What is cultural appropriation?

the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas etc of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society

Oxford Languages

So we have the formal definition. But how do you define cultural appropriation?

What are examples of it?

In the everyday world, what actions do you think are appropriate and not appropriate, from a cultural standpoint?

Who decides that something is appropriate or inappropriate? What if one member of a group says it’s OK, but another says it’s not?

Can cultural appropriation ever be good?

I hear this term tossed around a lot, but I don’t think there is much rhyme or reason as to how it’s used. I thought I would toss it onto the table and ask what it really is.

Any and all thoughts on cultural appropriation please…

76 thoughts on “Culturally Appropriate

  1. It’s culturally appropriate to hand a sneezing, coughing colleague a mask in Hong Kong which is culturally accepted by the sick person who will then return home until he is no longer spewing germs because it’s the culturally acceptable thing to do.

    (Don’t at me -I read about this here: https://philsnextstop.blog/2021/04/05/hong-kong-beat-a-pandemic-once-before-during-covid-19-their-experience-has-paid-off/)

    Alternatively, it appears to be culturally acceptable in certain parts of North America to deny masks citing individual rights.

    I can’t tell you who is in charge of the culturally acceptable mindset which seems geographic or regional, perhaps someone else can illuminate us? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-cultural-appropriation-5070458

    I like the definition and discussion on this site. In the end though cultural appropriation is summed up as “Cultural appropriation is the social equivalent of plagiarism with an added dose of denigration.” Like other topics discussed here on Waking, we should probably ask ourselves if we are trying to quantify a specific amount of harm done to a culture when judging what is cultural appropriation. It is NOT the place of the dominate culture to judge that harm, but it is the place of the dominate culture to simply accept that harm is being done.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s a good way to phrase it…is harm being done. But then…how do we define harm? Is one of the Kardashians wearing cornrows really harming someone? I don’t know the answer. But I think we should put these subjects on the table to talk aboit. Nothing gets better if we don’t communicate. I mean…are costume parties and Halloween appropriate? We can’t move forward if we don’t reconcile today

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It does not matter how WE define harm. What matters is that an individual or group within a specific cultural system finds harm (pain, insensitivity, disregard, disdain…..any adjective that culture chooses) in the fact that a Kardashian wears cornrows.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. But, and I’m playing devils advocate here because I simply don’t know, what if one person feels harmed but 99.9 % don’t care. What do we do then?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. first of all cornrows are painful..my nephew wore his hair like that once and hated it, now he keeps it as a fro. He’s half black does that make it half okay that he wore his hair like that ? I have a major issue with this topic. People are just trying to define multiple ways to take offense at everything.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. We (the dominate culture, meaning white European descent) first off simply listen, really listen to what is being said. Second we realize and Accept that even if only 1% feels harmed it is still harm to that culture. We must be able to acknowledge that even 1% feeling pain is significant in the eyes and minds of that culture and we do not have the right to judge levels of harm. A dominate society has to be willing to do this and stop placing their own perspectives and judgments onto others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ok. I’ll buy that. But how do we know if something is harmful to another culture, other than the obvious? If I buy my kid a hula skirt because we were in Hawaii, is that bad?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think we’re back to trying to define things in right/wrong without those gray areas we love! Who owns the shop with the hula skirt? What is their cultural descent. What is their individual motivation for selling an item with cultural significance? I think that a specific starting point is to simply be culturally aware as an individual that an item such as this has the potential. Buy it, take let your kid be cute in it, but perhaps be willing to later re-evaluate the meaning behind what it represents. Better yet, use the item as a teaching tool for the kid. Educate them on the significance of this item to the Hawaiian people. Educate them on the emotion and history surrounding this item. Give them the tools they will need to bring awareness about other cultures beliefs and practices. I cannot define absolutely the right or wrong of anyone’s choice, but if it makes you as the individual question the reasons for the purchase, or even more importantly the outcome of the purchase, then perhaps you shouldn’t purchase the hula skirt.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I can go all sorts of ways with this. Let’s start with intent. Is the intent of using something to harm? If there’s no harm intended, is it bad? Next, what if it’s a way to honor the culture? What if someone thinks something is wonderful and they want to share it? Like food. What if someone wants to learn how to cook Thai food because they Love it? Just because we borrow from something doesn’t mean we’ve taken it over. Next is, when is a hula skirt just a hula skirt? Is your kid imitating a hula dancer for play a bad thing? Does it need a lesson behind it? And will the kid listen to the story behind it anyway? Then you have the thinking thing. I get a lot of flak on my blog because people think I overthink things that don’t require over thinking. I don’t think I do, but that’s just people. If we ask people to question everything they do, at what point do people stop caring at all, and not think about anything. We can either take from one another and meld it, or we can become insular as to anything that isn’t “ours”. Then we can think about imagination…when we imagine we think of all sorts of out of the box things. But…this is why we need to start discussing this topic

