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HAT Forum @ The 519 - Cultural Appropriation

  • The 519 519 Church Street Toronto, ON, M4Y 2C9 Canada (map)

Proposed by: Moses Klein

“Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else's culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture's dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.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.”

Defintion of cultural appropriation by Susan Scafidi

“the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture”

Definition from Cambridge English Dictionary

The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.

Definition from Oxford Dictionaries online

There is much discussion in the media about cultural appropriation. Do we find the concept valid, and criticisms of alleged cultural appropriators well-founded?

  1. Is there a line between cultural borrowing and cultural misappropriation? If so, where do you draw it?
  2. Scafidi’s definition above refers to permission. Is this a feasible standard to use? Who can give permission?
  3. According to some definitions a differential in power or privilege between the originator and the appropriator is an important criterion. Is this a good standard? Why does it matter? Is it a feasible standard to use?
  4. Is it important, as the Cambridge definition suggests, whether the appriator shows an understanding or respect for the source culture? Why or why not?
  5. Most of the discussion around cultural appropriation seems to focus on appropriation from cultures belonging to groups that are racial different. Is this a significant distinction? (In other words, is there a moral difference between, say, a Scottish-Canadian artisan who selling Hungarian crafts, and the same artisan selling Indonesian crafts?
  6. What examples, if any, are there of cultural borrowing that some critics would dismiss as appropriation, but that you find valuable?

Some examples to consider: (If OK, why? If not OK, why not?)

  • Amanda PL painting in Woodlands style.
  • White rappers
  • A First Nations headdress used as fashion outside of aboriginal culture
  • A celebrity who is not Hindu performing with a bindi on her forehead
  • Halloween costumes that are quite mundane in their source cultures
  • Paul Simon’s Graceland