Understanding Cultural Appropriation & what it means to be a Respectful Traveler

Updated: Oct 14, 2018

Cultural Appropriation has been a much talked about topic and viewed as evil denounced by soi-disant social-justice warriors. As globalization soar and more and more people are traveling, these topics become even more important to address and how we can become a more democratic society especially one that honors and respect indigenous cultures and give credit where credit is due.

Although, cultural appropriation has long existed in our society before we even begin to coin the term. First coined by sociologists in the early 1990s, the phrase was only put into its official lexicon last year by Oxford Dictionary and defines it as “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.” Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University and author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, defined cultural appropriation as: “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.” (Nadra Kareem Nittle, 2017).

It is important to note the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. Yoga, for example originated from India, developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. The word yoga was first mentioned in the oldest sacred texts, the Rig Veda. The Vedas were a collection of texts containing songs, mantras and rituals to be used by Brahmans, the Vedic priests. It is a practice that is adopted by almost every country in the world without loosing its essence and all due respect is giving to its country of birth. Although, the yogi’s and yogini’s of today will argue that we are doing it all wrong in someway especially how we use it as if it is just another verb. The core issue with cultural appropriation is that, unlike cultural exchange, in which there is a mutual interchange, appropriation refers to a "particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group."