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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Cultural Appropriation



Practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), which uses the ABC Model, I remain mindful of the fact that a situation doesn’t lead to my unpleasant experience, because—and contrary to common misunderstanding—there is no Action-Consequence (A-C) connection that causes my outcome.

Rather, when an event occurs and I believe something about it; it is my assumption that results in an aftereffect. This is known as the Belief-Consequence (B-C) connection.

Given this framework, REBT operates on Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetusproposal, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” This psychotherapeutic method requires that an individual take personal ownership for self-disturbing beliefs.

As well, REBT uses logic and reason to examine these unproductive assumptions. Here are two examples of how sound versus unsound logic may impact a person’s inflexible convictions which lead to uncomfortable outcomes:

Sound logic –

Major premise 1: All humans are mortal.

Minor premise 2: Epictetus was a human.

Conclusion: Therefore, Epictetus was mortal.

Here, the major premise is objectively true. All humans will eventually die. As well, the minor premise is accurate, because Epictetus was a human. Ergo, one may conclude that as a mortal human, Epictetus would eventually die—which he did.

Unsound logic –

Major premise 1: All historians are disingenuous.

Minor premise 2: No documentarians are historians.

Conclusion: Consequently, no documentarians are disingenuous.

In this example, the major premise is faulty, because not all historians are insincere in their approach to the recounting of history. Likewise, the minor premise is flawed, because some documentarians may be historians. As such, it’s improper to conclude that no documentarians are dishonest.

In the current blog entry, I will briefly demonstrate how disputation of irrational beliefs is used. Largely, this is done through the application or rational, logical, and well-reasoned examination.

Aside from logic and reason, REBT employs the use of unconditional acceptance. I’m a flawed individual, you’re a fallible human being, and life isn’t perfect.

Regardless of whether or not you accept these fundamental truths, they are self-evident. Therefore, REBT maintains that when we let go of irrational notions of perfection, concerning ourselves, others, and life, we can disturb ourselves less than if we use rigid demands.

Cultural appropriation

When undergoing graduate studies in counseling from 2009 to 2011, I received an academic foundation in REBT. However, I didn’t receive official certification in this model until 2021.

Nonetheless, my understanding of REBT influenced my approach to graduate school, concerning social work, from 2012 to 2014. While the counseling program focused heavily on theory and practice, the social work curriculum highlighted the same though added an element of social justice activism.

In particular, I was taught the concept of cultural appropriation. Per one source, “Cultural appropriation takes place when members of a majority group adopt cultural elements of a minority group in an exploitative, disrespectful, or stereotypical way.”

Note how language about the “majority group” excludes whether or not a “minority group” can culturally appropriate the customs of other groups. Suppose in this example group X relates to African Americans (blacks) and group Y refers to Caucasian Americans (whites).

Being that blacks constitute 12.4% of the United States (U.S.) population, group X is considered the “minority group” in this example. Can group X appropriate the culture of group Y without social backlash?

If group Z, Native Americans, comprise 2.09% of the U.S. population, is it appropriate for group X to appropriate group Z’s culture? “Majority group” or not, cultural appropriation rhetoric affords one group power and privilege over another—thus making the “minority group” a dominant entity.

Viewed through a rational lens, I understand that what group X considers “exploitative, disrespectful, or stereotypical” is highly subjective. Even if group Y adopts specific cultural elements of group X, it’s impractical to maintain that all members of group X would be offended.

At any rate, a separate source takes the definitional standard a bit further by suggesting, “Cultural appropriation refers to the use of objects or elements of a non-dominant culture in a way that reinforces stereotypes or contributes to oppression and doesn’t respect their original meaning or give credit to their source.”

Oppression is defined as prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control. Conversely, offense is defined as annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself or one’s standards or principles.

One suspects the suggestion of the aforementioned source—declaring that cultural appropriation “contributes to oppression”—may have mingled oppression with offense. These terms aren’t necessarily synonymous.

Moreover, “respect” for “original meaning” is a subjective process which infers a should, must, or ought-type demand. For instance, it seems to imply, “People should respect the original meaning of a cultural source.”

What makes this moralistic imperative a true statement? Undoubtedly, person X may believe it to be a valid assumption. However, suppose person Y disagrees. Who is right? Who is wrong?

If person Y opts not to respect person X’s cultural significance, does this constitute “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control”? I argue that it doesn’t, though person X very well may be offended by having a personally-held belief violated.

As arbitrary as the definitions of cultural appropriation are thus far, let us further convolute the matter—because it’s worth understanding how absurd claims of this so-called form of “oppression” supposedly exist, as perceived by others.

A separate source maintains that cultural appropriation relates to “a member of the dominant culture — an insider — taking from a culture that has historically been and is still treated as subordinate and profiting from it at that culture’s expense. The profiting is key.”

Here, subtly associated with “profiting” makes a difference. Suppose person Y misappropriates the culture of person X, though doesn’t profit from the behavior, does this constitute “oppression” or cultural appropriation?

Who makes these inconsistent rules? Person Y may be guilty of violating the beliefs of person X without ever knowing the beliefs in person X’s mind. We’re literally discussing mindreading here.

