Why do couples borrow cultural elements for their wedding, and how can you do so respectfully?

November 23 | Guest post by AreWeThereYet

Cultural appropriation is a perennial topic on Offbeat Bride — when does it feel ok to borrow a tradition from another culture, and when does it feel exploitative? Here's one perspective.

Mendhi!
Mendhi! © by amy(mcd)lakhani, used under Creative Commons license.

I believe there is a reason behind the appropriation of traditions between cultures. It has been said that appropriation can only occur when a dominant culture takes from a culture that has been marginalized in some way.

The reason behind the desire for appropriation bears some investigation. Instead of simply condemning it, we may better be able to combat the negativity of it and turn it into an exchange of values, traditions, and ideals that fosters multiculturalism and celebrates diversity.

Many Anglo-Americans have such a mishmash of culture that they have few or no traditions that hold significant meaning for them. Perhaps people are inclined to like culture, symbolism, rituals, and traditions. Maybe they seek these out in other cultures because they don't have any of their own. Perhaps people seek to set themselves apart from a family or culture that they don't wish to be a part of or celebrate.

For example: my fiancé is essentially estranged from his family as was his father before him. He has a name that his grandfather made up because his original last name "sounded French." There aren't any identifiable family traditions… other than little-to-no family interactions.

My family is generations of Kentucky hill people. I asked my grandmother about traditions and she said, "Our kind's always been too busy making a living and keeping our men out of the bottle to 'bide much by traditions. We marry quick, marry young, and do it forever." My parents had a shotgun-style wedding in the back yard, my grandparents all either eloped or got married in someone's living room because they were pregnant teenagers.

Which of those cultural traditions should I pick?

On the other hand, my best friend's family is from New Orleans. I am really close to her family and they are steeped in old world etiquette and tradition. I call her parents "mom and dad." I have been to all of her cousins' weddings and there are ten people at our 100ish-person wedding from her NOLA family that are coming. I feel very connected to their Catholic culture as well as their New Orleans traditions. I've spent over half of my life participating in New Orleans-style festivities and traditions.

We are incorporating a few things into our wedding simply because it wouldn't feel right without it. Things like a ribbon pulling, second line, and groom's cake are so steeped in what my idea of a wedding is that I never thought of not incorporating it. MANY New Orleans traditions stem from French or African traditions. I need to be mindful of the possibility of offending when I choose to incorporate traditions that don't represent my personal background.

I went to a Jewish wedding where the rabbi explained that the reason for crushing the glass was to remember the destruction of the temple of Israel. The purpose of this is (I am going to paraphrase, but use quotations as I am not a member of this group and the "we" and "our" wouldn't apply to me) "if even in our happiest of moments we can acknowledge and remember our saddest moments, then even in our saddest moments we may be reminded of our happiest." This was a beautiful articulation of something I had been feeling for years. Because of this, I have a bouquet charm and my fiancé will have a charm tied in his laces. These charms represent to each of us the hardest and saddest times in our lives. We choose to acknowledge these things because, to us, it's important to remember — regardless of our cultural heritage.

I believe that what may be seen as appropriating to some can be seen as cultural exchange to others.

I think it's natural for people to foster deep connections and desire to be a part of traditions. Part of the process of immigration for many people's ancestors was a divorce from their culture. As a result, many of us don't know what our lineage is and don't have a string of traditions from a culture or family.

Obviously this doesn't give people the right to mindlessly usurp these treasures from the cultures of others. I believe, however, that if people who feel a particular bond or attachment to traditions that resonate with them, then they should be able to carefully and thoughtfully find ways to honor those pieces of a culture, and possibly create new cultures/traditions where there weren't any before.

I believe that what may be seen as appropriating to some can be seen as cultural exchange to others. I am lucky enough to have grown up in a fairly culturally diverse place and lived in even more culturally diverse places throughout my life. In my personal experiences, many of the people in other cultures love celebrating their traditions and sharing them with others. As a kid we had multicultural programs at school and once a month someone's parent would come in and teach us something about their culture and discuss their traditions. They also discussed things like eye contact, physical touch, and things that could be seen as a sign of disrespect. As a school we incorporated these holidays, cultures, and traditions into our regular activities.

Many of the children were first generation immigrants and they felt good that they weren't a pariah and they didn't get laughed at when they did things differently. Over the course of my life I've seen kids get Mitvahed, have quinceaneras, or be confirmed in the Catholic church; I've folded cranes for a friend's sick relative, poorly danced Ceilidh, and humored a bride through hours of mehndi. For every one of these events there has been a warm, friendly person guiding me through the tradition of the process.

In my experience, if you want to have some kind of tradition of another culture at your wedding, seek out someone who is familiar with it, and do your best to learn from them about it. Really listen, and then talk with them about what their cultural perspectives mean to you, and ask how (or if) they feel you could honor your interest in that culture respectfully and in good taste. In my personal experience, people are more often than not interested in sharing their culture with those who approach them respectfully.

Essentially, I think it comes down to "Don't be a jerk about it." I believe that the exploration of other cultures does not have to mean the exploitation of other cultures. If done carefully, with consideration, tact, and a heart of the intended meaning and purpose, using cultural traditions of others can be a nod of respect.

Readers who want to explore more about cultural appropriation should click here to read the Offbeat Empire's full archive of posts about the subject.

  1. Thanks for the great article. When my husband and I were married, we honored the multitude of mixed religions and people our two families were bringing together with a variety of traditions (including the breaking of the glass). This helped us further our connections to them. I say go for it, if it means something to you!

    4 agree
  2. Thank you. I've been thinking about this a bit lately, wondering how to toe the line. It's nice to hear someone else's thinking on these things.

    2 agree
  3. This is a topic I am very excited to see written about. I have had mehndi designs applied to my hands at many different culture fairs and festivals. I have asked woman who migrated from India for college and those who grew up in Iowa how they felt about my having mehndi designs. No woman has thought I was disrespectful or rude to have said designs,and yet Derrik is very aginst it. He is extremely respectful of other cultures. I hope to use this artical to help me address his objections to my having mehndi designs on my hands before our wedding. I shall do a lot of research and we'll see how it goes.

    10 agree
    • I really wanted to have Mehndi done as well, because its just so breathtakingly beautiful. I was a little apprehensive of how people would receive it if I did decide to do it but now I feel alot better :)

      2 agree
  4. Thank you so much for bringing this discussion up.

    I grew up with Buddhist parents – a rather obscure sect that has continually been both attacked as a cult and defended against those accusations over the past hundred years or so. They adopted the religion in their teens – in some ways I think it began as an act of rebellion against their upper-middle class, privileged white parents. They had a Buddhist marriage ceremony. What I mostly took away from the experience was that my parents wanted to pretend that they didn't come from where they actually came from. They have both since their late teens prayed for 1-2 hours a day in a language the don't speak, and have been reciting prayers they don't understand the translations of. To me, that's the shallower side of cultural adoption – but that's different from folding origami for decorations at a wedding or developing a collection of Japanese furniture.

    I agree with the article here that it's important to create traditions that are right for you (as opposed to the living room shotgun weddings she doesn't aspire to.) In my position, I was completely removed from the actual cultural heritage of my family, and have spent many years trying to reconnect with where my family actually comes from.

    So even if you aren't proud of where you came from and find what feel like a better home in the practices of a different culture, don't let it go so far as try re-writing your history. You might not be proud of it right now, but your imperfect or seemingly bland family might be the most beautiful thing children looking to understand their family.

    14 agree
    • Your parents are still doing it?

      I respect their dedication! To be following a religion most of your life like that seems to me to make it much deeper than appropriation, but of course I don't know your parents.

