What is Cultural Appropriation? Why is it Harmful?

Cultural appropriation according to James O. Young is by definition the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. In a contemporary Western context however, the term “cultural appropriation” has been assigned the label of what is actually cultural misappropriation. For convenience sake however, we will continue to use the term cultural appropriation and misappropriation interchangeably as we are speaking to you from a Western context.

Cultural misappropriation is a manner of adopting said cultural values in a colonial manner. Susan Scafidi explained in Jezebel that cultural appropriation (misappropriation) is:

“Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions or artefacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorised use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive (sacred objects)”.

In summary; cultural appropriation (not to be confused with cultural exchange) is when a dominant group in society takes cultural aspects from an oppressed/ marginalised group in society.

This is especially harmful when values of these cultural aspects are decontextualised and stripped of their meanings for commercial, novelty or aesthetic purposes and can forge more prevalent stereotypes of marginalised cultures. As Amandla Stelnberg said; it makes people of marginalised groups feel as though society loves their culture, but not their people. 

Sign the petition against cultural misappropriation:




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