Is Cultural Appropriation Really a Problem?

By Staff 2 years ago

The Idea:

The University of SouthHampton describes Cultural Appropriation as follows:
*"Roughly, the claim is that members of some cultures shouldn’t take property, styles, or ideas from other cultures under certain conditions. These conditions often have to do with a claimed lack of permission given by the culture from which something has been taken, power imbalances between cultures, or harms that will result from appropriation."

Concerns about "cultural appropriation" are often raised by activists in conjunction with U.S. holidays (Halloween, Cinco de Mayo), businesses, or events that include cross-cultural elements. Other examples of Cultural Appropriation include:

  • Dreadlocks on white people
  • The display of "Ethnic art" in non ethnic homes
  • "Kimono Wednesday" or like events inviting non Japanese people to don cultural garb
  • Native American feathered headdresses worn by non natives

But is the concern valid?

The Short Answer:

  1. Cultural Appropriation is inevitable, natural, and beneficial to all humans involved. Cultures have continually merged since humanity evolved
  2. Cross cultural expression is made out of respect and curiosity, not mockery
  3. The implication that cultural appropriation is damaging is meant to create and maintain guilt, mainly white guilt
  4. Most of what we all love is a result of cultural appropriation, and often very little of a culture's aspects are original to that culture.

The Long Answer:

The concept of cultural appropriation is fairly slippery— in addition to the above examples, the term has been applied to everything from Miley Cyrus twerking, to white chefs making fusion cuisine, to Kendall Kardashian "appropriating ballet culture" by wearing pointed shoes for a Vogue photoshoot— and the arguments that it causes material harm are hard to quantify. However, those who protest against cultural appropriation tend to characterize it as disrespectful, racist, or even akin to colonialism: a member of a dominant, oppressor culture stealing elements of a marginalized culture without proper respect or remuneration.

To address the claims that cultural appropriation is a problem, it is important to separate it from the issues of racism and diversity with which it is often conflated. Complaints about cultural appropriation often suggest that individual acts of cross-cultural engagement — a white person donning a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo, for example — end up fueling societal racism elsewhere. But there is simply no evidence that individual acts of cultural appropriation fuel racist attitudes or behaviors in others, or that the individuals who enjoy food, clothing, art, etc from cultures not their own are more likely to disparage those cultures in other contexts. Additionally, the interest and financial support of people from another country or cultural background can be vital to the continuation of certain cultural traditions. Kimono artisans, for instance, have come to rely heavily on the support of tourists from Western nations as demand for the formal and intricate garments has declined among Japanese consumers.

In a New York Times interview, Mary Edoro, the editor of BellaNaija, a fashion publication based in Lagos, Nigeria, noted that in the past decade, integrating local designs into high fashion has become a source of pride. “People did not appreciate these old fabrics and designs,” “Cultural appropriation, when done in a good way, makes us appreciate things we might typically ignore.”

The appropriation or adaptation of recipes, art, style, architecture, and other elements of culture has been practiced throughout history by people of all backgrounds, virtually any time that two cultures come into contact. Every culture, regardless of where it falls within academia's commonly-understood matrix of oppression vs marginalization, has evolved in conversation with other cultures and contains borrowed elements. The use of non-indigenous cardamom in traditional Scandinavian cooking is an example of cultural appropriation that dates back multiple millennia to the early days of the spice trade. Japanese manga comics (a marriage of traditional Japanese narrative art with Western-style political cartoons and comic books) are a form of cultural appropriation, which gave rise to anime-style cartoons, which in turn inspired still more appropriation in the form of popular American animated series like Steven Universe.

David Frum put it succinctly: "All cultures have histories. Young people born in North America may imagine that their grandmother’s recipes or wardrobe emerged autochthonously in a timeless ancestral homeland. But that only reflects how thoroughly they have Americanized themselves, reducing other countries’ complexities to folklores to be fetishized rather than understood and evaluated on their own terms."

