Cultural Appropriation

One of the odder concepts that have become popularised over the last few years is the idea of cultural appropriation. The most popular example is people at music festivals wearing Native American headdress. It is a sacred item to Native Americans and wearing it is frowned upon because they don’t like it. It is reasonable to view someone who isn’t a Native American wearing one as culturally insensitive. They aren’t doing it out of malice, just cluelessness.

You can criticise people wearing Native American headdresses without the need for the concept of cultural appropriation as I did in the previous paragraph.

What fired me up about this today was this article:

Drake, by starring in Top Boy, you are appropriating British working class culture

The idea that culture is owned by various identities and should be controlled by those identities is deeply problematic and tied to copyright. One of the first academics to write on cultural appropriation is Susan Scafidi, a fashion law professor. Her book Who Owns Culture?: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law is one of the most widely cited works arguing in favour of the concept.

Culture is participatory, culture is living and culture is to be shared. It seems to me that policing who can use culture is aimed at making cultural paupers of us all. I could go on, but the best arguments all seem to be compiled in this excellent essay:

The Curse of the Macaw Feather Headdress

I thought I would start this thread to make sure other Pirates are on the same page as me on this before I start tweeting about it from the PPAU account. Thoughts?


Same page. Carry on with the good work.

I think the line gets drawn at or around attribution.
Don’t express culture that does not originate from you and then claim otherwise.


I’m of the opinion that as long as your usage of the culture is respectful and makes a genuine effort to be positive there’s no cause for concern. If you enjoy American Indian culture and you wear the headdress as a sign of homage and you wear it with same respect you would towards equivalent item of your own culture (eg. Australian flag) then it’s all good.

It seems silly to crucify somebody for admiring, experiencing and ultimately promoting your culture. Seems like something that should be encouraged.


It is unaustralian to NOT denegrate the Australian flag and culture in general.

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Seems about right. All culture is appropriated- by children from their parents, between families, between regions. Even monkeys develop cultural practices and copy them from each other. “Cultural appropriation” is a tautology when you consider what culture is and how it works.

The crumb of truth in the cultural appropriation shit-sandwich is that we shouldn’t ridicule people. But the “cultural appropriation” crowd didn’t invent that idea. They just surrounded it with nonsense.


If the only people who provide input on this topic are white men, I would be confident to say that the party isn’t ready to make a statement or put forward a stance on this.

Here’s a nuanced piece that I particularly like and counters some of the arguments put forward here.

I think i will slash wrists now.


I will poke the relevant minority members to comment on it, if that is what will get it a pass from you.

We are pirates, we are about free culture. The hand-wringing in the article to me embodies the criticism of the concept in the article I posted: “A world seen through the lens of one’s own anxiety about causing offence is a culturally impoverished world, a world of narcissistic misery.”

That is not a world I am willing to participate in. If I experience it, it is my nature to play with it. I drum with African immigrants (among others) at full moon beach parties from time to time in Wollongong. The rhythms I develop in that jam are as much a part of me as my right hand. They then come out in my other music, they are a part of me and need expression. If I can’t express it, I don’t want to experience it because culture is participatory.

If I get to talk about my music, I am happy to say my music is influenced by Jamaican artists, originally King Tubby, who was the father of dub, and influenced all modern dance music. I know the history and give credit where credit is due. Same with the funk and hip hop influences in my music. The Golden Rule as it is for most things is “don’t be a dick”.

For me the specific issue for native Americans is that it is a sacred item. The Australian equivalent would be doing your own dot paintings for public display (which would be worse an offence in the Australian context). I wouldn’t confront someone in a native American headdress, but I would assume they were culturally insensitive, much like I make judgements of people wearing Make America Great Again hats (which is a bigger cultural faux pas to me).

My brief thoughts are that cultural appropriation is a good thing, as it brings cultures together.

The biggest complaint against it seems to come from members of oppressed cultures whose culture is coopted by oppressive cultures.

My response to that is that the oppression shouldn’t happen in the first place, but that once it’s happened, don’t penalise the people trying to take part in your culture, because they’re not the enemy.

And as always, if you’re just trying to be a dick, then you’re probably being a dick, and you should probably stop being a dick.

What the hell does skin colour have to do with culture?

Are you confusing it with race?

Now actual real important cultural appropriation issues, we should identify with and take seriously:

For what its worth I vehemently disagree with Olivia in this article. It is not a small thing. It is real. And it does matter. I am offended when my culture is dismissed as not real, or the fact that someone watches Star Wars they feel as entitled to say what the culture means as someone like me.

Not a real nerd.

World Of Warcraft player of several years. Trekkie.Real nerd.

Eve Online player. Real nerd. RIP.

Still plays Dungeons and Dragons since teenager. Nerd.

Not a nerd.


