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I came across a post asking about cultural appropriation and found myself (surprised to be) surprised that people still don't get it. I don't know if it's blind or it's willful, but this one really grinds my gears. Here are three reasons why appropriation matters (from the perspective of a black person. I welcome the perspective of other cultures as to how these or other factors result from the appropriation of your culture):

Credit. When the appropriating culture gets credit for the thing they stole. It's usually something that's been done without recognition for years, decades, or even centuries without their due, but suddenly becomes "popular" once appropriated. When cornrows suddenly become "boxer braids," Black Twitter WILL throw a fit and generations of the African diaspora WILL roll in their graves. Along with credit tends to come...

Compensation. Staying with the given example, black hair care is a multi-billion dollar industry. That's way too much money to accuse someone of having "very little troubling" them. An even better example here though can be found in music. It's happening with Hip Hop right now, but I'll talk about something you might be more familiar with; Rock & Roll. Rock music IS black music. It was invented by black people. White people wanted nothing to do with it -it was derided as, among other things, "devil music"- until they did. When it became clear how lucrative it could be, white people stormed the gates, Elvis Presley became "The King," and nobody remembered that this was a black genre anymore. All you have to do is look at how many Elvis songs were blatantly STOLEN from (as in previously written AND performed by) black men and women. Conversely, you can look at the looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong line of white people that Chuck Berry had to sure to get his due. To paraphrase a great Hip Hop quotable, Chuck Berry was your favorite artist's favorite artist, and they weren't even the least bit bashful about ripping him (or any other black artist) off. This naturally segues into...

Unequal treatment. I'll go back to the hair example because I can't think of a more poignant one. When my daughters can't wear any of their generations-old cultural hair styles, including natural (literally the way it grows out of their damn heads) to school, a professional job, or the military, but white people take them and are considered "edgy," or "stylish," or "avant-garde," (!?) how exactly am I supposed to feel?
When the same cultural cues that see our young people harassed, criminalized, brutalized, and gunned down with impunity are taken by non-black youth and just shrugged off as "Oh, they're just kids...," how am I supposed to react!?
So to be clear, imitation is the highest form of larceny. Let's call a spade, a spade, yeah?

  • This was in response to a comment, just in case there was any confusion as to context
    ** Credit to @geist171 for the original post
ghettophilosopher 7 July 18

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Does the adoption of western style and music by the rest of the world count as cultural appropriation? The adoption of Buddhism by western nations? Sushi? Are the rest of the world steaing our ideas of Parliamentary democracy? Should blacks be allowed to play hockey or golf, actual white guy games?Can my tribe do anything your tribe did first? I don't have an answer beyond we're really just one tribe on this dirty little lump in space.


Well said. There are some tone deaf, self centered people even here unfortunately and I'm sorry for that.

Tis but the nature of the world.


I am white and grew up in the US. I have always wanted braids with beads or rings woven in. I have never done it for fear of upsetting or angering people.


Who owns what? How fair back do we go? Who decides what was actually stolen, and what was merely influenced?

Currently copyright law can be interpreted to mean "7 words in a row" is theft. Somebody 'splain to me how that makes any sense.

Extremely good examples:
The current egyptians do NOT own the pyramids. They belong to the history of the human race. But, the current egyptians are charged with the protection of these icons.

                    The bones of those who died hundreds of years ago do NOT belong to whomever claim to be their descendants.  
                    EG: The current israelis should not be allowed to restrict scientific access to ANY archeologic find in the land they now occupy.
                    Nor should any indiginous peoples be allowed to lay claim to any historical remnants.
JacarC Level 8 July 18, 2018

The current Egyptians very much DO own the pyramids. Anyone claiming otherwise should do so with sufficient military force and at least the indifference of, if not complete complicity of the wider international community.
And to be clear, the ones saying that historical claims are moot are usually the ones attempting to make their own claims that run counter to historical precedent.
And again with the bad examples... Israelis, many would argue (myself included) are occupiers. Any claims to anything there should be contingent on an equitable (and IMHO, two-state) compromise between Israel and Palestine.
However claims there, with the pyramids, or anywhere else are not just open to the public for anyone to step in and plant a flag.
But alas, we've digressed from the cultural to the archeological. Whole different can of worms.

