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Is there such a thing as "cultural theft"?

If you steal something from me, you infringe on my possibility to use my property as I wish. If you steal my car, I can no longer use it. If you steal my intellectual property, for example the song I created, I can no longer make money with that song as I did before.

Most examples of "cultural theft" are just examples of cultural transfer, one culture adopts ideas or practices some other people invented. Did the Maori invent tattoos? Or maybe did their ancestors adopt it from some neighbor tribe long ago? - - When we in the West adopt tattoos or a music style Black people created, the possibility of those who used it before is not infringed. The Maori can still practice their tradition like they did. Black people could still play the Blues like they did, even after white musicians started to adopt this kind of music.

The whole concept that a culture "owns" some idea is rubbish. Do we Germans "own" our words? Did Americans, when they adopted German words like "kindergarten" or "zeitgeist" steal our property? Does not make sense to me.

Matias 8 Aug 22

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This is a very complex issue. It is definitely possible to seriously disrespect and yes, to infringe upon the intellectual property of minorities to a financially damaging extent if that’s the definition you like, and we have and continue to do exactly that to as many minorities as we can as white people. And it is also possible to be overly sensitive about cultural appropriation in an attempt to capitalize on identity politics and keep yourself in a victim mentality. Guess which attitude has been running rampant for the past few hundred years?

In America, primarily black music and culture has been profited on to the exclusion of the black people who created it themselves. This cannot be denied. Elvis became famous for something Big Mama Thornton should have had a monopoly on, end of story. She wrote Hounddog and should have at least received some serious royalties/been asked before Elvis could cover it. If a black person stole on that magnitude from a white person they’d be under the jail, not singin about it.

There are many such examples of individual songs being stolen by white artists. It undoubtedly had a tremendous negative financial effect on them if that’s what you care most about, but at the same time the gray area is it was a cultural exchange going on. If British Invasion artists hadn’t been ripping off black blues guys and shipping our own race records back to us in a more culturally acceptable form at the time, most white people never would have heard the music over here and begun integrating their interests. Still, it’s wrong to steal from a disadvantaged person even if it gains them exposure. It’s not like they eventually made back the difference.

So those examples of particular songs being stolen directly are one thing, but when it comes to styles of art, no one can really own it. For example, I’m an aryan redneck by birth but I became a jazz/rock/funk/folk/soul musician. Black people invented 4/5 of those styles of music and were sandbagged out of most of the rights and royalties due to them for it, no argument. If I go sing a Sam Cooke song at open mic, I doubt I’m hurting any black folks feelings. If I take a gig that a legitimate black soul artist could have hadon MTV to do Aretha franklins tribute and talk about how underprivileged I was for most of it like Madonna has done to what, 3 black music legends? that’s fucking racist. See the difference?

The fact that I like to play Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder n the Meters isn’t hurting any black people because I’m showing reverence for their culture and art. If I recorded and tried to sell music I heard my black friend writing without telling him, that’s when it becomes theft. Things like white guys getting tribal tattoos isn’t and shouldn’t be illegal, but it absolutely makes you look like a douchebag that has no idea what’s up with his fellow man and wants to look “hard” without earning it. I would accept a tribal tattoo only if I was staying with the actual tribe and they offered it. There’s a big trend of non Buddhists using their sacred symbols to decorate with and that’s not illegal either, but if I belonged to any demographic other than “white guy in America” I would certainly understandably be pissed if the boring white people who took advantage of our labor while looking down on us started wearing our culture as costumes and decorating with it. It’s not illegal nor should it be, it just lets everyone know what level of tact and social awareness you have.

If you wanna be the kinda guy that goes around paying for trinkets from other people’s culture that you think makes you look more interesting than you are, that’s on you. Not illegal but not recommended, I heard a comedian with a good idea the other day: if you wanna wear a sombrero for cinco de mayo you gotta help us out n kill an ICE agent. You get two, you get to wear a poncho. ?