      I've had a somewhat related experience. My parents joined a Hindu group that is sometimes considered a cult and still are deeply involved today. They actually have studied Sanskrit for the last 35 years, so they know all the meaning of every prayer they give.

      Because of them, I consider myself to be Hindu, though I have no Indian blood. I've been exploring that and writing about it for a few years now and I'm on the eve of having a very Hindu wedding.

      I worry a little about whether my children will feel disinterested in Hinduism and the Indian culture I practice and long to learn more about their Irish and Scottish heritage.

      2 agree
  5. Beautifully written!

    I particularly like the focus on learning what the ritual is really about. In my opinion, appropriation becomes particularly problematic when it is done "because it looks cool" or based on a very shallow understanding of the meaning. Your charms were also a lovely example. I could see some couples being impressed by that one meaning of the broken glass ceremony but missing the rich historical and religious significance, so just using it as it is.

    I also wonder about the importance of having a connection to a culture or a tradition prior to the planning of a wedding. Again, I think it gets back to really knowing something and valuing it instead of picking something lovely out of a wedding magazine.

    Kudos!

    9 agree
  6. This is an excellent post! I haven't seen anyone address cultural appropriation in terms of weddings this way before.

    In the end, everything really does come down to following Wheaton's Law, doesn't it?

    11 agree
  7. This is a topic I have often read about, considered, and discussed, during literature studies and in everyday life. However, what I notice is the emphasis on lineage. In a society that (mostly and ideally) condemns racism, I think culture should be about experience, not where on the planet your DNA came from. A genuine question, why should a child adopted from, for example, China, want to connect with a cultural heritage that might have little to do with their bloodline, but not necessarily their home and day-to-day experience of culture? That said, I think traditions are very valuable, and as an Anglo-Canadian don't feel that my bloodline bequeaths me too many interesting ones. There aren't any traditions from "other" cultures that I plan on incorporating into my wedding, but it's just funny to think that any sort of social practice can be considered "stealing" from another group, because that group has different DNA or came from a certain place. We should be a little more colourblind than that.

    12 agree
    • With respect, "colorblindness" isn't really all that great. When many people claim to be colorblind, they are also, in a sense, not looking at a lot of the institutional privileges that white people have, and that the cultures they're borrowing from lack.

      White nations have colonized a LOT of non-white cultures, and exploited those cultures for the sake of fashion, style, and trend. We do have to be careful when we borrow from other cultures that we do not do so in a way that is disrespectful to those cultures– which I'm sure you agree with! But just adding my two cents that "colorblindness" is not all it's cracked up to be, because those without white privilege do not have the option to be "colorblind." While I remain committed to respect and tolerance, I would rather see the full spectrum of colors for all their beauty than claim to be "colorblind."

      40 agree
      • There's an article that I think is a really great introduction to talking about race called "10 things everyone should know about race". #10 is that colourblindness is not a solution (although obviously one meant in good faith).

        If anyone is interested, it's a pretty short summary sheet here: http://www.pbs.org/race/000_About/002_04-background-01-x.htm

        9 agree
      • Agreed. As the author points out, what is 'appropriation' to one is 'cultural exchange' to another – though generally the 'cultural exchange' is the dominant culture's perspective, while the minority/disadvantaged group has been appropriated. As the above commenter points out, there are huge issues of privilege here.

        The thing about culture is that when you live it in, are completely embedded in it, without notions of individual choice and independence, you can't just pick and choose which bits you like. The very essence of culture is that one is steeped in it, generally from birth. This might explain why there is a sense of not having a culture – because when it is all around you, it becomes invisible (see comment below, from Emily).

        Culture is distinct from tradition; the family 'tradition' might be shotgun weddings, but that's not necessarily your culture. I think it's preferable for one to look deeper into their own roots, rather than elsewhere into someone else's.

        6 agree
    • I think it is extremely important to be aware of our privilege (particularly white privilege) and acknowledge how reality due to white privilege is completely different that what many others may experience. This is a really good list of the daily effects of white privilege that was really eye opening for me http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html#daily

      White privilege is very related to cultural appropriation. The Municipal Cultural Planning Project defines it as "the process by which members of relatively privileged groups "raid" the culture of less powerful or marginalized groups, and removing [sic] cultural practices or artifacts from historically or culturally specific contexts." I don't think it's acceptable to claim colour blindness when our actions can have a negative impact on an oppressed group group.

      15 agree
      • Thanks! I'm going to use this list as well!

        0 agree
    • I have also always felt that culture is more about your actual experience than it is about your DNA.

      1 agrees
  8. Lovely post! I definitely feel it all comes down to your respect for those traditions, and ultimately fully understanding why you want them included in your ceremony. We all have our own mental constructions of our traditions, and none probably fully match anyone else's variations. And I think that's wonderful – we are the weavers of our own traditions.

    And Wheaton's Law is awesome.

    0 agree
  9. I think it comes down to Don't Be A Jerk, and Know The Meaning. If you want to borrow some cultural traditions remote from your own, you absolutely should. What you shouldn't do is borrow them with no mind to what they represent or how they can quickly become inappropriate paired with something else. Not only do you free yourself from potential negative comments but you can learn a bit more about the world, and that's always a good thing.

    3 agree
  10. As a white bride who wore Middle Eastern & Indian textiles for her wedding, I think it comes down to a) know what you're borrowing (ie, not just 'cause it looks pretty), and b) don't assume you're entitled to be immune from criticism. I did so because I am a dancer and the theme of my wedding reception was lotsa dance– my dance partner and I even performed at the reception… a bellydance piece that incorporated elements of Indian blessings. Had that not been the case, I would have gone with other clothing. I don't just walk down the street in a bindi just 'cause, and I wouldn't have walked down the aisle that way, either. I did my best to borrow respectfully, but in no way expect everyone else to agree with my decisions. I recognize that as a white person, there will always be many perspectives on what is appropriate for me when it comes to cultural borrowing. The best I can do is treat others' viewpoints with respect and learn from them.

    3 agree
  11. Depends on what the cultural item is. You can't steal a cultural thing unless by using it means the creating culture can no longer claim it or do it. But one should be sensitive to traditions that are very sacred or super meaningful to a peoples where they don't appreciate 'borrowing'.
    We've seen trouble from borrowing and playing cultural dress up with the hobo wedding, but some of the hew and cry there was over the top. As a Black woman I would raise an eyebrow if a white couple decided to incorporate the jumping the broom in their wedding.
    For myself I think cultural dress-up or borrowing from somewhere unrelated makes your wedding less about you, unless you make a regular habit of playing dress-up or borrowing.

    11 agree
    • Also, a number of pagans use it as part of their handfasting ceremony.

      13 agree
      • Yes, this is why we're doing it.

        1 agrees
        • And gay and lesbian couples use this tradition as well. The tradition links back to slavery days in the U.S. when slaves could not get legally married. Now GLBT couples use this tradition as a way to say, "yes, we too will one day be able to legally marry as well".

          6 agree
    • "one should be sensitive to traditions that are very sacred or super meaningful to a peoples where they don't appreciate 'borrowing'."

      Yes, yes, YES.

      Jumping a broom is definitely something that's got multiple histories in different cultures, but I don't want that as an example to take away from the importance of what you just said… I think approaching everything with respect and caution is the way to go, but even though I can't think of a concrete example, I also don't want to close off the idea that there could exist certain symbols that are not welcome to be borrowed at certain points in time.

      Some of the other amazing advice in this article in the second last paragraph begins with, "Really listen…"

      4 agree
  12. What a great post! This is an important conversation to have and I think Arewethereyet approached it thoughtfully and meaningfully.

