on cultural appropriation

I readily admit I could be wrong, or even naïve but I don’t seem to understand all the noise about cultural appropriation.

Recently I heard one of Canada’s leading export to the US was accused of cultural appropriation for adopting locks as a hairdo.

As students of architecture, we had a class on cultural anthropology and one of the things we learnt about culture is that it is dynamic, adoptive and many more.

My great grandfathers used to remove their lower teeth as initiation. We no longer do, just in case you were thinking I am toothless. I wouldn’t give a rat ass if some bloke from Europe decided to do the same thing tomorrow. Can’t people just grow up?

The adaptive nature of culturepdf


About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

45 thoughts on “on cultural appropriation

  1. Mordanicus says:

    Those who complain about “cultural appropriation” forget that cultural exchange is as old as humanity itself.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Cara says:

    Well today’s cultural appropriation isn’t about “some broke from Europe” deciding to remove his lower teeth. It’s Rachel Dolezal in darkened skin kinky hair becoming a higher up at the NAACP; it’s black women putting store bought hair on their heads to look more European; it’s a white guy named Marshall Mathers, III calling himself Eminem and making rap records.

    Have people always “borrowed” things from other cultures…sure. Is cultural appropriation good, bad, or indifferent…it depends on the motives behind it, the spirit in which it was done. Rachel Dolezal (a Caucasian woman) darkened her skin & kinked her hair so she could lie about her ethnicity and get a job in the NAACP. Her motive was to deceive people, which is never good.

    Marshall Mathers, III took the stage name Eminem, but did not alter his Caucasian appearance. He makes rap records, working with Dr Dre, but hasn’t lied about who he is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      The case of Rachel Dolezal I don’t think is cultural appropriation but a case of deception. Passing themselves for who they are not. Wearing a kilt would not make me Scottish, but it isn’t part of my cultural wear. Passing as Scottish is to deceive people.

      I see nothing wrong with a Eminem producing rap music just the same way I see no problem with some bloke from my hood attempting classical music.

      Rachel did not borrow anything from African Americans. Skin complexion is not cultural. Bleaching or tanning oneself to appear for who they are not is deception.


      • Cara says:

        Exactly. Rachel Dolezal didn’t appropriate or borrow, she deceived.

        A man of non-Scottish descent in a kilt (the kilt being NOT that man’s national costume) is a guy who likes Scottish culture (or who, like the Scottish, enjoys telling the English to piss off), or maybe he just finds khaki pants boring. He’s not passing as Scottish just by wearing a kilt. He’s having fun with fashion, showing some leg (which, FYI, women like) and refusing to follow trends.


  3. A couple of thoughts. It’s largely directed at (rich) white westerners who indulge in CA because it’s ‘trendy’. Not CA, per se, but whatever they are ‘appropriating’. So I guess we feel a bit wary if we are seen to be offending another, probably oppressed, ie racially/financially, culture.
    The article you cited made quite a few references to food and traditional cultural hunting/dietary habits. That’s one of the issues that comes up a lot in CA, that middle class whites are suddenly raving about the delicacies that elsewhere are regarded as the staple diet for people living in poverty (which links back to my first point). And, the prices of whatever these basic foods are gets pushed up both to buy and to eat out.
    I often wonder when I read these articles if I’m guilty of CA when I buy tofu, seitan and tempeh, which are all basic Eastern food products.
    I don’t know enough about it, tbh, but if there are grounds for offence then it’s worth being considerate. But, as you say, we are always mixing and melding cultures. Back to food. The British typical standard meal changed years ago from fish and chips to curry and chips. Is it CA when I cook curry or paella?


    • makagutu says:

      that’s an interesting line of thought.
      I don’t know what to say about the food issue.The concern about food prices is legitimate but should we stop a group of people from eating let’s say rice because the price will go up elsewhere? I have no solution but I think it is a debate worth having.

      Is it CA when I go out to eat pizza? I don’t think my grandfathers made pizza anywhere and why is no one complaining about this?


    • Amber MV says:

      No, no… please… You are NOT GUILTY for buying tofu…. oh my goodness… Japan wants you to buy tofu. It’s just tofu.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. more special snowflake crap.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ubi dubium says:

    I love when people find parts of other cultures that they like, and enjoy participating in them too. One look at my spice cabinet will tell you that! The only thing that bothers me is when somebody takes something from another culture and then claims it as originating within their own, and ignoring that it was borrowed.

    The one example that comes to mind is back in the 50’s when Pat Boone would outright steal songs from Little Richard and other African-American singers, then create his own squeaky-clean sanitized versions of them, and give no credit to the original performer. But then we already have a word for this, “plagiarism,” so I’m not sure we need to also call it “cultural appropriation”.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Arkenaten says:

    Isn’t cultural appropriation just one step toward cultural integration and cultural diversity and (one hopes) acceptance of each as simply human beings?

    Except rap. It stinks, is crude and violent and often misogynistic And I hate rap! 🙂


    • makagutu says:

      I have friends who like rap. I think I should review our friendship agreement based just on that.
      One would think cultural appropriation is a good thing until you meet with the super sensitive flock.


