Cultural Appropriation - definition and explanation

Cultural Appropriation – definition and explanation

Oxford Review Dictionary of DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion)

Cultural appropriation refers to the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. This concept is often discussed in the context of power dynamics, where a dominant culture takes from a minority or marginalised culture without permission, understanding, or respect for the original cultural context.

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  • Imbalance of Power – Cultural appropriation often involves a power dynamic where the dominant culture exploits the culture of a minority or marginalised group. This exploitation can occur even if the intention is not to harm.
  • Lack of Context and Understanding – When elements of a culture are appropriated, they are often taken out of their original cultural context. This can lead to a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the cultural significance of these elements.
  • Commercialisation – A common issue with cultural appropriation is the commercialisation of cultural elements. This includes using culturally significant symbols, clothing, or practices for profit, often without benefit to the originating culture.
  • Offence and Harm – Cultural appropriation can be harmful and offensive to members of the originating culture, especially when it involves sacred or deeply meaningful aspects of that culture.
  • Difference from Cultural Exchange – Cultural appropriation is different from cultural exchange, where there is mutual sharing, respect, and understanding. Exchange typically occurs on an equal footing and with the consent of both cultures.
  • Impact on Stereotyping and Respect – Appropriation can perpetuate stereotypes and disrespect towards the culture being appropriated. It often oversimplifies or commodifies complex cultural traditions.
  • Sensitivity and Awareness – Understanding and avoiding cultural appropriation involves being sensitive to the origins and meanings of cultural practices and symbols, and recognizing the implications of using them outside their original context.

Cultural appropriation is a contentious issue that deals with the ethics and respect involved in using elements from a culture not one’s own, particularly in contexts where there is a history of inequality and exploitation. It’s distinguished from cultural exchange by its unidirectional nature and often by a lack of understanding or respect for the cultural significance of the appropriated elements.


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