    0 agree
  13. this is a timely post for me.
    my son recently married (YAY!) and the Indian side of the bride's family hosted a mehndi – so much fun! I wore an Indian inspired dress but not a sari. when the bride's father asked who organized my costume, I wasn't sure how to take it. was he approving because I dressed in the spirit of the occasion (you don't wear surgical scrubs to the opera, so dress for the occasion) or did he see me as a white woman who was mimicking – possibly mocking – his culture? I responded honestly that I had chosen the outfit but he gave no clue to his perspective. I later asked my now DIL, and she reassured me that he was approving (WHEW!) but as someone who tries to be respectful of other cultures, I was genuinely concerned.

    while we are all too often excessive with being politically correct, if you show sincere respect for other people and their cultures most are very happy to share their traditions and even explain them. if something about a tradition touches you and you want to include that in your wedding, what greater compliment could there be?

    5 agree
  14. I got married earlier this year, and this was a large consideration for me, personally. I am white, and agree with most that understanding the meaning behind a tradition is very important. Cultural appropriation is a topic that actually comes up a lot at my work place (a university), and as such, I really find myself taking other white folks to task, sometimes a bit too harshly, for appropriating. However, I really like the author's idea about taking the essence of the glass breaking ceremony and re-working it. I myself have always found chuppahs really beautiful, but I resisted trying to have one of my own because I felt it was something that I was doing because it was pretty, not because I wanted to honor God by way of Jewish tradition. But I like the symbolism of the tradition as well, and opted to have a beautifully decorated arbor that evoked a similar look without being a blatant appropriation. That said, we also served chicken and waffles at the wedding because it was a brunch theme and is delicious, which you could also make the argument is an appropriation of black culture. It's a hard road to hoe, but ultimately I think being honest about one's privilege and having an honest accounting of your reasons are important. Similarly, I would have never had a religious ceremony because we are not religious and it would have been disingenuous to do so, not only for us, but for folks who do follow those beliefs.

    1 agrees
    • Thank you for not opting for the chuppah on purely aesthetic reasons. I have seen people do it and it makes me uncomfortable. Personally, I identify a chuppah with a Jewish wedding and when what's going on is clearly not it feels like appropriation. It feels worse when the couple then sits down to a meal of whole, roasted pig.

      There is also the possibility that multiple cultures have similar conditions. A former co-worker expressed her annoyance at my "appropriating" the South Asian tradition of wedding henna because she had no clue that many cultures, including Sephardic Jews, have the tradition as well.

      5 agree
  15. I'm of a rather diluted irish heritage, and my boyfriend is African-American and Cuban. In spite of the misgivings I have, as these are traditions that neo-pagans have adopted, we will be having a handfasting (with every person at the wedding tying our hands together) and a broom jumping as part of our christian ceremony. I'm more worried that these things will be seen as being associated with paganism(not that I have anything against pagans) rather than being associated with our cultural heritage (mine and his), and a symbolic joining of mixed origins.

    0 agree
  16. Frequently I hear folks online and off brush off concerns about cultural appropriation (or sexism, or classism, or…) with things like,

    "well some people will be offended by anything"

    … and I know no one is saying that here, so maybe it's a weird thing to bring up, but I hear it SO constantly that I'm just SO relieved and think it's really awesome that a different and much more constructive conversation is happening in this space instead.

    I think this is a really fantastic article, and thank you for writing it.

    5 agree
  17. I am one of those people who don't have any real culture to draw from. Nearly all my mother's ancestors have been in the US or Canada since the 1800s from all over western Europe. On my dad's side, I'm technically Dutch, but we have no traditions or anything associated with it as I'm 3rd generation.

    Sometimes I feel rather left out that I don't really have any meaningful traditions that come from my ancestry and I'm tempted to appropriate some. It's nice to think that it can be done respectfully, if you do it with respect and intent.

    8 agree
  18. I appreciate that people are trying hard to think about being sensitive, but I think the idea that Anglo-Americans and white people generally have so little culture "of their own" is kind of a red herring. I think we have a tendency to look at "culture" as something divorced from everyday life, and something that comes from pre-modern and non-Western contexts, rather than the way we live out American modernity in our everyday lives. I would say that the wedding trends and traditions many of us on this site define ourselves against as "offbeat" ARE Anglo-American culture and tradition. (Just because someone don't feel personally connected to them doesn't mean it's not part of their culture, culture isn't always something that makes everyone feel full of unity and belonging.) Shopping for ideas from cultures other than your own is a way of trying to individualize your own wedding. I'm not saying that's bad, but saying that you don't HAVE culture or tradition is simply ignoring what you do have.

    29 agree
    • Yes, I totally agree with this. (I'm actually agreeing with a lot that everyone is saying – as someone said above, this is a great discussion.)

      As an English person, I do sometimes find it interesting that very rarely on this, or any other, site do American readers seem to talk about making a nod to "English" heritage. Scottish, Welsh, Irish, sure – but never English.

      I think Emily may be right, that people don't think of their everyday life as necessarily containing culural traditions, though of course all ways of life do. As a result, the "onbeat" traditions of English and American culture are not seen as cool and meaningful traditions that others might want to borrow for their weddings. And when they do (e.g. Indian brides of my acquaintance wanting a white wedding dress), it can sometimes be seen as giving in to the dominant culture, rather than them expressing *their* individuality by using something meaningful to them. Which is kind of a shame, perhaps – sensitive cultural borrowing should be allowed in all directions.

      13 agree
      • These comments about offbeat brides of Anglo-Saxon American heritage really resonate. I LOVE the wide array of multicultural wedding traditions I have learned about on this site, and Offbeat bride helped me recognize how important it is to me to have a wedding that suits my family's traditions. Thanks to Offbeat Bride, I'm actually planning a much more "conventional" wedding than I thought I would.

        1 agrees
    • WOAH! YES! And the categories that go unmarked like this (in this case, unmarked culture) also tend to be the ones that coincide with privilege.

      7 agree
    • I agree. I think that often, people who come from the Anglo-American tradition fail to realize that the "typical" wedding most of us think of as traditional is strictly from their culture. The order of the ceremony, the bride being walked in by her father, the incorporation of readings and/or songs. These are all part of an Anglo, Christian wedding. That's culture. None of those elements will be in my Jewish wedding!

      11 agree
      • Its also interesting that many elements of what we consider a 'traditional' white-people wedding were adapted from Italian and Greek cultures. 100 years ago most anglo people (especially non rich ones) didn't necessarily make a deal of their wedding, wear fluffy white dresses, have a three tiered wedding cake, etc. Much of this was actually adapted from Italian and other similar wedding cultures, but slowly such that its not even noticed, and people don't think of themselves as having an 'italian-style" wedding.

        1 agrees
        • Actually, the big white dress in particular is Queen Victoria's fault. Before her wedding, the upper classes would more likely wear a gold or coloured gown to their wedding, not white. The lower classes would wear their best dress (of any colour). After Queen Victoria shirked the usual royal wedding tradition, white became more popular and the trend for bigger, fluffier dresses was only perpetuated by Princess Diana in the 80s.

          In Britain, at least.

          6 agree
  19. No.

    The tone of this article seems to imply that cultural traditions are somehow owned by that culture. That those cultures have somehow been given (by god?) or are entitled to particular things. When the fact is that they've all been made up by humans. For millennia humans have been sharing, appropriating, and creating different aspects of their cultures with other groups. We are not, nor have we ever been separate.

    Even something as specific as say Christmas is a bundle of traditions.

