Cultural appropriation

Cultural appropriation, at times also phrased cultural misappropriation,[2][3][4] is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures.[5][2][3]

Cultural appropriation is often considered harmful, and to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating, minority cultures, notably indigenous cultures and those living under colonial rule.[2][6][7] Often unavoidable when multiple cultures come together, cultural appropriation can include using other cultures' cultural and religious traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and music.[8][9][10]

According to critics of the practice, cultural appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or cultural exchange in that this appropriation is a form of colonialism: cultural elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of members of the originating culture.[3][11][12][13][14][15][16]

Often, the original meaning of these cultural elements is lost or distorted, and such displays are often viewed as disrespectful, or even as a form of desecration, by members of the originating culture.[11][17][18][1] Cultural elements which may have deep meaning to the original culture may be reduced to "exotic" fashion or toys by those from the dominant culture.[11][12][19] Kjerstin Johnson has written that, when this is done, the imitator, "who does not experience that oppression is able to 'play', temporarily, an 'exotic' other, without experiencing any of the daily discriminations faced by other cultures."[19] The African-American academic, musician and journalist Greg Tate argues that appropriation and the "fetishising" of cultures, in fact, alienates those whose culture is being appropriated.[20]

The concept of cultural appropriation has also been widely criticised.[21][22][23] Some writers on the topic note that the concept is often misunderstood or misapplied by the general public, and that charges of "cultural appropriation" are at times misapplied to situations such as eating food from a variety of cultures, or learning about different cultures.[24] Commentators who criticize the concept believe that the act of cultural appropriation does not meaningfully constitute a social harm, or that the term lacks conceptual coherence.[25][26] Some argue that the term sets arbitrary limits on intellectual freedom and artists' self-expression, reinforces group divisions, or itself promotes a feeling of enmity or grievance, rather than liberation.[26][27][28][29]

PC Bro
A non-Native person wearing a Native American war bonnet as a "fashion accessory" is commonly cited as an example of cultural appropriation.[1]


Cultural appropriation can involve the use of ideas, symbols, artifacts, or other aspects of human-made visual or non-visual culture.[30] As a concept that is controversial in its applications, the propriety of cultural appropriation has been the subject of much debate. Opponents of cultural appropriation view many instances as wrongful appropriation when the subject culture is a minority culture or is subordinated in social, political, economic, or military status to the dominant culture[1][19] or when there are other issues involved, such as a history of ethnic or racial conflict.[12] Linda Martín Alcoff writes that this is often seen in cultural outsiders' use of an oppressed culture's symbols or other cultural elements, such as music, dance, spiritual ceremonies, modes of dress, speech, and social behaviour,[31] notably when these elements are trivialized and used for fashion, rather than respected within their original cultural context. Opponents view the issues of colonialism, context, and the difference between appropriation and mutual exchange as central to analyzing cultural appropriation. They argue that mutual exchange happens on an "even playing field", whereas appropriation involves pieces of an oppressed culture being taken out of context by a people who have historically oppressed those they are taking from, and who lack the cultural context to properly understand, respect, or utilize these elements.[12][13][32]

A different view of cultural appropriation characterizes critics of the practice as "engaged in a deeply conservative project: one which first seeks to preserve in formaldehyde the content of an established culture and second tries to prevent others from interacting with that culture."[33] Proponents of cultural appropriation view it as often benign or mutually beneficial, citing mutation, product diversity, technological diffusion, and cultural empathy as among its benefits.[34] For example, the film Star Wars appropriated elements from Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, which itself appropriated elements from Shakespeare; culture in the aggregate is arguably better off for each instance of appropriation. Fusion between cultures has produced such foods as American Chinese cuisine, modern Japanese sushi, and bánh mì, each of which is sometimes argued to reflect part of its respective culture's identity.[33]

Academic study

Cultural appropriation is a relatively recent subject of academic study. The term emerged in the 1980s, in discussions of post-colonial critiques of Western expansionism,[35] though the concept had been explored earlier, such as in "Some General Observations on the Problems of Cultural Colonialism" by Kenneth Coutts‐Smith in 1976.[35][36]

Cultural and racial theorist George Lipsitz has used the term "strategic anti-essentialism" to refer to the calculated use of a cultural form, outside of one's own, to define oneself or one's group. Strategic anti-essentialism can be seen in both minority cultures and majority cultures, and is not confined only to the use of the other. However, Lipsitz argues, when the majority culture attempts to strategically anti-essentialize itself by appropriating a minority culture, it must take great care to recognize the specific socio-historical circumstances and significance of these cultural forms so as not to perpetuate the already existing majority vs. minority unequal power relations.[37]


Art, literature, iconography, and adornment

A common example of cultural appropriation is the adoption of the iconography of another culture, and using it for purposes that are unintended by the original culture or even offensive to that culture's mores. Examples include sports teams using Native American tribal names or images as mascots; wearing jewelry or fashion with religious symbols such as the war bonnet,[1] medicine wheel, or cross without any belief in those religions; and copying iconography from another culture's history such as Polynesian tribal tattoos, Chinese characters, or Celtic art worn without regard to their original cultural significance. Critics of the practice of cultural appropriation contend that divorcing this iconography from its cultural context or treating it as kitsch risks offending people who venerate and wish to preserve their cultural traditions.[1][13][38][39][40]

In Australia, Aboriginal artists have discussed an "authenticity brand" to ensure consumers are aware of artworks claiming false Aboriginal significance.[41][42] The movement for such a measure gained momentum after the 1999 conviction of John O'Loughlin for the fraudulent sale of works described as Aboriginal but painted by non-indigenous artists.[43]