Im being facetious but there’s a grey area and a red line for all these things. It’s highly subjective but a lot of us undoubtedly cross lines of hypocrisy in who we vote for compared to who we imitate. Common sense and cultural sensitivity are still underrated these days and just making the tiniest effort to understand each other and respect each other’s culture (if you’re going to borrow from it at least) will go a long way. Things like getting upset about white guys wearing dreads on the other hand is ludicrous. People of every race at one time had dreads, that’s just what happens when you don’t wash your hair. So there are some red herrings being called to these ends but most people who care about social justice aren’t the militant ones that want to fire you for not remembering zoltans pronoun is zer. Most of us are just people who would kindly ask you to not be afraid to talk to brown people if you’re going to dress and try to act exactly like them.

Thank you for your insightful and interesting contribution ! (a)

@Matias I just noticed you’re from Germany so apologies if it sounded like I was comin at you lol I was mostly talking to the global “you” of older white guys in America that still don’t get why there are so many immigrants while eatin a taco salad ? there’s an awful lot of that around here. I suppose Germany is still a little more culturally homogenous than America eh? These issues may or may not be as complex over there but in the states it’s still pretty crazy. The south gets the reputation as being the racists but the north is more segregated by race than we are. Down here we’re segregated by class, with very little difference in where poor black and white people live. We have a more racially charged history obviously and some idiots still waving the confederate flag, but for all our problems we all still tend to come together over soul food and music. Sharing and collaborating between Western European culture and Afro/Caribbean culture is really what brough jazz and rock music to the world and I think as long as you’re respectful, cultural exchange is beautiful. You just can’t be borrowing from cultures while still wanting them to go back to Africa or Mexico or taking business from minorities etc, that’s when it becomes a bad look.


All cultures and languages are bastardized. Cultures learn from each other and are in a constant state of flux due to influences from associating with one another. To me, "theft" occurs when people in a culture appropriate aspects of another culture and then claims that they "invented" it, i.e. the Ten Commandments contain nothing new or original. While that is a religious example, it is also cultural.

Purists become upset when long held traditions are changed by other cultures, but that is the way of life. Personally, I think it is ridiculous when I see people adopting elements from another culture and identifying with said culture, or religion, when they have no clue. One example is dreamcatchers--how many people have those hanging in their houses or from their rearview mirror with no true concept of what they represent?

Exactly! And how many of us wore ANKHS back ''in the day?" I still have a little scarab that I got in Aswan...lovely memory. The day some infuriated Egyptian lambastes me about it will probably be his/her last!

@LucyLoohoo Exactly! I also feel that Egypt is one of the cradles of civilization and influenced religion and other cultural aspects in most cultures. In this sense, those symbols "belong" to all of us.


There is such a thing as cultural theft. If you look at the Native American experience during the Boarding School era (late 1880's to World War I), many Native American youth were forcibly removed from their homes, their families, their villages and their cultural. They were shipped many miles away (see Carlisle Indain School) and many never made it back to their homes and peoples. They were punished severely if they spoke their own language or attempted to practice any aspects of their culture. Their culture was effectively stolen.. The numbers were not inconsequential.

On top of that mainstream culture stole their culture in other capacities. White wannabes form Indian dance groups and pretend to dance things like the eagle dance, or the snake dance, not realizing these have religious and spiritual meanings. The Boy Scouts stole their ceremonies (see Order of the Arrow) and effectively trivialized them. Hollywood stole their warrior persona and again trivialized it. Finally, whites stole their religious art and combined spiritual elements that were never supposed to be combined or used the way they have been. The white culture also unfairly monopolized the Native Art market and dictated for many years what items were acceptable and which were not.

On conclusion, cultural theft is definite possible, and it often not thst hsve equal access to their own culture., but that culture has greater significance than simply a market share. It involves a deeper understanding of shared experiences and a common understanding of trials and tribulations survived and cultural perseverance. This includes other cultures besides NA. They have the right to decide what is acceptable for themselves and their culture.


If you take yogurt from the store without paying... yes.


When I first read your post, before reading any of the other detailed replies, I was thinking along the lines of totally taking a people's culture from them. 1. My first thought was the Native Americans of course. There is nothing left of their culture except for a few scattered tribal descendants in artificial reservation that are mere shadows of the " Indian Nation" also a name that took away their identity. I've visited some of the reservations, dotted with Christian churches. Christian's forced the bible on them. Although wearing traditional garb and putting on tribal performances they are mostly Christian now. Yes. Their culture was stolen. 2. For centuries and still in this day and age Christian groups travel to remote tribal areas all over the world where small tribes have forever existed with no contact from the outside world. The Christian groups arrive, tell them they are primitive and convert them to christianity. In the cases where the Christian groups are persistent these people doubt their own culture and beliefs and are converted. Yes. Their culture is stolen from them 3. A great portion of India had been converted to Christianity. Full blooded (meaning generation of Indians by birth) Indian Hindus and Indian Muslims were converted to Christianity) I have many Indian friends and yes their culture was stolen from them. 4. The Crusades without going into the details, converted where they conquered. Accept Christ or die. Yes. That would be stealing someone's culture. So those were the type of events I though were true thefts.