    The idea of a savior or messiah – Jewish
    Birth of a god to a virgin – Greek or even more ancient
    Having that birth around the winter solstice – Roman
    Celebration of the solstice – Ancient Pagan
    Christmas Tree – Germanic, appropriated by Queen Victoria to the English, then to the US
    Santa Claus – Christian, German, Pagan, Dutch, Scandinavian, and for the visuals Coca-Cola.

    There's only one culture: HUMAN.

    22 agree
    • All that is true, but all those historical/cultural ancestors to modern day traditions happened before things like the holocaust, witch-burning, colonialism, slavery, and so on. I feel like it's on the same level as saying "in a thousand years no one will care." Of course it's true, but that still doesn't mean you should do something that's disrespectful.

      13 agree
    • …actually, Queen Victoria couldn't appropriate anything from the Germans. Aside from the fact that her father's family descended from German cousins of Queen Anne who came to the English throne due to succession rules designed to keep out the Catholic Stuarts, and were therefore not English to begin with (although by Victoria's time they had more or less adopted/adapted to English culture/tradition as their own), her mother AND her husband were both German-born. Many of her companions growing up were German ex-pats, chosen by her mother (who didn't like England very much). So by the logic of appropriation, that the borrowing or theft of a cultural tradition/concept is done by a person who is not connected to the culture in any way, Queen Victoria cannot be accused of appropriating Christmas trees. It is not reasonable to accuse European royalty of appropriating other more-or-less contemporary European traditions, because most of them have an ancestry that links them to virtually every other European nation. For 300 years, every Romanov except one married a German (including a granddaughter of Queen Victoria). If the Romanovs wanted to have Christmas trees, it's not exactly stealing. If you want to talk about the Elgin marbles, or the Hope Diamond… there would be a valid argument there.

      0 agree
  20. Thank you thank you THANK YOU for this article. I really feel like Offbeat Bride keeps me grounded.

    0 agree
  21. I really appreciate this. I'm planning on wearing a Chinese dress during the reception at the request of my Taiwanese-American FMIL. I've definitely been struggling with how to incorporate Chinese traditions without going into "because it is pretty" territory. Even though FMIL is the one requesting I wear the dress, I'm still afraid of it coming across wrong.

    FH was entirely raised in the US, and he is the first of that side of the family to marry, so we really don't have any models. Even FMIL has never been to a wedding in Taiwan, so she has no idea beyond a desire for us to acknowledge his Chinese heritage.

    0 agree
    • To me it seems far better to honor your FMIL's desire for her culture to be represented. In situations like that, it doesn't look like appropriation at all to me. I think it's wonderful that you are giving her love and respect.

      5 agree
  22. I find it sad that certain cultural elements are considered "off limits" to anyone outside that culture. Can't we learn to share?
    My mother was adopted and never found out much about her side of the family. My father's side is mainly Native American. It took us years to even find these people because you were shamed or killed for being Indian "back then" from what my relatives told me. They changed their names and moved so many times. No one remembers a thing about our culture anymore. My fiance's family has also lost their way, and we're all just looking for something meaningful. As long as someone adopting a tradition for their wedding truly understands that tradition(and they're not butchering it), I don't see a problem with it. Be thankful for the rich heritage you have and feel proud that people admire it. DNA is only a small piece in defining who you are, the way you live and what you learn will bring new traditions.

    10 agree
    • While I agree with the general sentiment of your statement, I do have to say one thing in response to "Can't we learn to share?"

      Honestly… sometimes it's not about "sharing." It's not that, as a black and native american woman, I see some people using a tradition that I identify with in my communities and get all huffy about it because I don't want to share. It's because I live in America, and though, for example, the time of African enslavement has ended in this country, there is still a very long (and in many ways, ongoing) history of white people being privileged to "take" certain things of cultural significance to other, less empowered or less dominant cultures and claim it as their own, and some of them feel (somewhat unknowingly) entitled to do so. Do I believe that all white people who borrow from a culture outside of their own heritage are racist? Absolutely not. But white privilege exists. My culture is very important to me, as is my family. I don't want to sit at a wedding while someone gets to borrow and select from my culture because it makes them feel more interesting. There's a difference between incorporating something important you into your ceremony and incorporating something that just seems cool; from my perspective, the latter stings. It stings a lot.

      Point blank: There was a time, not very long ago, when white people were allowed to take what they wanted from black and native people in America without reprisal or fallout, and that understanding is deeply embedded in my cultural awareness. I don't mind anybody borrowing from another culture, as long as they do it sensitively. I DO mind people not understanding why it is SO important to look into these traditions and tread lightly, with sensitivity – it's not about not wanting to share, it's about not wanting to have yet another thing taken from me or my identity with no agency in the matter.

      As such, I couldn't agree more with your statement "As long as someone adopting a tradition for their wedding truly understands that tradition (and they're not butchering it), I don't see a problem with it." As long as we're being culturally competent, I'll share it all!

      27 agree
      • Thank you so much. I have been trying to explain my feelings and saw your post and you said it all so well:)

        2 agree
  23. This is a great post. It's always so interesting to me as a southerner to see how many brides across the country choose to incorporate southern traditions into their weddings because they think its "cute" or "quaint." I'm pleased to see you're really thinking about it. We take our traditions seriously in the South, and often brides who have "southern" weddings do so in a way that comes across as a silly themed party meant to tease us about our old-fashioned ideas. (Though I'm sure that is never their actual intention!)

    I think it's great these traditions mean something to you, and that you're encouraging people to do their research and figure out what they are really saying through their wedding. Thanks!

    2 agree
  24. I think this whole political correctness thing can be taken to far. There was a KFC ad here in Australia which got a huge outcry in the US because their traditions made people think it was racist. The ad was made for an Australian context where it wasn't considered racist at all – there was simply no context which made it so. http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/kfc-ad-a-storm-in-a-fried-chicken-bucket-20100111-m21e.html
    I think the same thing can happen here. As an earlier commentator said, cultures have been borrowing traditions off each other for thousands of years. The side converstations on jumping the broom and henna within this thread show that the same traditions crop up in a wide variety of different places. I would argue that jus becuase it looks like something has been "stolen", doesn't mean that it has. The context in which it was put into the ceremony is everything.
    One commentator said I can't have a wedding arch cause I think they look pretty??? When does an arch turn into a jewish chuppah? If I say it's an arch, it's an arch. If you say its a chuppah, then what?

    8 agree
  25. I see this cultural exchange as an opportunity not only to learn about other cultures, but also as a "teaching moment" for your guests. I like the idea of a program that briefly talks about the history and significance of cultural elements in your wedding that may not be familiar to some of your guests. It is not just about doing your homework and finding out about another culture yourself, I think you have a responsibility to the group you are borrowing from to share its significance with others and see this as a respectful way to "give back."

    3 agree
  26. I'm fairly fobbish (though with Irish/Italian culture), but have had a good friend who's done mendhi for me for years (she loves to test designs and stains on my super pale skin). I'm excited to do mendhi at my own wedding because of my history with my friend–and anyone who truly knows me at the wedding knows I almost always prefer to be covered in mendhi!

    2 agree
  27. My spouse has a Jewish father but since his mother isn't Jewish he technically isn't, but he feels some cultural attachment to being of Jewish descent. I've got no Jewish ancestry at all (that I know of) and am various European things. We didn't do a Chuppah or a glass-breaking or any Jewish elements in the vows (they were completely non-religious) but we did sign a Ketubah. That's the only element I can think of that's specifically tied to a specific culture we're not obviously directly a part of and I think it was appropriate for the amount of Jewishness between us. I guess it's also a Jewish tradition to have both parents walk each member of the couple down the aisle. Though we did that more out of disbelief in gender segregation than ties to the Jewish tradition. Cake cutting & feeding, first dance, I think those things are pretty generally American at this point. Can't think of any other elements we had that I would consider traditions. We made a lot of stuff up ourselves :)

    1 agrees
  28. I found this post very interesting, because I'd like to incorporate wedding traditions from multiple cultures into our ceremony. I hadn't thought before reading this that it might be considered in a negative light by some.

