Cultural appreciation vs. appropriation


Graphic courtesy | Koko Grundler

Cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation are two opposing  things. There are ways to appreciate culture in a respectful manner, spreading the joys of others’ traditions and customs. Alternatively, many people appropriate cultures, exploiting their generational traditions or reducing them to nothing but stereotypes. People often make fun of someone’s culture, especially those which they are not accustomed to, or profit off of them without proper attribution. 

Eminem, for example, has a huge yet controversial presence in the hip-hop community. He writes and produces hip-hop music,- and has found great success within the genre, It is widely known that hip-hop music originated from within the black community DJ Kool Herc being the main catalyst of the creation of this genre. Many have conflicting feelings about Eminem and his music, making claims that his music appropriates black culture in the U.S., but no one can deny the fact that he never once claimed that he considered himself black because he wrote Hip-Hop music, nor that he surpassed black people in any way. He always credits artists who have supported and inspired him, he works with black producers and musicians, while also mentioning how much of his influence came from his rough poverty stricken background in a trailer park. Eminem never claimed he owned or invented Hip-Hop music, nor was he someone who exploited black culture. Eminem rapped about his own hardships and experiences, not about someone else’s. Not to mention, his songs were immensely popular with both black and white listeners. 

In a more ambiguous example, Elvis’ success has been perceived by many people as problematic. While black musicians such as B.B. King and Little Richard supported Elvis’ success and accredited him alone for his accomplishments, many people have argued that Elvis appropriated black music without crediting the community from where he took his inspiration.


As King said in a 2010 interview with the San Antonio Examiner, “Music is owned by the whole universe. It isn’t exclusive to the black man or the white man or any other color.” This was regarding comments accusing Elvis of taking advantage of African American artists in the rock music scene.

Agreeing with King, Little Richard said, “Elvis is one of the greatest performers who ever lived in this world.” 

On the other hand, songwriter Ray Charles took part in an interview in 1994 with Bob Costas of NBC News, arguing a very different perspective. “To say that Elvis was so great and so outstanding, like he’s the king…the king of what?” 

The argument of cultural appropriation versus appreciation has and will continue to be a very controversial matter in the musical community. Realistically,  the line between them is blurred when white people become successful in a genre from another culture. Truly, the decision as to whether an artist is appreciative or appropriative of another culture is ultimately up to the people of that respective community.