In Europe and North America a common example of cultural appropriation is the misrepresentation of East Indian symbols, mythology and religious ideas as typified in Rudyard Kipling's stories and Talbot Mundy's Jimgrim book series including the highly discussed Nine Unknown and King of the Khyber Rifles. Movements to undo the biases, misrepresentations, and cultural inaccuracies made popular by authors like Kipling and Mundy have gained significant momentum since Kipling's poem "If—" was scrubbed off Manchester University walls by student leaders.[44] AAJA, a watchdog organization for fair and respectful cultural representation, works to point out and prevent these cultural inaccuracies in the media.[45]

Historically, some of the most hotly debated cases of cultural appropriation have occurred in places where cultural exchange is the highest, such as along the trade routes in southwestern Asia and southeastern Europe. Some scholars of the Ottoman Empire and ancient Egypt argue that Ottoman and Egyptian architectural traditions have long been falsely claimed and praised as Persian or Arab.[46]

Religion and spirituality

Among critics, the misuse and misrepresentation of indigenous intellectual property is seen as an exploitative form of colonialism, and one step in the destruction of indigenous cultures.[47]

The results of this use of indigenous knowledge have led some tribes, and the United Nations General Assembly, to issue several declarations on the subject. The Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality includes the passage:

We assert a posture of zero-tolerance for any "white man's shaman" who rises from within our own communities to "authorize" the expropriation of our ceremonial ways by non-Indians; all such "plastic medicine men" are enemies of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.[17][18]

Article 31 1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.[6]

Many Native Americans have criticized what they deem to be cultural appropriation of their sweat lodge and vision quest ceremonies by non-Natives, and even by tribes who have not traditionally had these ceremonies. They also contend that there are higher safety risks when the ceremonies are conducted by non-Natives, pointing to deaths or injuries in 1996, 2002, 2004, and several high-profile deaths in 2009.[48][49][50][51][52]

In 2015, a group of Native American academics and writers issued a statement against the Rainbow Family members whose acts of "cultural exploitation... dehumanize us as an indigenous Nation because they imply our culture and humanity, like our land, is anyone's for the taking."[53]


Monet Japonaise
Claude Monet's wife, Camille Doncieux wearing a kimono, 1875.

Cultural appropriation is controversial in the fashion industry due to the belief that some trends commercialise and cheapen the ancient heritage of indigenous cultures.[54] There is debate about whether designers and fashion houses understand the history behind the clothing they are taking from different cultures, besides the ethical issues of using these cultures' shared intellectual property without consent, acknowledgement, or compensation.[55] In response to this criticism, many fashion experts claim that this occurrence is in fact "culture appreciation",[56] rather than cultural appropriation. Companies and designers claim the use of unique cultural symbols is an effort to recognize and pay homage to that specific culture.[56]

17th century to Victorian era

During the 17th century, the forerunner to the three piece suit was appropriated from the traditional dress of diverse Eastern European and Islamic countries. The Justacorps frock coat was copied from the long zupans worn in Poland and Ukraine,[57] the necktie or cravat was derived from a scarf worn by Croatian mercenaries fighting for Louis XIII,[58] and the brightly colored silk waistcoats popularised by Charles II of England were inspired by exotic Turkish, Indian and Persian attire acquired by wealthy English travellers.[59]

During the Highland Clearances, the British aristocracy appropriated traditional Scottish clothing. Tartan was given spurious association with specific Highland clans after publications such as James Logan's romanticised work The Scottish Gael (1831) led the Scottish tartan industry to invent clan tartans [60] and tartan became a desirable material for dresses, waistcoats and cravats. In America, plaid flannel had become workwear by the time of Westward expansion, and was widely worn by Old West pioneers and cowboys who were not of Scottish descent.[61] In the 21st century, tartan remains ubiquitous in mainstream fashion.[62]

By the 19th century the fascination had shifted to Asian culture. English Regency era dandies adapted the Indian churidars into slim fitting pantaloons, and frequently wore turbans within their own houses. Later, Victorian gentlemen wore smoking caps based on the Islamic fez, and fashionable turn of the century ladies wore Orientalist[63] Japanese inspired kimono dresses.[64][65] During the tiki culture fad of the 1950s, white women frequently donned the qipao to give the impression that they had visited Hong Kong, although the dresses were frequently made by seamstresses in America using rayon rather than genuine silk. At the same time, teenage British Teddy Girls wore Chinese coolie hats due to their exotic connotations.[66]

In Mexico, the sombrero associated with the mestizo peasant class was appropriated from an earlier hat introduced by the Spanish colonials during the 18th century.[67] This, in turn, was adapted into the cowboy hat worn by American cowboys after the US Civil War.[68] In 2016, the University of East Anglia prohibited the wearing of sombreros to parties on campus, in the belief that these could offend Mexican students.[26]

American Western wear was copied from the work attire of 19th century Mexican Vaqueros, especially the pointed cowboy boots and the guayabera which was adapted into the embroidered Western shirt.[69] The China poblana dress associated with Mexican women was appropriated from the choli and lehenga worn by Indian maidservants like Catarina de San Juan who arrived from Asia from the 17th century onwards.[70]

Modern era

In Britain, the rough tweed cloth clothing of the Irish, English and Scottish peasantry, including the flat cap and Irish hat[71] were appropriated by the upper classes as the British country clothing worn for sports such as hunting or fishing, in imitation of the then Prince of Wales.[72] The country clothing, in turn, was appropriated by the wealthy American soc and later preppy subcultures during the 1950s and 1980s due to both its practicality and its association with the English elite.[73] During the same period the British comedian Tommy Cooper was known for wearing a Fez throughout his performances.

