, such as Caucasians applying henna, and how these ‘trends’ can be followed in an offensive way.
    Reference to personal experiences added a unique perspective and made it enjoyable to read!
    It would be lovely to see more studies based on this issue and how it has developed over the past decades.

  7. I feel like cultural appropriation is such a sensitive and controversial topic, yet such a recklessly discussed topic. These days everything is claimed to be cultural appropriation. No one truly understands the meaning behind it and the reality of its consequences.
    It’s really refreshing hearing about it through the eyes of a professional and not a keyboard warrior. I am particularly interested in the peculiar role power plays in the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation
    I hope this article receives much deserved exposure. Great article! Keep it up!

  8. A good majority of my thoughts and opinions on this subject and article are summed up in the other comments so far on this page. I appreciate that Dr. Hall was chosen to be interviewed on this subject because not only does he have personal experience with this issue, but he can look at this from a professional perspective. His explanation of culture appropriation vs. appreciation is by far the most important part in this article. Based on what I have seen in my various social media platforms, this distinction involving power between the two terms is overlooked and misrepresented. As a whole, we should pay more attention to professionals, like Dr. Hall, who have the expertise to better define these terms and make judgement calls on what is appropriation and what is appreciation.

    I am a white American and by reading this article and having discussions with my friends who belong to cultures other than my own, I recognize that culture appropriation is an issue our society faces today; however, there are many times where I have a harder time distinguishing between culture appropriation and appreciation, particularly in movies, tv shows, and other forms of media. Social media and other platforms can be harsh and unhelpful when it comes to making this distinction. My question to the author and Dr. Hall: how can I and others like me learn to better recognize examples of culture appropriation in media? I know it is not my place to decide what is appropriation and appreciation, but how can we learn to to find the line? Could you provide more examples of situations where this distinction is made?

  9. I really liked how the introduction provided sufficient credentials of the interviewee, but I felt like it would have been even stronger if there was a more direct link to the main topic.

    In regards to the topic of cultural appropriation, I think it might just be me, but I am still more than just a bit confused on what the real ramifications of it entail. I get that it’s about one culture with more power making use of the culture of another without regard for the meaning and the true origins of the object or situation. I also understand the feeling of finally being a part of the picture when an Asian person is represented as an Asian person on the big screen. However, I feel like the definition that was given could have been elaborated on better or perhaps a more specific question could have been asked. For example, the ramifications of how the culture of the Native Americans’ being appropriated instead of appreciated could have been expanded on. Instead it felt glossed over like the definition of what was listed off was entirely obvious. Right now it just feels like the ramifications are better described as similar to that of slandering the original culture instead of self-righteous theft.


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