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Cultural Appropriation

Cultural Appropriation


What is cultural appropriation?

Cultural appropriation refers to the borrowing or adoption of something as one’s own when it did not originate from you or your culture. This type of use occurs without proper understanding, credit, and/or permission.


What are some examples?

Examples of cultural appropriation include, but are not limited to:

  • A person who is not Indigenous wearing feathered headdresses or traditional regalia as costumes during Halloween.
  • Celebrating Cinco de Mayo (often mistaken as Mexico’s Independence Day) as an excuse to drink, wear sombreros and/or other traditional regalia.
  • A person of non-Asian or Pacific Islander descent wearing chopsticks in their hair or getting a tribal tattoo.
  • Stereotypical themed parties like a “thug party” or “cowboys and Indians.”
  • Wearing any colored face that is not yours, i.e., blackface, brownface, redface, yellowface, etc.
  • Dressing up as the opposite gender for entertainment, i.e., for "gender-bender day". This is different from drag culture.

When folks are participating in this type of behavior, it negates and trivializes the historical, cultural and ancestral practices that are sacred and meaningful.


So, what can I do?

Reflection: “When in doubt, back out”

As a general rule, if you have any doubts about whether something would be considered cultural appropriation, do not do it. It is better to avoid any means of culture appropriation than to take a risk and run into the possibility of disrespecting a culture.

This does not mean you must live life in a state of avoidance or inaction. However, when you have doubts or hesitation, it is valuable to take the initiative and learn about cultures and the significance behind their customs, symbols, regalia, etc.

When you are unsure whether something may or may not be culturally sacred, it is important to discover and unpack “the why” of your uncertainty (is it warranted or is it not?) to expand your level of cultural awareness. The key is reflection.


Cultural Appreciation

There are ways a person can learn to appreciate a culture and its customs. It all starts with researching the culture and learning about its history. With more information about a culture, you will learn what is considered sacred, and thus, something you could never “borrow.” Referencing the examples of cultural appropriation we provided in the previous tab, a non-Indigenous person who understands the tradition and significance behind the feather headdress would know it is never appropriate to put one on. With cultural knowledge, you will be able to diminish the portrayal of problematic stereotypes and instead develop an appreciation for customs and traditions that have intimate, historical meaning.


Additional Resources & Reading