When keffiyehs became popular in the late 2000s, experts made a clear distinction between the wearing of a genuine scarf, and a fake made in China.[74] Palestinian independence activists and socialists denounced the wearing of scarves not made in Palestine as a form of cultural appropriation, but encouraged young white people and fellow Muslims[75] to buy shemaghs made in the Herbawi[76] factory to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people and improve the economy of the West Bank.[77][78] In 2017, Topshop caused controversy by selling Chinese-made playsuits that imitated the pattern of the keffiyeh.[79]

In 2012 during the annual Victoria's Secret fashion show, model Karlie Kloss was scrutinized for wearing a Native American headdress during her walk on the runway. There was a mixed public response. People of mixed heritage were the most sensitive to headdress. USA Today ran a feature where they interviewed a woman of mixed heritage who said that the headdress is a symbol of leadership and honour, and also has a religious meaning behind it. This cultural meaning was not considered in Victoria’s Secret’s use of the headdress as an accessory. Victoria's Secret issued an apology stating that they had no intentions of offending anyone.[80][81]

Archbishop Justin Welby of the Anglican Church has claimed that the crucifix is "now just a fashion statement and has lost its religious meaning.".[82] Crucifixes have been incorporated into Japanese lolita fashion by non-Christians in a cultural context that is distinct from its original meaning as a Christian religious symbol.[83]

Hairstyles, makeup and body modifications

  • The leaders of ancient Israel strongly condemned the adoption of Egyptian and Canaanite practises, especially cutting the hair short or shaving the beard. At the same time, the Old Testament distinguishes the religious circumcision of the Hebrews, from cultures such as the Egyptians where the practise had aesthetic or practical purposes.
  • During the early 16th century, European men imitated the short regular haircuts and beards on rediscovered Ancient Greek and Roman statues. The curled hair favoured by the Regency era dandy Beau Brummel was also inspired by the classical era.
  • During the 17th century, Louis XIV began wearing wigs to conceal his baldness. Like many other French fashions, these were quickly appropriated by baroque era courtiers in England and the rest of Europe to the extent that men often shaved their heads to ensure their wig fitted properly.
  • American soldiers during World War II appropriated the Mohawk hairstyle of the Native American tribe of the same name to intimidate their enemies. These were later worn by 1950s jazz musicians like Sonny Rollins, and the 1980s punk subculture.[84]
  • During the early 2000s, it was popular in the west to get tribal tattoos appropriated from African and Polynesian culture, as well as earlobe piercings known as flesh tunnels, famously associated with the Buddha.[85]


FedExField - Redskins Jaguars pregame field
The Washington Redskins logo in Maryland

While the history of colonization and marginalization is not unique to the Americas, the practice of non-Native sports teams deriving team names, imagery, and mascots from indigenous peoples is still common in the United States and Canada, and has persisted to some extent despite protests from Indigenous groups. Cornel Pewewardy, Professor and Director of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University, cites indigenous mascots as an example of dysconscious racism which, by placing images of Native American or First Nations people into an invented media context, continues to maintain the superiority of the dominant culture.[86] It is argued that such practices maintain the power relationship between the dominant culture and the indigenous culture, and can be seen as a form of cultural imperialism.[87][88]

Such practices may be seen as particularly harmful in schools and universities which have a stated purpose of promoting ethnic diversity and inclusion.[89] In recognition of the responsibility of higher education to eliminate behaviors that create a hostile environment for education, in 2005 the NCAA initiated a policy against "hostile and abusive" names and mascots that led to the change of many derived from Native American culture, with the exception of those that established an agreement with particular tribes for the use of their specific names. Other schools retain their names because they were founded for the education of Native Americans, and continue to have a significant number of indigenous students. The trend towards the elimination of indigenous names and mascots in local schools has been steady, with two thirds having been eliminated over the past 50 years according to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).[90]

While the leadership of nearly all Native American tribes object to their depictions as sports mascots[91], only one tribe explicitly approves of such representations. The Florida State Seminoles use the iconography of the Seminole tribe. Their mascots are Osceola and Renegade, depictions of the Seminole chief Osceola and his Appaloosa horse.[92][93] After the NCAA attempted to ban the use of Native American names and iconography in college sports in 2005, the Seminole Tribe of Florida passed a resolution offering explicit support for FSU's use of Seminole culture and Osceola as a mascot; the university was granted a waiver, citing the close relationship with and consultation between the team and the tribe.[93] In 2013, the tribe's chairman objected to outsiders meddling in tribal approval, stating that the FSU mascot and use of Seminole iconography "represents the courage of the people who were here and are still here, known as the Unconquered Seminoles."[94] Conversely, in 2013, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma expressed disapproval of "the use of all American Indian sports-team mascots in the public school system, by college and university level and by professional sports teams", and not all members of the tribe's Florida branch are supportive of its stance.[92][93]

In other former colonies in Asia, Africa, and South America, the adoption of indigenous names for majority indigenous teams is also found. There are also ethnicity-related team names derived from prominent immigrant populations in the area, such as the Boston Celtics, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and the Minnesota Vikings.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games to be held on the Gold Coast in Australia from 4 April 2018 has named its mascot Borobi, the local Yugambeh word for "koala," and has sought to trademark the word through IP Australia. The application is being opposed by a Yugambeh cultural heritage organisation, which argues that the Games organising committee used the word without proper consultation with the Yugambeh people.

