Cultural Appropriation and Cultural Exchange- What’s the Difference?

Features of cultural appropriation involve cultural “misappropriation,” which refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner.

Elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture. These elements are used outside of their original cultural context, sometimes even against the wishes of representatives of the originating culture. Often, the original meaning of these cultural elements is lost or distorted, and such displays are often viewed as disrespectful by members of the originating cultural. Cultural elements which may have deep meaning to the original culture may be reduced to “exotic” fashion.

What makes cultural exchange different from cultural appropriation is power.

Most notable is the power of the privileged to try on and normalize a cultural element of another group, while the group being appropriated from is often demonized and then excluded from participation in their own cultural expressions. There are many instances of wrongful misappropriation, such as when the subject culture is a minority culture or is subordinated in social, political, economic, or military status to the dominant culture or when there are other issues involved, such as a history of ethnic or racial conflict. Cultural boundaries are fluid and shifting. Cultural systems may be significantly transformed by different forces and influences. The larger process of cultural evolution also involves cultural borrowing, acculturation and cultural exchange.

Mutual exchange happens on an “even playing field”, whereas appropriation involves pieces of an oppressed culture being taken out of context by a people who have historically oppressed those they are taking from.

Usually there’s an inequality between the two cultures, one which appropriates and the other which is appropriated. For example, although American culture is adored across the world it’s not seen as cultural appropriation. Appropriation is taking from a weaker culture. For instance, a member of a dominant group can assume the traditional dress of a minority group for a Halloween party. Yet, they remain blissfully unaware of the roots of such dress and the challenges those who originated it have faced in Western society.

In appropriation, nothing goes back to the community that created the cultural idea. There’s no copyright to be enforced.

Thus, this sort of “borrowing” is exploitative because it robs minority groups of the credit they deserve. Art and music forms that originated with minority groups come to be associated with members of the dominant group. As a result, the dominant group is deemed innovative and edgy.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Uddeshya Delhi

Uddeshya Delhi

Uddeshya Delhi is the newest chapter of the nationwide and youth-run organisation, Uddeshya. Our motto is, 'Empowering Youth, Fueling Change'.