The Strand interviews popular Instagram user Stephanie Tsui of @endcultural.appropriation

Stephanie Tsui is an 18-year-old University College student who runs a popular Instagram account—with over 36,000 followers—called @endcultural.appropriation. The Strand had the opportunity to sit down and chat with her about social media, cultural appropriation, culture in music, and how to use social media to inspire change.

The Strand: Was there a defining moment that moved you to create this account?  

Stephanie Tsui: I find that after growing up and resenting my cultural background—usually you know, people who correlate ethnicity with culture—in my case, it was my parents who instilled their culture onto me. I grew up wanting to assimilate, and then somehow, Chinese dresses or kimonos come on the [fashion] scene and people start making these Asian-inspired dresses and suddenly it’s “in”… So, after hating my ethnicity and culture so much, suddenly it’s fashionable, suddenly it’s cool.  Then I decided, “Hey, I don’t want to let people decide how I feel about myself, decide to make me feel bad about myself or my culture.” That’s when my friend and I decided we’re sick of being treated this way [and created this account].

Was there a reason you used Instagram as a platform?

Yeah, I find that Instagram is a lot more convenient. Twitter is alright but I can’t always express how I’m feeling in 140 characters or less. Images hit people on a much more in-depth level, a much deeper level… It lets you connect better because we are just visual creatures by nature. I like sharing images of other cultures as well… [The account] almost serves as a magazine, it’s very visual.

Do you have any favourite Instagrams that deal with the same topics as your own that you suggest?

I really enjoy Amandla Stenberg’s Instagram account.

Given your experience, do you think people are becoming more willing to correct cultural appropriation as a bystander rather than someone affected by it?

I find that more people are willing to change, not because of the people who feel offended but because it’s no longer publicly correct—it’s frowned upon. That is a large portion of [this change], but there are also people who are willing to listen to people who feel marginalized. There are people who empathize, but there are people who just do it because it’s standard. It used to be standard to appropriate culture, but I think that that is starting to die out.

How do you feel about cultural appropriation within music?

So you know how food isn’t cultural appropriation? You can make it taste worse, but you can’t appropriate it. It’s very tricky with music… For example, hip-hop is actually a product of African American culture. On top of this, jazz, hip-hop rock, etc. are all a product of this same marginalized community. People often rap about their hardships and their struggles against the system that oppresses them, but then we have people who take this form of expression and make it a marketing ploy, which I find very unsettling.

So yes, you can in some cases appropriate music because some genres are stemming from that groups personal experiences, and struggles in protest basically. We have people rap about injustices in the jury system, but someone comes in rapping about dumb stuff… But then we also have products of cultural diffusion, in terms of rap, if we have white people from privileged backgrounds rapping about their so-called “struggles”, isn’t that appropriation? Music is kind of like food. It can be a mix of influences, but it’s very specific to genre.

What can the UofT community do to move away from cultural appropriation? 

In my residence, there is a board with a huge statement on why cultural appropriation is wrong. They put it up right before Halloween, so they are telling you not to dress up as different cultures. I think this is already big step… [The university] should just keep shedding light on the issue.

How do you think other people can use social media for good against these issues?

I think that people who have a large audience should use that privilege to their advantage. People who are in positions of power should use their voice to shed light on issues. Sure, we have Rowan Blanchard, Diane Guerrero, but there aren’t enough people doing this. Anyone can use their social media to shed light on these issues by just speaking up.

Interview has been edited and condensed.