What Is Cultural Appropriation? Definition, Types & Examples

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What Is Cultural Appropriation Definition & Examples

Understanding cultural appropriation is an important step in creating an inclusive society.

In brief, cultural appropriation is the adoption of certain elements of one culture by another group, typically a dominant group.

This can be done through force or by more subtle means, such as popular culture.

There is a lot of debate surrounding cultural appropriation, with some people arguing that it is always wrong and others saying that it can be done respectfully.

The key is to be aware of the power dynamics at play and to make sure that you are not exploiting or appropriating someone else’s culture for your gain.

In this article, we will explore the definition of cultural appropriation, provide some examples, and look at the arguments for and against it.

What Is Cultural Appropriation? Definition & Meaning

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.

It can be seen as a form of exploitation, where the appropriated culture is used without the consent of those from whom it came.

Often, this takes the form of mimicking or copying the customs, clothing, hairstyles, food, and art of a different culture.

Cultural appropriation is a complex and controversial topic. There are several different opinions on what constitutes cultural appropriation, and what is and isn’t acceptable.

Some people argue that any form of cultural borrowing is inherently wrong, while others claim that it can be a positive thing, providing opportunities for cultural exchange and enrichment.

Elements of Cultural Appropriation

Various elements can be involved in cultural appropriation.

Some of the most common include the following.

Cultural Appreciation & Respect

It is important to show respect for the cultures that you borrow from. Appropriation can be a form of exploitation if it is done without appreciation or respect for the culture being borrowed from.

Respecting others can mean understanding the history and significance of the cultural elements you are using and making an effort to learn about the culture as a whole.

You should also seek permission from members of the culture before borrowing from them.

Misrepresentation & Stereotyping

Cultural appropriation can often involve misrepresentation and stereotyping of marginalized cultures. This can be harmful, as it can lead to misunderstanding and prejudice.

It is important to be aware of the stereotypes that exist about different cultures and to avoid perpetuating them.

Be sure to represent cultures fairly and accurately, and avoid appropriating them for your benefit or entertainment.

Context Matters

Cultural appropriation can be a complex issue, and it is important to consider the context in which it occurs.

For example, using traditional clothing from a marginalized culture for a Halloween costume is often considered more offensive than using it in a traditional context.

Similarly, borrowing elements of another culture for commercial purposes may be seen as more problematic than borrowing them for personal use.

It is important to consider the motivations behind cultural appropriation, and whether or not it is being done respectfully and appreciatively.


Any elements of another culture being appropriated must be done in a way that is authentic and respectful.

If you’re not familiar with the culture you’re borrowing from, it’s important to do your research and make sure you’re getting it right.

It’s also important to avoid appropriating cultures that you don’t belong to. It’s okay to be interested in other cultures, but make sure you’re not taking from them without permission or appreciation.

Cultural Denigration

Cultural appropriation can also involve denigrating or mocking the culture being borrowed from.

This can be done through misrepresentation and stereotyping, or by using the elements of the culture negatively or offensively.

It’s important to be aware of how your use of another culture may be perceived and to avoid any disrespectful or harmful depictions.

Examples of Cultural Appropriation

Rock ‘N’ Roll

What started as a fusion of blues and country music in the 1950s has become one of the most popular genres of music in the world. But rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t born in a vacuum – it was heavily influenced by African American blues artists, who were appropriated by white musicians without their consent.

Since then, rock ‘n’ roll has been used as a vehicle for cultural appropriation time and time again. In recent years, there have been debates over whether or not bands like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones can rightly call themselves “rock ‘n’ roll” bands, given their potential exploitation of African American music and culture.

Sweat Lodge

The sweat lodge is a traditional ceremony practiced by many Indigenous cultures. It is used for healing, prayer, and spiritual connection. But in recent years, the sweat lodge has been appropriated by New Age spiritualists and marketed as a way to get “spiritual cleansing.”

This appropriation of Indigenous culture is often done without respect for the traditional meaning of the sweat lodge ceremony. It can be seen as a form of exploitation, as these spiritualists are taking from Indigenous cultures without appreciation or understanding.


Voguing is a dance style that originated in the ballroom scene of 1980s Harlem. In its early days, voguing was a way for LGBTQ+ people of color to express themselves and their identities.

But in the 1990s, vogueing was appropriated by celebrities, who stripped it of its cultural significance and used it for their benefit. This appropriation caused a lot of damage to the LGBTQ+ community, and it has taken many years for vogueing to reclaim its original meaning.

Team Mascots

Many sports teams in North America use Native American imagery as their team mascots. This often involves dressing up in stereotypical “Indian” costumes or using Indigenous symbols and designs.