African-American culture

Paul Wall
Example of hip hop fashion

The term wigger (common spelling "wigga") is a slang term for a white person who adopts the mannerisms, language, and fashions associated with African-American culture, particularly hip hop, and, in Britain, the grime scene, often implying the imitation is being done badly, although usually with sincerity rather than mocking intent.[95][96][97] Wigger is a portmanteau of white and nigger or nigga, and the related term wangsta is a mashup of wannabe or white, and gangsta. Among black hip-hop fans, the word "nigga" can sometimes be considered a friendly greeting, but when used by whites, it is usually viewed as offensive.[98] "Wigger" may be derogatory, reflecting stereotypes of African-American, black British, and white culture (when used as synonym of white trash). The term is sometimes used in a racist manner, by other white people to belittle the person perceived as "acting black", but it is also widely used by African Americans like 50 Cent offended by the wigga or wanksta's demeaning of black people and culture.[99]

The phenomenon of white people adopting elements of black culture has been prevalent at least since slavery was abolished in the Western world. The concept has been documented in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other white-majority countries. An early form of this was the white negro in the jazz and swing music scenes of the 1920s and 1930s, as examined in the 1957 Norman Mailer essay "The White Negro". It was later seen in the zoot suiter of the 1930s and 1940s, the hipster of the 1940s, the beatnik of the 1950s–1960s, the blue-eyed soul of the 1970s, and the hip hop of the 1980s and 1990s. In 1993, an article in the UK newspaper The Independent described the phenomenon of white, middle-class kids who were "wannabe Blacks".[100] 2005 saw the publication of Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wangstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, and the New Reality of Race in America by Bakari Kitwana, "a culture critic who's been tracking American hip hop for years".[101]

Robert A. Clift's documentary Blacking Up: Hip-Hop's Remix of Race and Identity questions white enthusiasts of black hip-hop culture. Clift's documentary examines "racial and cultural ownership and authenticity -- a path that begins with the stolen blackness seen in the success of Stephen Foster, Al Jolson, Benny Goodman, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones -- all the way up to Vanilla Ice (popular music's ur-wigger...) and Eminem."[102] A review of the documentary refers to the wiggers as "white poseurs", and states that the term wigger "is used both proudly and derisively to describe white enthusiasts of black hip-hop culture".[102]

The term "blackfishing" was popularised in 2018 by writer Wanna Thompson, describing female white social media influencers who adopt a look perceived to be black or mixed race - including braided hair, dark skin from tanning or make-up, full lips, and large thighs. Critics argue they take attention and opportunities from black influencers by appropriating their aesthetic and have likened the trend to blackface.[103][104][105]


Use of minority languages is also cited as cultural appropriated, such as when non-speakers of Scottish Gaelic or Irish get tattoos in that language.[106] Likewise, the use of incorrect Scottish Gaelic in a tokenistic fashion aimed at non-Gaelic speakers on signage and announcements has been criticized as disrespectful to fluent speakers of the language.[107]

Since the early 2000s, it has become increasingly popular for people not of Asian descent, to get tattoos of Indian devanagari, Korean letters or Han characters (traditional, simplified or Japanese), often without knowing the actual meaning of the symbols being used.[108][109]

Film and television

According to last US Census (2010), Asian-Americans make up 4.8 percent of the population.[110] According to a study by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2016, only one out of 20 (which corresponds to 5 percent) speaking roles go to Asian-Americans. However, they are given only one percent of lead roles in film. White actors account for 76.2 percent of lead roles, while representing 72.4 percent of the population according to the last US census.[111][110]

In 2017, Ghost in the Shell, which is based on the seinen manga Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow, provoked disputes over whitewashing. Scarlett Johansson, a white actress, took the role of Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese character.[112] This was seen as cultural appropriation by some fans of the original manga who expected the role to be taken by an Asian or Asian-American actor.[112]


During Halloween, some people buy, wear, and sell Halloween costumes based on cultural or racial stereotypes.[113][114] Costumes that depict cultural stereotypes, like "Indian Warrior" or "Pocahottie" are sometimes worn by people who do not belong to the cultural group being stereotyped.[115] These costumes have been criticized as being in poor taste at best and, at worst, blatantly racist and dehumanizing.[1][19][114][116] There have been public protests calling for the end to the manufacture and sales of these costumes and connecting their "degrading" portrayals of Indigenous women to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis.[116] In some cases, theme parties have been held where attendees are encouraged to dress up as stereotypes of a certain racial group.[113][114] A number of these parties have been held at colleges, and at times other than Halloween, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month.[113][114]

BSA related dance teams

In chapter four of his book Playing Indian, Native American historian Philip J. Deloria refers to the Koshare Indian Museum and Dancers as an example of "object hobbyists" who adopt the material culture of indigenous peoples of the past ("the vanishing Indian") while failing to engage with contemporary native peoples or acknowledge the history of conquest and dispossession.[117][118] Some Native Americans have stated that all such impersonations and performances are a form of cultural appropriation which place dance and costumes in an inappropriate context devoid of their true meaning, sometimes mixing elements from different tribes.[119]

For 2015, the Koshare's Winter Night dances were canceled after a request was received from Cultural Preservation Office (CPO) of the Hopi Nation asking that the troop discontinue their interpretation of the dances of the Hopi and Pueblo Native Americans.[120] Director of the CPO Leigh Kuwanwisiwma saw video of the performances online, and said the performers were "mimicking our dances, but they were insensitive, as far as I'm concerned."[121] In the 1950s, the head councilman of the Zuni Pueblo saw a performance and said: "We know your hearts are good, but even with good hearts you have done a bad thing." In Zuni culture, religious object and practices are only for those that have earned the right to participate, following techniques and prayers that have been handed down for generations.[122]

There are many other examples of groups associated with scout troops attempting to duplicate Native American dance with varying degrees of authenticity.