If Christians force Native Americans to adopt Christianity and the American Way of life with it, they do not steal or adopt or appropriate their culture, they simply destroy it.


I tend to agree with you on this one, Matias. People forget that, unlike one's physical characteristics, culture is a choice. If you or I appreciate a particular type of music or food, learn how to reproduce it accurately, and even profit from this knowledge, we are not appropriating anything, but are rather expanding its audience. A few years back when this topic was first making a splash, I found this YouTuber's video on the subject most enjoyable. Peace.

A people's Culture is something that they have built together usually over a long period of time and experience together as a community. It can encompasses so many elements: food, food preparation, drinks, music, literature, dance, clothing, jewelry, shoes, hairstyles, beliefs, slang or language, etiquette, behavior, festivals, ceremonies, entertainment, art, decor, disciplines and probably things I am forgetting. By imitating one or several of the elements you do not steal the culture nor do you become part of it.

Dreadlocks are just awesome! ❤️

@BeccaVa And you don't even have to be Rastafarian to wear them!


As an ethnic Cracker, I am outraged when I hear Northerners saying “y’all”. That’s our word.

Just kidding.



I'm always shocked when the dominant race/culture/sex wants to belittle a complaint of a minority group that they even admit to not understanding. As a man, I think women should be allowed to decide on their own their health care rights. The primary reason for this is that I'm not a woman. As a white person, I think that complaints coming from a large portion of a minority race shouldn't get dismissed simply because I have a hard time understanding them.

I don’t think that is exactly what this post is referring to.

just because someone complains, doesnt mean their complaint has any validity. minority or majority, all that matters is the factual validity of the claim. and you can't steal something if the original owner still has it.

@dellik So explain copyright law?

@mattersauce Individuals obtain copyrights, not cultures. If it is proven in a court of law that a copyright infringement has occurred, damages are awarded to the copyright holder, or his/her estate. But even in this case, copyrighted material enjoys a limited period of protection, and may enter the public domain many decades after the death of the artist / author / composer / poet. It seems pretty clear that the post by @Matias was not about copyright protected works.

@pnfullifidian So what you're saying is that if an owner still has something, they can still have their ownership violated?

@mattersauce reading comprehension not one of your strong suits, eh? You and mere should be great friends lmfao

@mattersauce No.

@dellik Well when you failed so admirably to either understand at all or deny my point I figured I'd bring it right back to the front and ignore your impressively useless opinion on "complaints". But hey that bit about reading comprehension, that's pretty funny.

@pnfullifidian Yeah you're incorrect which was my point in the first place. If I put out a social media website called Facebook, I get sued by a company headed by a guy named Mark Zuckerberg. What I would be doing is using his name and brand to make money and not compensating him for his work. So although he'd still have Facebook, I would be stealing from him.

If you can't understand how the concept of copyright and trademark law can be easily compared to cultural appropriation then there's really no need to discuss this further. If your only point is that one is a law and the other is not then you've failed to understand the analogy and need to circle back around in order to provide a useful comment. I'm well aware of that already, and the analogy still stands and even had validity. Much like cultural appropriation that you also don't seem to comprehend which is the beginning of a trend that you don't really want to continue.

@mattersauce Please know I am open to discourse and am ready to be proven wrong. But let’s agree to put aside invectives and derision in favor of ideas and reason, sound good to you? After all, civility and logic, along with a recognition that we could be wrong, are what should distinguish critical thinkers, such as may be found on this site, from the average Facebook troll. Feel free to go point-to-point with me in furthering your arguments and ideas, if you’d prefer this be continued privately. Peace.

@mattersauce when you are this ignorant, you don't deserve a rebuttal, just the mockery you receive from your betters.Enjoy it, it's the closest you will come to adequacy in this life.

