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:
But is the concern valid?
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 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!