What is Cultural Appropriation?

What is Cultural Appropriation?

What is Cultural Appropriation?


Cultural appropriation refers to the use of objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression and doesn't respect their original meaning or give credit to their source. It also includes the unauthorized use of parts of their culture (their dress, dance, etc.) without permission.

Cultural appropriation is the social equivalent of plagiarism with an added dose of denigration. It's something to be avoided at all costs, and something to educate yourself about. Cultural appropriation is a disrespectful, stereotypical, or degrading attempt at cultural borrowing.

Other markers of appropriation include presenting elements of a culture in ways that: Cultural appropriation can involve the use of ideas, symbols, artifacts, or other aspects of human-made visual or non-visual culture. As a concept that is controversial in its applications, the propriety of cultural appropriation has been the subject of much debate. Opponents of cultural appropriation view many instances as wrongful appropriation when the subject culture is a minority culture or is subordinated in social, political, economic, or military status to the dominant culture or when there are other issues involved, such as a history of ethnic or racial conflict. 

Linda Martín Alcoff writes that this is often seen in cultural outsiders' use of an oppressed culture's symbols or other cultural elements, such as music, dance, spiritual ceremonies, modes of dress, speech, and social behaviour when these elements are trivialized and used for fashion, rather than respected within their original cultural context.

Opponents view the issues of colonialism, context, and the difference between appropriation and mutual exchange as central to analyzing cultural appropriation. They argue that mutual exchange happens on an "even playing field", whereas appropriation involves pieces of an oppressed culture being taken out of context by a people who have historically oppressed those they are taking from, and who lack the cultural context to properly understand, respect, or utilize these elements.

Cultural appropriation can be most easily recognized by asking this question of the non-dominant group:


Does the use of this element of your culture in this way bother you?


Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation: How To Honor Other Cultures Wondering exactly what counts as cultural appropriation?


Looking for guidance on recognizing when appreciation of another culture crosses the line?

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