The Takeaway

The nature of culture is that it is malleable, readily influenced, and always evolving. The entire history of art, food, film, and literature worldwide is a history of cultural appropriation. As a stand-alone concept, cultural appropriation is not only a neutral practice but a fact of life.

How far is too far? You tell us!

Cultural Appropriation: How Far is Too Far?

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of this website or its members.

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Governments appropriate things from other governments all the time. Einstein was German, wasn't he?
What ethnicity doesn't want the nuclear bomb?

Cultural appropriation is a social construct. I think cultural rejection is a bigger problem because it isn't a social construct. It's a real thing.

Nancy and Chuck wore a kente cloth scarf in congress once thinking they were making a great statement for African culture and Blacks in America. Except the dolts didn't have a clue about the scarves. Now that is when cultural appropriation may be a problem. Apparently, the scarves are from a tribe in Ghana that used to sell members of other tribes to slave traders. When you are clueless about the symbolism of an item of cultural identity, it can present a problem. Although food, clothing, customs, etc., can be identified with a certain ethnicity some things are sacred and not shareable. Some cultures used to share wives with strangers. You'll probably get in trouble in most cultures if you appropriate that custom.


Conflating culture ethnicity and race is the source of confusion, being disrepectful to other peoples culture is unacceptable at least for being rude and at worst racist, even if casually racist. The greater the power imbalance the greater the likely offence.


Cultures have been stealing each other's ideas, fashions and inventions since we came up with flint spearheads. All this chest-thumping and brow-beating about cultural appropriation comes largely from prosperous kids (and fellow kids) looking for the moral structures they never learned in childhood.


Exploitation is built into capitalist culture. Making money in any manner is at its core. We use socialism to bridle the greed that is an inherent foible of humans. Embracing cultural differences for inclusiveness, & enhancement is noble & rewarding. I suppose motive is a factor that is now being examined as we once again struggle with just how we wish to progress. Thus is the history of republics, & democracies. Constant struggle, argument, debate & then the inevitable progress. Recidivism is not an option. We will not be slaves, taxed without representation, the wife of a house, orphan trains, usery & such.


Nothing wrong with cultural appropriation. Is it even possible for cultures to evolve without it?


When I was a middle school kid, one of my favorite shows was "In Living Color". I loved the SNL type of skits and it was the first time I'd seen particular hair styles, make up, and fashion.

When I went to school wearing a pair of Cross Colors pants, I was called a "wigger". I didn't know what that meant. When I found out I was confused. I viewed wearing clothing from one of my favorite shows as the same as, for example, dressing up like Madonna or any other celebrity. Because I didn't want to offend anyone, I didn't wear them again.

To me, cultural appropriation remains an enigma. Personally, I feel it's more often done out of admiration and interest in the product and not what is often considered another races culture. In a monetary sense, the wider the target consumer, the better chance your music, art, clothing, and entertainment sell. I don't think the more mainstream your products are result in a loss of culture.

I picked none of the above. I don't see how the products I use are a direct reflection of my racial views. As far as Transracial... I read/ watched a few cases and it's hard for me to reach any conclusions. One man I saw went as far as to tattoo (bleep) whites on one arm and black power on the other. One woman had been telling her daughter she was black for years. They were both very white. I'm unsure if these are cases of mental illness, or what they are.

On another note, I find it kind of irritating that there has been a push to support Black buisness when for years I've been told, as a white person, what music not to listen to, what clothing not to wear, what hair salon not to visit, and so on. It'd be nice to get an updated set of rules.


Perhaps claiming to be a part of a race not found in your ancestral roots could be considered cultural appropriation. But, the logic within the dream might explain to me why someone would do that. Are they so unhappy with who they are that they feel the need to lie? Or is it wishful thinking? I don't get it.

