Books and Blogs About Cultural Appropriation

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Who Owns? - Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law. Rutgers University Press

Cultural appropriation is a complicated topic. Although the issue often appears in news headlines when clothing chains such as Urban Outfitters or singers such as Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry face accusations of cultural appropriation, the concept remains difficult for many people to grasp.

The most simple definition of cultural appropriation is that it occurs when members of a dominant culture borrow from the cultures of minority groups without their input.

Typically those doing the “borrowing,” or exploiting, lack a contextual understanding of what makes the cultural symbols, art forms and modes of expression significant. Despite their ignorance of the ethnic groups from which they borrow, members of the majority culture have frequently profited from cultural exploitation.

Given that cultural appropriation is such a multi-layered issue, a number of books have been written about the trend. Members of marginalized groups have also launched websites specifically devoted to educating the public about cultural appropriation. This overview highlights noteworthy literature and websites about this persistent phenomenon.

Cultural Appropriation And The Arts

This book by James O. Young uses philosophy as the foundation to examine the “moral and aesthetic issues to which cultural appropriation gives rise.” Young highlights how white musicians such as Bix Beiderbeck to Eric Clapton have gained from appropriating African-American musical styles.

Young also addresses the consequences of cultural appropriation and whether the trend is morally objectionable. Moreover, can appropriation lead to artistic successes?

With Conrad G. Brunk, Young also edited a book called the Ethics of Cultural Appropriation. In addition to exploring cultural appropriation in the arts, the book focuses on the practice in archaeology, museums and religion.

Who Owns Culture? - Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law

Fordham University Law Professor Susan Scafidi asks who owns artforms such as rap music, global fashion and geisha culture, to name a few. Scafidi points out that members of culturally exploited groups typically have little legal recourse when others use their traditional dress, music forms and other practices as inspiration. The book is billed as the first to investigate why the United States offers legal protections for works of literature but not for folklore. Scafidi asks larger questions as well. Specifically, what does cultural appropriation reveal about American culture overall. Is it as innovative as widely thought or the byproduct of “cultural kleptomania?”

Borrowed Power: Essays on Cultural Appropriation

This collection of essays edited by Bruce Ziff focuses specifically on Western appropriation of Native American cultures. The book explores the artifacts, symbols and concepts typically targeted for appropriation. A range of people contributed to the book, including Joane Cardinal-Schubert, Lenore Keeshig-Tobias, J. Jorge Klor de Alva, Hartman H. Lomawaima and Lynn S. Teague.

Native Appropriations

This long-running blog examines representations of Native Americans in popular culture through a critical lens.

Adrienne Keene, who is of Cherokee descent, runs the blog. She is pursuing a doctorate in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education and uses the Native Appropriations blog to examine images of Native Americans in film, fashion, sports and more. Keene also offers tips to the public on combating cultural appropriation of Native peoples and discussing the issue with the person who insists on dressing up as a Native American for Halloween or supporting the use of Native Americans as mascots.

Beyond Buckskin

The Beyond Buckskin website not only addresses the appropriation of Native American fashion but also features a boutique with jewelry, accessories, clothing and more crafted by Native American designers. “Inspired by relevant historical and contemporary Native American clothing design and art, Beyond Buckskin promotes cultural appreciation, social relationships, authenticity and creativity,” according to the website.

Jessica Metcalfe (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) maintains the website. She has a doctorate in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona.