In English class, we were told to write our own lyrical essays based on a topic that is important to us or to the world around us (or both). The goal of lyrical essays is to deliver a message through artistic language, poetry, and/or imagery. I really love this form of writing because there aren’t many rules that you have to follow and you have more freedom to write creatively to convey your message. I chose to write my lyrical essay about cultural appropriation vs. cultural appreciation because I have recently noticed how prevalent of an issue it is and how it impacts different cultural groups. I used poetic styles, anecdotes, and other forms of artistic language to pull my lyrical essay together.
My intention with this lyrical essay is to signify the importance of differentiating between cultural appropriation and appreciation. I wanted to illustrate this through comparing the complexities of different cultures to a garden. I represent culture as an immense, lush garden to show the history and depth within each culture that most people don’t see just by looking at certain aspects of a culture, such as fashion. Similarly, people look at a garden for its pretty flowers, not the small details and miniscule flaws. In the essay I refer to the people who are collecting flowers from the garden as “they” in order to target a larger audience and to represent the idea that many of us might mistakenly be the appropriators. The collecting of flowers represents the idea of “picking and choosing” what you like about a culture and choosing to only portray that part of it. In the three scenarios following the description of the garden, I talk about three different cultures and use second person in order to also connect with the reader and the audience, which was inspired by Rankine’s writing style. Although I haven’t personally experienced any of these three scenarios, I have witnessed them, heard of them from friends, and researched them online. After each scenario, I circle back to the flowers that are plucked from the garden to portray the pieces of a culture that are pulled from the whole. I bring up confusion a lot throughout the essay as well, because typically there is a lot of confusion over where the thin line of appropriation and appreciation lies. The overall message of the essay is to keep ourselves educated in order to eliminate this confusion, which is why I decided to end the essay with emphasis on understanding the entire garden, or the entire culture.
The Backside of the Petal
They walk into a lush garden full of evergreen trees, countless shrubs, and flowers of every size and color imaginable. The garden is immense, every square inch of it holds something precious and unique. The garden is not tended, it simply grows as it is and parts of it wither away as a part of its process. There are natural flaws: thorns, prickly leaves, wildflowers growing out of proportion. The flaws are a crucial part of the whole. The flaws contribute to the growth of the garden. They don’t like these flaws—they want to ignore them, so they choose to ignore them. There are also man-made flaws: destruction to the garden by a human hand. Branches cut from trees, dying wildflowers pulled from their roots, petals picked from tulips. They don’t like these flaws either; they see them as imperfections to the beautiful garden of their vision. So they choose to ignore them. They proceed to stomp through the garden and pick out the flowers they like best. The ones with the pretty,
They leave behind the imperfect,
the raw, the real.
It is easy to ignore, they find bliss in their ignorance. It works out well for them. They walk away from the garden with their hands gripped onto the incomplete, flawless, but filtered, collection of beautiful flowers that mean nothing to them.
“What’s Your Costume?”
It’s Halloween. Your favorite American holiday. Your vampire’s cape dances in the wind as you sprint outside to meet your friends for trick or treating. Your friend compliments your costume. You’re confused by her’s. She says she’s dressed as a Native American as she’d heard in the stories of Thanksgiving. You don’t know what to say. You don’t just see a costume. You see your culture turned into a costume. She gets to wear it for a night and then take it off. Your native blood will flow through your body forever.
They picked a tulip.
You see a girl dressed in a kimono dress on television. She’s a white, famous, well-known singer. Dressed in a kimono, as a geisha. You instantly recognize it from its delicate patterns and silk sleeves. Your eyes freeze for a second. As your friend points how pretty she looks, you remember the day of your 8th birthday when your grandmother’s hands gifted you with your own, precious, carefully crafted kimono. You see the girl in pixels, as she dances, glamorizes, plays in a dress that symbolizes the celebration of your cultural femininity. A sacred dress turned into a dress-up game. A pretty aesthetic.
They pick a rose from the garden.
A One-Sided Conversation
You sit at lunch as your friend tells you about a new practice she learned: manifestation. She says she can now manifest her crush to like her back. She says it’s a “trend”.
You think of your Hindu religion— You’ve learned about manifestation. The historic art of bringing something into your life through attraction and belief.
You simply nod in confusion and take a bite of your home-made masala wrap.
Another thorn pressed into their hands from the bouquet. Do they not feel it sting?
Back to the Garden…
The words appropriate and appreciate become trapped together, tangled in vines, wrapped in greenery, meshed between thorns. You are confused because you feel the sting even though you aren’t gripping onto the thorns and flowers; They are confused because they don’t feel any pain with their skin pressed against prickles.
But you understand. You understand that to them it’s just flowers. It’s just roses (with thorns that they ignore). It’s just shrubs, leaves, trees. To them, they are picked to grow back.
But you also want them to understand. You want them to watch the garden grow and to know the origins of each root and stem birthing from the soil. You want them to not just see the garden for it’s surface beauty, but also to see the backside of the petal.
I decided to create a spoken word poem out of my lyrical essay because I felt like this was the best way to convey my message and appreciate the poetry that I included in my lyrical essay.