    What our plan is at the moment is to have a sake ceremony, a Pueblo Indian commitment reading, an Irish blessing, a Sanskrit poem on the ceremony programs, and a Norwegian wedding cake – among other things.

    The reason for this is I have always been fascinated with other cultures and love learning about them. We're not having a religious ceremony, but I wanted it to be meaningful, personal, and unique.

    Thoughts?

    1 agrees
  29. I went o_o then smirked at the chuppah – pig part OleMole. My partner is Jewish, but only by birth. I wanted to incorporate some Jewish tradition into our wedding (and explain why and where it came from in programmes) but also ensure that we didn't besmirch that by including anything to the contrary; he wanted a hog roast! Whaaat? I vetoed that immediately.

    To be honest, I don't care that if I incorporate part of his heritage with mine it is obvious that we aren't having a Jewish wedding. I'm not about to be hoisted up on a chair and 'play' a Jewish bride, I merely want to nod to his family whilst retaining our own identity throughout the ceremony .. and beyond, no pork for example. The younger generations of his family are Jewish when it suits them, I may not be Jewish by birthright like him, but I have more respect for cultural tradition than those in his family who are.

    Anyway, no one can tell me to retain tradition and culture based on my region of origin if I don't identify with it, simple. Does that mean I can't have any cultural references/tradition included in my wedding? Heck no!

    I appreciate this discussion muchly, not so much the odd nod at disapproval but hey, it's gonna happen.

    3 agree
  30. I went to a wedding in New Orleans where the white couple and the guests (including me) did a second line through the streets. Black passersby shouted things like "You're doing it wrong." Only later did I learn that the second line began as a black funeral tradition. Cultural appropriation is not really respectful, no matter how you slice it.

    5 agree
    • I think this boils down to more an issue of misunderstanding/misusing the tradition — to me, it feels like the issue is less that white people did a second line, and more that they were doing it as part of a wedding instead of a funeral. That's a subtle but pretty significant difference.

      8 agree
      • Yes, but my point is that many, many white couples who get married in New Orleans misuse the circle line tradition without knowing they are misusing it (or without caring). And what about Day of the Dead weddings? That's also a tradition that has to do with dead relatives that some white brides are appropriating for their weddings. I know that culture evolves, and I appreciate the accepting vibe on OBB, but I also think that it's okay to point out that some of this stuff might actually be offensive even if the brides have good intentions.

        3 agree
      • this is an interesting comment because i have worked in the wedding industry in NOLA for over 25 years and have worked at hundreds of weddings…and almost everyone from here does a second line for their wedding reception, regardless of race [and also for mardi gras carnival parades, and ….so on and so on]. so no, i don't think that the people were shouting that the [white] folks were doing it wrong because it was not for a funeral [or because they were white]. i have learned that there is usually a difference in which song is used [whether the party is white or black] but perhaps there were a lot of out-of-towners who were doing it "wrong" [i still don't know what the big deal is] and these people were just being silly or negative [i'm not automatically saying they were being mean on purpose, maybe just chiding or looking for an invite to join! ;)]. I would say that EVERYONE is NOLA knows where this tradition comes from, and EVERYONE still uses it for celebrations as well as funerals. In fact, one of the parts at the end ["take it to the street"] is used to exit the guests from the reception in a timely manner. i'm pretty sure that part was not in the original funerary version, though.

        Now, Jazz Funerals for inanimate objects or people who do not deserve them based on their role in the community really bother me…

        7 agree
    • Someone please help me out here, I feel totally out on a limb with some of these responses.

      Appropriation – the action of taking something for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission..
      Whose permission do I have to ask to be allowed to adopt tradition into my ceremony that isn't directly tied to my family, religion or region? I can't help but feel this is the closest OBB has come to toeing the judgmental chastising line. People can take a totally different surname or meld different names, because they feel more connected to them. Someone had that name first and passed it down through generations just like tradition. WHY is there no negative judgement that? I don't need anyones approval, but this is the first time I've seen where people are being portrayed negatively for their (albeit sometimes naive) choices! This isn't the Knot! :)

      14 agree
      • I don't think anyone expects you to ask permission or even to feel guilty for using another tradition. The key is to do so in a way that honors the tradition- which is done through truly understanding where the tradition comes from and why it was/is used.

        Think about what offbeat bride says about traditions our families or the bridal industry expect us to use, such as a first dance or a garter toss- if it doesn't mean something to you, there's no need to do it. The same can be said in my opinion of adding traditions.

        I don't think its necessary that you have "ownership" of a tradition, but when we have a website that's devoted to creating authentic weddings, its understandable that the brides here would want to, well, understand, what they are creating.

        One of the things I love about Offbeat Bride is how conscientious the community is. We want to celebrate our diversity and uniqueness, but I don't think that means we should do so at the expense of others. I don't believe anyone here would purposefully disrespect a tradition/culture, but ignorance of what you are doing can not only offend, but let's be honest, can make you look stupid, too.

        4 agree
        • "seek out someone who is familiar with it, and do your best to learn from them about it… and ask how (or if) they feel you could honor your interest in that culture respectfully and in good taste."

          I think the article pretty clearly states that someone DOES expect you to ask permission. As in, the author of the article does.

          0 agree
      • I think it's unfair to say that having a discussion about cultural sensitivity suddenly makes us The Knot.

        This site supports brides being thoughtful in their wedding choices. Thoughtful doesn't mean you have to bow to etiquette or make the same decisions as anyone else, but it *does* mean you think through the impact of your nontraditional choices — and cultural insensitivity can have a big impact.

        18 agree
        • Then it's fortunate that isn't what I said at all.
          "this is the first time I've seen where people are being portrayed negatively for their (albeit sometimes naive) choices! This isn't the Knot!"

          In that one sentence alone I acknowledged that some of the examples people have given were when couples were being naive, dare I say a little ignorant, and also pointed out with a smile that there is some negativity being dished out .. what part of that says this site has become the knot??

          4 agree
      • I have to agree with peachblossom in that I'm saddened that this sort of viewpoint is being expressed on OBB.

        I read the article and I just don't get it. Who can actually claim to own a tradition? The humans who created most of the traditions or original versions of a tradition are long gone. Being born in a culture that practices a certain tradition doesn't give ownership rights to that tradition. in my opinion. I certainly don't feel like I own the tradition of Thanksgiving just because I was born in the US. I certainly wouldn't expect anyone to ask my permission before practicing it, even if they decided to serve rice and pork and not have pie.

        It does feel to me like OBB wandered into the territory of "must obey what others want before you include it in your wedding".

        I can understand looking into a tradition, finding out what it is and deciding whether it's something you want in your wedding, but I'm not going to feel bad if I don't ask permission of a Wicca or Indian before including something from that culture in my wedding.

        This article doesn't feel like OBB is supporting brides/grooms in making their wedding day unique to them no matter what others' opinions might be. Maybe there's some bad apples out there that have done some horrible thing by including traditions not of their heritage in their wedding but I'm having a hard time believing the is the case very often. And I don't know that an article like this is going to change that. I think it might turn away people who thought they'd found a place where they could plan a wedding that was meaningful to them without judgement.

