Cultural Appropriation

So what is cultural appropriation?

First off, “appropriation” is defined by the oxford dictionary as “the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.” So cultural appropriation; therefore, is defined as “the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another.”

Susan Scafidi, a Fordham law professor, describes cultural appropriation in more detail as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else's culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture's dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It's most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

The problem?

When cultural appropriation occurs, the group responsible for the appropriation is usually referred to as the “dominant culture;” likewise, the appropriated group is referred to as the “minority culture.” So for one, cultural appropriation takes credit away from the minority culture from which the tradition, object, or action is taken. The dominant culture ends up being associated with art, music, and tradition that rightly belongs to the minority. In this sense, cultural appropriation is the theft of intellectual and cultural property. This creates a negative loop in which dominant cultures are seen as innovative, while minority cultures are seen as considerably inferior.

But there’s nothing wrong with being inspired by the art or traditions from different cultures. This is where the line between appropriation and inspiration becomes somewhat blurred.

Think about this example:

When I was doing my research for this post, I read an article about Oskar Metsavaht, designer for Osklen, a Brazilian sportswear brand.

Metsavaht drew inspiration from the Ashaninka tribe, a South American tribe spanning from Brazil to the Peruvian Andes, for Osklen’s 2016 collection. Metsavaht decided to work alongside the Ashaninka’s to create a collection that promotes awareness for illegal logging and environmental degradation. While visiting the Ashaninka’s, Metsavaht worked with the people to create prints, motifs, and concepts that would become the Osklen 2016 spring collection.


So, is this still cultural appropriation? Let me know what you guys think.





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I think this is a very interesting topic. I've always just assumed that what one culture does is what they have come up with themselves. I never even though that they could have taken it from a different culture or place in the world. 

As for your example, I don't think that what Oskar did was necessarily cultural appropriation. He worked with the actual people who's culture he was looking to use as an inspiration. The way he did it turned into something that would benefit both groups involved. He helped them spread awareness for topics that mattered to them, which in turn also helped him. I feel like as long as he didn't just take their culture to use for his own benefit, then although you could call it cultural appropriation, it isn't a bad thing in this case. 

I think it's not appropriation because he gives credit to the tribe from which he gained the information and designs from and also he doesn't for a good cause, that is protecting the environment. I also had the same question as you do. During the Canada sevens games, all the prizes were of First Nations art and I was wondering whether that really was cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation. For this I think the difference between the two is a small margin that can be crossed very easily. It's a nice area to look into.

Culture is nothing but a repeated set of action occurring over time within a certain group. It would be interesting to study the psychology of why we find cultural appropriation offensive in the first place. I find this topic very intriguing I look forward to seeing where you carry it.

I'm wondering why you specified "creative and artistic" in your definition. Is taking intellectual property that is not artistic or creative not cultural appropriation? For example, you mentioned the appropriation of traditional medicine which isn't really artistic. I suppose it is creative because it is original, but I'm not sure if artistic fits within the definition fully. 

Is it still appropriation if the minority culture is not indigenous? For example, a lot of common slang that North American teenagers use comes from the African American Community. Some people say this is cultural appropriation because the African American community has been using slang like "bae, savage, yolo, and squad" among many others long before anyone else.  The slang term, "Bye Felicia" was coined in the 1995 movie, Friday. Would using these slang words be considered cultural appropriation?