Gender and sexuality

Some people in the transgender community have protested against the casting of straight, cis-gender actors in trans acting roles, such as when Eddie Redmayne played the role of artist Lili Elbe in the film The Danish Girl and when Jared Leto played the role of a trans woman named Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club.[132] The gay community has expressed concerns about the use of straight actors to play gay characters; this occurs in films such as Call Me by Your Name (straight actors Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet), Brokeback Mountain (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal), Philadelphia (starring Tom Hanks), Capote (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Milk (with Sean Penn playing the role of the real-life gay rights activist, Harvey Milk).[133] Jay Caruso calls these controversies "wholly manufactured", on the grounds that the actors "are playing a role" using the "art of acting".[132]

Other uses

St. Patrick himself in Dublin, Ohio
Costume of Saint Patrick (left)

In some cases, a culture usually viewed as the target of cultural appropriation can be accused of appropriation, particularly after colonization and an extensive period re-organization of that culture under the nation-state system. For example, the government of Ghana has been accused of cultural appropriation in adopting the Caribbean Emancipation Day and marketing it to African American tourists as an "African festival".[134]

For some members of the South-Asian community, the wearing of a bindi dot as a decorative item, by a non-Hindu,[135] or by a woman who is not South Asian, is considered cultural appropriation.[13]

A common term among Irish people for someone who imitates or misrepresents Irish culture is Plastic Paddy.[136]

Celebrity controversies

In 2003, Prince Harry of the British royal family used Indigenous Australian art motifs in a painting for a school project. One Aboriginal group labelled it "misappropriation of our culture", saying that to Aboriginal people, the motifs have symbolic meanings "indicative of our spiritualism", whereas when non-Aborigines use the motifs they are simply "painting a pretty picture".[4]

In the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2012, former Victoria's Secret model Karlie Kloss donned a Native American-style feathered headdress with leather bra and panties and high-heeled moccasins.[137] This was said to be an example of cultural appropriation because the fashion show is showcasing the company's lingerie and image as a global fashion giant. The outfit was supposed to represent November, and thus "Thanksgiving", in the "Calendar Girls" segment. The outfit met with backlash and criticism as an appropriation of Native American culture and tradition. Victoria's Secret pulled it from the broadcast and apologized for its use. Kloss also commented on the decision by tweeting "I am deeply sorry if what I wore during the VS Show offended anyone. I support VS's decision to remove the outfit from the broadcast."[138][139]

Avril Lavigne has been cited as appropriating Japanese culture in her song "Hello Kitty". The song and music video depict Asian women dressed up in matching outfits and Lavigne eating Asian food while dressed in a pink tutu.[140] Its depiction of Japanese culture was met with widespread criticism, which has included suggestions of racism. Lavigne responded by stating "I love Japanese culture and I spend half of my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video ... specifically for my Japanese fans, with my Japanese label, Japanese choreographers and a Japanese director in Japan."[141] A lot of the feedback Lavigne received on Twitter was favorable, and those who blamed her for racism were non-Japanese.[142]

When Selena Gomez wore the bindi during a performance, there was debate on her reasoning behind wearing the culture specific piece. Some viewed this as "casting her vote for Team India" but it was also viewed as misuse of the symbol as Selena was seen as not supporting or relating the Bindi to its origin of Hinduism, but furthering her own self-expression.[143] In 2014, Pharrell Williams posed in a Native American war bonnet on the cover of Elle UK magazine, after much controversy and media surrounding the photo Williams apologized.[144]

Actress Amandla Stenberg made a school-related video called "Don't Cash Crop on My Cornrows" about the use of black hairstyles and black culture by non-black people, acussing like Katy Perry and Iggy Azalea of using "black culture as a way of being edgy and gaining attention".[145] Stenberg later criticized Kylie Jenner for allegedly embracing African-American aesthetic values without addressing the issues that affect the community.[146] The African-American hip hop artist Azealia Banks has also criticized Iggy Azalea "for failing to comment on 'black issues' despite capitalising on the appropriation of African American culture in her music."[147] Banks has called Azalea a "wigger" and there have been "accusations of racism against Azalea" focused on her alleged "insensitivity to the complexities of race relations and cultural appropriation."[147]

Rachel Dolezal made headlines in 2015 when it was discovered that she was not African-American, as she had claimed. She is an American former civil rights activist known for being exposed as Caucasian while falsely claiming to be a black woman. Doležal was president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) chapter in Spokane, Washington, from February 7, 2014 until June 15, 2015 when she resigned amid suspicion she had lied about nine alleged hate crimes against her. She received further public scrutiny when her white parents publicly stated that Doležal was a white woman passing as black.[148][149][150][151][152]

In 2017, in an interview with Billboard magazine regarding her new image, Miley Cyrus criticized what she considered to be overly vulgar aspects of Hip Hop culture while expressing her admiration for the song "Humble" by Kendrick Lamar. This was met with backlash from people who felt Cyrus has a history of appropriating hip hop culture.[153]



In 2011, a group of students at Ohio University started a poster campaign denouncing the use of cultural stereotypes as costumes. The campaign features people of color alongside their respective stereotypes with slogans such as "This is not who I am and this is not okay."[154] The goal of the movement was to raise awareness around racism during Halloween in the university and the surrounding community, but the images also circulated online.[155]

"Reclaim the Bindi" has become a hashtag used by some people of South Asian descent who wear traditional garb, and object to its use by people not of their culture. At the 2014 Coachella festival one of the most noted fashion trends was the bindi, a traditional Hindu head mark.[156] As pictures of the festival surfaced online there was public controversy over the casual wearing of the bindi by non-Indian individuals who did not understand the meaning behind it.[157] #CoachellaShutdown has been used in conjunction with #ReclaimtheBindi in order to protest against the use of the bindi at music festivals, most notably the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.[158] Reclaim the Bindi Week is an event which seeks to promote the traditional cultural significance of the bindi and combat its use as a fashion statement.[159]