Moreover, if person Y disagrees with the notion that borrowing elements from the culture of person X is bad, wrong, evil, or otherwise, who determines whether person X or Y is morally superior? Considering this, cultural appropriation is an irrational concept.

During my time in academia, I heard of preposterous examples other social justice activists and advocates purportedly considered offensive. These included, though certainly weren’t limited to, the following:

· Culinary anthropologists posited that non-Mexicans preparing Mexican food were committing cultural appropriation. Of this, one source states, “Without a critical lens, the act of eating and serving cuisine from a culture other than one’s own can tend towards appropriation rather than appreciation.”

· Some people professed that white people wearing dreadlocks (“locs”) represented cultural appropriation. Per one source, “The prominent opposing opinion among the AAC [African American community] uses rationale to the tune of feeling as though locs are just one more thing white people have taken from our culture.”

· Donning Native American headdresses, even by non-whites who weren’t of Indigenous heritage, reflected cultural appropriation. According to one source, “Native American nations view these items as culturally significant and find ignorant attempts at homage to be harmful.”

· The wearing of a kimono by a white person was said to exemplify—you guessed it—cultural appropriation. Per one source, “Perhaps the most accurate definition holds that racism refers to ‘patterns of discrimination that are institutionalized as ‘normal’ throughout an entire culture.’ In that it belittles a culture while using it for personal gain, cultural appropriation indirectly expresses racial superiority.”

Alas, the indoctrination I faced in the academy trickled out into U.S. society. Still, I wasn’t the only one to observe this effect.

One source discusses how the “term cultural appropriation jumped from academia into the realm of internet outrage and oversensitivity. Self-appointed guardians of culture have proclaimed that Miley Cyrus shouldn’t twerk, white girls shouldn’t wear cornrows, and Selena Gomez should take off that bindi.”

Within a relatively short period of time after I graduated with a master’s degree in activist-influenced social work, cancel culture emerged. If cultural appropriation were a metaphorical ember, cancel culture is comparable to a forest fire.

The former is influenced by the irrational B-C connection, in relation to subjective offense. The latter uses the same mechanism though with insatiable fervor from allied groups whining, moaning, bitching, and complaining in the name of social change.


Cleopatra, last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom—an ancient Greek state based in Egypt, has recently become the subject of controversy. In a Netflix documentary, the late ruler is depicted as having been black.

Though I dislike tokenism in the form of reimagined characters, such as Walt Disney Pictures’ race-swapped Ariel from The Little Mermaid, I realize that Ariel is a fictional character. I don’t disturb myself over the absurdity of a film I suspect will flop at any rate.

Similarly, I don’t upset myself with beliefs about a race-swapped Cleopatra, even though the actual historic figure wasn’t black. Still, I do wonder about why it is considered appropriate for one group to culturally appropriate another group in such a way—especially when profiting from the behavior.

Something similar occurred not too long ago when a black woman was cast as Anne Boleyn. Even before that, many white historical U.S. figures were portrayed by non-white race-swaps in Hamilton.

If one maintains, “It’s ok when my group does it, because of historic oppression and marginalization,” there isn’t a civilization of which I’m aware that hasn’t experienced oppression and marginalization. Therefore, this imagined justification is little more than a poor excuse.

If one argues, “Well, it’s fine for my group to portray other racial and ethnic characters, because of systemic power differences from other groups,” this, too, is a faulty claim. The mere fact that a system of moviemaking and marketing supports these race swaps reveals who actually has power within a society.

If one argues, “But, what does it matter anyway, because Cleopatra may have had some black relatives somewhere in her lineage?” then similar justification could be used if a white man were to portray Martin Luther King Jr. Would group X condone this move?

If one proposes, “Actors should be able to play whatever role they’re capable of playing,” I again question if a white person plays the role of a black historical individual, would group X support the role? I have doubts.

If one, frustrated by an irrational belief, finally expresses, “What business is it of yours anyway, Deric, aren’t you supposed to be helping people with mental health or something?” the self-disturbed belief would be worth disputing. I’m doing precisely what I’m “supposed” to be doing.

Using REBT, I dispute irrational beliefs. Illogically and unreasonably claiming that it is appropriate for a black person to play Cleopatra—because the actor is black, though whites can’t play historically black characters—because of racial differences, remains worth disputing.


Epictetus—a Greek man who wasn’t black—proposed that Actions weren’t the source of Consequences, though what people Believed about these events is what caused the reaction. I concur.

Even so, those who are aligned with social justice activism may demand that the Action of cultural appropriation results in the Consequence of oppression, offense, anger, and disgust. In this regard, I reject the proposal of an A-C connection.

Therefore, when I observe that Cleopatra—a mostly Greek woman who wasn’t black—is being portrayed by a black woman (Action), I choose a helpful Belief such as, “Though historically inaccurate, people will do as they do,” because this productive attitude doesn’t result in an unpleasant Consequence.

Furthermore, I can unconditionally accept that documentarians aren’t perfect—nor should they be, because no one is. As such, I don’t disturb myself when they make a fictitious program about a historical figure.

How about you, dear reader, do you disturb yourself in regards to supposed “cultural appropriation,” ancient figures, or fictional animated characters? Would you like to know more about how at dispute your irrational beliefs so that your assumptions about these matters will have little impact?

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

Photo credit, fair use


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