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Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It describes acculturation or assimilation, but can imply a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture. It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held.
Appropriation practice involves the 'appropriation' of ideas, symbols, artifacts, image, sound, objects, forms or styles from other cultures, from art history, from popular culture or other aspects of human made visual or non visual culture. Anthropologists have studied the process of cultural appropriation, or cultural borrowing (which includes art and urbanism), as part of cultural change and contact between different cultures.
The term cultural appropriation can have a negative connotation. Cultural conservatives apply it when the subject culture is a minority culture or somehow subordinated in social, political, economic, or military status to the appropriating culture; or, when there are other issues involved, such as a history of ethnic or racial conflict between the two groups. A more neutral term is cultural assimilation which does not imply blame.
Cultural and racial theorist, George Lipsitz, outlined this concept of cultural appropriation in his seminal term "strategic anti-essentialism." Strategic anti-essentialism is defined as the calculated use of a cultural form, outside of your own, to define yourself or your group. Strategic anti-essentialism can be seen both in minority cultures and majority cultures, and are not confined to only the appropriation of the other. However, as Lipsitz argues, when the majority culture attempts to strategically anti-essentialize themselves by appropriating a minority culture, they 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.
Cultural appropriation may be defined differently in different cultures. While academics in a country such as the United States, where racial dynamics had been a cause of cultural segmentation, may see many instances of intercultural communication as cultural appropriation, other countries may identify such communication as a melting pot effect.
Cultural appropriation has also been seen as a site of resistance to dominant society when members of a marginalized group take and alter aspects of dominant culture to assert their agency and resistance. This is exemplified in the novel Crick Crack, Monkey by Merle Hodge when those who are colonized appropriate the culture of the colonizers. Another historical example were the Mods in the UK in the 1960s, working class youth who appropriated and exaggerated the highly tailored clothing of the upper middle class.
Justin Britt-Gibson's article for the Washington Post looked at the appropriation of Jamaican culture by Italians and of other cultures by African-Americans as a sign of progress:
Throngs of dreadlocked Italians were smoking joints, drinking beer, grooving to the rhythms of Bob Marley, Steel Pulse and other reggae icons. Most striking was how comfortable these Italians seemed in their appropriated shoes, adopting a foreign culture and somehow making it theirs. The scene reinforced my sense of how far we've come since the days when people dressed, talked and celebrated only that which sprang from their own background. For the first time in my life, I was fully aware of the spiritual concept that we're all simply one.
That sense hasn't left me. Everywhere I look, I see young people -- such as my two younger brothers, a Japanese-anime-obsessed 11-year-old and a pastel-Polo-sporting 21-year-old -- adopting styles, hobbies and attitudes from outside the culture in which they were raised. Last month in a Los Angeles barbershop, I was waiting to get my trademark Afro cut when I noticed a brother in his late teens sitting, eyes closed, as the barber clipped his hair into a "'frohawk", the punk-inspired African American adaptation of the mohawk. Asked why he chose the look, the guy, without looking up, shrugged, "Something different." Immediately, I understood. Minutes later, his "different" cut became my new look.
Michael Lazarus, a Native American, in his essay Anti-racist Measures Take Culture Away From Sports published by the Lowell Observer writes that the use of an ethnic symbol by a sports team is a progressive, liberal act that can be used by a culture to embrace history rather than hide from it.
A common sort of cultural appropriation is the adoption of the iconography of another culture. Examples include sports teams using Native American tribal names, wearing jewelry with religious symbols such as the cross without any belief, appropriating other culture's history such as tattoos of Polynesian tribal iconography, Chinese characters, or Celtic bands worn by people who have no interest in, or understanding of their original cultural significance. When these artifacts are regarded as objects that merely "look cool", or when they are mass-produced cheaply as consumer kitsch, people who venerate and wish to preserve their indigenous cultural traditions may be offended. In Australia, Aboriginal artists have discussed an 'authenticity brand' to ensure consumers are aware of artworks claiming false Aboriginal significance. The movement for such a measure gained momentum after the 1999 conviction of John O'Loughlin for the fraudulent sale of works described as Aboriginal but painted by non-indigenous artists.
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. For instance, 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, and Greco-Roman, innovations, respectively. On the other hand, when the middle-class Slovenian band Pankrti adopted the style of London punk music rooted in unemployment and other issues specific to the UK, it was seen in Yugoslavia as the spread of British culture and its adaptation to the local setting.
Leprechauns appear in many Celtic mythological motifs, and the reduction of this mythological figure to a set of stereotypes and clichés may be perceived as offensive.[not in citation given] A common term among the Irish for someone who appropriates or misrepresents Irish culture is Plastic Paddy.
In some cases, a culture usually viewed as the target of cultural appropriation can become implicated as the agent of appropriation, particularly after colonization and an extensive period re-organization of that culture under the nation-state system. For example, 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". A bindi dot when worn as a decorative item by a non-Hindu woman could be considered cultural appropriation, along with the use of henna in mehndi as a decoration outside traditional ceremonies.