This type of appropriation can be offensive and harmful, as it perpetuates negative stereotypes about Indigenous people. It also reduces complex cultures down to cheap caricatures, which does nothing but disrespect the people and traditions being appropriated.

Henna Tattoos

Henna tattoos are a traditional form of body art practiced in many parts of the world. They are often used for special occasions, such as weddings or religious ceremonies.

But in recent years, henna tattoos have been appropriated by Western culture and used as a way to “decorate” the skin. This often involves using bright colors and aggressive designs, which can be harmful to the skin and disrespectful to the traditions behind henna tattoos.


The bindi is a traditionally Hindu symbol that is worn on the forehead. It is traditionally used to signify spiritual awakening, protection, and good health.

But in recent years, the bindi has been appropriated by Western culture and used as a fashion statement. This often involves wearing a bindi as a sticker on the forehead, which is a far cry from its traditional meaning.


Cornrows are a traditional hairstyle that is worn by people of African descent. They are often seen as a symbol of strength and beauty.

Recently, cornrows have been appropriated by people and used as a way to “style” their hair. This often involves using fake hair or extensions, which can be disrespectful to these older traditions.

How To Avoid Cultural Appropriation

There are a few things that you can do to avoid cultural appropriation:

Learn about the cultures that you’re appropriating

Make sure that you have a good understanding of the traditions and meanings behind them. This will help you to be more respectful when using them.

Be aware of your privilege

Make sure that you’re aware of the power dynamics at play when it comes to cultural appropriation. Remember that you have a lot of privilege and power, and use that power respectfully.

Don’t “use” cultures for your gain

Cultural appropriation is often done for the benefit of the Western world. Make sure that you’re not using other cultures for your gain, without respecting their traditions and meanings.

Be respectful

Don’t use elements of other cultures without understanding and appreciation for their origins and meaning. Be respectful of the people and cultures that you’re borrowing from, and make sure that your intentions are good.

Think critically about the things that you wear, say, and do.

Ask yourself if these wearables might be appropriating another culture. Another thing that you can do is to think critically about the things that you say and do. Ask yourself if they might be appropriating another culture. If the answer is yes, then try to find a more respectful alternative.

Show solidarity with marginalized communities

If you see someone who is being oppressed or marginalized, show your solidarity by speaking out against cultural appropriation. Stand up for the people and cultures that are being appropriated, and help to create a more inclusive world.

Educate yourself and others about cultural appropriation

It’s an important topic that often goes misunderstood. Education is key when it comes to raising awareness about cultural appropriation. Make sure that you share what you’ve learned with others so that they can learn too.

Cultural appropriation is a hot topic these days, and for good reason. It’s a topic that often goes misunderstood, and the consequences can be harmful to marginalized communities.

Bonus: Cultural Appropriation Vs. Cultural Appreciation

Cultural appropriation is the act of taking elements of another culture without understanding or appreciation for their origins and meaning.

Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, is the act of appreciating and understanding another culture.

It involves learning about the traditions and meanings behind them and being respectful of the people and cultures that you’re borrowing from.

Cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation are two very different things. It’s important to be aware of the difference so that you can avoid appropriating other cultures.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cultural Appropriation

How do I spot cultural appropriation?

There are a few key things to look out for:

If you’re unsure whether or not something is appropriative, ask yourself these questions: Is this tradition being celebrated or appropriated? Is the person borrowing from a culture they belong to? Is this culture being used as a costume or stereotype?

If the answer to any of these questions is doubtful, then it’s likely that the thing in question is an example of cultural appropriation.

Be aware of power dynamics. Often, those who are in positions of privilege are more likely to engage in appropriative behavior than those who are marginalized.

Be mindful of the context in which your actions are taking place. For example, a person wearing a bindi at a music festival is very different from a person wearing one to a job interview.

Is there cultural appropriation in music?

Cultural appropriation can be found in all forms of art, including music.

Here are a few examples:

  • The use of Native American headdresses in music videos and performances
  • The use of African rhythms and melodies in pop music
  • The use of Arabic scales and instrumentation in classical music
  • The use of traditional Japanese instruments in rock music

All of these examples involve borrowing from cultures that aren’t the users’ own, and often result in misrepresentation or exploitation.

Is there cultural appropriation in fashion?

Fashion is another area where cultural appropriation is commonly found.

Here are a few examples:

  • Wearing traditional clothing from other cultures without permission or appreciation
  • Using traditional symbols, patterns, and designs on western clothing without permission or appreciation
  • Selling traditional clothing and accessories from other cultures as “exotic” or “trendy”

All of these examples involve using aspects of other cultures for personal gain without permission or appreciation. They often result in the degradation and exploitation of those cultures.

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