Susan Scafidi, author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, defines cultural appropriation as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.”
Scafidi, who teaches law at Fordham University, further expounded that it can include the unsanctioned use of another culture’s music, dance, clothing, language, food, folklore, and religious symbols.
“It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects,” Scafidi explained.
All too often, a member of a dominant group will financially profit from “borrowing” the traditions or customs of a minority group. A good example of this is Miley Cyrus.
A few years back, Cyrus went through a hip-hop phase in which she made millions from appropriating Black culture. Not only did she steal the music style, but she also used Black fashion to her advantage. You may even recall her horrendous attempt at twerking—a dance move that has roots in Africa.
The problem is that minorities are seldom—if ever—given credit for being the original creators of the trends that Caucasian people popularize. This can be seen with rock ‘n’ roll as well. While the rock genre is typically associated with white people, its roots can be traced back to the blues—a style of music that was developed by African Americans.
And it’s not just Black culture that gets appropriated, either; Native American and Asian cultures are also frequently appropriated. Just think about all the “sexy Indian” costumes that come out around Halloween. Think about how Katy Perry, a Caucasian woman, dressed up as a Japanese geisha for one of her performances.
It’s not okay. Cultural appropriation perpetuates stereotypes for minorities while it benefits those who are doing the appropriating. It’s a double standard, which is why this practice needs to stop.