        Liked by 2 people

      3. I absolutely agree with the concept of intent as it relates to the topic, but also firmly believe that I must be mindful as to how the choices I make may have a negative connotation to someone else. As with so many social issues and topics I will always believe that open-minded, factual education and discussions with those negatively impacted are the key. It’s often very difficult to do this: to find or encourage people who will dive deeply into these difficult and often highly nuances topics and then be open and willing enough to have candid discussions. It incredibly hard work to put yourself into a worldview so different from your own, let alone attempt to grasp the feelings and emotions of people who are often seen only as “other”.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. As a whole, I can’t imagine the populace being mindful of every choice they make. I know I’ve tried to teach my daughter about different cultures, religions, whatever, but on the whole…my friends went to Morocco and bought a table at a bazaar. Do I think they have any idea of the history? Doubtful. If wear plaid but have no idea about what clan it represents. Shouldn’t we just try to be kind and respectful to one another instead of looking for ways to split us apart? I mean, as someone of Italian descent, I could get pretty mad at jarred tomato sauce because it’s awful….

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hmm. Yes, I well recall the nasty comments when Adele wore Bantu knots to a carnival and I think the level of the sanctimonious pontificating we saw then underlines the difficulties with any debate on this topic.
    As you know, the key question is who decides and how seriously should everyone else fall-in behind their pronouncement? The opinion of one person or a small group of people cannot surely lay claim to be representative for the opinions of millions, no matter how self-important. And I would question whether 1% was statistically significant. In the Adele example, it was perhaps instructive that it was Americans who had appointed themselves guardians of Bantu culture. (Nevermind that Bantu as a cultural descriptor is not particularly helpful given that it encompasses multitudes of tribes, languages and distinct cultural traditions), When the media sent out their scouts to stir-up the story, they found no one gave a damn in central Africa. So, we get the delicious irony of cultural imperialism masquerading as fighters against cultural appropriation.
    And where does it stop? Some people say Yoga in Western Studios is CA, as is serving Falafels at a non- Arabic restaurant or wearing a kimono if you are not Japanese. This is where is starts to get a little murky as you even hear people say that using Bongo drums outside Africa is also CA. So, at what point, does “a thing” escape a narrow boundary and be free to everyone? Should it ever do so? Should all those ‘Irish’ bars in the US be picketed or will folks there boycott non-French made Baguettes?
    You do love these “light blue touch paper and retire” questions haha

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Exactly my thinking. If I take Thai cooking lessons am I appropriating their culture? As I mentioned to Deb, how disasters is is it if I buy my daughter a hula skirt in Hawaii? I think it goes to intent…is the intention to malign a culture? If it is I say no go. But if you generally like something, why shouldn’t you be able to do it? Thank you for excellent comment

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I think this can only be nuanced properly in regard to intent.
        If not, where does it possibly end? Some argue that ideas can be culturally appropriated! I man, what??! To accept that would be to say that cultures do not learn and naturally borrow from their neighbours; that cultures do not evolve. It also raises the rather distasteful notion that certain cultures are limited to certain ideas/clothes/songs/styles and we all know where such rigid, enforced pigeonholing ultimately leads 😦

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It makes us more narrow minded, and separates more. Think of it like this…what came first, Italian ravioli, polish pierogi or Chinese dumpling….if I thought long enough I can come up with other cultures that have a dough filled with something. Which was the first and do we throw the others away?

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Yes, it is a narrowing and hardening of lines in the sand that we really could do without. If each culture is restricted to a static point of view/point in time what will become of us?
        Yup, your dumpling analogy just shows how daft it can be to take this backwards – the internal combustion engine, the piano or guitar, religion, feudalism, the Little Black Dress etc etc 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember reading an article many, many years ago discussing how white entertainers “stole” the music of African Americans. What was most disturbing to me were the facts that the former were paid much more handsomely than the latter and the fact the music was appropriated did not even enter into the equation for decades. I am glad we are living in a time of increasing awareness around these issues.

