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Cultural appropriation[1][2] is the inappropriate or unacknowledged adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity.[3][4][5] This can be especially controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from minority cultures.[6][1][7][8] When cultural elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context – sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of members of the originating culture – the practice is often received negatively.[9][10][11][12][13] Cultural appropriation can include the exploitation of another culture's religious and cultural traditions, dance steps, fashion, symbols, language, and music.[14]

Cultural appropriation is considered harmful by various groups and individuals,[15] including some Indigenous people working for cultural preservation,[16][17] those who advocate for collective intellectual property rights of the originating, minority cultures,[18][19][20][21] and some of those who have lived or are living under colonial rule.[1][22][23][21] According to some critics of the practice [who?], cultural appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or equal cultural exchange in that this appropriation is a form of colonialism.

Those who see this appropriation as an exploitative state that cultural elements are lost or distorted when they are removed from their originating cultural contexts and that such displays are disrespectful or even a form of desecration.[9] Cultural elements that may have deep meaning in the original culture may be reduced to "exotic" fashion or toys by those from the dominant culture.[9][10][24] Kjerstin Johnson has written that, when this is done, the imitator, "who does not experience that oppression is able to 'play', temporarily, an 'exotic' other, without experiencing any of the daily discriminations faced by other cultures".[24] The black American academic, musician, and journalist Greg Tate argued that appropriation and the "fetishising" of cultures, in fact, alienate those whose culture is being appropriated.[25]

The concept of cultural appropriation has also been subject to heavy criticism and debate.[26][27][28] Critics note that the concept is often misunderstood or misapplied by the general public and that charges of "cultural appropriation" are sometimes misapplied to situations such as trying food from a different culture or learning about different cultures.[29][30] Others state that the act of cultural appropriation, usually defined, does not meaningfully constitute social harm or that the term lacks conceptual coherence.[31][32] Additionally, the term can set arbitrary limits on intellectual freedom and artists' self-expression, reinforce group divisions, or promote a feeling of enmity or grievance rather than of liberation.[32][33][34][35][27]


Cossack man wearing the chokha, a clothing the Cossacks appropriated from the indigenous peoples of the Caucasus along with other cultural traits[36]

Cultural appropriation can involve the use of ideas, symbols, artifacts, or other aspects of human-made visual or non-visual culture.[37] As a concept that is controversial in its applications, the propriety of cultural appropriation has been the subject of much debate. Opponents of cultural appropriation view many instances as wrongful appropriation when the subject culture is a minority culture or is subordinated in social, political, economic, or military status to the dominant culture[24] or when there are other issues involved, such as a history of ethnic or racial conflict.[10] Linda Martín Alcoff writes that this is often seen in cultural outsiders' use of an oppressed culture's symbols or other cultural elements, such as music, dance, spiritual ceremonies, modes of dress, speech, and social behaviour, when these elements are trivialised and used for fashion, rather than respected within their original cultural context. Opponents view the issues of colonialism, context, and the difference between appropriation and mutual exchange as central to analysing cultural appropriation. They argue that mutual exchange happens on an "even playing field", whereas appropriation involves pieces of an oppressed culture being taken out of context by a people who have historically oppressed those they are taking from and who lack the cultural context to properly understand, respect, or utilise these elements.[10][15]

Another view of cultural appropriation is that calling upon it to criticise is "a deeply conservative project", despite progressive roots, that "first seeks to preserve in formaldehyde the content of an established culture and second tries [to] prevent others from interacting with that culture".[38]

Academic study

The Oxford English Dictionary's earliest citation for the phrase was a 1945 essay by Arthur E. Christy, which discussed Orientalism.[39][40] The term became widespread in the 1980s in discussions of post-colonial critiques of Western expansionism,[39][41] though the concept of "cultural colonialism" had been explored earlier, such as in "Some General Observations on the Problems of Cultural Colonialism" by Kenneth Coutts‐Smith in 1976.[41][42]

Cultural and racial theorist George Lipsitz has used the term "strategic anti-essentialism" to refer to the calculated use of a cultural form outside of one's own to define oneself or one's group. Strategic anti-essentialism can be seen in both minority and majority cultures and is not confined only to the use of the other. However, Lipsitz argues that when the majority culture attempts to strategically anti-essentialize itself by appropriating a minority culture, it must take great care to recognize the specific socio-historical circumstances and significance of these cultural forms so as not to perpetuate the already existing majority vs. minority unequal power relations.[43]


