Resources On What ‘Cultural Appropriation’ Is and Isn’t

12 min readSep 11, 2018

“Cultural misappropriation distinguishes itself from the neutrality of cultural exchange, appreciation, and appropriation because of the instance of colonialism and capitalism”

First: Cultural appropriation, or “appropriation that occurs across the boundaries of cultures” (Young), is when “members of one culture (outsiders) take for their own, or for their own use, items produced by a member or members of another culture (insiders).” In this formulation, and most definitional observations, appropriation itself is not an inherently immoral or even unusual occurrence. In fact, most art involves appropriation of some form. However, it is the power dynamic which alters the moral standing of the act of appropriation. Uneven or unparalleled power dynamics, in which an act of culture appropriation can be broken down into various subcategories such as object appropriation, style appropriation, content appropriation, motif appropriation, and subject appropriation, create a space in which appropriation becomes questionable, and both intentions and commodification must be examined.

While appropriation is not specific to art, that is typically the appropriation which dominates the most space in public discourse. Artworks are only one thing within a large range of works that could be considered culturally appropriated. Human remains, archaeological finds, anthropological data, scientific knowledge, genetic material, land, religious beliefs, and a range of other items have all been considered subject to ‘cultural appropriation’ (Young). However, when discussing the appropriation of art, attached to it is the ideas of appropriating clothing customs, lingual specificity, and visual aesthetics.

And as cultural exchange and appreciation are increasingly living, breathing around a thin line between cultural appropriation, there are generally many strong and obvious arguments which could be made in both directions. For me, based on the historical theft inextricable from colonialism and [cultural] imperialism, I believe whiteness itself is the extra-factor in cultural exchange that must be hyper-examined, while I strongly believe cultural exchange and appropriation between fellow…