@HotAlutiiq now why am I thinking of Team America?

@HotAlutiiq and the total destruction of many cultural icons in the actual movie, whilst apparently providing a world police 🙂 they destroyed the Eiffel tower and Michael Moore destroyed Mount Rushmore in it.


If we're not growing together are we growing apart? This has always happened, I get that it's part of one culture taking over another in some ways... Christianity incorporated so many, 'pagan' festivals to get the natives on board, but a lot of history has been verbal. Are you saying that you'd get mad at my Maori friend for getting her hair chemically straightened?

Anyone with any knowledge of Rock and Roll knows that it predates Elvis, he sanitised it for the whites and it became more mainstream. But let's not forget that music transcended colour and artists played music together long before many people could eat or drink together publically.

Yes, hang on to your roots and call things by the names you prefer, but to stop people enjoying things from your culture and relating to your cultural heritage just seems to be fighting inclusion, acceptance and any celebration of what's special about it. Instead why not educate the people that are interested? It's a perfect opportunity.

The example of Christians adopting pagan holidays is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. These pagans whose holidays were assimilated were the same pagans that they persecuted for centuries, to the point of torturing and killing them in the most creatively sadistic ways probably every conceived on planet Earth.

You speak of "Anyone with any knowledge of Rock and Roll." But I challenge you to take a poll among the general public to see how many people actually know that Elvis wasn't first. That he wasn't the originator. That the originators weren't even white. Furthermore, while Elvis and his label backers were making millions, the creators of this music, often down to the original writers and performers of many of the songs that he performed, had to come in through the back door if they were allowed to enter a venue at all, got nothing near the recognition or compensation that Elvis or his successors did, got little or no to royalties, and were still dealing with Jim Crow.

The moral of this story is that you don't get to take aspects of my culture if I don't get to be a full and equal participant in yours. You don't get to monetize my culture or gain power from it while I remain broke and powerless.
You have to understand that most examples of appropriation are awash in blood and tears and misery. It's not trivial. It's not complaining for it's own sake. It's pointing out literal theft. If you stole my car and drove Uber, are you not wrong? Can you claim that that money is yours? That I have no claim to it? The only difference here is scale.

@ghettophilosopher I've got no money and certainly aren't making any by misappropriating your cultural heritage. I've fought for the underdog much of my life. It's not just at Elvis's input that black artists were being used to make money, they would go into a studio and get paid peanuts to cut awesome tracks before Elvis brought R & R into the white mainstream. Chuck Berry, Aretha Franklin, The Cotton Club, Rosetta Tharpe, Billie Holiday (what a story her lifewas btw!) come on! The fact that when Martin Luther King died they all but on an awesome show to keep people off the streets so that there wasn't a mass riot and you're telling me I think Elvis is a King?

Yes, female genocide happened throughout Europe, cultures got melded together. I'm not going to get upset if someone from Africa wants to wear a pentacle to show they feel connected to the earth, if they connect to old white cultures let them. Ideas are not property, I agree with Zappa, share and lets grow together.

I'd draw the line at being disrespectful to people's cultural heritage, which sometimes is just due to lack of knowledge, like wearing a feather headdress.

@ghettophilosopher p.s. I just asked my mates on FB who for them was the first star of Rock & Roll and the first answer I got was, 'Tina Turner'. I didn't expect it, but it's a cool result 😉


I'll admit, I struggle with this. What if you genuinely admire another culture's fashion, hair styles, music? Is there a respectful way to appreciate it without appropriating it? Where do we draw the line? (And, for the record, I make an effort to check myself. I have tried to avoid doing or wearing anything that could be misconstrued. I figure it's best to err on the side of caution.)

