What is Cultural Appropriation?

What is Cultural Appropriation?
Last Updated: June 19, 2023

The term "cultural appropriation" was first used in 1945. It is credited to the late Professor Arthur E. Christie. It originated in the latter part of the 20th century and has been the focus of heated debate ever since. It refers to taking elements of one culture and using them inappropriately or without permission. This can include everything from fashion and music to food and religious practices. Buying jewelry or apparel that may have significant cultural importance to that culture but only using it as a fashion statement is an example of appropriation. It might be taking a picture of a ritualistic event to increase your Facebook likes. The importance of cultural appropriation has increased recently.

Examples of Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation is a complicated, multifaceted problem. Cultural exchange can, on the one hand, be advantageous and enlightening, enabling individuals to learn from one another and respect various cultures. However, without respect or understanding, it can be harmful and perpetuate stereotypes and discrimination. Below are a few examples that show cultural appropriation.


In 2018, a young black child who modelled for H&M's "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle" hoodie drew criticism for the company's choice of model. This was widely perceived as a case of racial and cultural intolerance.

When a model from Victoria's Secret walked the runway in a Native American headdress in 2012, the company received criticism. This was perceived by many as an instance of insensitivity and cultural appropriation. The wearing of these headdresses by non-Native people is viewed as rude and offensive because they are considered sacred items in many Native American communities. Similar criticism of cultural appropriation has been made against those who wear traditional African haircuts but are not black or African.

Another example is the appropriation of yoga by Western cultures. Despite yoga's spiritual origins in India, it has been marketed and commodified in the West, frequently without acknowledging or respecting those origins.

The impact of cultural appropriation can be significant. It can lead to the erasure of marginalized cultures and contribute to their exploitation. It can also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce power imbalances. Hence, it is crucial to exercise caution.

Examples of cultural appropriation

How to Avoid Cultural Appropriation

To handle this issue, we must familiarize ourselves with other cultures and approach them with respect and understanding. The voices of people impacted by cultural appropriation should be heard as we seek to build a more inclusive society. Before utilizing cultural practices in marketing or branding, study the history and context of those activities.

Additionally, businesses should ask for permission from and collaborate with individuals from the culture they are taking inspiration from while fairly compensating them for their efforts. A good example of a business doing the above is Dior which ran a campaign aid that used Native American imagery in 2019. Dior developed the commercial campaign with Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO). The mission of AIO is to "educate the production teams on Native American contemporary realities and to create allies for Indigenous peoples." Given that Native American imagery was used in their advertising campaign, Dior should be commended for obtaining the help of a group that promotes Native Americans. Businesses can avoid fostering negative preconceptions and instead celebrate the diversity and richness of many cultures by respecting diversity and inclusivity.

Promoting diversity and inclusion within the business is another strategy to prevent cultural appropriation in the corporate sphere. This includes recruiting a diverse workforce and fostering an inclusive workplace where staff members express their ideas and experiences freely. If your marketing and advertising teams are homogeneous, it is more likely that they will not be familiar with cultural history, values, and norms.

Customers and members of marginalized communities' opinions should also be given priority, and businesses should take their concerns seriously and implement changes. An example of a company doing so is the tech corporation Google which has received accolades for its measures to support underrepresented groups in tech and to encourage diversity within its workforce, including providing employees with training on unconscious bias.

Brands cannot continue to make decisions in isolation. Companies should accept various viewpoints both within and externally. They should also diversity the experts, artists, consultants, and community members they work with.

Another strategy that organizations can employ to avoid cultural appropriation is to develop and implement a Cultural Appropriation Policy. Such a policy is important for visual arts, media, fashion and marketing organizations. This policy is important as it would provide a process to address and prevent cultural appropriation in work. Heart of the Beast Theatre created a cultural appropriation policy, which you can view by clicking the link below:


Businesses can avoid fostering negative preconceptions and instead celebrate the diversity and richness of many cultures by respecting diversity and inclusivity. By implementing these measures, companies can prevent themselves from spreading damaging stereotypes or devaluing cultures as simple trends.

Related: Diversity and Culture Intelligence: Everything you Need to Know

Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Appreciation

culture appropriation vs appreciation

Cultural appropriation and appreciation are two different ideas that are frequently mixed up. When a dominant culture absorbs aspects of a minority culture without recognizing or respecting its value, this is known as cultural appropriation. The culture's history and customs may be erased, becoming little more than passing trends or fashion statements. On the other hand, Cultural appreciation is becoming knowledgeable about and respecting various cultures and appreciating their relevance and contributions to society. For instance, Cultural appreciation can be demonstrated by commemorating Cinco de Mayo by learning about Mexican history and culture and helping out locally owned Mexican businesses. But failing to comprehend the historical significance of donning a sombrero and sipping tequila can constitute cultural appropriation.

Another example of cultural appreciation is the cosmetics company Shea Moisture which has received praise for its dedication to inclusivity in its product offerings, which include elements and customs from African and Caribbean cultures. It also works with people from these communities to ensure their contributions are appropriately acknowledged and compensated.


In summary, cultural appropriation is a complicated problem requiring serious thought and comprehension. Respecting and understanding other cultures, encouraging diversity and inclusivity in the workplace to foster a better understanding of them, working with people from those cultures, and putting into place a policy that will help to raise awareness of cultural appropriation and provide a procedure for dealing with it can all help to prevent cultural appropriation. We may endeavour to make the world more equal and promote cultural appreciation by being aware of our actions and respecting people from other cultures.

Cindy Baker
Natasha Chimphondah
Natasha Chimphondah is a motivated and experienced Organizational Development Consultant with a passion for helping businesses thrive. Natasha has honed her skills in Board Evaluation, employee engagement, and Job evaluation. Natasha is also an accomplished writer, having published numerous business articles on topics ranging from workplace culture to leadership development. Their writing is known for its clarity, insightfulness, and practicality. As a consultant, Natasha is confident in her ability to identify areas of improvement within an organization and develop effective solutions that drive results. And with their enthusiasm for the work they do, Natasha is always eager to take on new challenges and help businesses achieve their goals.

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