Art, literature, iconography, and adornment

A model wears a Native American-inspired war bonnet while campaigning to support body modification in the workplace, 2015

A common example of cultural appropriation is the adoption of the iconography of another culture and its use for purposes that are unintended by the original culture or even offensive to that culture's mores. Examples include sports teams using Native American tribal names or images as mascots; people not from the originating culture wearing jewellry or fashion that incorporates religious symbols such as the medicine wheel, or wearing items of deep cultural significance and status that must be earned, such as a war bonnet, without having earned the right.[44] Authentic Native American war bonnets are sacred ceremonial items earned by people of high status in a traditional tribal society, much like military medals. People from cultures who have this sacred regalia usually consider it disrespectful and offensive when someone who has not earned the right to wear one dons an authentic or imitation headdress, whether as part of pretending to be Native American or as a costume or fashion statement.[44][45] Copying iconography from another culture's history, such as Polynesian tribal tattoos, Chinese characters, or Celtic art, and wearing them without regard to their original cultural significance may also be considered appropriation. Critics of the practice of cultural appropriation contend that divorcing this iconography from its cultural context or treating it as kitsch risks offending people who venerate and wish to preserve their cultural traditions.[46][47]

In Australia, Aboriginal artists have discussed an "authenticity brand" to ensure consumers are aware of artworks claiming false Aboriginal significance.[48][49] The movement for such a measure gained momentum after the 1999 conviction of John O'Loughlin for selling paintings that he falsely described as the work of Aboriginal artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri.[50] In Canada, visual artist Sue Coleman has garnered negative attention for appropriating and amalgamating styles of Indigenous art into her work. Coleman, who has been accused of "copying and selling Indigenous-style artwork," has described herself as a "translator" of Indigenous art forms, which drew further criticism. In his open letter to Coleman, Kwakwak'awakw/Salish Artist Carey Newman stressed the importance of artists being accountable within the Indigenous communities as the antidote to appropriation.[51]

Historically, some of the most hotly debated cases of cultural appropriation have occurred in places where cultural exchange is the highest, such as along the trade routes in southwestern Asia and southeastern Europe. Some scholars of the Ottoman Empire and ancient Egypt argue that Ottoman and Egyptian architectural traditions have long been falsely claimed and praised as Persian or Arab.[52]

Religion and spirituality

Many Native Americans have criticized what they deem to be the cultural appropriation of their sweat lodge and vision quest ceremonies by non-Natives, and even by tribes who have not traditionally had these ceremonies. They contend that there are serious safety risks whenever these events are conducted by those who lack the many years of training and cultural immersion required to lead them safely, mentioning the deaths or injuries in 1996, 2002, 2004, and several high-profile deaths in 2009.[53]

The modern New Age movement frequently adopts spiritual ideas and practices from non-Western cultures; according to York, these may include "Hawaiian Kahuna magic, Australian Aboriginal dream-working, South American Amerindian ayahuasca and San Pedro ceremonies, Hindu Ayurveda and yoga, Chinese Feng Shui, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi."[54] The movement has faced criticism for cultural imperialism exploiting intellectual and cultural property of Indigenous peoples.[55][56]


Claude Monet's wife, Camille Doncieux wearing a kimono, 1875

Cultural appropriation is controversial in the fashion industry due to the belief that some trends commercialise and cheapen the ancient heritage of Indigenous cultures.[57] There is debate about whether designers and fashion houses understand the history behind the clothing they are taking from different cultures, besides the ethical issues of using these cultures' shared intellectual property without consent, acknowledgement, or compensation.[58] According to Minh-Ha T. Pham, writing for The Atlantic, accusations of cultural appropriation are often defended, instead, as cultural appreciation.[59]

17th century to Victorian era

George IV wearing highland dress during his visit to Scotland in 1822

The necktie or cravat was derived from a scarf worn by Croatian mercenaries fighting for Louis XIII,[60] and the brightly coloured silk waistcoats popularised by Charles II of England were inspired by Ottoman, Indian, and Persian attire acquired by wealthy European travelers.[61]

