Cultural Appropriation is Harmful. Here is why…

Updated: Mar 31


What is Cultural Appropriation? Cultural appropriation is the practice of using or taking something from another culture without giving proper recognition or respect to that culture, Mia Moody-Ramirez, PhD, professor and chair of the Baylor University department of journalism, public relations, and new media. This includes:


● Intellectual property ● Artifacts ● Dance ● Clothing and Fashion ● Language ● Music ● Food ● Religious symbols ● Decorations ● Medicine ● Makeup ● Hairstyle ● Tattoos ● Wellness practices

Usually, the culture that is being appropriated has been or is marginalized. "Cultural appropriation is about power," Neal Lester, PhD, founding director of Arizona State University's programming initiative Project Humanities says. "It's about who has the power to steal from somebody else and not offer any consequences." Why is cultural appropriation harmful? Cultural appropriation can perpetuate stereotypes and exploit groups that are discriminated against. This sort of “borrowing” is exploitative because it robs oppressed groups of the credit they deserve and often the capital owed to them as well.


If you are unsure how to decide if something is cultural appropriation, here are some questions to ask yourself:

What is your goal with what you are doing?

  1. Are you following a trend or exploring the history of a culture?

  2. Are you deliberately trying to insult someone's culture or are you being respectful?

  3. Are you purchasing something (e.g., artwork) that is a reproduction of a culture or an original?

  4. How would people from the culture you are borrowing from feel about what you are doing?

  5. Are there any stereotypes involved in what you are doing?

  6. Are you using a sacred item (e.g., headdress) in a flippant or fun way?

  7. Are you borrowing something from an ancient culture and pretending that it is new?

  8. Are you crediting the source or inspiration of what you are doing?

  9. If a person of the original culture were to do what you are doing, would they be viewed as "cool" or could they possibly face discrimination?

  10. Are you wearing a costume (e.g., Geisha girl, tribal wear) that represents a culture?

  11. Are you ignoring the cultural significance of something in favor of following a trend?

How to Avoid Cultural Appropriation You can avoid cultural appropriation by taking a few steps, such as these:

  1. Ask yourself the list of questions above to begin to explore the underlying motivation for what you are doing.

  2. Give credit or recognize the origin of items that you borrow or promote from other cultures rather than claiming them as your original ideas.

  3. Take the time to learn about and truly appreciate a culture before you borrow or adopt elements of it. Learn from those who are members of the culture,visit venues they run (such as restaurants) and attend authentic events (such as going to a real luau).

  4. Support small businesses run by members of the culture rather than buying mass-produced items from big box stores that are made to represent a culture.

What to do if you’ve crossed a line When someone points out an instance of cultural appropriation, what should you do?

● First, apologize. Then immediately stop what you’re doing. Change your clothes, take the accessory off, scrub the phrase from your vocabulary. ● If you don’t understand how you messed up, do some work to understand why so you can avoid it in the future.

Remember, appreciation involves learning and sharing with permission. Appropriation generally exploits other cultures and reinforces stereotypes.


Content Based On: What is Cultural Appropriation and How You Can Avoid Doing It Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "A Guide to Understanding and Avoiding Cultural Appropriation." thoughtCo, Feb. 7, 2021, thoughtco.com/cultural-appropriation-and-why-iits-wrong-2834561.

Article written by Denise Young, CEO/Founder/Consultant: Tiger’s Eye Advisory Group. Reach out to Denise (deniseyoung@tigerseye.ca) if you or your organization is interested in Diversity and Inclusion, Leadership or Communication workshops, Keynotes or Facilitation Services.



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LinkedIN: Denise Young

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