Jim Parsons - the issue is not that the character he plays appears to have a weird form of aspergers and they wont clarify if he does or does not. Thats fine. A lot of nerds display this behaviour or have actual aspergers. Its the using nerd culture as a prop and then the culture only gains validation when it is accepted by someone of the mainstream culture aka Penny. Thanks Penny. Without you my life would have no meaning.

Anyway I’m on the I hate cultural appropriation side despite usual lack of caring about this type of discussion.

Now hows that for some white male privilege first world problems.

In the case of sacred symbols, best left to members of that sacredness, i e. not being a dick; when it comes to any other form of cultural expression, regardless of ethnicity, originating culture or whatever form of discriminatory language use is preferred (like ‘race’, there’s only one, homo sapiens sapiens, so kill your white male privilege bullshit) it’s open season - all that fashion is culturally appropriated from MY community and picked up by the dominant hegemony about 5 years too late - we are social, we need each other so quit with the division bells… I’m on the page I think

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I will poke the relevant minority members to comment on it, if that is what will get it a pass from you.

That’d certainly help.

Your participation in drumming circles and later go on to derive work from the patterns and rhythms you learn there sounds exactly like the cultural exchange that the everydayfeminism post was saying is a good thing. You’re obviously doing it with respect and your not being massively disproportionately rewarded for using it.

There seems to be this massive straw man that’s been built up around cultural appropriation. There have been examples in this thread of things that clearly aren’t okay but everyone wants to point at the things they want to be allowed to keep doing and putting that up as the thing that’s being called into question and then passing off everything that we agree is not okay as not part of cultural appropriation.

I think it is the idea of cultural appropriation that is the straw man. The Curse of the Macaw Headdress article in the original post is a critique of the everydayfeminism article. It really gets to the root of the problem with the concept.

Cultural appropriation is built on the idea that culture is property. We are pretty clear on this issue outside of that context. We were founded on the idea that culture is free, as in freedom. Once you experience a piece of culture, if it is any good, or really bad, it affects your brain. It changes the way you think, feel and experience the world, even if it is just while living the experience. Once it effects your brain, it becomes a part of you.

From the article (bolded the best bits):
This was already evident when the popular critique of cultural appropriation first appeared (eg. Coombe 1993): the concept of cultural appropriation requires a concept of cultural property, and a conception of the individual as having an identity composed of this property. In its demotic form, the form you encounter when you log on to find out whether your consumption of cultural paraphernalia is ethical or not, this is an implicitly neoliberalising concept of the self; it is no coincidence that the exponential growth in ‘cultural appropriation’ citations coincides with the entrenchment of an economy dependent on batshit insane intellectual property rights.

This is exactly why I see combating the idea as important. It is a part of the broader fight over intellectual property as a concept. Copyright and patents are legal expressions of the idea that ideas and culture are property. This is a fight we are intimately engaged in, and this is another part of that fight.

I have been trying to illustrate that you can criticise poor usage of others culture without the concept of cultural appropriation, because of the implications of the use of the term I describe above. It is unnecessary to describe racist use of others culture.

To me, the ridiculous examples like Drake being called out for taking an acting role in Top Boy are a result of the wrong-headedness of the concept itself.


The Who - Baba O’Riley

DJVU - Layered image compression format. At least 5 times more efficient than PDF and open source ( but patented by ATT ).

Genetic Programming of mathematical operators to create dozens of royalty free versions of the DJVU encoder/decoder. Hosted in New Zealand who recently abolished software patents and India and others.

Let’s host GIT here and there too. Campaign for GPLv4 to have a zero liability clause.

Then we have university.

There is no ‘revenge’ of the nerds. Just offshoots of the messenger.

The conversation is also true.

I feel compelled to throw my own two cents in here. I think your topic, cultural appropriation, touches on a bigger issue that really needs addressing. This is the current trend of allegedly “progressive” individuals/groups to use blanket/subjective terms like “offence”, “sensitivity”, “privilege”, etc to divide communities and restrict freedoms. An immediate to-hand example is in this very thread - those of a specific race and gender should be limited in their ability to decide on the topic (my phone won’t let me quote). But the topic is an objective one. The individual’s opinion and their race, gender or minority-group membership are (or bloody well should be) orthogonal.

It’s not my intention to hijack this the thread, but I do feel we need a broader discussion about the topic. To return to the topic at hand, I feel the very concept of “cultural appropriation” is a load of first-year humanities-student bollocks, labouring under the delusion their field is an engineering or scientific discipline. Now, armed with the most basic understanding of human interaction, along such lines as gender, culture, ethnicity, religion, and sexuality, they know how the world should be and decided it is their job to fix it.

However, substantive problems like oppression, poverty, apartheid and slavery are damned difficult to resolve. But throwing in with a bunch of yammerheads enrolled in agenda driven bullshit studies, that’s easy - once you have sufficient yammerheads, you can merrily invent new, unfalsifiable, reasons to justify labelling someone a racist, nazi or bit.

Armed with this new fallacious justification, they can now pick a target and harass the individual - and no TRUE Scotsman is innocent of what they’re wound up about this week. Screaming abuse at them in the street - after all, they’re a member of a designated (by yammerhead mob) oppressor group and have no right to exist. Hounding their employer, trolling their social media, and just generally making damned sure that your target is deprived of their employment, freedom of movement and shunned from platforms of free expression. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

All the while, you and your fellow yammerheads have created a nice little echo chamber where everyone gives your ego a good stroking for your good work standing up to the bastard. It’s already activism as intellectual masturbation, wouldn’t removing “intellectual” from that make for an interesting study.

But this of course comes back to the concept of ownership, property rights, and offence. All of which are fictitious, an individual( or group) can’t own an idea, they have exclusive right to a mode of expression. We are all the product of our influences, the sub of our experiences. We should have the right to express ourselves freely, regardless of the medium, or “cultural property” involved in that expression.

This ultimately circles back around to the concepts of ownership, property rights and offence. All are constructs of a social system - an entity can’t own an idea, nor can they have a monopoly on a mode of expression. We’re all the product of our influences ground up with the sum of our experiences. We should have the right to express ourselves freely, regardless of the medium, or “cultural property” involved in same.

The last remaining bit of the “cultural appropriation fallacy” is the matter of offence (I’m mystified that offensensitivity is MIA). Several people have already expressed that when people engage in cultural matters, it seems to be respectful/inoffensive. That’s a restrictive concept in its own right. First - something being offensive does not automatically make it bad. Shickelgruber and pals would have found the suggestion that Jews have human rights very offensive. I’m sure in it’s time a lot of people thought the idea that you could not own another person was offensive, I’m also fairly sure a lot of people were offended when someone put forward the idea that woman should vote. Today, many people find the idea that everyone should be entitled to a basic income regardless of employment to be a very offensive idea, for that matter, I believe some people will find what I have written here to be offensive. But just because these ideas are offensive dose not make them bad, if a person is offended, then before they raise issue, they should first question if the issue is what they believe. But they should never seek to restrict the freedoms of someone else just because they are offended.

But that’s just one humble programmers opinion.


Absolutely agree. Modern diet, fashion, technologies… even society itself… it’s all a product of the integration of ideas from other cultures. Branding any and all attempt at that kind of integration as “cultural appropriation” and frowning upon it is not only counterproductive, but also divisive and ignorant.

Again, respect is key. Recognize and respect where these ideas are coming from, show some gratitude, and “don’t be a dick”.

Sacredness is very relative and it seems ridiculous to expect everyone to share the same cultural context of sacredness you do.

It seems to imply that you can take two sticks, and bind them together and then burn the object and it’s all good, but if your X has right corners and the point of intersection is a bit off centre suddenly we have a Christian cross and a non-Christian is suddenly supposed to show reverence for what amounts to two pieces of wood stuck together?

Same goes for the dot paintings. If you simply enjoy the visual style and you remix it into something unrelated should you be crucified when the reason you chose that visual style is that you saw something valuable in it? Again, to me it feels like it should be encouraged.

I’ve encountered Americans using Australian slang and I didn’t think: “Look at those culture thieves!” but instead “Awesome, our culture is being embraced by the world!”.


meh … B- … could do better.

It is a good point, I touch on general issues with identity politics in the Analysis of the Political Situation thread. It could be useful to discuss separately, but it is relevant to this debate too. If we get sidetracked, we can always split it into a new topic.

I think you are both getting at the same point so I want to clarify. Firstly, I’m not proposing any law or legal protection from offence. I am only talking about my own subjective values being applied in specific circumstances and my own personal value judgements about others’ cultural choices. People can do what they like. I will judge them by my own personal interpretation of the ‘don’t be a dick’ rule. Everyone makes snap judgements about people they haven’t met before based on subjective cues, I am just stating my own prejudice here.

I think both indigenous Americans and Australians have been fucked over by colonialism. Indigenous Australians have had their culture suppressed, the stolen generations was a direct assault on aboriginal culture where children were taken from their families and their culture and indoctrinated into Christianity. On most measures, they are the most marginalised group in the country. The power relationship between the Australian ‘Western’ culture and their own cultures are massively tilted in favour of westerners.

Aboriginal art is valuable as a cultural practice to aborigines. Economically it brings in millions of dollars to otherwise impoverished remote communities. If it were socially acceptable for new Australians (as in Westerners) to make aboriginal art, the money for those remote communities would dry up. Making and selling aboriginal art as a Westerner is IMO a dick move.

When it comes to the sacred artefacts of people who haven’t been systematically marginalised, do whatever you like, I probably won’t care. I actually discussed this in relation to sexy nuns outfits with someone on Facebook, who wondered why I wouldn’t find it offensive. It is because of the power relationship. The Catholic Church is one of the most powerful organisations on the planet. Artists from Wiradjuri country are marginalised. Out of respect for the plight of marginalised cultures I treat them with more respect than others.