Appropriation - Definition and Explanation

Appropriation – Definition and Explanation

Understanding Appropriation: Definition, Examples, and Impact on DEI

In today’s increasingly diverse and interconnected world, the concept of appropriation has garnered significant attention, particularly in the realm of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Understanding appropriation is crucial for fostering respectful and inclusive environments. 


Appropriation refers to the act of taking or borrowing elements of one culture by members of another culture, often without permission or understanding of the cultural significance. It involves adopting aspects such as symbols, rituals, fashion, music, or language from marginalised communities, often for personal gain or without acknowledging the historical and social context behind those elements.


  1. Cultural Clothing: One prevalent example of appropriation is the fashion industry’s tendency to borrow traditional clothing and accessories from various cultures without giving credit to their origins. For instance, wearing Native American headdresses as fashion statements at music festivals disregards their sacred significance in Indigenous cultures.
  2. Cultural Hairstyles: Another example is the appropriation of hairstyles traditionally worn by Black individuals. When non-Black individuals adopt these hairstyles without understanding their cultural significance or facing the same societal repercussions, it perpetuates cultural insensitivity and erases the struggles Black individuals face due to discrimination against their natural hair.
  3. Art and Music: In the realm of art and music, appropriation occurs when artists borrow elements from cultures they are not a part of without proper attribution or understanding. This can manifest in the sampling of traditional music without acknowledging its roots or appropriating religious symbols for commercial purposes without considering their sacred meanings.

Impact on DEI:

Appropriation can have detrimental effects on DEI efforts by perpetuating stereotypes, marginalising already oppressed communities, and erasing their cultural contributions. It undermines the principles of equity and inclusion by commodifying cultural elements without benefiting the communities they belong to. Furthermore, it reinforces power imbalances by allowing dominant cultures to exploit and profit from marginalised ones without facing the same systemic barriers.


In conclusion, appropriation is a complex issue that intersects with various aspects of DEI. By understanding the definition of appropriation, recognising examples, and acknowledging its impact, individuals and organisations can work towards creating more inclusive environments where cultural exchange is conducted with respect, reciprocity, and understanding. Addressing appropriation is an essential step towards fostering genuine diversity, equity, and inclusion in our society.


Evans, D. (Ed.). (2009). Appropriation. Mit Press.

Ashley, K. M., & Plesch, V. (2002). The Cultural Processes of” Appropriation”. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies32(1), 1-15.

Sanders, J. (2015). Adaptation and appropriation. routledge.

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