During the Regency and Victorian eras, the Highland dress, most prominently tartan, was appropriated by Scottish Lowlanders (and people from other parts of the British Isles) as a result of the influence of romantic nationalism on the Scottish national identity. This was spearheaded by writers such as Sir Walter Scott and James Logan, with Logan's romantic nationalist work The Scottish Gael (1831) leading the Scottish tartan industry to invent clan tartans with spurious association to specific Highland clans. Tartan rapidly became a desirable material for dresses, waistcoats, and cravats across the Western world as part of process known as "tartanry".[62] In the United States, plaid flannel had become workwear by the time of America's westward expansion and was widely worn by white pioneers and cowboys in the Old West who were not of Scottish descent.[63] In the 21st century, tartan remains ubiquitous in mainstream fashion.[64]

By the 19th century, European fascination had shifted to Asian culture. Regency-era dandies adapted the Indian churidars into slim-fitting pantaloons and frequently wore turbans within their own houses. Subsequently, Victorian-era gentlemen wore smoking caps based on the Islamic fez, and fashionable turn-of-the-century ladies wore Orientalist[65] Japanese-inspired kimono dresses.[66][67] Moreover, this obsession with Orientalism was visible in how one company named its passenger shipping line "The Orient Line".[68] During the tiki culture fad of the 1950s, white women frequently donned the qipao to give the impression that they had visited Hong Kong, although the dresses were frequently made by seamstresses in America using rayon rather than genuine silk. At the same time, teenage Teddy Girls wore Asian conical hats due to their exotic connotations.[69]

In Mexico, the sombrero associated with the mestizo peasant class was adapted from an earlier hat introduced by Spanish colonists during the 18th century.[70] This, in turn, was adapted into the cowboy hat worn by American cowboys after the US Civil War.[70] In 2016, the University of East Anglia prohibited the wearing of sombreros to parties on campus in the belief that these could offend Mexican students,[32] a move that was widely criticised.[71][72][73]

American Western wear was copied from the work attire of 19th-century Mexican Vaqueros, especially the pointed cowboy boots and the guayabera, which was adapted into the embroidered Western shirt.[74] The China poblana dress associated with Mexican women was appropriated from the choli and lehenga worn by Indian maidservants like Catarina de San Juan, who arrived from Asia from the 17th century onwards.[75]

Modern era

In Britain, the rough tweed cloth clothing of the English, Irish and Scottish peasantry, including the flat cap and Irish hat[76] were adopted by the upper classes as the British country clothing worn for sports such as hunting or fishing, in imitation of the Prince of Wales.[77] The country clothing, in turn, was appropriated by the wealthy American Ivy League and later preppy subcultures during the 1950s and 1980s due to both its practicality and its association with the British upper class.[78] During the same period, the British comedian Tommy Cooper was known for wearing a Fez throughout his performances.

When the keffiyeh became popular in the late 2000s, experts made a clear distinction between wearing a genuine scarf and wearing a cheaper, inauthentic one made in China.[79] Palestinian independence activists and socialists denounced the wearing of scarves not made in Palestine as a form of cultural appropriation but encouraged fellow Muslims and progressively minded non-Muslim students[80] to buy shemaghs made in the Herbawi[81] factory to demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinian people and improve the economy of the West Bank.[82][83] In 2017, Topshop caused controversy by selling Chinese-made playsuits that imitated the keffiyeh pattern.[84]

Several fashion designers and models have featured imitations of Native American warbonnets in their fashion shows,[85][86] such as Victoria's Secret in 2012, when model Karlie Kloss wore one during her walk on the runway; a Navajo Nation spokesman called it a "mockery".[87] Cherokee academic Adrienne Keene wrote in The New York Times:

For the [Native American] communities that wear these headdresses, they represent respect, power, and responsibility. The headdress has to be earned, and gifted to a leader in whom the community has placed their trust. When it becomes a cheap commodity anyone can buy and wear to a party, that meaning is erased and disrespected, and Native peoples are reminded that our cultures are still seen as something of the past, as unimportant in contemporary society, and unworthy of respect.[85][86]

Both Victoria's Secret and Kloss issued apologies stating that they had no intentions of offending anyone.[87][88]

The culturally significant Hindu festival, Holi, has been imitated and incorporated into fashion globally. For example, pop artist Pharrell Williams and Adidas collaborated in 2018 to create the Holi-inspired apparel and shoe line, "Hu Holi." The collection was stated to be a "trivialization of traditions-concepts-symbols-beliefs of Hinduism," according to Raja Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism. The collection included many items which contained leather, a violation of Hindu beliefs.[89]

Archbishop Justin Welby of the Anglican Church said that the crucifix is "now just a fashion statement and has lost its religious meaning".[90] Crucifixes have been incorporated into Japanese lolita fashion by non-Christians in a cultural context that is distinct from its original meaning as a Christian religious symbol.[91]

In 2018, Gucci designers were criticised for sending white models for a catwalk at Milan fashion week wearing a Sikh religious headpiece.[92][93][94] Thousands of members from the Sikh community shared anger and disappointment that the brand had used Sikh sacred religious symbol for profit.[92] Traditionally in Sikhism, a turban is worn by both men and women as a symbol of piety, honour, and spirituality, however, many people from Sikh community, including Avan Jogia, found it "offensive" and "irresponsible" for a white model wearing a turban.[93]

The popularity of the 2018 Thai period drama "Love Destiny," which depicts the Ayutthaya Kingdom era, has sparked a trend of Cambodians adopting traditional Thai clothing, including the Sabai and Thai-style jewelry. This trend raises concerns about cultural appropriation. While this phenomenon might stem from admiration, critics argue that it overshadows unique Cambodian sartorial traditions, potentially leading to a decline in the popularity of garments like the Cambodian Sampot. However, Cambodia also grapples with ensuring the accuracy of its own cultural representations, as evidenced by efforts to regulate costume rentals at Angkor Wat.[95]

Hairstyles, makeup, and body modifications


See also: Native American mascot controversy and List of sports team names and mascots derived from Indigenous peoples

The Washington Redskins logo in Maryland

While the history of colonisation and marginalisation is not unique to the Americas, the practice of non-Native sports teams deriving team names, imagery, and mascots from Indigenous peoples is still common in the United States and Canada and has persisted in some extent despite protests from Indigenous groups. Cornel Pewewardy, Professor and Director of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University, cites Indigenous mascots as an example of dysconscious racism which, by placing images of Native American or First Nations people into an invented media context, continues to maintain the superiority of the dominant culture.[101] It is argued that such practices maintain the power relationship between the dominant culture and the Indigenous culture and can be seen as a form of cultural imperialism.[102][103]

Such practices may be seen as particularly harmful in schools and universities that have a stated purpose of promoting ethnic diversity and inclusion.[104] In recognition of the responsibility of higher education to eliminate behaviours that create a hostile environment for education, in 2005, the NCAA initiated a policy against "hostile and abusive" names and mascots that led to the change of many derived from Native American culture, with the exception of those that established an agreement with particular tribes for the use of their specific names. Other schools retain their names because they were founded for the education of Native Americans and continue to have a significant number of Indigenous students. The trend towards the elimination of Indigenous names and mascots in local schools has been steady, with two-thirds having been eliminated over the past 50 years, according to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).[105]

In contrast, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, in what the Washington Post called an unusual move, approved of the Florida State Seminoles use of their historical leader, Osceola, and his Appaloosa horse as the mascots Osceola and Renegade.[106][107] After the NCAA attempted to ban the use of Native American names and iconography in college sports in 2005, the Seminole Tribe of Florida passed a resolution offering explicit support for FSU's depiction of aspects of Florida Seminole culture and Osceola as a mascot. The university was granted a waiver, citing the close relationship with, and ongoing consultation between, the team and the Florida tribe.[107] In 2013, the tribe's chairman objected to outsiders meddling in tribal approval, stating that the FSU mascot and use of Florida State Seminole iconography "represents the courage of the people who were here and are still here, known as the Unconquered Seminoles".[108] Conversely, in 2013, the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma expressed disapproval of "the use of all American Indian sports-team mascots in the public school system, by college and university level and by professional sports teams". Additionally, not all members of the Florida State Seminoles are supportive of the stance taken by their leadership on this issue.[106][107]

In other former colonies in Asia, Africa, and South America, the adoption of Indigenous names for majority Indigenous teams is also found. There are also ethnically related team names derived from prominent immigrant populations in the area, such as the Boston Celtics, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, and the Minnesota Vikings.

