|“||Hipsters wearing headresses is cultural appropriation because it is a commodification of indigenous culture. It takes something from someone else’s culture without any context or respect and turns it into something marketable and profitable.||”|
Cultural appropriation is the process by which a member of a dominant culture (e.g., a cishet Western white male) takes or uses (appropriates) aspects of another culture (often a colonised culture) without that culture's permission and/or without any understanding of the deeper cultural meanings behind the appropriated item.
For members of the dominant culture, it might be difficult to grasp how such a process is different to a sharing of ideas. Plagiarism comes close to describing cultural appropriation, only on the cultural level rather than the individual level. A good parallel, although not perfect, is to imagine how one might feel if their ethnic and national symbols were worn "inappropriately", e.g., a Purple Heart worn by somebody who never served in the US Military as a hair clip, or a US flag used as a dishcloth by an "enemy" militant.
Am I appropriating a culture?
In a broad sense, if you live in a European or otherwise western civilization, yes but not intentionally and perhaps unavoidably. One of the cornerstones of cultural appropriation is colonialism or the global oppression of non-colonizer cultures by colonizers. Many items and concepts have been unfairly stolen without recompense in years past. For example, the original pajama was simply a kind of pants and jacket favored in Persia, which was appropriated by upper-class Europeans as a fashionable loungewear. Today, most western people do not associate pajamas with a Middle-Eastern garment; the appropriation of it has erased the origin of the clothing. Many other items that are unavoidably part of daily life are similar. Just as living in a sexist culture makes those who live within inherently sexist (without intention), living in an appropriative culture makes one inherently appropriative. However, it's not really feasible just to go live in a cave in the woods to avoid problematic concepts. The best thing to do is to check said privilege and work toward a brighter future.
In a more specific sense, no, not always. A key feature of cultural appropriation is theft and as such, it removes the agency of the affected culture. If people of a culture host on their own terms an exchange of culture, or select own aspects of their culture (without or with minimal influence of consumerism or imperialism) to fairly trade and receive a fair price, full attribution and the related prestige, then those cultural objects or aspects have not been appropriated. Hence, it is not appropriative to enjoy another cultures food, fairly-traded clothes, music, or other really-and-truly shared aspects. It is also not appropriation to submit as a guest within another culture and adopt certain local customs or items in order to survive (a common experience of western expats is that "eating western" is almost impossible or at least forbiddingly expensive abroad in many countries) or to otherwise participate in another society. A person of another culture may be expected to honor traditions or receive blessings of a temple or similar space, for example, if they visit it. It is not cultural appropriation for a non-Indian to learn or be taught to make rotis[wp] but it is certainly appropriation to claim that one as a non-Indian invented or "perfected" them.
A good rule to follow is if the usage of a cultural tradition, item, or concept erases the agency or removes the credit from another culture originating it, or devalues/undermines that item's meaning to that culture, appropriation is likely taking place. If not, then you are participating as a guest or accepting with full attribution a gift from someone else's tradition and origins.
Cultural appropriation is part and parcel of the long-term abuse, marginalisation, and oppression of indigenous and minority people that typifies colonialism and can be seen as a parallel to the practise of cultural erasure. Cultural erasure consists of forcing minorities to adopt Western culture and attire, to speak the English language, to convert to Christianity, to stop using their birth names, and so on.
In the figure to the right, one can see one the effects of cultural erasure on a young Cree child:
|[Left]: Cree child Thomas Moore, as he appeared in his traditional Cree attire when admitted to the Regina Indian Industrial School [ca. 1897] Photo: Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A8223-1. Notice the staging of the gun in hand, ostensibly symbolizing his "savage" proclivities that would be necessarily purged by a heavy dose of duplicitous white man Christian indoctrination.
Once ethnic minorities are stripped of their own culture, customs, traditions, pedagogy, language, and history these can all be comodified under a capitalist framework. In other words, once colonialsm and erasure have taken a firm enough grip inside a colonised people, cultural appropriation can be used to further profit from their identities. Especially since by this point, their cultural heritage is seen as "exotic" and has come to be rare, which are properties valued by consumerist and individualist culture.
- When We Talk About Cultural Appropriation, We’re Missing The Point, by Ijeoma Oluo
- Your Guide to Avoiding Cultural Appropriation, by Kadia Blagrove
- What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? These 9 Answers Reveal Its Harm, by Maisha Z. Johnson
- My culture is not a costume
- Native Appropriations, a website by Dr. Adrienne K.
- The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation, by Jarune Uwujaren
- Who Owns Culture?: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, by Susan Scafidi
- The cultural appropriation tag on Racialicious
- Publications of Prof. Rosemary J. Coombe, many articles regarding cultural appropriation and intellectual property law
- Appropriation VS. appreciation: An Illustrated Style Guide
- This “Hunger Games” Actress Just Gave The Realest Explanation Of Cultural Appropriation, by Ema O'Connor
- See the Wikipedia article on Cultural appropriation.
- On Reverse Cultural Appropriation
- The Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation
- Arnd Schneider (2003). On ‘appropriation’. A critical reappraisal of the concept and its application in global art practices. Social Anthropology, 11, pp 215-229. doi:10.1017/S0964028203000156.
- Native Residential Schools in North America: Punishment for the crime of being born Native Indian
- Residential school survivors share stories of abuse, recovery, by Greg McNeil