Cultural appropriation is when you take something from another culture over the objections of that culture. It is cultural theft. It is especially common when racists borrow “cool stuff” from cultures whose people they look down on.
It is that thing where if Black people do something, like twerking or wearing cornrows, it is looked down on as “ghetto” or “hood” or “unprofessional”, but when White people do the very same thing, it is suddenly admired as “cool” or “edgy” or “epic”.
What to Whites seems like “innocent” borrowing can seem quite different to people of colour:
Here is ishanijasmin of Tumblr, whose family came to England from India, talking about bindis:
“On me it’s dirt, worthy of a slur in my direction and an inside joke with the next white person you see – but on you, it’s chic. It’s cheerful and oh-so-boho-indie-pastel-pale-cute.”
Azealia Banks, a Black rapper, talking about the Grammy award for rap music:
“When they give these Grammys out, all it says to White kids is, ‘Oh yeah, you’re great, you’re amazing, you can do whatever you put your mind to.’ And what it says to Black kids is, ‘You don’t have shit, you don’t own shit, not even the shit you created for yourself.’ ….
“The basis of modern capitalism is slave labour, really just the selling and trading of these slaves. There are fucking huge corporations that are still caking off that slave money and shit like that. So until y’all motherfuckers are ready to talk about what y’all owe me, whether the number is $7 trillion or $8 trillion or $9 trillion, at the very fucking least you owe me the right to my own fucking identity and to not exploit that shit. You get what I’m saying? Like that’s all we’re holding onto, like hip hop and rap. ….
“They’re trying to erase us, all of our books and scriptures and everything. Everything we are supposed to know about ourselves have gone, completely fucking gone, never to be seen again.”
The three cultural A’s:
- assimilation – taking on the ways of another culture to become a part of that culture or its society. Sometimes this is done by force, like to Black and Native Americans.
- acculturation – borrowing from another culture.
- appropriation – robbing another culture.
Sometimes there is a thin line between “borrowing” and appropriation. For example, Eminem and Iggy Azalea are both White rappers, but many see Iggy Azalea as an appropriator of Black culture while Eminem is seen more as a partaker. The same goes for White singers Teena Marie (partaker) and Madonna (appropriator).
Those who borrow from a culture but
- belittle, stereotype or misrepresent it or its people or
- take credit for or get rich off of something they did not create
are generally seen as appropriators.
In general, if people from the originating culture object, then it is not borrowing but appropriation. Just like if I do not want you to borrow my car but you take it anyway, it is no longer borrowing.
Thanks to Uriel, Bulanik and others for suggesting this post.
– Abagond, 2015.
- external links:
- Teena Marie
- Some examples
- “White is right”
- Companies and universities that profited from slavery
- growing up Native American