African American culture

The phenomenon of white people adopting elements of black culture has been prevalent, at least since slavery was abolished in the Western world. The concept has been documented in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other white-majority countries. An early form of this was the white negro in the jazz and swing music scenes of the 1920s and 1930s, as examined in the 1957 Norman Mailer essay "The White Negro". It was later seen in the zoot suiter of the 1930s and 1940s, the hipster of the 1940s, the beatnik of the 1950s–1960s, the blue-eyed soul of the 1970s, and the hip hop of the 1980s and 1990s. In 1993, an article in the UK newspaper The Independent described the phenomenon of white, middle-class kids who were "wannabe Blacks".[109] The year 2005 saw the publication of Why White Kids Love Hip Hop: Wangstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, and the New Reality of Race in America by Bakari Kitwana, "a culture critic who's been tracking American hip hop for years".[110]

The term wigger (common spelling "wigga") is a slang term for a white person who adopts the mannerisms, language, and fashions associated with African American culture, particularly hip hop, and, in Britain, the grime scene, often implying the imitation is being done badly, although usually with sincerity rather than mocking intent.[111][112][113] Wigger is a portmanteau of white and nigger or nigga, and the related term wangsta is a mashup of wannabe or white and gangsta. Among black hip-hop fans, the word "nigga" can sometimes be considered a friendly greeting, but when used by white people as well as non-black people of colour, it is usually viewed as offensive.[114] Wigger may be derogatory, reflecting stereotypes of African American, Black British, and white culture (when used as a synonym for white trash). The term may be used by white people to belittle those perceived as acting black and by black people to belittle those perceived as mocking black culture.[115]

Robert A. Clift's documentary Blacking Up: Hip-Hop's Remix of Race and Identity questions white enthusiasts of black hip-hop culture. Clift's documentary examines "racial and cultural ownership and authenticity – a path that begins with the stolen blackness seen in the success of Stephen Foster, Al Jolson, Benny Goodman, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones –  up to Vanilla Ice ... and Eminem".[116] A review of the documentary refers to the wiggers as "white poseurs", and states that the term wigger "is used both proudly and derisively to describe white enthusiasts of black hip-hop culture".[116]

African Americans have been accused of cultural appropriation by people from Africa. This has been disputed, as members of the diaspora have claimed a link to Africa, but those from Africa have disputed it.[117]

The term "blackfishing" was popularised in 2018 by writer Wanna Thompson, describing female white social media influencers who adopt a look perceived to be associated with black people, including braided hair, dark skin from tanning or make-up, full lips, and large thighs. Critics argue they take attention and opportunities from black influencers by appropriating their aesthetics and have likened the trend to blackface.[118][119][120] Florida State University's Alisha Gaines, author of Black for a Day: Fantasies of Race and Empathy, said blackfishing allowed non-Black people to appropriate what is commonly considered "cool" about Blackness while still avoiding the negative consequences, such as "racism and state violence".[121] According to, it is an "inverse form" of passing.[121]

Indigenous cultures

White Americans dressed up in Native American outfits (1909)

Among critics, the misuse and misrepresentation of indigenous cultures are seen as an exploitative form of colonialism and one step in the destruction of Indigenous cultures.[122]

The results of this appropriation of Indigenous knowledge have led some tribes and the United Nations General Assembly to issue several declarations on the subject. The Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality includes the passage:

We assert a posture of zero-tolerance for any "white man's shaman" who rises from within our own communities to "authorize" the expropriation of our ceremonial ways by non-Indians; all such "plastic medicine men" are enemies of the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people.[16][123]

Article 31 1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states:

Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies, and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.[22]

In 2015, a group of Native American academics and writers stated the Rainbow Family members whose acts of "cultural exploitation... dehumanize us as an indigenous Nation because they imply our culture and humanity, like our land, is anyone's for the taking".[124]

In writing about Indigenous intellectual property for the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), board member Professor Rebecca Tsosie stresses the importance of these property rights being held collectively, not by individuals:

The long-term goal is to actually have a legal system, and certainly a treaty could do that, that acknowledges two things. Number one, it acknowledges that indigenous peoples are people with a right to self-determination that includes governance rights over all property belonging to the indigenous people. And, number two, it acknowledges that indigenous cultural expressions are a form of intellectual property and that traditional knowledge is a form of intellectual property, but they are collective resources – so not any one individual can give away the rights to those resources. The tribal nations actually own them collectively.[21]