It's a hard question to answer to be honest. Really, I don't know that there is a right answer. Part of it is that cultures are simultaneously monolithic and emergent. They can consist of as few as dozens or as many as millions, all individuals who will have their own opinions on the subject. What one might find highly offensive, others might have no issue with.
Having friends who participate in that culture can help with regard to guidance, even possibly as a voucher, but again it's no guarantee.
But the fact that you pause to ask the question is half of the equation.

@ghettophilosopher I feel like that's the least I could possibly be doing. Life is messy. It's hard to learn about certain topics because there are no hard and fast rules. Makes me wish evolution worked faster.


The issue people have with the idea of cultural appropriation is that it seems to be saying cultures shouldn’t mix. What was made by X people is for X people, Y people shouldn’t touch it.

The exchange of cultures has been what drives society to change over time. It’s a good thing, and should be celebrated, not derided. The United States is called the great melting pot for a reason.

Katrik Level 7 July 18, 2018

I agree. But EXCHANGE implies parity and equity. This can be measured using the 3 points I highlighted in the post. Exchange - Equity = Appropriation.
The difference between exchange and appropriation is the difference between saying that European settlers came and PURCHASED the Americas from the Indigenous peoples and saying that European settlers came and STOLE the Americas from Indigenous peoples. Only one of those scenarios actually happened.

@ghettophilosopher why do you believe it was one sided? Are you seriously going to claim that native populations or black people have adopted nothing that was from European culture? Consider the business suit. You see beaurocrats and businessmen from all over the world use the same style of suit. A style that comes from European countries.

@Katrik Do you really want to argue that European colonialism was based on equity? In the Americas? Africa? India? China? Anywhere!?
And if you are, the business suit might be a very bad example. People in other cultures who adopted that particular Euro-aesthetic didn't do so because they found it especially stylish. They did it in order to participate in the anglicized (eurocized? Europeanized?) business culture that usurped their own. I speak particularly of India, China, and that region, but really that concept could be applied globally.

@ghettophilosopher I could care less about the sins of our forefathers. My issue is with people claiming those living today shouldn’t enjoy aspects of other cultures they find appealing. I don’t believe that a culture can be owned anymore than a genre of literature. It is created and shared, modified and shared again. This is a good thing.

@Katrik Can't ignore sins of the past when they have repercussions in the present. No matter how convenient. Doesn't work that way. Nor can you pick and choose aspects of a culture you like while discarding and deriding the rest. It's why Trump administration officials get jeered out of Mexican restaurants.

@ghettophilosopher Trump gets shat on by Mexicans for his racially targeted policies. What you don’t see, is Mexicans raising hell whenever an American goes to a party for cinco de mayo. Enjoying aspects of a culture doesn’t mean you are deriding the rest of it. Imagine how evil that would require the tourism industry to be. And yes, I can ignore the sins of our ancestors because I am not them. I do not believe anyone is responsible for the acts of their ancestors, good or bad.

@Katrik Ok...

  1. White people (and other non Mexicans) celebrating Cinco de Mayo is SLIGHTLY disrespectful because it's a holiday that had absolutely nothing to do with you, but more than that, nobody stealing it has a fucking clue what it's actually about. Regardless, I don't know what Mexicans you're talking about because any Mexican I've ever known gives about zero shits about Cinco Mayo. It's not a celebration type of holiday for them. In fact, probably the only thing that move the meter for them is the fact that you drink a bunch, become somewhat annoying as most drunks tend to be, but end up throwing a bunch of money at them (assuming they work at a restaurant). Outside of that, just imagine that Russia stole Arbor Day. Would you be pissed? No. You'd chuckle, wonder if they knew it was about trees, give them a side eye for their collective stupidity, and keep it moving.
  2. No one's asking you or anyone else to own the sins of your ancestors. What we expect is for you to acknowledge that there are repercussions that stem from those sins that play out, even now, to your benefit and our detriment -repercussions that you ARE accountable for- and for you to actually DO something about them.
    Too much to ask, I know...

@JustLynnie Say you found out that your great great great grandfather was slave owner. Do you really believe you would share his guilt? Do you really believe that you would have a responsibility to atone for his transgressions? I argue no. No evil is inherited. His shame would have died with him.

