The Cultural Appropriation Debate

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Nadra Kareem Nittle (“Introduction to Cultural Appropriation” 2017) defines cultural appropriation as “the adoption of certain elements from another culture without the consent of people who belong to that culture.” It usually involves an uneven power dynamic (a dominant group “borrowing” from a minority group) and results in the exploitation of the oppressed group. Most anything can be appropriated–from fashion or food trends to art, music, stories, dance, symbols, religion, or even mannerisms/personas. The debate around cultural appropriation is currently a hot one, with artists, popular musicians, and fashion designers often being accused of the dreaded term. Cultural appropriation, to be clear, is not to be confused with cultural exchange or cultural appreciation. But where is the line? Is Miley Cyrus guilty of cultural appropriation because she wears gold caps on her teeth, twerks on stage, and uses black backup dancers as props? Much has been said about Miley Cyrus, both in critique and in defense of her. There are usually two sides to this debate, with each side vehemently defending their own arguments. Because the debate is such a heated one, both sides often tend to oversimplify what is really a more complicated issue. What, exactly, is the difference between appropriation and appreciation? Well, it gets messy. According to Nittle, the difference is in intent. She poses three main questions which might allow for a deeper, and more informed discussion about what cultural appropriation actually means:

1. Why is the thing being “borrowed”? Out of sincere interest? Or simply because it is trendy, looks cool, or allows someone to profit from it?
2. What is the source? Does the thing being “borrowed” have any real link or connection to the culture it is being borrowed from? Or has it lost its original meaning?
3. Is it respectful? In Nittle’s words, “what would someone from that group feel about it?”

Students: Post one “artifact” from pop culture which may or may not be an example of cultural appropriation (be sure to include at least one image). Then, explain whether or not you believe it is truly an example of “cultural appropriation” by responding to the above three questions. Provide a 250-500 words analysis, and be sure to categorize your post under “Fashion and Cultural Appropriation.” DUE: Monday, April 9.

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