    I don’t know if I have any insight into your very thought provoking question but I think any time harm visited upon a culture should be loudly denounced by all. I loved what Deb had to say on this and appreciate the links she provided.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Very subjective, don’t you think. Now, I know why some political a-ok never leave the house. Unfortunately, most of us need to venture out and integrate with everyone and if that is culturally inappropriate to someone, oh well. Can’t please everyone or you can move to another country, I guess.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Me too. There is no way you can travel and live in another country for any period of time without being open and learning as you go. You might not agree with everything but you try not to insult your host country.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. I believe it depends on the context of a given situation. If I’m wearing a kimono and acting in a way that denigrates the Japanese culture, that might be harmful to those of Japanese descent. If I’m wearing a kimono and celebrating the beauty of Japanese culture, that’s quite different. Same with music. If, as a Caucasian person, I play Jazz or African music because I admire it, should I be criticized for playing it because my skin isn’t the correct color for that genre of music? Should a Caucasian teacher teach information about Native American culture and history? Should a Black teacher teach about European culture and history? Why do so many people have nothing better to do than figure out new ways to be divisive? By separating us out specific to cultures, race etc., isn’t that being detrimental to the unity we’re suppose to be embracing? Is laser-focusing on the differences between people the exact opposite of what we want our children to learn….that all people should be treated equally? Or, should we consider some differently based on certain characteristics?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I like the idea of learning from other cultures, and by that I mean embracing the wonderful elements that cultures offer. Agree that anything that is done in a derogatory way is bad. But isn’t it wonderful to learn from others?

      Liked by 4 people

  8. When I grew up I was told our country was a “melting pot.” If we are supposed to stay in our own lanes and not enjoy, adopt or learn from other cultures, how does that work? Have you watched the cooking show Ugly Delicious on Netflix? Chef David Chang travels to find the most delicious food and I learned how different cuisines are adopted around the world. Also, I remember a Southern California university whose students had a Cinco De Mayo celebration and that was said to be cultural appropriation. I think kids were thrown out of college and of course, no more Cinco de Mayo ever again. At my daughter’s university they are called the “Utes” which is an Utah Native American tribe. Rather than considering it to be divisive, the name and logo of an Indian drum and feather are embraced by the University and the local tribe. They work together.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t want to see any culture maligned. Yet I also want to see us learn about and embrace other cultures. How can we do that if we are afraid to? I love food from all over the place and make a point of trying different ethnic cuisines. Sometimes I try to cook these cuisines. Am I not supposed to?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Definitely you should learn to cook cuisines from all over. I think you’ll enjoy the show, Ugly Delicious because of the incredible food and how cuisines travel from the Middle East to Mexico and eventually to the US, for an example.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I feel that it seems to be about intent. When you do it to denigrate or make fun of a culture that is one thing when you wear something because you think it is beautiful it is another. When I think of all the ways the Irish have been made fun of over the years I find it crazy that few have brought it up. Lucky Charms anyone?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Warning – this answer may contain opinions which are not politically correct.

    The main problem with this isn’t that Kim Kardashian adopted a black hairstyle, the problem is that the world has become so trivial and banal that we are actually interested in the Kardashians. In any decent world the Kardashians would be doing jobs suited to their talents like working in a nail bar or a call centre, not prancing about influencing the world and appearing on TV.

    Yes, that’s the voice of a misogynistic white male if you want to pigeonhole me, and I, to many, am all that is wrong with the world. I’ve known this for many years and am resigned to it.

    However, getting back to cultural appropriation, why is it wrong for me to wear a First Nation headdress or cornrows or tattoos, but not wrong for a member of another culture to wear jeans or straighten their hair?

    Liked by 4 people

  11. I view accusations of “cultural appropriation” as fake morality with the goal of creating psychological dependency based on guilt. To make sure, I would ask the person who accused me of cultural appropriation to give me their views on abortion. If they started excusing abortion with talk about “rights”, I’d know what they referred to as cultural appropriation was fake morality.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hmmmm. Okay, here we go. I think a lot about intent and power when thinking about the concept of cultural appropriation. What is the intent of the appropriation? Is it intended to do and or cause harm? And, then, who is doing the appropriation?

    All in all, I think we, as a society, need to ask more questions and stop making assumptions that we know the best course of action. Time and again, we prove that assuming we know, when we don’t, is a thinking error.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I will go with anything about this subject you want to talk about. I freely admit I don’t understand the concept fully. I see it as something that separates rather than brings us together. I don’t want to see anyone taken advantage of, now do I want any culture mocked. Yet, I look around me and everything i see is borrowed from something else. What’s the fine line between what is ok and what isn’t?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So, if we’re talking about cultural appropriation (the definition you started with), then I think it’s up to the majority of that race/ethnicity to decide if they feel others have culturally appropriated their stuff. I mean, if I say XX people have stolen the idea of wearing cornrows and braids from black people, then I don’t think there should be an argument about it; that’s where the style of hair comes from. Usually, though, we don’t see this conversation too much unless there’s some celebrity who’s done something crazy and tried to pass it off as their own idea.