@ghettophilosopher This is still the issue of inhereted sin. The only difference is that you’re saying you don’t inheret the guilt, just the burden of atonement. Punishment for a crime you are innocent of is unjust. Besides if you truly want to claim we inherent that burden then we all have blood on our hands. No one’s family lineage is free of evil.

I wasn’t referring to any particular Mexicans. My point was that you don’t see them upset about Americans using part of their culture. While it is true that those Americans that do celebrate cinco de mayo don’t understand it, that is a natural consequence of mixed cultures. Some pieces survive, others are lost. Think of hollidays like halloween or Christmas. They are amalgamations of numerous holidays and cultural traditions.

@Katrik You're missing the point. If your grandfather stole my grandfather's wealth, house, etc... and passed them on to his children who passed them on to you, are you arguing that you have no obligation to make that right? That because YOU yourself didn't steal it, that there's nothing wrong with you benefiting from it? I think you might find that the law has something to say about knowingly owning/using property that someone else stole and gave to you. Transfer of stolen property from the perpetrator to a third party does not erase the crime, not that this party's complicity in it. In fact, that's another crime unto itself. It's called theft by receiving.
Secondly, I think you'll find that even were Mexicans upset about Cinco de Mayo, they're not really in a position to complain about it as they're treated like second-class citizens, even when they are citizens. But it's all good. Feel free to celebrate Cinco de Mayo by driving on an interstate highway built on land stolen through eminent domain to watch the Redskins practice in a city built by slaves whose descendants can't afford to live in most parts due to redlining and are criminalized in the rest of it due to mass incarceration which sprang from Jim Crow which sprang from Black Codes which sprang from slavery. Follow that up by patronizing the Mexican restaurant of your choice and proceeding to call ICE when you get upset about the bill. Nothing to worry about. No guilt, I promise...

@ghettophilosopher Ok, I feel we’re getting a little off topic, so I’ll just finish on this point by once again saying that if you are willing to go back far enough in anyone’s family lineage you will find people who have wronged other people. If we hold those born generations later responsible you create a nightmare of a situation. Do the English owe the Vikings for conquering the island? Are those in Iraq responsible for righting the wrongs of the Persian Empire? Do the Italians need to repay everyone for the conquests of Rome? We simply are not responsible for the deeds of our ancestors. Human history is full of conquests and injustices. If we all were to demand retribution for the wrongs done to our ancestors we would all be victims and guilty at the same time.

I feel we are getting into too specific of an example, when the original question was whether or not it is acceptable for people of X culture to use elements of Y culture. You seem to be arguing no, and point to European colonization as justification. Unless you are also arguing for a double standard, the rule would also have to be both ways. So would it also be unacceptable for a black person to take interest in and use elements of European culture?


I'm a social worker. I see time and again so many people are incapable of empathy; they simply can't understand another person's experience. I've had many clients who are accessing social services for the first time, and telling me the unfortunate circumstances that led to their need to seek help. In the next breath, they tell me they won't be abusing the system like the majority of all these other lazy/lying/undeserving, expletive (insert derogatory terms for whichever populations they can't relate to or even blame for their own problems). They can't for a moment imagine that other people needing assistance are facing unfortunate circumstances as well and are just as deserving of help as they are. Even when walking a mile in another's shoes, many people still can't understand they're walking the same journey. It's very sad.

This profoundly and sadly true.


[] Chris Rock did this great documentary about Black Hair.

I was incredibly shocked to learn that some women spend near $10K a year to have "fashionable hair". And that was in 2009.

As for cultural appropriation - well my family is French and white. We've been in the US long enough to be part of cultural assimilation. There are things I remember that are really French. Or French Canadian.

I guess it wouldn't bother me who carried on these traditions as long as they were carried on? I mean we had some great New Year's Day celebrations in my youth - and there was some wonderful food involved.

But I'm saying that as a white woman and I know it.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I still haven't watched it. I need to go back and check it out.

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