Criticism of the concept

John McWhorter, a professor at Columbia University, has criticized the concept, arguing that cultural borrowing and cross-fertilization is a generally positive thing, and is something which is usually done out of admiration, and with no intent to harm, the cultures being imitated; he also argued that the specific term "appropriation," which can mean theft, is misleading when applied to something like culture that is not seen by all as a limited resource: unlike appropriating a physical object, others imitating an idea taken from one group's culture don't inherently deprive that originating group of its use.[25]

In 2016, author Lionel Shriver gave a speech[26] at the Brisbane Writers Festival, asserting the right of authors to write from any point of view, including that of characters from cultural backgrounds other than their own – as writers "should be seeking to push beyond the constraining categories into which we have been arbitrarily dropped by birth. If we embrace narrow group-based identities too fiercely, we cling to the very cages in which others would seek to trap us." She also asserted the right of authors from a cultural majority to write in the voice of someone from a cultural minority, attacking the idea that this constitutes unethical "cultural appropriation". Referring to a case in which U.S. college students were facing disciplinary action for wearing sombreros to a 'tequila party', she said "The moral of the sombrero scandals is clear: you're not supposed to try on other people's hats. Yet that's what we’re paid to do, isn't it? Step into other people's shoes, and try on their hats." Sudanese-Australian social activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied walked out on Shriver's speech.[160] Abdel-Magied later wrote a dissenting opinion piece, published in The Guardian; which has run a series of articles covering the debate over cultural appropriation matters. In it, she called the speech "a poisoned package wrapped up in arrogance and delivered with condescension". She reiterated the basic premises and arguments which form the ideological basis of cultural appropriation regarding majority/minority, group identity, oppression, colonialism, etc.; but did not address Shriver's arguments about the merits of imagination and intellectual freedom.[161]

See also


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External links

Adrienne Keene

Adrienne J. Keene is an American and Native American academic, writer, and activist. A member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, she is the founder of Native Appropriations, a blog on contemporary Indigenous issues analyzing the way that indigenous peoples are represented in popular culture, covering issues of cultural appropriation in fashion and music and stereotyping in film and other media. She is also assistant professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown University, where her research focuses on educational outcomes for Native students.

African American Beauty

Beauty is a perceived characteristic of an animal, idea, object, person or place that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure or satisfaction. Many people define beauty as something that is subjective, being that it is in the "eye of the beholder" to see what he or she thinks is actually beautiful. This "eye" is seen in many different cultures with each having a different preference. This subjective can be seen throughout history, especially in the African-American community. With the presence of oppression in the past, African-American cultural beauty has bend mended and redefined in many ways.

Classical tradition

The Western classical tradition is the reception of classical Greco-Roman antiquity by later cultures, especially the post-classical West, involving texts, imagery, objects, ideas, institutions, monuments, architecture, cultural artifacts, rituals, practices, and sayings. Philosophy, political thought, and mythology are three major examples of how classical culture survives and continues to have influence. The West is one of a number of world cultures regarded as having a classical tradition, including the Indian, Chinese, Judaic, and Islamic traditions.The study of the classical tradition differs from classical philology, which seeks to recover "the meanings that ancient texts had in their original contexts." It examines both later efforts to uncover the realities of the Greco-Roman world and "creative misunderstandings" that reinterpret ancient values, ideas and aesthetic models for contemporary use. The classicist and translator Charles Martindale has defined the reception of classical antiquity as "a two-way process … in which the present and the past are in dialogue with each other."


Exoticism (from 'exotic') is a trend in European art and design, whereby artists became fascinated with ideas and styles from distant regions, and drew inspiration from them. This often involved surrounding foreign cultures with mystique and fantasy which owed more to European culture than to the exotic cultures themselves: this process of glamorisation and stereotyping is called 'exoticization'.

Global village

The term global village represents the simplifying of the whole world into one village through the use of electronic media. Global village is also a term to express the constituting relationship between economics and other social sciences throughout the world. The term was coined by Canadian media theorist, Marshall McLuhan, and popularized in his books The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) and Understanding Media (1964) McLuhan changed the way the world thought about media and technology ever since his use of the word in his book . McLuhan described how electric technology has contracted the globe into a village because of the instantaneous movement of information from every quarter to every point at the same time.


The haka (; plural haka, in both Māori and English) is a ceremonial dance or challenge in Māori culture. It is a posture dance performed by a group, with vigorous movements and stamping of the feet with rhythmically shouted accompaniment. Although commonly associated with the traditional battle preparations of male warriors, haka have long been performed by both men and women, and several varieties of the dance fulfil social functions within Māori culture. Haka are performed to welcome distinguished guests, or to acknowledge great achievements, occasions or funerals.

Kapa haka (performing arts, lit. line dance) groups are very common in schools. The main Māori performing arts competition, Te Matatini, takes place every two years.

New Zealand sports teams' practice of performing a haka before their international matches has made the haka more widely known around the world. This tradition began with the 1888–89 New Zealand Native football team tour and has been carried on by the New Zealand rugby union team ("All Blacks") since 1905. This is considered by some Māori to be a form of cultural appropriation.

