A Brown girl’s guide to cultural appreciation on social media
Social media has greatly impacted our understanding and appreciation of culture in both positive, and at times, negative ways.
I’m sure many Brown girls are familiar with the feeling of being taunted for our oiled, sleek braids, or having noses turned up at the aromatic curries our moms packed us for lunch. Exposed to Western standards, we grew up thinking that the deeply rooted cultural practices we took part in were “too eccentric.” Except, it is these very customs that go viral on social media nowadays.
In today’s globalized society, social media has become a ubiquitous part of our lives, connecting millions of people worldwide and offering glimpses into how people from different backgrounds incorporate culture into their daily lives. This has been a pivotal tool in my journey toward increasing my 0wn intercultural awareness.
Professor James Young at the University of Victoria emphasizes the importance of understanding in our journey towards intercultural awareness. He argues, “if one understands a cultural product, one is unlikely to use it in offensive or otherwise objectionable ways.” This is part of cultural appreciation—the notion of valuing a culture different from ours without the intent to exploit or steal, but rather to admire the customs and traditions of various groups.
Social media presents an excellent way for us to develop that understanding. Learning directly from people who follow specific cultural practices is an unparalleled, authentic experience that we may not have elsewhere. Even witnessing practices from my own culture on social media presents a valuable opportunity to learn about how people do things differently than I do.
While I love consuming content pertaining to culture, seeing aspects of my own culture glamourized through TikTok trends can sometimes feel like a double-edged sword. I grew up struggling to fully embrace, and was even embarrassed by, the cultural practices that have been passed down through generations in my community. My culture was not something I was proud of and often felt like it was a part of myself to be tucked away.
But seeing these aspects of my culture being admired on social media has forced me to reconcile that culture is a strong part of our identity and defines our communities. It has also brought up feelings of not being “Brown enough,” because I tried so hard to hide those aspects of myself and now find myself mourning the time that I spent not celebrating my culture.
Still, having my culture showcased on such large platforms fills me with a sense of pride and belonging that I did not know I could feel. I can now look at my culture from a lens that is separate from the embarrassment I felt growing up. It has given me a space to celebrate a part of myself that I initially carried shame for. Witnessing other South Asians embrace aspects of their culture so confidently and proudly has been such a validating and inspiring experience for me.
Social media content creators like Indian-American Milan Mathew, who created a video in which she wears a lehenga—a beautiful South Asian garment often adorned with beads and sequins—awoke a wave of cultural appreciation online. Mathew’s video inspired a viral trend where thousands of people shared their cultural clothing.
Similarly, Indian actress Simone Ashley garnered positive reviews for her portrayal of Kate Sharma on the wildly popular Netflix show Bridgerton. From the haldi ceremony, to Kate’s love of chai, to the gorgeous Indian jewelry and fabrics used in the show, Bridgerton’s cultural representation was commended immensely on social media. For once, it felt like aspects of my culture were being recognized in a way that did not depict us as “the other.”
Being exposed to culture through social media has not only allowed me to fall in love with my culture again, but also to recognize how important it is to share our customs and traditions. The more aware we are of other cultures, the greater our state of appreciation and mutual respect will be. We can learn to see things from other perspectives and come to understand that there is so much beauty in diversity.