        12 agree
        • Ugh, I feel the same way, but then I get all worried that it's simply because of my white-privilege vantage-point…

          I found it so odd that an earlier commenter said she would be kind of taken aback and offended by seeing someone jump over a broom, because it is part of her heritage and has great meaning that she suspects the perpetrators do not appreciate.

          I mean, people keep bringing up the fact that Americans/Canadians/etc feel they don't have any traditions… Being of this culture, what tradition could I possibly be offended about? I can't really even think of many traditions, and those I can think of I couldn't care less if someone "stole". I think this is the idea: we don't have any traditions that we feel strongly about (maybe it's the white-privilege thing, I don't know), so we can't really understand why someone would be offended if we thought something was awesome from their culture and took it and ran with it. (This "we" being the people who don't feel like they have traditions of their own, and/or don't understand why someone would get upset over this stuff.)

          I mean, I can kind of see how being respectful and understanding it thoroughly and almost "asking permission" from someone of that culture might help alleviate some potentially bad feelings, but it does rub wrong a little to be told to be respectful of that from a website where people seem to randomly jump over brooms and do handfastings, etc all the time, and are encouraged for it. We are also encouraged to stick to our ideas and desires in our wedding despite family disapproval (albeit respectfully).

          However, I think the thing to take away is to be respectful always (which this site has always promoted), and this post was perhaps to inform those of us who had never considered it that many people may find certain cultural "nods" disrespectful.

          So thank you for helping us out with this – it really is a great discussion.

          7 agree
        • No, no, I'm sorry but I think this falls under a white privilege viewpoint which I don't think is intentional but can be problematic. A culture that has created that tradition can most certainly "own" it. It is not our place to use bits and pieces of other cultures as we wish if they are not our own, especially when we don't know anything about the tradition or possible sacred/spiritual/religious connections behind them. That is the problem. These traditions are not really ours to take or use. It steals away other cultures and promotes imperialism. I think it's important to realize that appropriation can be really harmful. And appropriation is not appreciation. You must respect that there are things that people of different races and cultures do not want us touching.

          I really recommend this master post for learning more on cultural appropriation/racism, it's helped me a lot:
          http://vasundharaa.tumblr.com/post/31917466176/this-is-a-resource-post-for-all-the-good-white

          Here are some snippets:
          "Cultural Appropriation: The unhealthy aspect of multiculti, where a more powerful culture raids a less powerful neighboring culture … and appropriates aspects of that culture without proper acknowledgment of the "home culture" or understanding the cultural context from which these aspects spring. Examples: yoga, Buddhism, hip hop and ebonics-derived slang, graffiti art, etc."

          "The dominant culture — in our case, white Americans — doesn't properly acknowledge the borrowing — or else the dominant culture makes a complete hash of the borrowing and then tries to pass it off as authentic. This happens for three reasons:

          1. Whites want/need ethnicity, so they find or make up a nonwhite ancestor and go acquire aspects of that ancestor's culture (see "1/16th Cherokee" or "we're southern so we must have a black ancestor") which they weren't brought up in and haven't acquired in ways that people generally consider to be "authentic."

          2. Whites want/need ethnicity, so they decide to strongly identify with a nonwhite culture and then acquire aspects of that culture (see "I taught English in China for two years," or "I'm blacker than you are!")

          3. Whites of a particular class or position need to appear worldly and eclectic — not to mention liberal — so they spend a great deal of cultural time "broadening their horizons" in ethnic shops and exercise/dance classes. This last one is itself an item of a liberal white American subculture: the need to have a culturally eclectic affect."

          This is not to say you can't use those things in your wedding, but I think it's important to be informed. And reading those articles and similar testimonials doesn't really make you feel great, but if there's one thing I've learned is that it's good to listen to the people whose voices are the most crucial in this issue – the people it directly affects.

          If you do have any questions regarding traditions, cultural appropriation, etc. for a specific culture, it's always best to ask! Tumblr offers a lot of great resources, like these, to list a few:

          http://this-is-not-native.tumblr.com/
          http://thisisnotjapan.tumblr.com/
          http://thisisnotindia.tumblr.com/

          And many more!

          7 agree
          • Ugh. I'm so sick of hearing the term "white privilege" and people assuming that white people who say they don't see race are just pretending it to impress people.

            I'm sick of whites being the only people who are deemed capable of being guilty of racism or "appropriation" or oppression. If there's a such thing as "white privilege" and whites are not allowed to do anything that aren't "rightfully" theirs, then neither is any other race. Black people can't wear white dresses because that's a white person wedding thing. Hispanic people can't have Asian food served at their wedding. Non-pagans can't have a hand fasting. People outside Japan can't produce anime and manga (which itself is a cultural appropriation of Disney cartoons) and be so totally committed to that sub-culture as to have character-cosplay at their wedding.

            Let's go beyond weddings, and not allow anybody who isn't black to listen to, enjoy, or create jazz music…oh, wait, jazz wouldn't exist at all if every culture kept to themselves, because it is made up of black Americans appropriating white American instruments and using them to their own designs.
            But nobody gets pissed about that anymore. As soon as a white guy gets too good at rap, though, it's all "white privilege" this and "cultural appropriation" that. Let's also not teach anybody any kind of eastern martial art, because only Asians should be able to defend themselves. And, in fact, let's just all not talk to each other and never try to learn each other's languages, and build huge walls against anybody that is slightly different from us and not share technologies or foods or customs that people of any genetic makeup with any kind of background can enjoy on some level.

            Do you see where this is going?

            All of this stuff is stuff that human beings made up at some point in history. The person that did it first is long dead and you will never replicate what ever the heck they did and even if you think you are doing it for the same reason, you probably aren't, because you're not inside their head.

            It is everybody's place to see things they like in the world on whatever level of enjoyment they choose to have, and use them in ways that they find meaningful. If everyone was so closed-minded as to keep to what "their" culture "owned", the planet would be full of in-bred mini-pockets of stunted civilization.

            Can people who aren't Indian do yoga? Abso-freaking-lutely! Will they get the same rich history and spirituality out of it that Indians get? Possibly, if they get that invested in the whole thing, but not everybody wants to go that far. Is it still a perfectly valid activity for someone looking to get more surface-level benefits out of it such as relaxation or stretching? YES, YES, A THOUSAND TIMES YES! The same argument rings true for any kind of cultural appropriation accusation out there. Will the ditzy college girl get the same meaning out of a poorly-translated kanji tattooed on her left butt cheek as would someone of Japanese origin? No. She probably has no idea that only criminals and deviants get things tattooed on their skin in Japan these days, and that even as tattoos are getting more acceptable there, that a word written in one's native tongue forever on one's body has innumerable subtleties of meaning that someone not versed in the language can truly understand. However, if it brings her joy for whatever meaning it has to her, then let her enjoy her tattoo. Even if it says "soup", it still looks pretty to her, so who cares?

            Let's take an example from my own culture. Spaghetti sauce, and the making of it, is a days-long family affair in traditional Italian households. However, this rich understanding and emulation of the culture that "owns" spaghetti sauce is not practical or desirable for most people who just think it tastes good. Will I denounce Signore Hector Boiardi for making money at bringing a bit of his home culture to the rest of the world, for changing his name so Americans can pronounce it, for adapting one bit of "our" culture into something different to share with others? No. You can eat all the Chef Boyardee you want. Is it "real" Italian food? I should say not. It's a complete Americanization of an Italian tradition completely devoid of its original meaning. Are you the devil for eating it? HECK NO! That stuff is delicious! Are you confined then to ONLY enjoying the most watered-down versions of any culture for fear of being considered a poser? No. Go as deep or shallow as you want. Can you make your own pasta sauce if you're not Italian? Sure! Can you turn it into a days-long family affair? Have at it! Does that make you Italian? No, but I don't care! Have fun! Craft a rich experience out of my culture that speaks to your own. Don't worry about trying to be so reverent that you emulate and "respect" to the point of being inauthentic to yourself. Double the basil, take out the garlic, it's your sauce! Do whatever you like. Don't make it my way if you know you're not going to like it.

