The Definition of cultural appropriation is adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Basically, anytime you see someone not black with dreadlocks, or non-Asian, wearing a kimono, or non-Hispanic, with a Mexican flag, etc. this is called cultural appropriation. The intent of the phrase is to make minority people’s culture not something that can be bought and sold on e-bay. The reality is that it is a nonsensical phrase meant to give people another reason to claim someone else is not being politically correct.
The very idea of that someone can appropriate something is an indicator that someone is taking something away from another persona and then telling them how to use it. If I were taking the kimono away from the Japanese people and then telling them this was the only way that it could be used, then I would be appropriating a piece of their culture. But in reality, I have no way of removing the garment from their culture and no one is saying how and when it can be used. So, at best I could be accused of being culturally insensitive at worst, I would be using the Kimono to mock Japanese people. However, that would not make me someone who is appropriating, it would make me a racist asshole! There is a big difference.
That is only one example. The idea that we could exist in a global community without elements of cultural intermixing is naive in the extreme. The United States has been called a melting pot of many cultures. We have people bringing customs and culture from all over the world. Cultural intermingling is going to happen by virtue of the fact that multiple cultures are coexisting in one time and place. If you don’t think so, I challenge you to use the English language while leaving out any words that have come from other cultures. How about going out to dinner? Do you think you can find some recipe out there that is uniquely indigent to one country, or better still, which one are you going to eat?
Most of the people that exist within this country can claim to be of a multinational decent. White, black Native American, Hispanic, they are all here and have been for years and have been interbreeding for most of that time. The very idea that you can claim a very specific culture in the US is almost laughable. Some people can say they are from one place or another, but for most of us, we can only go based off of the color of our skin. Skin color is not a culture it is gradient of pigment. Who is to say who has a right to cultural practices? If I am white skinned, but I was raised in Japan, and lived most of my life in Japan, would I have a right to utilize that cultural item, or am I still supposed to steer clear of that, because I am not the right color?
I understand that white imperialism has been responsible for a lot of horror stories around the world, and I don’t excuse any of that behavior, and we should learn about other cultures and respect people and their right to practice cultural items to the extent they do not harm other people. Most of the things that people want to claim is so sacrosanct are religious practices, and (atheist disclaimer) I have no obligation to respect someone else’s fairy tale, except their right to believe it. So, if I choose to utilize a ancient Chinese symbol as a tattoo or I want wear a poncho because I think they are comfortable, I am not appropriating anything. They can still place that symbol in their sacred places and the Mexican people can still all wear ponchos and it be understood where they came from.
What I am saying is there is plenty to feel guilty about; slavery, imperialism, and genocide to name a few. The inappropriate use of cultural items is just being culturally insensitive and not appropriation. We need to stop holding items and practices up as sacred and not to be questioned. It’s more important to protect the people behind the practices and their right to exist and thrive as a people.