Hipster racism

Hipster racism is engaging in behaviors typically regarded as racist and defending them as being performed ironically or satirically. Rachel Dubrofsky and Megan W. Wood have described it as being supposedly "too hip and self-aware to actually mean the racist stuff one expresses". This might include wearing blackface and other performances of stereotyped African Americans, use of the word nigger, and appropriating cultural dress. Talia Meer argues that hipster racism is rooted in what she calls "hipster exceptionalism", meaning "the idea that something ordinarily offensive or prejudiced is miraculously transformed into something clever, funny and socially relevant, by the assertion that said ordinarily offensive thing is ironic or satirical." As Leslie A. Hahner and Scott J. Varda described it, "those participating in acts of hipster racism understand those acts as racist when practiced by others, but rationalize their own racist performances through a presumed exceptionalism."Carmen Van Kerckhove coined the term hipster racism in the article "The 10 Biggest Race and Pop Culture Trends of 2006", citing "Kill Whitey" Parties and "Blackface Jesus" as examples. "Kill Whitey" parties, as described by The Washington Post, were parties held for hipsters in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, by Jeremy Parker, a disc jockey who goes by the name The Pumpsta, in an attempt to "kill the whiteness inside". These were parties in which white hipsters mocked the black hip-hop industry, and essentially a part of African-American culture, for the sake of irony. Van Kerckhove also regarded the use of blackface by white people and the normalization and acceptance of such use from other individuals as hipster racism. Van Kerckhove contends, quoting Debra Dickerson, that the use of blackface by individuals such as these was an effort to satirize political correctness and racism.Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times characterized the appropriation of cultural artifacts as fashion without recognizing the significance of the article as hipster racism. Examples include wearing Native American headdresses, or more specifically, Urban Outfitters selling clothes with Navajo and other Aboriginal and African tribal prints without giving tribute, acknowledgement, or compensation. Television producer Lena Dunham was described as a hipster racist when Dunham issued a statement defending a male colleague who was accused of rape by a woman of mixed race.


Metrosexual is a portmanteau of metropolitan and heterosexual, coined in 1994 describing a man (especially one living in an urban, post-industrial, capitalist culture) who is especially meticulous about his grooming and appearance, typically spending a significant amount of time and money on shopping as part of this.While the term suggests that a metrosexual is heterosexual, it can also refer to gay or bisexual men.

Modern primitive

Modern primitives or urban primitives are people in developed and culturally altered post-colonial nations who engage in body modification rituals and practices while making reference or homage to the rite of passage practices in "primitive cultures". These practices may include body piercing, tattooing, play piercing, flesh hook suspension, corset training, scarification, branding, and cutting. The motivation for engaging in these varied practices may be personal growth, rite of passage, or spiritual or sexual curiosity.

Roland Loomis, also known as Fakir Musafar, is considered the father of the modern primitive movement. The 1989 RE/Search book Modern Primitives is largely responsible for the promotion of the concept of modern primitivism.

Order of the Arrow

The Order of the Arrow (OA) is the National Honor Society of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA). The society was created by E. Urner Goodman, with the assistance of Carroll A. Edson, in 1915 as a means of reinforcing the Scout Oath and the Scout Law. It uses imagery commonly associated with American Indian cultures for its self-invented ceremonies. These ceremonies are usually for recognition of leadership qualities, camping skills, and other scouting ideals as exemplified by their elected peers.

Influenced by Scout camp customs, the OA uses "safeguarded" symbols, handshakes, and private rituals to impart a sense of community. Native Americans have criticized the OA's various symbols and "rituals" as cultural appropriation based on non-Native stereotypes of American Indians.Inducted members, known as Arrowmen or Brothers, are organized into local youth-led lodges that harbor fellowship, promote camping, and render service to Boy Scout councils and their communities. Each lodge corresponds to a BSA council in the area. Lodges are further broken down into chapters, which correspond to a district in scouting. Members wear identifying insignia on their uniforms, most notably the OA pocket flap that represents their individual OA lodge and the OA sash worn at official OA functions. The OA program sponsors several events, awards, and training functions.

Racial fetishism

Racial fetishism involves fetishizing a person or culture belonging to a race or ethnic group. This can include having strong racial preferences in dating. For example, an Asian fetish focusing on East Asian, Southeast Asian and to some extent South Asian women is quite prevalent in Australasia, North America and Scandinavia. There is also a subsection of BDSM, which involves fetishizing race called "raceplay".

Recuperation (politics)

In the sociological sense, recuperation is the process by which politically radical ideas and images are twisted, co-opted, absorbed, defused, incorporated, annexed and commodified within media culture and bourgeois society, and thus become interpreted through a neutralized, innocuous or more socially conventional perspective. More broadly, it may refer to the cultural appropriation of any subversive works or ideas by mainstream culture. It is the opposite of détournement, in which images and other cultural artifacts are appropriated from mainstream sources and repurposed with radical intentions.

The concept in political philosophy of recuperation was first proposed by Pietro Staheli, a Swiss member of the Situationist International, who was serving time in a Thai detention center. His first paper on the subject, "The Ruins of Fordism," was first credited to Staheli's Tanzanian lover, Mohammed "Mikey P" Pervaiz, a credit that was changed when the paper saw wider publication in Situationist journals. The term conveys a negative connotation because recuperation generally bears the intentional consequence (whether perceived or not) of fundamentally altering the meanings behind radical ideas due to their appropriation or being co-opted into the dominant discourse.