            Even if you were Italian to begin with, your family affair is completely different from my family affair. Just as your wedding is completely different from my wedding. If you wear a veil to symbolize your virginity, and she wears a veil to symbolize her complete trust that she's marrying the right man, and some other woman wears one simply because it's pretty, THEY'RE ALL ALLOWED TO WEAR VEILS!

            If I want to wear feathers in my hair and learn belly-dance and change my name to Shaniqua, I haven't done anything wrong, simply because I'm not American Indian, Middle-Eastern, and Black. People need to get over this idea that one culture can own something. If you don't want somebody messing up your grand meanings and great traditions and all that, then never let them leave your head. Don't practice them, or ever let anybody know that they exist, because as soon as even one person sees something you do and wants to emulate it, it has changed completely and you have no control over how badly they butcher it. Can we gently encourage those interested in surface-level bits of culture to discover their deeper histories and meanings? Sure, have at it. Do I encourage people to not call it the original thing if it has strayed so far from the original thing so as to not be recognizable? Yes. Take my culture's ideas and use them to inspire whatever the heck you want. Don't call it authentic if it isn't. I'm all for correcting people if they're "doing it wrong", if "doing it right" is what they're going for, but maybe it isn't. Maybe they're just trying to "do it their way". Fine. But you have every right to create "Italian-Inspired" cooking that isn't authentic. Just as you have every right to a "Native American Inspired" or "Mexican Inspired" or "African Inspired" wedding even if you're not carrying those particular strands of DNA. I love cultural exchange. But should we judge and demean the person because they're different from us and aren't looking for the same things we are in any given cultural element? No.

            16 agree
        • I think this was a great article that was very sensitive about trying to balance multiple perspectives. As much as you may feel cultural borrowing is no big deal, someone else may feel that it is disrespectful, and they have a right to that feeling. I have found the growing use of henna designs on brides' hands in wedding blogs kind of disturbing, but this article points to a process for doing something like that which I think prevents it from devolving into a momentary wedding trend that no one will remember the original source or meaning of. I think if I, as an African American knew a white couple was jumping a broom not because they were Welsh but because they saw a Black couple doing it in a blog picture and thought it was cool, I'd be kind of upset, particularly when for us the broom jump is related to something as traumatizing and sensitive as enslavement, and when in our everyday lives we constantly confront having ourselves, our bodies, our histories, and our cultures distorted and portrayed in sensationalized, commodified, or simplified ways. Everyone has the right to do what they want at their weddings, but I find that a lot of the people who so offhandedly dismiss concerns about cultural appropriation are not from groups with so much immediate and painful history of having their cultures exploited and distorted and abused.

          6 agree
  31. Thank you for this article. We are similar and have little to no family traditions. I am from a religion free household where most people eloped and he has a tiny tiny family that converted to a religion with which he is uncomfortable. We are writing our own ceremony, drawing from what inspires us. He is Polish and Jewish in heritage, so we plan to have bread and wine (well, mead). I have been considering mendhi, as I have a deep love of Indian culture, having studied South Asian history and politics for the last three years with my first Hindi lesson scheduled for January.

    I don't want to offend anyone- especially since I come at everything with the approach of being a member of a global community. It probably stems from being from a semi nomadic American family, with little in the way of the roots and sense that we are all interconnected.

    0 agree
  32. I'm glad you posted this. It's interesting to me from a couple of perspectives–probably the first is that I grew up in a small, white, poor town where cultural appropriation was a big part of what people did. And while people talk about honoring other cultures and borrowing elements respectfully, and some folks get into heated discussions about where the line is drawn, there's definitely a line. You can see it in weddings (and other things) in my hometown. I think it's hard to argue that having a (misdrawn, not understood) Chinese character as a tattoo or a cake-topper is respectful, and in my hometown, we never hesitated either to judge each other for that or to then appropriate whatever we thought was cool. Hypocrisy is always an option.

    Secondly, I grew up in the Wiccan tradition, which has a long and storied history of cultural appropriation. It brings to mind the Zuni (I think?) refusal to share information about their cultural traditions with outsiders. On the one hand, it's an anthropological loss; on the other hand, it saves them from the equivalent of having to listen to oblivious middle-class white kids talk about how the white tiger is totally their spirit guide. When sacred traditions are co-opted, it's hard to see an upside for the group whose deepest values are being mined for the entertainment and aesthetic pleasure of people who don't care enough to fully understand either the tradition or the people who created it.

    The final perspective is as a Psych geek with a background in social psych. It's interesting to watch the process of denial and rationalization that tends to be a first response to perceived accusations of racism or other displays of privilege: Racists (or sexists, etc) are bad people; I'm not a bad person; therefore I'm not a racist; therefore the person that said the thing that implied I might be is either wrong or a liar. It's so easy to go to that place first if we don't understand that we all have biases that we bring to the table. The best way to deal with our inherent biases isn't to argue about who's morally superior (I'm less racist than you!), but to name them and talk about them and work around them. A lot of social psych deals with this–how to become aware of your own bias without taking its existence as proof that you're a bad person, and how to work past it–and one encouraging finding is that, even if people respond negatively to confrontation about bias, they're still less likely to express biased opinions in the future.

    So, there's hope for us! Yay! As long as people keep having this kind of discussion, and coming to the table with an open mind, we'll keep getting better about how we deal with privilege in a world with profound social and economic inequalities.

    16 agree
    • FIST BUMP for bringing social psychology into the discussion.

      3 agree
  33. Barbara said above: "I think that often, people who come from the Anglo-American tradition fail to realize that the "typical" wedding most of us think of as traditional is strictly from their culture. The order of the ceremony, the bride being walked in by her father, the incorporation of readings and/or songs. These are all part of an Anglo, Christian wedding. That's culture. None of those elements will be in my Jewish wedding!"

    I think that this is an excellent point and brings up an important trend in many offbeat brides. Though my family is various stripes of Northern European, we haven't been religious for 2-3 generations. I am descended from Christians, but have never myself been baptized, been to church all of 3 times, and feel no connection to the faith. I think many on OBB look to other traditions because we find they resonate with us more than the ones that happen to be dominate where we were born. For myself, using much of the standard Christian symbolism feels more artificial than looking to the Jewish/Polish heritage of my fiance's family.

    0 agree
  34. I'm getting a bit bristley over this discussion too. I think a lot of it stems from the idea that people are looking at me and potentially judging me.
    I guess my concern is at what point do we loose the right to a cultural tradition? when we're one generation removed? Two? When we don't speak the language fluently? When we don't attend religious services?

    I'm an agnostic, white woman of English descent raised in Southern Africa by extremely religious parents. I am marrying an American man of extremely mixed heritage. He is equally descended from French-Canadian, Malaysian, Chinese, Austrian and Dutch ancestors. All of these relatives will be joining us for our wedding.

    We want to honor and respect our relative's traditions, but at the end of the day we're American kids that just aren't going to be able to please everyone-possibly anyone, but I hope the people that love us will see that we're doing the best we can.