        So, I think it’s appropriation when the person has taken from another culture without being sensitive to that culture or even acknowledging they got it from another culture…like plagiarism, sometimes all you gotta do is cite where you got it from.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ok…so here’s my questions. What about the Moana thing…do you let your kid decorate Moana heavy, and how much do you explain about the origins? What about wearing plaid? Am I supposed to understand the Scottish clan that it came from before I wear it? My tea society- the person in charge is a poc but not Asian. She led us through an Asian tea service including giving us a more or less traditional Chinese cup- is that wrong or right? Bobby flay is neither Tex nor mex yet his cooking style hails from there. I agree on the thought that no one cares unless it’s a celebrity. But here’s my thing….as long as it’s credited properly, and people are respectful about it…on a scale on 1-10, how bad are most of these things?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. 😬 each one is different. Like plaid is commonplace now…I think. The tea thing 😳 that’s a strong 10 in my eyes, especially if the person isn’t Asian. For why was this a thing? Flay’s neither tex nor mex 🤣 yes…he’s on the appropriation spectrum, but I think chefs get a pass because they’re trained? So, you can learn to create Tex-Mex meals…and get away with it.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Now, my tea person is a certified tea master…she’s studied it. But in the surface one wouldn’t know that. So this is where it gets tricky

        Liked by 1 person

  13. My daughter and I were just discussing this in different terms. Baby K absolutely adores Moana and we were trying to determine if she wants to do/be/have all things Pacific Islander, will she/my daughter be accused of cultural appropriation? I mean we’re talking about a toddler who loves a Disney ‘princess’ here. But for me, it comes down to this. If the person in question is actively learning about the cultural, and by learning about this (different) cultural are they not furthering their own human education? And if so, are they not then chipping away at their own personal cultural norms by embracing new ideas? Learning how others human, especially if different from the way you’ve been taught to human presents an opportunity.
    As for the ‘cultural appropriation police’, sometimes a good idea can become twisted into something else entirely.
    I believe it all comes down to learning about yourself, your place in the world, while being open to learning the same about others. Being open heart- and minded. And above all, accept don’t judge.
    Thanks for coming to my TED talk 😘

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for sponsoring this Ted talk! I know exactly what you mean…if we think something is beautiful, or interesting, why shouldn’t we share it? The moana is a great example…(oddly I used buying a kid a hula skirt as my example) if someone is interested in something, shouldn’t we try to teach them about it? Don’t all ideas begin to piggyback from other ideas? Are we only supposed to listen to, use and whatever things that are inherent to “our” culture? That doesn’t seem like growing to me

      Liked by 2 people

  14. Look at cultural paradigm shift over vaccines? At first we were shaming people who tried to skip to the front of the line and now we’re judging those that have or have not received a vaccine? There’s no safe space. I saw someone on twitter called a “vaxhole” for posting pictures of a recent vacation after being vaccinated. Crazy times…C

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Great thread. Who decides what parts of culture belong to a certain group. I know a guy who grew up in small town Iowa. His parents, both of Indian ethnicity, both grew up in the UK. What parts of these various cultures belong to him?
    I’ve always thought of cooking and food as a melting pot type issue. My grandma grew up learning how to cook in a mostly Polish style. When she married my grandpa wanted her to make “American” food, however you define that. Then my mom, their daughter, wanted my grandma to learn how to make pizza and other foods that she’d learned about from her friends.
    I was reading this article that had a cultural appropriation vibe to it that seemed to suggest that tortillas(and other foods) were a brand new food to Americans and that white chefs didn’t give them the proper respect, know their history. I thought it was so bizarre—my parents used to buy tortillas from a Mexican grocery store starting in the 1960s–and my mom had Mexican cookbooks and regularly served food from these cookbooks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here’s my issues with the subject, leading me to write this: 1) to assume that someone doesn’t understand or know about something based on their appearance is prejudicial. 2) does anyone really know the pedigree of their clothes, furniture , foodand whatever, so therefore are we overthinking this and 3) anything can be upsetting to someone…what’s the line? 4) if the intent is pure, is it really bad

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