Newsletter: Should Artists Be Allowed to Borrow from Cultures Besides Their Own?

Should Artists Be Allowed To Borrow From Cultures Besides Their Own Debate Katy Perry


Yascha Mounk
Political Scientist; Author of “The Identity Trap”; Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies


C. Thi Nguyen
Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah; Author of “Games: Agency as Art”



Here is what we have in store this week:

We discuss cultural appropriation and what artists need to consider when borrowing from other cultures — without causing harm to these communities

A closer look at the cultures being borrowed

 Your Sunday reading list



Who owns hummus? This kind of question is one example of a conversation happening throughout fashion, music, food, and more. Where one culture may see their use somewhere else as a compliment, another may take offense, claiming it’s cashing in and that they didn’t give permission. The debate about cultural appropriation continues to evolve, as “identity theft” and identity politics become prominent factors in artists’ creative process.

What are the arguments? Some people say that putting a label on someone’s art as cultural appropriation stifles artistic expression when it’s likely the artist intends their actions as cultural appreciation instead and that artists have borrowed from one another over time. Others argue borrowing from other cultures they don’t possess deep knowledge about erases the original cultural context and significance. They also say there are times that artists need permission to borrow, especially when they stand to benefit financially from the work.

This week, we debate: Should Artists Be Allowed to Borrow From Cultures Besides Their Own? Arguing “yes” is now-six-time debater Yascha Mounk, who recently debated book banning in schools on our program and discusses cultural appropriation in his new book “The Identity Trap.” Arguing “no” is C. Thi Nguyen, a philosophy associate professor at the University of Utah who has researched the topic in relation to communities and art forms where cultural appropriation often takes place.

Which side of the debate do you stand? Listen to this debate now as a podcast or on your local public radio station.



Cultural Appropriation Or Appreciation?

















From top left: Beyoncé in traditional Indian dress; Avatar: The Way of Water; Pharrell Williams in Native American headdress; Día De Los Muertos; Karlie Kloss as a Japanese geisha; Katy Perry as “Katy Pätra”; Tom Cruise as “The Last Samurai”; Rihanna as “Princess of China”; Kim Kardashian in cornrows.




Should Artists Be Allowed to Borrow from Cultures Besides Their Own?



“A lot of the art, literature, technology, philosophy, and political systems that we all use every day have roots in many different cultures. They would not have been possible if we’d had a general suspicion of “cultural appropriation.” That is why I believe that mutual cultural exchange is one of the things we should be proud of in a diverse democracy like the United States, not something we should be worried about.”

Yascha Mounk



“Sometimes a cultural style or practice or tradition clearly belongs and is special to a community in some sense. They made it, it matters to them. In that sense, we should listen and respect their wishes. Sometimes we find a clearly stated general request to respect the sanctity and privacy of some kind of practice. In general, I think artists should worry and should check when they’re borrowing distinctive cultural practices.”

C. Thi Nguyen




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