Cultural Appropriation or Appreciation?

27 October 2019

Report by Bobb Drake.

It’s not easy being a culture vulture, a self-serving individual or corporation looking to steal and profit from the cultures of disenfranchised ethnicities and indigenous peoples. But everyone has to make a living, right? And preferably a good one. A very good one. 

Why, the world is your apple orchard, and there are so many amazingly delicious, juicy red apples ripe for the picking—unique cultures with long and storied histories, sacred traditions and designs developed over millennia. It’s all too tempting to grab one and take a bite.

Admittedly, this is probably not you. Your intentions are probably good. You appreciate the rare and unique among the world’s cultures and what they have to offer. You want to honor them and be inclusive of them in your business, whatever business you might be in. 

Yet, perceptions trump intentions, and companies run a great risk of being perceived by the general public as self-serving, profiteering cultural appropriators, carelessly and openly stealing from relatively vulnerable cultures—all in the name of the almighty dollar.

So how do you do it right? How do you approach cross-cultural inspiration and borrowing with honor and integrity, with respect and recognition, and ensure both the affected culture and the general public know that you did your due diligence and truly care?

It’s not easy. But it’s possible. Good intentions are not enough. Nor is being knowledgeable and appreciative of the culture who has inspired you so.

Something more is needed: cultural outreach and collaboration; documentation and public awareness.

Let’s take a look at a timely example in honor of the upcoming Mexican holiday Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead, which is also popular in parts of the US given the large populations of Americans with Mexican ancestry. As a testament to the holiday’s cultural significance, it is worth noting that it is included in the UNESCO Lists of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

This has been a preview. The full report can be accessed online by Nimdzi Partners.

The full publication contains information on why Mattel's Día de Muertos Barbie was a controversial product and the thin line between cultural appreciation and appropriation every company looking to reach global audiences should be aware of. If you are not a Nimdzi Partner, contact us.


This report was researched and written by Nimdzi's Director of Geocultural Research, Bobb Drake. If you wish to learn more about this topic, feel free to reach out to Bobb at [email protected].

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