@pnfullifidian @dellik so you've both moved on from discussing the topic to solely discussing your opinions on me and/or my conversation tactics. You've both decided that a post who's sole purpose is condescension is note-worthy enough and I've decided that you are both wrong so I'll not continue this conversation any further. I guess I'll just have to accept that I've been bested by my "betters", woe is me. Take care.


Forget culture. It's as bad as religion.
Stealing archeological antiquities is totally different and is criminal.

You have said it well and succinctly!


I worry when I hear such criticisms because I can't help but think that such people aren't fully thinking their argument through to its full conclusion.

In some cases, it can be said that outside influences could be seen as a sort of bastardization of something sacred. Some examples I've heard involve white people singing the blues, Iggy Azalea, traditional native headdress used outside of Native American culture. Though I hesitate to grant anyone the RIGHTS to their given customs, in some cases . . . you have to shake your head. There is being influenced by, and then there is copying a formula and running with it. I won't say that it is WRONG, but I will generally say that it is lazy.

Most opinions on the matter seem to be based around simple salacious pop culture type stuff like that. What I am more concerned about is the vast amount of knowledge that humanity has amassed throughout our existence. Though the world has not always been as harmonious and interconnected as it is now, imagine if the divides had stayed in place. How much longer progress would have taken with every sect coming at every issue independently. Would we reach the jet age (let alone the internet age)?


I Cant fault this but I want respond so for once I am going brake my cardinal rule and go off topic.

It is not wrong to take, borrow or bastardise, ie make your own, other cultural ideas as long as there is awarenss that you are doing so. Otherwise there are practical implications that could take hold in a detrimental way.

The example that comes to mind is Buddhism and the idea of compassion. Compassion is not a hindu word. It is used as a rough translation for the hindu karuna. But this is where it gets interesting. The word is meaningless even to those who speak the language unless they have expereinced it through transcendence. I didnt understand until I started meditation and even as I right this I still can't resonate with it in the same way.

Language is based on culture. As is beliefs, ideas, etc. I would consider it prudent to take this into consideration when adopting something that is unfamiliar in your own.


Cultural theft is what the Nazis did during WWII, stealing precious art and artifacts from Jews and the Russians.

Ok, this was just theft plain and simple. My examples are not about artifacts like paintings or statues (which of course can be stolen!) but about ideas or practices, like tattoo or a special dance. Are these things owned by a culture? Who is the owner?


I can give you a real example of cultural theft; tha tis not simply the spread of culture from one group to another.
It is the deindianization that was inflected on the First nations in Canada and the US, forced christianization, residental school, Canada's Indian Act and reservations as example. This not only allowed colonization but it also allowed us to strip away their many cultures and recreate them as we imagined them to be.

What the "white man" did to Native Americans was destroying their culture, not "cultural theft".


I don't believe there is such a thing as "cultural theft" or "cultural appropriation". Culture as defined by Wikipedia is "...the social behavior and norms found in human societies. " Societies are not static. Ideas and beliefs change, on a wide range of items. Sometimes someone else builds a better mouse trap, and then people recognize it's a better way, so they adopt it.

Now that is not to say that people don't adopt styles, attitudes, language, etc., and do not respect the original value or importance of the thing, or give credit to the original group. Very seldom have I seen it done with "the intent to deprive the lawful owner of it" (theft definition at wikipedia).

I can understand Native Americans, Blacks, Polynesian, etc. being upset at their culture being misrepresented by blatant greedy capitalist companies to make a buck, but that is a separate issue. I think the problem comes when it is not done out of respect, but only for personal gains or outright disrespect. As far as disrespect, that is another tough problem since it's near impossible to gauge someone's intent.


Matias I have made this assertion for some time. It is a completely ludicrous notion. For a start there is no such thing as a pure nation in terms of race. We all are mongrels, in as far as we have been conquered and races have interbred. Nation states have been merged, boundaries redrawn. As you pointed out cultural transfer has happened due to our being mobile, from the first time navigators crossed oceans and even before that across land masses. The human animal is a mobile being and just as in nature there is cross pollination, with us there has been a transference of cultural practices. There can’t be cultural theft...theft is a crime. Who is going to be charged and by whom? The whole idea is nonsensical and in my opinion just another example of grievance culture which is becoming ever more prevalent.


