General Question

Yellowdog's avatar

Is there a kinder word than "appropriation" when taking on the elements of another culture?

Asked by Yellowdog (6146points) 3 months ago

“Appropriation” seems insulting to some sensitive people. Like it is patronizing or exploiting.

I think its paying homage or attributing.

If someone wants to incorporate Hanukkah into their Christmas celebrations, for instance (assuming the holidays overlapped) someone is offended. The traditions are related to different religions which have in the past even been juxtaposed

Or a Christian summer camp mostly comprised of white kids that has an “American Indian” theme—even if done respectfully, offends some Native Americans.

What can you say or do, or call it, to signify that you are an aficionado and not trivializing/patronizing?

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17 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

How about “cultural blackface”?

Dutchess_III's avatar


Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, look at the definition of “appropriation.” It’s not a nice word because it’s not a nice thing to do:

1. the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.

“Assimilation”: the act or process of assimilating, or of absorbing information, experiences, etc.: the need for quick assimilation of the facts.
the state or condition of being assimilated, or of being absorbed into something.
the process of adapting or adjusting to the culture of a group or nation, or the state of being so adapted:

filmfann's avatar

Inspired by
well, that’s better than “sampling”

Irukandji's avatar

The term you are looking for is “cultural appreciation,” but that doesn’t mean it’s the right term for what you the kinds of things you are thinking about. The problem is that you don’t get to unilaterally determine what’s respectful. Just because I say that “child rapist” is a term of endearment in my culture doesn’t mean you’re going to be comfortable with me going around saying “hey everybody, @Yellowdog is a child rapist!” Same thing with “paying homage.” Just because you think you are honoring someone or something doesn’t mean they are going to feel honored. And feeling honored is a necessary ingredient to actually being honored.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@Yellowdog is a child rapist??

I disagree @Irukandji. Appreciating something and taking it are two different things.

Demosthenes's avatar

I guess one of my issues with cultural appropriation is that you can’t really have a “spokesperson” for an entire culture. Obviously if you are doing something that you think is appreciative, but most people in that culture have a problem with, that’s an issue. If someone says it’s disrespectful because you’re trivializing something that is important to them, then your best bet it to listen to them. Don’t be insulted that they didn’t find that your good intentions cancelled out the negative feelings your “appreciation” generated. The intentions are one thing, the reception is another. Few people intend to mock when this issue comes to light. Most people see it as an homage or appreciation, but it won’t necessarily be received that way.

On the other hand, what do we do when the intention is good, the reception by some people is good, but not everyone? For example, I had a white friend who went to Japan. She received a kimono as a gift from her Japanese friend and posted pictures on Instagram of herself wearing it. Her Japanese friend liked the pictures. Other people didn’t. They thought she was a white person appropriating Asian culture. So who gets to determine what it was? The people in that culture who were not offended, or the people who were?

snowberry's avatar

That all may be true, but the other side of the coin is this, and it happens all the time.

There is the very common issue of taking offense were none is intended. Lots of times people are completely innocent in their actions, and yet are vilified by somebody who has a chip on their shoulder and and an agenda.

Irukandji's avatar

@Dutchess_III Of course they are two different things. That’s why I said that it might not be the right term for what he is thinking about. But “cultural appreciation” is an existing term for one way of interacting with or participating in other people’s cultures, and it is definitely nicer than “cultural appropriation.”

@snowberry Just because someone doesn’t intend offense doesn’t mean they should automatically be let off the hook for whatever they did. Ignorance is not a universal defense for all bad actions, even if it might mitigate how blameworthy someone is in some cases.

SaganRitual's avatar

I’m reminded of an episode of Futurama. Leela finds a race of very happy creatures on some random planet. She ends up making them very sad, and one of them says something like, this is making me have an upside-down smile. Then Leela says, “Do you mean frown?” The little creature says, “We didn’t have a word for it until now!”

When I reflect on the term “cultural appropriation”, I find that there’s no nice way to say it, because it doesn’t mean something nice. It was invented as a judgment, a put-down, a guilt- and shame-inducer. There was no word for it before. It used to be, hey, I can tell you’ve been to Mexico recently, cuz you’re wearing all those cool Mexican fashions. Or hey, I know you love Scotland and all, but plaid just isn’t your color. And you really don’t have the legs to be wearing a kilt.

Anyway, being nice is overrated.

YARNLADY's avatar

I think it is cultural recognition, but the connotation (insult or respect) is entirely subjective. I am a member of the Choctaw Nation Of Oklahoma, California Clan. I am not offended by “mundane” use of Native American words and symbols.

In my opinion, all so-called cultures represent division rather than inclusion. We all need to emphasize our likenesses rather than differences.

A related example is use of swear words. I find it repulsive and disrespectful, others consider it normal conversation.

snowberry's avatar

@Irukandji I’m not arguing with you. It takes wisdom when to recognize that it’s time to make a stand about such things and when it’s appropriate to let it go.

Personally I am in favor of just letting it go, because it’s too easy to enforce such things until it becomes politically correct nonsense.

Yellowdog's avatar

Well, I don’t really have any real projects right now that would qualify as appropriation. Though I DO teach periodically about holidays and traditions, and we observe or celebrate or participate in some way when we do,

For instance, calling myself Yellow Dog might be offensive to Yellow Dogs. Or to those of you like @Chyna who HAVE yellow dogs. Chyna might, in turn, be an insult to the Chinese.

I thought it would make a good discussion and a beneficial read—to learn what some find offensive and why, and how to keep things respectful. I’ll admit I really didn’t understand what was offensive about, say, dressing in clothing of a foreign culture or observing holidays of cultures that aren’t one’s own.

Pandora's avatar

Reverence, honoring, respect, recognition. remembrance, to enlighten in hopes of creating universal understanding. respect and compassion for each of our differences.

Patty_Melt's avatar

The word adaptation comes to mind for me.

LostInParadise's avatar

I have heard the term borrow being used which, though not disrespectful, seems highly inappropriate. No permission is being requested and there is nothing to give back.

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