Appreciation versus Appropriation

Appropriation versus appreciation is a difficult topic to discuss or even understand. It seems everyone places their line of distinction in a different place. I’ve read and written a lot about this in relation to Native American cultures. But, it is a concept that needs to be considered when looking at art by, inspired by, and stolen from any indigenous or oppressed culture.

For me, one difference revolves around intention and integrity. It’s the difference between wearing a costume and working with, acknowledging, or showing appreciation for the culture the concept originated from. That makes it tough to judge on the surface.

In an article discussing the new video by Coldplay ft. Beyonce, writer Deepa Lakshmin says “Appropriation happens when a privileged group or individual borrows practices, traditions, clothes, and so forth from a marginalized group and is praised for being cool and unique, while the marginalized culture is looked down upon for participating in the same (their own) customs….When I watch HFTW, I feel like Coldplay are visiting an extra-magical version of India as tourists and learning about the culture as they go; the viewer shares this experience with them. Maybe this is because I know Chris Martin’s activism directly helps India. He’s an ambassador for local NGOs and has spoken to Indian politicians about social justice and ending poverty. Or maybe it’s because two Indian fashion designers, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, created Beyoncé’s hand-embroidered and sequined outfits. Or maybe it’s because Sonam Kapoor, a Bollywood actress,appears in the video.”

Here is the video in question:

Another video I think high-lights a culture rather than steals from it is by Nelly Furtado for her song “Big Hoops (Bigger the Better)”. This video features world-renowned hoop dancers, including champion hoop dancer Tony Duncan.

Furtado’s video came out shortly before the infamous “Looking Hot” video by No Doubt. The author of this link (which shows the video that had been removed by the band after an uproar) says “I don’t think it’s racist, but plenty of overly-sensitive people do.” This is a clear example of how few people understand the importance of seeking to understand the difference of appreciation and appropriation, and why the conversation should continue.


“Diversity is a beautiful thing, and the conversation surrounding appropriation versus appreciation is ongoing. But if we continuously label everything that draws from another culture as appropriation, I fear artists will stop looking to other cultures for inspiration entirely.” – Deepa Lakshmin


We live in a global world. Once of the most beautiful aspects of this is how technology is bringing forth a way to virtually travel the globe, exposing us to innumerable cultures and ideas. The internet has shown me things my limited budget won’t allow me to experience in person. Inevitably we all are going to see and experience something from another culture that moves us. It may inspire us. We will try things that are new to us but a part of an old culture: foods, clothing, music, art…

I think it starts by asking yourself questions, rather than making accusations against others. Is it appropriation or appreciation when:

  • you buy “Navajo Hipster Panties” from Urban Outfitters?
  • you take a teen belly dancing class if it’s not taught by someone of Middle Eastern decent?
  • when a famous person dons a faux Native American headdress?
  • when a local store on the Santa Fe Plaza has a similar faux Plains Indian headdress in their window, and the owners are Native American (but not from a Plains tribe)?
  • when you wear jewelry purchased from a person whose culture is not the same as yours?
  • when a high fashion designer uses designs from other cultures, such as here and here and here, is it a tribute or theft?

Any time there is an instance of assumed cultural appropriation, it’s important to first pause and examine the scenario and ask questions, and to engage in dialogue to get others’ perspectives.

To that end, what are your thoughts on appropriation versus appreciation?


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