I have often wondered about this but I think its mostly about whether you have the time and money to enter into interminable court cases to get your copyright which you may well not win.


If in the taking, the original possessor loses nothing, then theft is not the correct term. Someone must by definition lose something, for a theft to have happened.

@MereMortal I think my statement is pretty clear.but if you need it explained further..

If I emulate the actions of another, they do not lose the ability to perform those same actions. No theft, nothing has been lost by the emulated, only something gained for the emulator.

If there is no victim, there is no wrong doing. Therefor cultural appropriation (because thats what the OP is talking about) is, ultimately not a thing.

Not to be confused with actual plagiarism, which is theft of intellectual property of an individual, potentially stealing revenue of that property.
That is a separate (although sometimes related) issue.

@MereMortal LMFAO, Im sorry, I wasnt in the app, 'still waiting' is something you say when your response goes unanswered for a prolonged period, unless your goal is to sound like a demanding petulant child, of course.

@MereMortal lmao, You arent equipped for a debate, you don't even understand the question posed.
The fact that you offer no rebuttal, and claim that I am 'ignorant and dismissed' shows how pathatically biased and weak your stance is.

@MereMortal of course to a idiot like yourself, everyone that you don't like is a Nazi. gtfoh. You are a literal joke =D

@MereMortal Oh did they? News to me. But its cute how you can't engage, just throw incendiary rhetoric. You lost the moment you used the term Nazi. It's pathetic, but so funny I can't help laugh.
You are so weak, you need to paint everyone else as a super bad, in the vain attempt that someone -anyone- might care.

@MereMortal Oh the hypocrisy! Im fucking dying here. You must be the product of inbreeding, or meth.

@MereMortal You called me a Nazi, and then complain about my ad hom?! It's fucking gold man.


I was reading recently about black women complaining that white women were stealing their hairstyles and had no right to because they didn't belong to the culture. If this was brought to its extreme conclusion, no black actors could play Hamlet and black people in general couldn't wear business suits.



I do not think stolen applies because it would need to be copyrighted. How would you copyright a conceptualization?

Well, a lot of ideas are patented. Most inventors have their ideas patented, and if you use these ideas without paying for it, you steal it. But this is special case bcause most cultural elements are not patented.

I wonder was the Jheri-curl ever patented. I'm guessing it couldn't have been.


Okay. I can discuss for Hours the development and evolution of Latin Music crossing the Caribbean Sea into Continental North America and also following the path north from South America but... it is what it is when it is. Remember... when you travel... you bring "stuff" from home. I remember one night in Bahamas or Bermuda... a down to earth Rumba by the Locals and I a Navy Guy from Puerto Rico in a Liberty Port took my turn and sit down with them at the Congas. African Heritage will never die in the Americas! Stolen, Evolved, Slaved, Pillaged, Still lives! And that night we all paid Homage and Respect despite the different cultures involved. In a different note... shouldn't Germans be requesting to get the swastika back from the Neo Nazis?

I heard a group of ''locals'' laughing at a young, white woman in Africa, who had her hair braided like the Kenyan women do. It's a HAIR STYLE, people! Totally absurd. And I didn't do it, myself...nor did I wear a Sari in India, simply because I didn't think they were flattering. But...i did buy/wear a gallibaya when I was in Egypt...loved it! I don't understand this resentment!

The swastika was a symbol in India, the Americas, China, and even in Israel long before the Nazis used it as their symbol. Nazi Germany owes all of those cultures!

@Gwendolyn2018 Thankfully Nazi Germany no longer exists....the symbol is just that a symbol. It is what people decide it means that gives it significance, it doesn’t belong to anyone and meant different things to all of them. Just in the same way the cross has been adopted by Christians, but it is not exclusive to them.

@Gwendolyn2018 India did not made the swastika a World Wide Symbol, neither whatever your "definition of Americas", China or Israel. By the way I am sure the Romans will like the Damned Cross back!!!! I am sorry if you are Neo Nazi and I hurt your feelings.... you can keep the swastika dear... if you are not neo Nazi... you can keep it too. I am sure the Nazi knew it and reversed it if not mistaken... By the way... Vikings never used horns in their helmets. And the imperial family of the Incas was totally light skin as the Spanish that "conquered" them. There is a lot of cultural thieving and innuendos that continue to pass along to change the spots of the leopard or stripes of the tiger. I had lived in Germany and Germans owing those cultures a symbol is the least of their worries... they are sorry for other things more important... no different that I also lived in Spain and I received apologies for the "Discovery and Colonization of the New World"... Apologies were accepted by me since I knew were they came from.

