The Problem with Today’s Definition of Cultural Appropriation

Maxwell Jones
3 min readOct 31, 2020

Now, before you get you offended, yes, cultural appropriation is a real thing and it is a problem. But, I think that there is something inherently misleading about the way the term is thrown around so loosely today.

Probably the most common use of cultural appropriation I see is when one of the Kardashians braids their hair and then half of the internet loses their minds for maybe 6–10 hours. Then everyone kind of forgets about canceling Kylie and goes back to their normal feed.

The problem with the way most people talk about cultural appropriation, like when someone braids their hair or wears an Asian style dress, is that it fails to recognize whether or not there is a respect of the culture from the borrower of it. Unlike race, culture is not something that you are born with. You learn and experience culture from your environment, which is the reason why cultures can be transferred, shared, and experienced by anyone who seeks them out. If an American goes to Asia and partakes in their culture respectfully with appreciation, they are not appropriating anything, and they are still not asking permission from anyone to learn about the culture. Now, you might be thinking, well no shit, Max. Of course that’s not cultural appropriation, what are you, insane? Well, the thing is, is that’s exactly my point — there is too much inconsistency when trying to make cultural appropriation as inherently offensive and absolute as something like racism.

When something’s racist, it is literally always objectively wrong and stupid; what I mean by that is that there is no logical reason to be racist because we know that there is more genetic variation within populations than between them, and any stereotypes that hold any truth are most often the result of societal constructs rather than genetic differences, and are still unfair and irrational to use in assuming someone’s behavior. So, whenever someone does anything racist, whether it be implementing legislation that leads to mass incarceration of black men, or saying that someone is lazy because they aren’t White or Asian, there is nothing true or honest about what you’re saying.

Cultural appropriation, on the other hand, does not apply when you think that it applies to ANY borrowing of culture. It’s why people really don’t care for that long when the Kardashians braid their hair or when Erica wears an Asian dress to Prom. This ability to borrow culture without disrespecting it makes it much more difficult to determine when culture is actually being appropriated. That is why, to appropriate culture must mean to borrow without respect, because how do we say that someone who appreciates and values a culture is appropriating it? When the use or engagement of that culture is done without consideration or respect, like a mega Trump supporter listening to exclusively Hip-Hop and black artists but not empathizing with the struggles of Black people in America or being anti any kind of reform that would help uplift those communities. And this is INSANELY common. And I think it’s important we call hypocrisy like that out more than someone’s clothing choice or hairstyle. If it turned out George Bush loved Iraqi music, that’d be cultural appropriation, but I don’t think if Bernie Sanders was listening to Kendrick Lamar or Lil Uzi that anyone would have a problem.

And I think that it’s important that we define the real definition of this and establish a real critically thought assessment of when this is right and wrong. Otherwise, it just becomes another tool for annoying MAGA kids and old farts to talk about the left being hypersensitive, when it’s really just people reacting to things without always thinking them through completely.