      • Arkenaten says:

        It states clearly in our friendship agreement: Page 19: Subsection 12, paragraph III. ( And I quote)
        No (c)rap music allowed.
        You should read the extremely tiny small print written in Russian.


        On the subject of music:
        To the mainstream music business of the 60’s Jimi Hendrix was an anomaly
        Here was a black man playing white, blues orientated rock and initially the US radio stations didn’t know what to make of him.
        So ‘black’ stations didn’t play him, and neither ‘white’ stations, yet his concerts were always sold out!


  7. You didn’t remove all your lower teeth!? DAMN! Just had all mine pulled in honor of our friendship! WTF! Now I gotta get dentures. I REALLY wish you would have told me this sooner, pal.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Swarn Gill says:

    I think there is a line that can be crossed, but this should only be when there is misrepresentation, like the Rachel Dolezal case mentioned earlier. I guess I can understand one perspective in that some people feel that let’s say by trying to adopt black culture, you get the good parts but don’t have to deal with the racial oppression. I get that in some way, but making your culture accessible to other ways, as mentioned earlier, is a sure fire way to increase empathy towards your group. Once the door is open it leads to more than just clothing or music, but questions about what life is like for someone of your culture. At least in my opinion and I think overall that we shouldn’t be so protective of our culture when others are interested in it.

    In Canada growing up, this was not an issue at all, and we were encouraged to embrace other cultures. And people from other cultures would invite you to their events and encourage you to dress in their traditional garb, etc. I always enjoyed such evenings in both direction. As someone who is half Indian, when I would see white people dress up in Indian clothing I always felt complimented and made me really appreciate that person.


    • makagutu says:

      This-> What’s wrong with this ad? – http://wp.me/ppUXF-I2o is slightly related to the issue and I honestly don’t see why there is outrage.
      Misrepresentation or deception we agree isn’t appropriation.
      Besides who is the cultural police? I think people with such issues should maybe have a cultural museum. In interaction with others, culture cannot remain static

      Liked by 2 people

  9. nannus says:

    It looks to me that this “cultural appropriation” stuff is basically an outcrop of of racism.
    I am a European and I am practicing some forms of African dance and listen to African music since more than 30 years now. According to the c.a.-theory, I am not supposed to do that. If you (as an African) do the same thing, the people who would complain would probably find it OK (, although you are East African and the music and dance I am referring to is West-and Central African). Whenever I came across the c.a.-argumentation, it was “non-white” people (according to their own self-classification, strangely taking over the racist divisions of the racists they are claming to fight) agains “white” people (according to that racist way of classifying people). If you take out the race element, the whole thing collapses.
    Being consequent, these people should also abandon their phones, cars, bycicles etc. Africans should eat neither plantains (appropriated from indonesians) nor eat corn (appropriated from americans), nor chicken (from Indonesians again). Europeans should not use ceramics, agriculture, copper, iron and writing (all introduced to Europe from the outside). You should not do philosophy and not ride bike :-). I should drink neither coffee nor wine. I should not use money. I should not use devices containg integrated cirquits. I should not write in English…
    These people mix up culture with genetics. Culture normally goes from person to person. Cultures mix. Cultures are not closed systems. They are not organism-like fixed structures.
    On what basis should some invention made by one person only be used by people who view themselves as members of the same group as the inventor. Who defines who belongs to that group and who does not and where are the boundaries of that group?
    I think I belong to every invento’s group (I am a human being), so I feel free to choose any inventions from all over the world that I like and incorporate them into my personal culture.
    The “c.a.” stuff is just bullshit (sorry, I should not say so, cattle where first domesticated in the Sudan by people speaking Nilo-Saharan languages, so while you may use the word “bullshit” (also not in English), I should not do so – althoug I should not tell you since archaeology and linguistics where invented in Europe, so you are not supposed to know 🙂 )
    And so on. Let’s simply all climb back onto the trees.
    At least this c.a.-stuff is entertaining by being so absurd.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. mclasper says:

    From what I have seen, cultural appropriation is just the next thing for the Social Justice Warriors and politically correct to complain about. According to them, wearing or using anything invented by another culture is inherently evil and racist – for some reason.
    I think groups like Black Lives Matter has run out of things to whine about, so they’re inventing new things, like cultural appropriation and ‘subliminal racism’.


  11. I reckon cultural appropriation rests on a cline of sorts. On the one hand, people borrow and reshape from other groups on a regular basis, often without thinking about it. On the other hand, some of these involve highly distasteful twists and turns, and some may even be harmful. The phrase doesn’t tell us which is which. There is no substitute for looking at the specifics.


  12. Scottie says:

    Not that anyone needs to hear it, and it has been said on here in different ways… but I am an older white male in the USA who loves learning new things about the world I live on. I love learning of new cultures and ways, and sometimes I am impressed and sometimes I am angered and even some times I am scared. To think I know everything and that I am the final judge of how people should live seems so totally silly to me, totally unreasonable. There are cultures far older than my own, and there are places that have figured out solutions to problems we have that we can’t seem to get to. To think what I know alone is the best and most, is arrogant and bigoted, in my way of thinking. You know I am excited to think tomorrow I will learn something about a part of the world I never knew about, or dreamed of. I wish all people could experience that wonder, maybe they would then be more opened minded. Many hugs


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