@Gwendolyn2018, @LucyLoohoo That hair style made her a Big Hollywood Star Overnight. It was the 70's... I remember Eric Clapton wearing an Afro and playing the Blues.

@Marionville Indeed!

@Marionville Thankfully indeed but it would had been Nuked if it wasn't to be in the middle of Europe. Caucasian Prime land! You just do Not Nuke land you want!!!!

@GipsyOfNewSpain Whoa, dude, back off. There was no need or basis for attacking me.

I am a mythologist, and one huge interest of mine is archetypal symbols: the swastika is one. The Nazis most likely adopted it as a symbol of Thor's hammer and were ignorant of its archetypal origins. The pentagram/pentacle is another symbol used by many cultures and religions prior to its most modern idea of it symbolizing Satanism.

You need to pick your battles and your wars: you made a comment about Germany and the swastika. I responded to it in a lighthearted manner.

I also suggest that when you reply to someone, stick to the issue at hand: there is no need to resort to ad hominems and name calling.

I will take care not to respond to your posts again since you are so touchy (that is my ad hominem).

@Gwendolyn2018 Okay, I was being lightheated too... but I understand ameriKKKa is habitated by Neo Nazis and this site is not excluded. I myself never considered Germany indebted to that many countries or cultures for the symbol but I am Glad nazi germany is gone and the Third Reich did not lasted a thousandt years.

@GipsyOfNewSpain The sheer illogic of you taking an offhand comment about the origins of the swastika and equating it with me being a neo-Nazi is beyond comprehension. It shows a basic lack of reason, is not even a logical fallacy but just a fallacy, and denotes not only illogic, but excessive defensiveness.

Then, apparently trying to dazzle/impress/intimidate me with a show of knowledge on the ancient world is laughable.

Learn to edit your posts so that you can at least appear to be erudite.

And since you did not understand the simple words: "I will take care not to respond to your posts again since you are so touchy (that is my ad hominem)," I am reiterating them. I was taught to be polite and respond when spoken to, hence, this last reply, but no more. I am sure that you want the last word, so, give it and it will stand.

@Gwendolyn2018 Okay. Heil... o como se dice en espanol... Saludo. A mi edad tengo cosas mejores que hacer con mi tiempo que perderlo con viejas recauchadas cuyos titulos o inclinaciones de estudios no me impresionan. After all every children of nazi I ever met spoke spanish. Heil hitler!


The purpose of diversity is for us to take the best from all comers. If you are going to call that cultural appropriation, are you saying that is not a compliment?

@MereMortal if there are four ways to do something and you show me a fifth way I find better, does my "taking" that remove anything from you?

@MereMortal Sounds like whining? Seems you are the one loading emotion into this. Everything about my post is a celebration of finding the best we all bring to the table. Take your other agendas and go sulk in the corner.

@MereMortal yes, you are.


I've been very peckish about this ''cultural appropriation'' business lately! It seems as if the "I'M SO OFFENDED" mob gets louder every day.

Yes they do. And they’re inventing new outrages as if there aren’t enough already!


The more common term of 'cultural misappropriation' is just nonsense to me. Just a way for people to get deliberately triggered and rant at others. White people having deadlocks or adopting african dress etc. I think it ridiculous when non--scottish people wear the kilt but that's it, ridiculous. I can't imagine too many hairy scotsmen bleating about 'cultural misappropriation'!

Unless they haven’t got the legs our strapping chappies have!


Cultural theft. Maybe like the great flood before the biblical great flood and the big boat before the Ark. Maybe like "The World's 16 Crucified Saviors" by Kersey Graves. The book is from 1875 but I have a copy. A subtitle is Christianity Before Christ.
Yes, there is such a thing as cultural theft.


I like that we acknowledge that those people did those things themselves - copying seems ot be part of our nature - I have a tattooo very far removed form a Maori one so it isnt the same and i am not copying, I think these thinggs were invented befor copyright laws et so they just are a part of what we can all enjoy about our differences.

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