Cultural Appropriation

Added: 06-19-2018

In this hour-long podcast, Colin Wright summarizes the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. Appropriation, as he describes, is the use of another culture's symbols for self-expression, without the consent or consideration of the culture it came from. It also often implies that the less influential culture is forced to conform with the prevailing one.

culture racism appropriation ignorant cultural exchange Unsettling America

Type Reading Time Author Date Source
podcast 60 minutes COLIN WRIGHT 06-13-2017
Type Reading Time
podcast 60 minutes
Author Date
colin wright 2018-06-19 00:00:00 UTC
Key Takeaways
  • Cultural appropriation occurs when cultural exchange happens without consideration for the group with less power.
  • Cultural appropriation means groups with more influence take from those with less; ignoring or admonishing the rest.


In this hour-long podcast, Colin Wright addresses the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange and how white privilege plays a key role in defining each. Wright draws heavily from the blog Unsettling America to explain the difference. 

At its essence, he explains, cultural exchange as the fair and equitable exchange of cultural features. While this is uncommon, it is possible to be achieved through conscious research into the history of the opposing culture and acknowledgment of this history. Basically, the exchange should be mutual. 

Appropriation, on the other hand, is a stealing of culture from the underprivileged, where the privileged take what they desire, and disregard, ignore or degrade the subjects from whom they have borrowed. By this definition “using someone else’s cultural symbols to satisfy a personal need for self-expression is an exercise in privilege.” In recent years it has been applied broadly however, to encapsulate everything from 'blackface' to speaking in ‘Ebonics’ to sound ‘cool.' 

A classic example of example of cultural appropriation is white people wearing Native American headdresses as a style. By doing this they are using the cultural symbols of a group of people that their culture had a hand in destroying. 

Appropriation is impactful because of the power dynamic it highlights and exploits. These impacts are hard to always see clearly, largely because “Westerners are used to pressing their own culture onto others and taking what they want in return.” 

“There are so many things that have been chopped up, recolored, and tossed together to make up Western culture that even when we know things are appropriative in some way, we find them hard to let go of. Cultural appropriation is itself a real issue because it demonstrates the imbalance of power that still remains between cultures that have been colonized and the ex-colonizers.”