South and East Asian cultures

In 2013, pop star Katy Perry drew heavy criticism for her "geisha-style" performance at the American Music Awards, in which she and her backup dancers donned kimonos, heavy powdered face makeup, and colourful parasols, among other East Asian cultural items. Netizens declared Perry's actions appropriative and harmful to East Asian cultures.[125]

In 2016, pop star Beyoncé was widely criticised for wearing a sari and bindi in the music video for the Coldplay song "Hymn for the Weekend".[126]

From 2020 to the present, there has been a persistent issue regarding the white adoption and convolution of Hindu (a religion originating from South Asia) religious practices, coining them with the umbrella term of "spirituality". These were practices, including the usage of the Evil Eye, Hamsa, etc., that people growing up as Hindus report being bullied for in their past, and even the present.[11][page needed]


The adoption of First Nations' art forms and strong geometric forms was in sympathy with the Arts and Crafts Society's commitment to modernist design but without serious consideration of the ethics of the appropriation of Aboriginal motifs by Western artists.[127][128] During the 1930s, Margaret Preston advocated the use of Indigenous Australian motifs in contemporary art in her 1930 essay "The Application of Aboriginal Designs" in Art in Australia.[129][130] The works of other artists, like Allan Lowe, borrowed or copied Aboriginal motifs; Lowe, a potter, drew inspiration from Aboriginal arts from Charles P. Mountford's expedition photographs, while Olive Nock, who attended the 1925 Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes incorporated 'Aboriginal' designs into a tea service. In March 1929, Frances Derham designed the cover of the Victorian Arts and Crafts Society journal, The Recorder, which featured Aboriginal motifs.[131][127] Also that year, she presented a lecture titled 'The Interest of Aboriginal Art to the Modern Designer' to the Society in which she recounted her examination of Aboriginal material culture and its inspiration for her subsequent artistic expressions in linocuts of the 1920s to the 1940s which featured Aboriginal motifs. She twice visited the 'Aboriginal Art Exhibition' at the National Museum of Victoria in July 1929,[132] and is believed to have inspired students' work based on Aboriginal motifs displayed at the Arts and Crafts Society's annual exhibition. By the 1940s, there was an increasing acceptance of Aboriginal material culture as an art form alongside Western traditions;[133] in 1941, Aboriginal works were included for the first time in a survey 'Art of Australia 1788-1941' that toured the United States and Canada.[134][135][136]

Martial arts

In China, there is longstanding resentment of the Japanese schools of karate for stealing, imitating, and claiming credit for the forms of kung fu.[137] Before the 1970s, most sifu disapproved of teaching kung fu to non-Chinese students.[138] In the mid-20th century, Japanese karate was itself appropriated by American soldiers.[139] As mixed martial arts gained popularity in the 21st century, practitioners have appropriated and combined Chinese, Japanese and Thai techniques with Western-style boxing, wrestling, and kickboxing.[140]

During the 2023 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in Cambodia, a controversy emerged when Cambodian martial arts competitions adopted Muay Thai rules, leading to allegations of cultural appropriation. Critics argued that this disrespected Thai cultural heritage and overshadowed Cambodian martial arts like Bokator. The International Federation of Muaythai Associations (IFMA) intervened, threatening fines and bans for countries participating in the Kun Khmer events under these rules. This prompted Thailand to boycott the SEA Games, further straining relations between the two countries.[141][142][143] The popularity of Bokator has been partly influenced by international media, such as Tony Jaa's portrayal of martial arts in the "Tom Yum Goong" movie series. Tony Jaa, a renowned Thai martial artist, showcased traditional techniques that have inspired martial arts enthusiasts globally, including in Cambodia. This highlights the complex interplay of cultural pride and appropriation in the region.[144][145]

Minority languages

White protestors in 2018 carrying placards using the term woke

The use of minority languages has been cited as cultural appropriation. The widespread use of the term woke among white people has been highlighted as problematic[citation needed] since it originates in African-American Vernacular English. Although woke adherents would advocate vigilance against cultural appropriation, white people using the term may paradoxically be considered to be adopting an element of African-American culture inappropriately.[146]

The appropriation of language in tattoos has been called into question. Since the early 2000s, it has become increasingly popular for people not of East Asian or South Asian descent to get tattoos of Devanagari, Korean letters, or Han characters (traditional, simplified, or Japanese), often without knowing the actual meaning of the symbols being used.[147][148] In 2000, footballer David Beckham received a tattoo in Hindi.[149] Beckham does not have Indian heritage.[150]

