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Cultural appropriation is the use of a minority culture's religious, artistic, or other symbolism or practices by the majority culture in a way that divorces it from the original cultural context and occurs without the consent of members of the minority group. Often, what makes it appropriation rather than appreciation is the use of these symbols to promote an unrelated commercial or political agenda, in a way that benefits the majority group.

The meanings of "minority" and "majority" depend on context. In the United States, common forms of cultural appropriation are of African-American culture by white people, or of East Asian religions and culture by white people. It's still cultural appropriation in a US context even though Asian people and African people are majorities in other parts of the world.


Science Fiction and Fantasy[]

Main articles: Science Fiction


  • Using other real-world cultures as the basis of a "fantasy" or SFnal culture
    • "Avatar, the Last Airbender" appropriates native American and Asian cultures
    • Game of Thrones
    • Joss Whedon's Firefly TV series shows an Asian background (scenery, extras, writing, language) with no major Asian characters, and is called out for doing so in the fanvid "How Much Is That Geisha in the Window?"
  • Cultural tourism in SFF novels (visiting other cultures to use them as a backdrop)
    • Naomi Novik's "Temeraire" series [1]
  • Cosplaying as a character of another race/culture
  • Note that Racefail was originally characterised as the "Great Cultural Appropriation Debate of Doom", as it started with Elizabeth Bear posting on the subject of how to do cultural appropriation sensitively (hint: don't.)




Main article: Gaming

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Technology industry[]

Main article: Technology industry

  • US tech company names and branding that use language and/or symbolism from Buddhism:
    • Several companies with "zen" in their names:
      • Zendesk, founded in Copenhagen, Denmark (which has a caricature cartoon Buddha pictured on its home page and used elsewhere as part of its branding)
      • Zenefits, based in San Francisco
      • Zenfolio, based in Silicon Valley
      • ZenPayroll, based in San Francisco
      • many others [1]
    • Asana, an intranet software maker which lists "mindfulness" and "egolessness" among its corporate values.
    • Lucent (now defunct) used a logo known as "The Innovation Ring" that resembles the Zen Buddhist symbol known as the ensō.
    • Programmer kōans
  • Use of meditation and "mindfulness" in corporate wellness programs
    • Some companies use programs based on a version of "mindfulness" stripped of its religious (and political) origins with the goal of gleaning more productivity from their employees:
      • "CEOs embrace mindfulness for the same reason that they embrace all the other forms of the “new spirit of capitalism,” be it yoga in the workplace or flip-flops in the boardroom: Down with alienation, long live transgression and emancipation! No wonder [Arianna] Huffington hopes that the pursuit of mindfulness can finally reconcile spirituality and capitalism." -- Evgeny Morozov
  • Use of hip-hop culture and other aspects of African-American culture in white-dominated startup culture
    • Iman Stevenson [3] pointed out the problems with companies using African-American Vernacular English for profit when few or no African-American people are represented among those companies' executives.
  • The Apache web server shares its name with the collective name of several different indigenous North American groups of people. Apache's FAQ states that the name is simultaneously a pun ("a patchy server") and that it was "chosen from respect for the various Native American nations collectively referred to as Apache, well-known for their superior skills in warfare strategy and their inexhaustible endurance." (This comment has an insincere ring to it, but if sincere, it's an example of benevolent racism.) The Apache logo is a stylized feather. As far as we know, no people of indigenous North American descent were involved in the software's naming or branding.
  • Tomahawk is a node.js-based Web server based on Apache.
  • The Cherokee project, also a Web server, features racist cartoon imagery on its home page.
  • The Hiawatha Web server is yet another project which uses a racist cartoon depiction throughout its website, though curiously not on its front page.
  • The Jinja templating engine for Python was named after "a Japanese temple", according to its FAQ. (Actually, several different Shinto shrines in Japan have "jinja". in their name.)
  • The software project Ubuntu is named after a Southern African term meaning (as per one translation) "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity".
  • The Kali Linux distribution's creators claim, "Hindu Goddess of time and change? Philippine martial art? Cool word in Swahili? None of the above. “Kali” is simply the name we came up with for our new distribution."[4]
  • The word "wiki" was chosen by Ward Cunningham after the Hawaiian word for "quick". [5]
  • The Java programming language shares its name with the Indonesian island of Java -- the name was ostensibly chosen because "Java" is slang for "coffee" in some dialects of English, but that particular usage connotes a historical period during which Dutch colonists dominated Indonesia.
  • is a consulting company that provides businesses to startups. The Sherpa people, none of whom are involved with this organization as far as we know, are an ethnic group in Nepal.

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