Redface is the term being used by some to describe the wearing of feathers, warpaint, etc. by non-natives which perpetuate American Indian stereotypes, analogous to the wearing of Blackface. In the early twentieth century, it was often Jewish performers, coping with their own limited access to mainstream society, who adopted blackface or redface. In the early days of television sitcoms, "non-Native sitcom characters donned headdresses, carried tomahawks, spoke broken English, played Squanto at Thanksgiving gatherings, received "Indian" names, danced wildly, and exhibited other examples of representations of redface".The copying from minority cultures by members of a dominant culture is cultural appropriation, which is not universally viewed as a negative activity with regard to "artistic borrowing". However, redface has been used to describe non-native adoption of indigenous culture, no matter how sympathetic, such as the painters in the Taos Society of Artists during the early 20th Century portraying themselves in their own works wearing native clothing.While now often associated with the behavior of sports fans for teams with Native American names or mascots, redface also includes other instances such as "Indian" Halloween costumes, or headdresses as a fashion accessory.


Shoneenism is a pejorative term used in Ireland to describe Irish people who are viewed as adhering to Anglophile snobbery. The shoneen is characterized by their admiration for the people and culture of the English upper class, and by their corresponding disdain for native Irish customs and traditions, especially the Irish language, Gaelic games and traditional music.

Since the 1800s, the words shoneen and shoneenism have been used by Irish nationalists as terms of derision, and are always uncomplimentary towards the shoneen, as the Irish language diminutive ending 'een' (ín) when used in this manner has a loading of contempt. One suggested etymology of shoneen is "seoinín", meaning "Little John" in Irish, referring to John Bull, a national personification of the United Kingdom in general and England in particular. John Honohan, a Land Leaguer from Donoughmore, County Cork, has been attributed to have written the following lines written in around 1890:

There is not in this wide world a creature so mean, As that mongrel of mongrels, the Irish shoneen!

Space Hijackers

The Space Hijackers was a group originating in the United Kingdom and active between 1999 and 2014 that defined itself as "an international band of anarchitects who battle to save our streets, towns and cities from the evils of urban planners, architects, multinationals and other hoodlums". Time Out magazine described the group as "an inventive and subversive group of London ‘Anarchitects’ who specialise in reclaiming public spaces – usually without permission."The group's activities included "guerrilla benching" — restoring benches that had been recently removed and bolting them to the ground — organising a midnight game of cricket in the centre of the City of London financial district, and satirising the glossy architects' drawings that are displayed on the perimeter of luxury apartments by depicting children’s playgrounds and other projects they believe to be actually desirable. Many of these activities aimed to bring to people's attention to the role which corporations play in society in a different light.

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters, Inc. is an American multinational lifestyle retail corporation headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It operates in the United States, Sweden, United Kingdom, Spain, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Belgium, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Israel and Pakistan. The Urban Outfitters brand targets young adults with a merchandise mix of women's and men's fashion apparel, footwear, beauty and accessories, activewear and gear, and housewares, as well as music, primarily vinyl records and cassettes. Much of the merchandise is designed and produced by the company's wholesale division on multiple private labels.

The company was founded as the retail store Free People by Richard Hayne, Judy Wicks, and Scott Belair in 1970 as a project for an entrepreneurship class at University of Pennsylvania. It was renamed to Urban Outfitters and incorporated in 1976.Urban Outfitters, Inc. (URBN) carries multiple stores within the URBN portfolio of brands, which also includes Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain, BHLDN, and The Vetri Group.

War bonnet

War bonnets (also called warbonnets or headdresses) are feathered headgear traditionally worn by male leaders of the American Plains Indians Nations who have earned a place of great respect in their tribe. Originally they were sometimes worn into battle, but they are now primarily used for ceremonial occasions. In the Native American and First Nations communities that traditionally have these items of regalia, they are seen as items of great spiritual and political importance, only to be worn by those who have earned the right and honour through formal recognition by their people.

Washitaw Nation

The Washitaw Nation, or Washitaw de Dugdahmoundyah, is a group of Black Americans that claim to be a sovereign Native American nation within the boundaries of the United States. Their name is taken from that of the Ouachita tribe, who are also eponymous of the Washita River and of Washita, Oklahoma. The group is part of the sovereign citizen movement, a movement whose members generally believe that they are not subject to any statutes or proceedings at the federal, state, or municipal levels.The Washitaw Nation was headed by Verdiacee Hampton Goston (also known as Verdiacee Turner, also known as Empress Verdiacee Tiari Washitaw Turner Goston El-Bey, ca. 1927–2014). She was mayor of Richwood, Louisiana in 1975 and 1976, and again from 1980 to 1984. She is the author of the self-published book Return of the Ancient Ones (1993). Goston asserts that the United Nations "registers the Washitaw as indigenous people No. 215".


Wigger, or wigga, is a slang term for a white person, typically middle to upper-class, and of European ethnic origin, who emulates the perceived mannerisms, language, and fashions associated with African-American culture, particularly hip hop. The term is a portmanteau of white and nigger. The term "nigger" has often been used disparagingly, and since the mid-20th century, particularly in the United States, its usage became unambiguously pejorative and it is viewed as a racist insult and slur.

One dictionary defines the term as a slang, derogatory reference to "...a white youth who adopts black youth culture by adopting its speech, wearing its clothes, and listening to its music." Another dictionary defines the term as "offensive slang" referring to a "...white person, usually a teenager or young adult, who adopts the fashions, the tastes, and often the mannerisms considered typical of urban black youth."The term may be considered derogatory, reflecting stereotypes of African-American, black British and white culture (when used as synonym of white trash). The wannabe connotation may be used pejoratively, implying a failed attempt at cultural appropriation by a white person. It is also sometimes used in a racist manner by the white culture, not only belittling the person perceived as "acting black", but also demeaning black people and culture, by proxy. It can also be seen as exploitative by African Americans and seen as robbing black culture of the credit for the purpose of the member of the white culture to appear as innovative or edgy at the expense of black culture.

Before this modern usage developed, "wigger" meant "wig-maker", but that old usage is now obsolete.

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