The Term “Cultural Appropriation”

The term “cultural appropriation” has gained popularity in recent years, sparking debate over the technical definition of the term and what constitutes as cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. The official definition claims that cultural appropriation is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” Evidently, this convoluted and nuanced definition leaves room for many interpretations and debate. Many people would agree that a non-native American person sporting a Native American headdress for Halloween would be offensive and insensitive, but it’s getting harder to distinguish what constitutes as cultural appropriation. nd celebrities appropriate cultures for profit.

Unfortunately, In a more hyper-sensitive and more socially aware society, cultural appropriation has broadened its scope to describe innocuous situations, diluting the term’s meaning (Malik). This leverges critics of the term, who believe it curtails innovation and creativity, harming cultures and races (Bradford). While it is true that many of the world’s greatest inventions would not exist without cultural exchange, it is imperative to understand the discrepancy between cultural appreciation and appropriation. Appreciation involves a tangible effort on one’s part to understand and study cultural aspects, while a core issue of cultural appropriation is the economic exploitation, or when minority groups are rewarded disproportionately compared to their white counterparts (Gray).

The music industry exemplifies this injustice. Traditional black music and sound integrated into American society in the 17th century, eventually evolving into music genres such as jazz and rock. As black sounds took roots in the U.S. and gained popularity, white producers and artists sought to capitalize by repackaging traditional black sounds and crowning themselves as the faces of the music. This power dynamic elevated white artists as racism continued to oppress African Americans, hindering them from achieving well-deserved success and recognition (Ainsley). Paul Whiteman, dubbed “the King of Jazz” and praised for his “original” sound, exemplifies the rebranding and exploitation of black culture (Ainsley). In the the 1910’s, Whiteman utilized African-American derived sounds, altering their “primitive styles” to appeal more to mainstream white America (Ainsley). As his African-American counterparts remained unacknowledged, Whiteman earned one million dollars in one year (Tomilson). Similarly, Elvis Presley grew to fame by stealing sound from black artists, further perpetuating the long-standing tradition of mainstream absorption of black musical forms. The issue isn’t that Elvis sang black originated sounds, it’s that he did s In fact, Sam Phillips, a Sun Records executive who helped Elvis rise to stardom, acknowledged this power dynamic, proclaiming “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars” (Ainsley). Executives sought to redefine black sounds and cultural aspects while disassociating themselves with black culture.

Social media has provides a new avenue for cultural exploitation.Now let’s examine today’s more racially equal and tolerable society. While society has become more equitable,the music industry’s appropriations still persists, Social media has opened a new avenue for celebrities and influencers to appropriate other cultures. plays an integral role in proliferating cultural appropriation, as it is an extremely lucrative platform for influencers and attracts billions of people.

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