In Scotland and Ireland, non-speakers of Scottish Gaelic or Irish get tattoos in those languages, often not understanding what their tattoos mean.[151]

In Scotland, the use of incorrect Scottish Gaelic in a tokenistic fashion aimed at non-Gaelic speakers on signage and announcements has been criticised as disrespectful to fluent speakers of the language.[152]

Film and television

Main articles: Whitewashing in film and Color-blind casting

In 2017, Ghost in the Shell, which is based on the seinen manga Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow, provoked disputes over whitewashing. Scarlett Johansson, a white actress, took the role of Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese character.[153] This was seen as cultural appropriation by some Western fans of the original manga who expected the role to be taken by an Asian or Asian-American actor.[153] However, Japanese fans' reactions ranged from neutral to warm feelings about Scarlett Johansson starring in the film, with some fans expressing the sentiment that it would be better to have an actress with no ties to Asia play the character than to have a non-Japanese Asian pretend to be Japanese.[154]


During Halloween, some people buy, wear, and sell Halloween costumes based on cultural or racial stereotypes.[155][156][24][157] There have been public protests calling for the end to the manufacture and sales of these costumes and connecting their "degrading" portrayals of Indigenous women to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis.[157] In some cases, theme parties have been held where attendees are encouraged to dress up as stereotypes of a certain racial group.[155][156] A number of these parties have been held at colleges and at times other than Halloween, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Black History Month.[155][156] For example, non-Romani people wear Romani costumes despite Romani people experiencing everyday racism and stereotypes.[158]

Boy Scouts of America-associated dance teams

In chapter four of his book Playing Indian, Native American historian Philip J. Deloria refers to the Koshare Indian Museum and Dancers as an example of "object hobbyists" who adopt the material culture of Indigenous peoples of the past ("the vanishing Indian") while failing to engage with contemporary native peoples or acknowledge the history of conquest and dispossession.[159][160] In the 1950s, the head councilman of the Zuni Pueblo saw a performance and said: "We know your hearts are good, but even with good hearts you have done a bad thing". In Zuni culture, religious objects and practices are only for those who have earned the right to participate, following techniques and prayers that have been handed down for generations.[161] In 2015, the Koshare's Winter Night dances were cancelled after a late request was received from the Cultural Preservation Office (CPO) of the Hopi Nation asking that the troop discontinue their interpretation of the dances of the Hopi and Pueblo Native Americans.[162] Director of the CPO Leigh Kuwanwisiwma saw a video of the performances online and said the performers were "mimicking our dances, but they were insensitive, as far as I'm concerned".[17] In both instances, unable to satisfy the concerns of the tribes and out of respect for the Native Americans, the Koshare Dance Team complied with the requests, removed dances found to be objectionable, and even went so far as to give items deemed culturally significant to the tribes.[161][17] Subsequently the Koshare have resumed their performance schedule without having further communications with Native Americans.[163]

The objections from some Native Americans towards such dance teams centre on the idea that the dance performances are a form of cultural appropriation that places dance and costumes in inappropriate contexts devoid of their true meaning, sometimes mixing elements from different tribes.[164] In contrast, the dance teams state that "[their] goal is to preserve Native American dance and heritage through the creation of dance regalia, dancing, and teaching others about the Native American culture".[165]

Gender and sexuality

People in the transgender community have protested against the casting of straight, cisgender actors in trans acting roles, such as when Eddie Redmayne played the role of artist Lili Elbe in the film The Danish Girl and when Jared Leto played the role of a trans woman named Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club.[166] Some in the gay community have expressed concerns about the use of straight actors to play gay characters; this occurs in films such as Call Me by Your Name (straight actors Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet), Brokeback Mountain (Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal), Philadelphia (Tom Hanks), Capote (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Milk (with Sean Penn playing the role of the real-life gay rights activist, Harvey Milk).[167] In the other direction, gay actors playing straight roles, Andrew Haigh, the writer-director, said, "You rarely see a gay actor applauded for playing straight".[168] Jay Caruso calls these controversies "wholly manufactured" on the grounds that the actors "are playing a role" using the "art of acting".[166]

