On the one hand, left leaning ideologies tell us that everyone on this planet is supposed to be completely equal, with no distinctions between people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, etc. On the other hand, cultural appropriation is considered wrong in the same circles, with politicians frequently accused of appropriating other cultures by dressing up in their clothes.

How are these two views reconciled? Doesn't the concept of cultural appropriation presume that people have different cultural rights based on who their ancestors were?

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    "with no distinctions between people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, etc." Do you have a citation on that? Most of the versions I know allow distinction , but not necessarily different value.
    – origimbo
    Oct 3, 2019 at 17:46
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    @origimbo isn't the basic idea that everyone is absolutely equal at birth? Oct 3, 2019 at 17:49
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    In many cases, yes, but there are many options for what's being equalized (opportunity, benefit, value, etc.). The memified version of the distinction is given in images like those on diffen.com/difference/Equality-vs-Equity
    – origimbo
    Oct 3, 2019 at 17:55
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    @origimbo I'm not sure how "equity" could possibly apply to the abstract concept of culture Oct 3, 2019 at 17:58
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    Equity means people are treated fairly. Equity of culture means cultures are treated fairly. Not necessarily identically. Oct 3, 2019 at 18:22

2 Answers 2


Equal does not mean identical. Not all differences are discrimination.

So if you believe that someone of Culture A should not appropriate aspects of Culture B, that does not mean you are "discriminating" against a Culture A person. Just like the fact that you have the right to live in your house, and another person does not, doesn't mean that you are discriminating against other people.

Likewise, not all uses of Culture B aspects are appropriation, even if used by Culture A. Respectful and appropriate uses might be fine, especially if done with the knowledge and agreement of Culture B.

You should also note that "left-leaning ideologies" are not a coherent or well-defined group, and people might disagree about the applicability of cultural appropriation.

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    So if one is born into a family belonging to Culture A, they're not allowed to switch to Culture B without B's explicit approval? This seems to break the concept of equality at birth. Oct 3, 2019 at 17:51
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    @JonathanReez You missed the bolded part of my answer. Equal does not mean identical. Oct 3, 2019 at 17:58
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    So...who gets to decide what's respectful or appropriate? How does Culture B "agree" to this? Do they take a vote? Oct 3, 2019 at 19:22
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    @eyeballfrog You are assuming a degree of organization that doesn't exist. Just like "the right" doesn't all think the same about every issue. Oct 3, 2019 at 20:02
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    I don't think early jazz musicians asked anyone's permission before using European musical instruments to play their own rhythms and style of music. Was that cultural appropriation? Oct 3, 2019 at 21:36

"Cultural appropriation" has lost some meaning through abuse. It was originally coined to cover specific circumstances. Not all use of cultural elements by someone from a different background is appropriation. The criteria are something like:

  • must be a dominant colonial culture and one violently subordinated
  • appropriation by the dominant culture
  • the appropriation takes the thing out of context, usually making it less serious or trivial
  • the same thing done by a person from the original culture wouldn't be respected

So for example the wearing of NY Yankees baseball caps doesn't count as appropriation because it fails all those tests. The adoption of Japanese cultural items by anime fans can be trivialising, but the dominance is not strong and it's not alongside anti-Japanese racism, so it fails most of the tests.

Also the ideology is that people are of equal intrinsic value and should be treated with equal respect, not that they are currently equal or should be blindly treated identically.

So, in a hypothetical future world where there is no more anti-blackness, people might stop caring about blackface. I don't think that's within our lifetimes.

Sincere attempts to adopt a culture aren't considered appropriation, such as marrying in or genuine religious conversion.


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