Q: What's the difference between a jazz guitarist and a rock guitarist?
A: A rock guitarist plays 3 chords in front of thousands of people.
Cultural appropriation happens. Period. Full stop.
Like forensics at a crime scene, two cultures cannot encounter each other without incurring some mutual contamination.
The dominant culture is typically blind to any negative impact they make on the other culture. Any change they recognize is seen only as a god thing.
They absorb whatever they fancy from the non-dominant culture, rarely asking what it is for, what it represents. Objections to their trivialization of other cultures is treated as…trivial.
There is a pragmatic logic to this -- things are things, meant to be used -- and not all cultures, much less all individuals in those cultures value things the same way.
But there is also the matter of individuals (or groups, or cultures) deliberately undercutting the validity of others by taking their unique experience and re-casting it as something for the dominant group to possess as the sole curators and interpreters.
An example of cultural appropriation done right is rock’n’roll, derived from rhythm & blues.
While rock remains a predominantly white expression in the US, it never denigrates but rather always celebrates its origins in old African-American blues.
African-American blues are neither ignored nor compromised, but still flourish as a unique expression of that experience.
Further, in addition to rock, the blues have also evolved into a number of other uniquely African-American and multi-cultural music forms.
But at the opposite end of the spectrum we find the wrong kind of cultural appropriation in the use of Native American symbols and names in sports.
Now, the standard defense is that those names are tributes to the peoples and tribes and cultures they are derived from, but one finds this claim rather nonsensical: There are no Nashville Negroes or Jersey Jews sports teams, for instance.
To call a team by a derogatory name (i.e., “redskins” = “non-whites”), especially in face of opposition by the very people being insulted, is a total negation of the experience of those people and their culture.
It is saying: “You do not really exist. You have never really existed. You are nothing except the fantasy we have created to represent you.”
But as always, we contradict ourselves (and why not? We are large, we contain multitudes).
[8/1] We do have the occasional team of Sheiks but those are almost always traced to an idolization of a fictional character portrayed by a famous actor than any real connection to Arab / Islamic culture, so perhaps that’s an example of double secret negative cultural appropriation.
[8/2] Going back to the fact there are always exceptions to the rule, the Florida State Seminoles sports team has licensed the name and specific cultural icons of the Seminole tribe, paying the tribe a yearly fee to use that name and those icons, and giving them final say in how they are used. So in this specific case, the use of the Seminole name really is a tribute to those people because they are being paid for it.