    4 agree
  35. I really enjoyed this article. As the biracial daughter of an immigrant and a white American, I simultaneously struggle with and celebrate my ethnic identity. Although I have more traditions available to me than most Anglo-Americans, I still find it hard to decide what I can actually "pull off". I think it's nice that you are incorporating traditions that mean something to you. However, I do think you should consider if there are traditions in your own cultural heritage that you could also use.

    One thing that makes ethnic traditions attractive is that they are unique. You will stand out if you use them. It's less exciting if you are incorporating things that every other bride in the country uses, I get that. But I don't think that makes these local traditions less important or less meaningful. In other countries (like India or China), brides are using their ethnic traditions a million times over – but that doesn't make them less authentic.

    One thing I've learned from the Asian aspect of my ethnicity, is that many people from ethnic minorities actively teach their children to be proud of their culture. I don't think this comes as naturally as we would expect, it has to be instilled in a child. They show their children how to find the value in the smallest of traditions. I think that pride is what makes a difference more than any actual custom. I think Anglo-Americans have much more culture than they give themselves credit for, even if they can only trace their culture back to being an American from Kentucky. And on the plus side, the customs you extract from your own cultural heritage now can be passed on to your children later.

    I'm sure the ethnic traditions you choose will represent who you are and who you have become. But you might find value in including something from your own family's background, to represent how you got to point where you formed your own personality and identity. I believe that this is the reason ethnic minorities in the US continue to use the cultural traditions of their homelands. Not just to signify who they are, but to honor and respect those that came before them and led the way.

    0 agree
  36. Great post, thank you! I want to add that as a Chinese-born American, I get kind of annoyed when people borrow from Chinese or "Asian" culture, when "Asian" culture is conflated (it's a whole continent! There are differences between countries!) into some kind of "Asian" theme, use Chinese characters (tattoos are the most annoying), without any connection with the culture. I feel this way when people conflate "African" cultures and basically any region that is heterogeneous, unless they specifically are using something that is common across all of the cultures.

    I guess I would just want to advise brides to be conscious about recognizing that different regions of the world, and even regions within countries, have long-standing histories that define their similarities and differences. Do your homework and be as specific as possible in what you're referencing, so as not to lump Chinese together with Japanese symbols, for instance, unless it actually makes sense!

    4 agree
    • I agree entirely!

      What this article is getting at is making sure people are respectful of other people's cultures. It's not insisting that couples ask permission from representatives of a given culture before they can incorporate it into their wedding. It's just pointing out that if couples want to incorporate a cultural element into their wedding, it's best that they learn about what that cultural element means and what message is it conveying. And I think it's fair to say that not everyone will respond positively to people treating different countries and cultures within Asia or within Africa as monolithic and interchangeable.

      3 agree
      • In all honesty, I am worried that stateside, people will see me not as wearing a gift from a friend who means a lot to me, that represents a culture that I spent years studying, and instead assume appropriation on my part

        This is where I get pissed off at cultural appropriation police. Whose opinions and feelings do you value more: your sweet friend who gifted you, or social justice warriors on the internet? YOU know the story behind this amazing gift, YOU know your experience with the culture, and YOU know your intent. Sometimes I think you just have to say "Fuck all y'all," and wear the beautiful qipao that you were given!

        3 agree
        • I agree 100%. I've been given kimono and yukata by a Japanese friend that I feel weird about wearing. I have many salwaar kameez that I had made in India and always wore during the 2 months I was in Delhi, and bindi given to me by Indian friends. but don't feel like I can wear any of it now. I've actually seen comments from person who went to India, worried that wearing Indian clothes would be appropriative….and then they say that they wore camisoles instead (too much bare flesh, for Delhi). It just makes me…argh.

          I'd advise anyone who is going to travel to do a lot of research before they go. I see a lot of stuff that the cultural appropriation police talk about a lot of things that they don't know anything about–don't just take their word for it. It isn't conducive to positive cultural exchange.

          Because of these people, I never talk about my Native American (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Crow) genetic background/identity. I feel more robbed by them than I ever did by hipsters wearing headdresses. I saw (on another thread) a person of Native descent suggest that those people dedicate themselves to the Redskins issue instead. I agree 1000%. This post, the Cultural Appropriation Police post, and the Internet Bullying post made me feel so much better. I'd never seen it called out before (by another liberal, anyway). Pardon the length–I've never spoken up about it before! Thanks for writing these posts!!!

          3 agree
  37. This post is great, as is this debate! Good work!

    I'm really struggling with this issue, particularly as I am doing a degree in Cultural Studies and as such am very aware how many problems cultural appropriation can cause. Like many other of the brides though I feel as though I have no firm cultural traditions myself. I come from a fairly fractured family and, although I am really attached to my French heritage on my father's side, we have been estranged for nearly 20 years and my mother's side of the family "don't do traditions".

    I am very eager to use symbolism from other cultures and traditions during our wedding that I personally identify with following my research but am conscious that some friends may take these the wrong way and chide me for my choices. Obviously I would do these with the upmost sensitivity and I would be devastated if I offended anyone, but these things, no matter how separate from my own upbringing and background, have come to mean a lot to me.

    Treading the line between respectfully borrowing from other cultures and ripping stuff off "because it looks pretty" seems to be really hard.

    1 agrees
  38. This falls in line with the feminism issue for me because of the many traditions/rituals that stem from the oppression/ownership/objectification of women. There are a lot of traditions that people include without thinking where they came from or what they represent. For me it's important to know the roots of everything.

    As far as I am concerned you are all welcome to any Scottish traditions/rituals you wish to take on, English people have been coming here to do so for many years now and it makes no difference to me ;)

    Thousands of weddings take place across the world using traditional Scottish and Celtic rituals and none of it means that their meaning will become diluted in any way. There are traditions in all cultures which are not as relevant as before as times have changed but people still use them. The fact is that some couples will use them, when they don't really want to get married or are being forced into marriage or are only doing it because their families want them to and that still doesn't make these rituals any less significant to those who use them with respect and positive intention.

    There are people within every culture who do what is expected of them traditionally, even though their heart is not in it and I think that must be recognised as equally 'disrespectful'. I have seen huge Indian weddings where people sat about yawning and totally disconnected from the long ceremony and rituals, I know that they are meant to be lively affairs but it made it seem a bit pointless at times. That those guests/families automatically had more of a right to use those rituals seems a little narrow to me, when they might actually give less care or thought to them.

    My partners sister (who is English) came and got married in a nearby castle and they had a hand fasting with the Laird of the land & it was hugely novel for them and it was fitting given the location. For us locals it was a bit naff and stereotypical and well, touristy, but it certainly didn't offend or make light of the purpose behind it.

    It's a personal choice to include or exclude ritual of any kind and one that I am okay with completely, at most I might cringe a little if it seemed a bit too gimmicky! Obviously be aware of others feelings, you have to know your audience and I like the idea of educating people, about any that you include, on a program etc.

    Don't just do it with respect, do it with INTENT. Mean what you are doing, believe in it, because when it comes to any wedding I think that is what matters most.

    2 agree
  39. When this topic came up on the tribe what really got me was how many different cultures have variations on the same concepts. Mendhi is not just Indian, but has a rich history in many cultures including Moroccan which is part of my heritage. It's a Jewish traiditon to break a bottle, but for Italians they break a glass at the end of the reception and the number of pieces indicates how many happy years, or in Germany the guest bring old dishes to break that couple must clean up together to show how well they work as a couple. You may think you're borrowiing something when your own culture has it's own variation.

    1 agrees

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.

Biz owners & wedding bloggers

Please just use your real name in your comment, not your business name or blog title. Our comments are not the place to pimp your website. If you want to promote your stuff on Offbeat Bride, join us as an advertiser instead.