Sadly I know a person like that, and they are 10 years older than me. 15 years ago it was " I am Irish and Portuguese" then 10 years ago it was " I am Irish and Azorian" mind you I had to go look up Azorian. And it refers to people that are from a region of Portugal. Then 5 years ago till now it's they are Portuguese/Azorian and a little Irish and they are ascended from black slaves. But they are the whitest person I know. And the personality has changed always talks bad about white people.

I even said it a few months ago I said you do know you are white right? This person just bashed the white boy music I was playing and the white boy clothes I was wearing while working out. it's sad really. I had no idea I dressed with a certain ethnicity.

I personally think they are really unhappy with themselves, in the 18 years I have known this person they have been mean an miserable. And the times they are happy it just seems fake kinda like an act.

@Jrxreviews, exactly. What is it that these people hate so deeply about themselves that they have to dream up being someone or something else?


People voted for wearing dreadlocks. Dreadlocks have been worn by a wide variety if cultures throughout all of recorded history. It is wild that people believe that they own a hair style.


People have copied one another as long as people have existed. If the haters pushing "cultural appropriation" were sincere, the indignation would be spread across all ethnicities. It's not. It only seems to be a problem when done by the Euro ethnicity. This is just another invented justifying for the institutionalized bigotry towards the white American being pushed by the loony left. Never mind the fact we are all individuals.


Cultural appropriations is what allows for cultural evolution. as time goes on we take the good things from a a culture and hopefully leave the bad things behind. Without the ability to do that we stagnate as a culture which is bad for everyone


Cultural appropriation is great! I love seeing the horror when white racists are enraged that white children are no longer playing 'cowboys and indians' but instead love 'Anime' and dress up as whatever they feel like doing.
Remember it cuts both ways, when you dress up as the other guy, you also lose your fear and hostility, which is why racists see cultural appropriation as a form of brainwashing and bastardization


People appreciate the familiar. If you erase every one's culture, and sanitize our mixed culture, EVERYONE will feel unfamiliar. The best way to learn about another culture is to participate in it. Only are true racist - who believes in segregation - would even consider "cultural appropriation" a thing.


The problem is were discussing a subject that really does not matter. If a person wants to associate with a different race or culture than their own, who cares, let them.


Cultural Appropriation exists and at the very least it´s extremely annoying/cringe.

Annoying when black people do it, such as black female 007. I will not watch that movie.

Cringe when white people do it, because our culture is mostly superior, period. Black culture is and/or , rap and dreadlocks being just two cases in point.

Having a black female 007 is not cultural appropriation... its miscasting on grand scale.

@Lightman Both.


If cultural appropriation is a real then then Isaac Newton an Englishman discoverer of universal gravity requests everyone else please float off the planet.
I know it's a ridiculous request but then so is the notion of cultural Appropriation.


Did else have to look up "autochthonously"? Apparently it is essentially a synonym for "indigenously," a word with which I am familiar.

lol.... it just looks like a huge spelling mistake to me.


Miley Cyrus twerking was cultural appropriation? So that's what all that fuss was about?

Why are non-white people not guilty of cultural appropriation when they use things white people invented?

Why can't everyone be free to to choose which nice things they want to enjoy in life, regardless of the race of those who invented them... from taxis to trains to tourniquets to tapas to tipis to timpanis to taekwondo to twerking?

"Why are non-white people not guilty of cultural appropriation when they use things white people invented?"

That got me thinking. My guess is that they would probably claim that only cultural appropriation of what they view as "oppressed" cultures by "oppressor" cultures is a problem. They would probably claim that "oppressed" cultures deserve to be able to culturally appropriate from "oppressor" cultures. If that is the case, then I suppose we could counter that they have already received remuneration. As you have pointed out, they have been using many things from their "oppressor" culture that have made their lives far better than they would otherwise have been (various technologies and medicines, for example). So, couldn't one argue in that case that they have already received remuneration by means of the imbalance of the cultural exchange? I'm just trying to imagine the conversation that might ensue here given their thought process. Anyway, I'm in agreement with the point of your rhetorical question. It still amounts to hypocrisy on their part.