Some heterosexual individuals controversially self-identify by the term "queer heterosexual".[169][170] As queer is generally defined either as a synonym for LGBT,[171][172] or defined as "non-heterosexual",[173] this appropriation of queer by cisgender, heterosexual individuals has been highly contested by LGBT people.[174] One reason is that the term has a long history of use as a slur for LGBT people.[175] LGBT people who consider this use of the term queer by heterosexual people to be inappropriate say that it is patently offensive because it involves members of the dominant culture, who do not experience oppression for their sexual orientation or gender identity, appropriating what they see as the fashionable parts of the terminology and identities of those who are oppressed for their sexuality.[174]

For someone who is homosexual and queer, a straight person identifying as queer can feel like choosing to appropriate the good bits, the cultural and political cache [sic], the clothes and the sound of gay culture, without the laugh riot of gay-bashing, teen shame, adult shame, shame-shame, and the internalized homophobia of lived gay experience.[174]

Other uses

Costume is worn by an attendee of Saint Patrick's Day parade in Dublin, Ohio, US

The government of Ghana has been accused of cultural appropriation in adopting the Caribbean Emancipation Day and marketing it to African American tourists as an "African festival".[176]

For some members of the South Asian community, the wearing of a bindi dot as a decorative item by a non-Hindu can be seen as cultural appropriation.[177]

A term among Irish people for someone who imitates or misrepresents Irish culture is Plastic Paddy.[178][179][180]



In 2011, a group of students at Ohio University started a poster campaign denouncing the use of cultural stereotypes as costumes. The campaign features people of colour alongside their respective stereotypes with slogans such as "This is not who I am and this is not okay".[181] The goal of the movement was to raise awareness around racism during Halloween in the university and the surrounding community, but the images also circulated online.[182]

"Reclaim the Bindi" has become a hashtag used by some people of South Asian descent who wear traditional garb and object to its use by people, not of their culture. At the 2014 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, one of the most noted fashion trends was the bindi, a traditional Hindu headmark.[183] As pictures of the festival surfaced online, there was public controversy over the casual wearing of the bindi by non-Hindu individuals who did not understand the meaning behind it.[184] Reclaim the Bindi Week is an event which seeks to promote the traditional cultural significance of the bindi and combat its use as a fashion statement.[185]

Criticism of the concept

John McWhorter, an African-American professor at Columbia University, criticised the concept in 2014, arguing that cultural borrowing and cross-fertilisation are generally positive things and are something which is usually done out of admiration and with no intent to harm the cultures being imitated; he also argued that the specific term "appropriation", which can mean theft, is misleading when applied to something like culture that is not seen by all as a limited resource.[31]

In 2016, author Lionel Shriver said that authors from a cultural majority have a right to write in the voice of someone from a cultural minority, attacking the idea that this constitutes cultural appropriation. Referring to a case in which U.S. college students were facing disciplinary action for wearing sombreros to a "tequila party", she said: "The moral of the sombrero scandals is clear: you're not supposed to try on other people's hats. Yet that's what we're paid to do, isn't it? Step into other people's shoes, and try on their hats."[32][186]

In 2018, conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg described cultural appropriation as a positive thing and dismissed opposition to it as a product of some people's desire to be offended.[187]

Kwame Anthony Appiah, ethics columnist for the New York Times, said that the term cultural appropriation incorrectly labels contemptuous behaviour as a property crime. According to Appiah, "The key question in the use of symbols or regalia associated with another identity group is not: What are my rights of ownership? Rather it's: Are my actions disrespectful?"[188][189]

Upon winning the 2019 Booker Prize, Bernardine Evaristo dismissed the concept of cultural appropriation, stating that it is ridiculous to demand of writers that they not "write beyond [their] own culture".[190]

Are cultures "pure"?

As Yascha Mounk states in his book The People vs Democracy (2018), the problem with cultural appropriation necessarily acknowledges a purist conception of culture, it being linked to the building of an monoethnical common identity, which appropriates itself of some rites and traits. He argues that no symbols or traditions minoritarian culture should be denigrated or mocked. But it does open the door to what he calls "historical nonsense".[191]

However, cultures have never been completely defined, as they have inspired from one and another, and have thus enriched their own.

The segmentation in well-defined cultures works the same way as far right leaders in their views of identity and the defence of their nation, that should not include "foreign influences on their national cultures".[191]

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