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Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation may be perceived as controversial or harmful, notably when the cultural property of a minority group is used by members of the dominant culture without the consent of the members of the originating culture. This is seen as misappropriation and a violation of intellectual property rights. Often unavoidable when multiple cultures come together, cultural appropriation can include using other cultures' traditions, fashion, symbols, language, and cultural songs without permission. According to critics of the practice, cultural (mis)appropriation differs from acculturation, assimilation, or cultural exchange in that the "appropriation" or "misappropriation" refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner: elements are copied from a minority culture by members of a dominant culture, and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressly stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.
Often, the original meaning of these cultural elements is lost or distorted, and such displays are often viewed as disrespectful by members of the originating culture, or even as a form of desecration. Cultural elements which may have deep meaning to the original culture may be reduced to "exotic" fashion by those from the dominant culture. Kjerstin Johnson has written that, when this is done, the imitator, "who does not experience that oppression is able to 'play', temporarily, an 'exotic' other, without experiencing any of the daily discriminations faced by other cultures."
Conversely, cultural exchange, which some authors also choose to call "appropriation," is viewed as inevitable and contributing to diversity and free expression. This view distinguishes outright theft of cultural artifacts or exotic stereotyping from more benign borrowing or appreciation. Cultural borrowing and cross-fertilization is seen by proponents as a generally positive thing, and as something which is usually done out of admiration of the cultures being imitated, with no intent to harm them.
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