Appropriating Appropriately

Cultural appropriation is defined as the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of culture, which is vastly different from cultural appreciation however i do think there is potential for cultural appreciation to be hidden within content that may be ultimately defined as ‘appropriation’ based on sources or method of use.

Recently I read an opinion piece by Connie Wang. Wang discusses the cultural appropriation in the global fashion and music scene “In Japan I saw Maasai necklaces paired with cargo shorts; in Namibia I saw models in geisha makeup with chopsticks in their hair; and of course, I’ve seen hundreds of European deisgner’s ‘elevating’ African-American street fashion”.

“But this was the first time I’d heard cultural appropriation used as a compliment”

With access to the internet, and exposure of all different cultures it’s a globally shared interest to explore each of the unique styles that exist, even as as Wang states  “I’ve come to believe that the impulse to play dress-up in other people’s cultures goes beyond teenagers wearing qipaos to prom, or Coachella girls in feathered headdresses. It’s an impulse that is nearly universal.”

So where do we draw the line? When does culture appreciation become appropriation and is it possible to be appropriating appropriately?

Cultural appreciation is a way to learn, a fantasy world to escape to, an exploration of one’s self. But its execution in display is whether it can be seen as oppressive or a form of appropriation. Specifically cultural dominance is what I see to be the main cause of displacement between the two definitions. “Cultural dominance refers to a condition characterized by the unidirectional imposition of elements of a dominant culture onto a subordinated (marginalized, colonized) culture (Rogers, 2006).

Wang also touches on these issues when she interviewed a Japanese rapper “named Mona who’s a self-described “chola,” a member of an urban Mexican-American subculture. Part of it was that she liked the look: bold makeup, hoop earrings.”,“ cholo culture gave her a way to act, speak and dress all to communicate that she does not agree with how her own culture insists Japanese women should be.”


However if you then contrast this criticised artists such as Iggy Azalea there’s a difference between execution and acknowledgement “she gets to profit off of her white appeal while simultaneously selling a black sound. She is making a huge career for herself by mimicking the vocal patterns and phrases of a Southern black girl in effect, as Banks is arguing, stealing that nameless black girl’s own success in the process.”(Zimmerman, 2014) Unfortunately this fear of appropriating rather than appreciating has caused a generation of people that are scared to try something new from another culture for the fear that they will be harshly criticized and ironically they learn less about other cultures. “Cultural appropriation, when done in a good way, makes us appreciate things we might typically ignore.”(Edoro, Undated)


“The most effective way to avoid cultural appropriation is to engage with the culture you are adopting from. Spend time in it, understanding it, engaging with it and then when it comes to using a pattern, symbol, headdress or anything else make sure you use that platform to promote that culture, its people and if possible share the benefits with them.”.



Fragoso, B. (2016). Cultural Appropriation Vs. Cultural Appreciation. [online] The Odyssey Online. Available at: [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].

Lexico Dictionaries | English. (n.d.). cultural appropriation | Definition of cultural appropriation by Lexico. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Sep. 2019].

Rogers, R. (2006). From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation. Communication Theory, 16(4), pp.474-503.

Ryan, C. (2018). Survey: Cultural appropriation fears discourage interaction. [online] Campus Reform. Available at: [Accessed 1 Sep. 2019].

Wang, C. (2019). Finding the Beauty in Cultural Appropriation. The New York Times. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Sep. 2019].

Young, J. and Brunk, C. (2012). The ethics of cultural appropriation. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Zimmerman, A. (2014). The Cultural Crimes of Iggy Azalea. [online] The Daily Beast. Available at: [Accessed 1 Sep. 2019].




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