We sometimes describe this mingling as ‘‘cross-pollination’’ or ‘‘cross-fertilization’’ — benign, bucolic metaphors that obscure the force of these encounters. When we wish to speak more plainly, we talk of ‘‘appropriation’’ — a word now associated with the white Western world’s co-opting of minority cultures.
The distinction between cultural diffusion and cultural appropriation can get very blurry, and I doubt that there is a ‘final word’ on the topic. What is perceived as culturally inappropriate or exploitative is not clear cut. In addition to this NY Times article about the concept of cultural appropriation, below are a few articles that can be used to discuss this idea. These topics are by nature controversial, and you can use your discretion to know which articles are appropriate for your students given their maturity level. I don’t agree with all the authors of these articles; I also don’t think these issues are perfect examples of cultural appropriation, but that is why they are helpful for a discussion.
- Indigenous Art
- Amish-labelled goods
- Redefining the N-Word
- “Why I hate White Belly Dancers”
- US ambassador to Nigeria speaks Pidgin
- Urban Outfitters using South Asian motifs
- Rap and African-American culture
Questions to Ponder: What pushes something from cultural diffusion to cultural appropriation? What makes these examples inappropriate or okay in your estimation? When do you feel cultural commodification is ‘crossing the line’ or is everything marketable fair game? What are other examples of cultural appropriation that you can think of?