I want to address why I didn't choose "transracial" first. I believe that people who truly consider themselves transracial have dysphoria just like those who believe they can transition into another sex. Neither hurts anyone but --potentially-- themselves. In most cases it is someone of a "privileged" class of human deciding to become a member of what society deems to be a marginalized class of human. The only way this could be hurtful to someone of that class would be if 1) it was insincere and mocking 2) that class of person believes they are not actually marginalized and that there is benefit to that class, or 3) they receive benefits or access to space in such a way as to deny space or safety to the marginalized class.

I have become critical of the term/concept because of both the lack of historical accuracy in taping off space around certain styles, creativity, and activities and the lack of equal application to the term.

In general cultural appropriation is used to describe white people who are mining the creativity and expression of other cultures without paying them for that piece of culture. It is not used when a particular cultural creative expression of a "white" culture is adopted by those of other races. The main excuse for this is always "colonization". As if all white cultures and ethnic groups colonized Africa and the Americas.

This is ignorant of actual history. Eastern European nations did not send out explorers to colonize these parts of the world. They were, however, invaded and colonized by Romans, Greeks, Germans, Mongols, Moors, Turks, etc. Poland in particular has been invaded by all of their neighbors and rarely has had self-rule. Many styles and artistic works that people attribute to those of Middle Eastern descent are actually leftover from Byzantines and are therefore part of that collective bit of history. Because the only European history that people learn outside of Europe is that of Western Europe no one takes this into consideration when formulating outrage.

Moreover, the double standards applied to this conversation are enormous as those who "colonize" the creativity of European culture are celebrated: Asian opera singers who perform Mozart, black ballet dancers dancing to Swan Lake, etc. Again, it is justified by "colonization" despite Poland, the Ukraine, and Russia never committing genocide on indigenous Americans or enslaving black Africans and themselves being taken by the Romans, Moors, Mongols, and Arabs as slav/slaves.

At the end of the day it all feels calculated and political. Whites are asked to accept the constant diminishment of their culture and heritage regardless of their country's participation in past genocides or colonization efforts because whites should all be judged as a collective group but that same standard will never be applied to the Chinese.

I used to accept this and even parrot it once upon a time but having watched as the BBC labeled Poles "racist" for wanting to celebrate Polish culture I felt myself growing more resistent and angry. Poland has been fighting for identity since their neighbors first began eyeing them for their good soil. I began to question more and more of my beliefs until now I really don't care anymore.

Yes, I get that the Native American headdress is a religious garment and I do not think it should be worn as a costume anymore than I think nun and priest outfits are appropriate Halloween costumes. I don't think that rosaries should be worn mockingly by nonbelievers but people will do it. You have to live with it if you want a free society.

I think the prefix 'trans' has been over used. You might not like your race, or prefer another, but you can't CHANGE it. Sure, you can 'present' as such but I think that 'dysphoria' is dsymorphia. Different animals.


Cultural Appropriation is simply PC LW Progressive rubbish.


As an American, I find Liberty and Freedom inherent in our National Culture, but I want everyone in the world to have Liberty and Freedom.
I am of Irish heritage. I want everyone around the world to be knowledgeable about my Cultural Heritage. If people want to dress up in an Irish Kilt and Wool sweater on St Patrick's Day, great!
What is it about Cultural Heritage that makes The Progressive Left so annoyed when a black woman or a white man wears a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo? It's odd that the people who yell the loudest are not the ones whose heritage is being "Appropriated". The Progressive Left is Offended by anything and everything except that which should offend any decent human being like abortion.

I think it's because they are unable to see anything in their own culture that they can identify as valuable because their education has set them up to feel this way. So when they see someone of their own "uncultured" persuasion seemingly appropriating some vestige of another culture they feel like it is an offensive act. To them the "uncultured" have no right to borrow from outside their mein.

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