5 Things People Keep Getting Wrong About Cultural Appropriation

It can create a slippery slope, but it doesn’t always deserve the outrage it inspires.

Jeremy Helligar

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The name of Michael B. Jordan’s new rum brand earned him accusations of cultural appropriation on social media. (Photo: Instagram)

The times they are a-changing — and so is the language we use that define them. As racial awareness continues to steadily rise, our lexicon has become inundated with race-related buzzwords and phrases no-one was using a decade ago (“microaggressions,” “antiracism,” “White fragility”), and for many, some of those words and phrases, like “cultural appropriation,” are as misunderstood as “racism” continues to be.

This week, the buzzwords flew as watchdogs on social media leveled accusations of cultural appropriation against actor Michael B. Jordan over a new business venture. While some of the criticism was constructive and warranted, some of the snark underscored the complicated nature of a concept many people don’t fully understand.

If you live in the real world, it’s next to impossible to always stay in one’s lane culturally. We borrow from other cultures every day without thinking about it — whether it’s an Asian-American hip-hop dancing for exercise, a White girl twerking for fun, or a Black person wearing a kimono as a robe — and usually, it’s not the end if the world. Screaming “That’s cultural appropriation!” at every perceived offense isn’t as damning as it might sound.

Cultural appropriation becomes a hot mess in a socio-political sense only when someone from a dominant culture exploits some key aspect of an historically subjugated culture for their own personal gain, whether the benefit is praise on social media or a financial windfall, without permission, compensation, or acknowledgment. It has to be disrespectful in some way.

For cultural appropriation to pose a clear and present danger, there also must be a legacy of discrimination between the cultures involved. This is why, considering the treatment of Native Americans over the course of U.S. history, a White person wearing a Native American headdress…

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Jeremy Helligar

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj