Cultural Exchange or Appropriation: What’s the Difference?

Today I’m featuring videos from two amazing young women. Both give helpful definitions of what culture and cultural appropriation are, and (if you have a brain like mine) even-more-helpful definitions of what cultural appropriation is not.


(Click here to watch if the video doesn’t show up in your browser.)

Fave quotes (emphasis mine):

Cultural appropriation is when you take something from a culture that you don’t belong to and use it outside of that cultural context, usually without understanding its cultural significance and oftentimes changing its original meaning…

So what is the difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation? Cultural exchange occurs when two groups of relatively equal footing—meaning one isn’t oppressing the other—share cultural items, ideas, or traditions with each other in a respectful and informed way. A cultural group or group member is willingly sharing their culture with another group and defining the exchange on their own terms…

Cultural exploitation is the appropriation of elements of a subordinated culture by a dominant culture without substantive reciprocity, permission, and/or compensation.”

Marina also has an excellent list of questions to help us understand if a specific instance qualifies as cultural appropriation. Bonus points for tackling “the myth of the melting pot!”


Amandla talks about black hair, using black women as props, and asks the question, What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?

(Click here to watch if the video doesn’t show up in your browser.)

What did you learn from these two videos? Do they just raise more questions for you? Do you agree with what these women are saying? And were any of you as brave, wise, and self-composed as they are when you were their age? Because I sure wasn’t!

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