I've mentioned before
that I have trouble wrapping my brain properly around the concept of appropriation. There's a good thread
on the topic at Alas. I was going to work my comment there up into a full post, but it's getting late, so I'll just repost it here for posterity:
I think a good idea that seems to be percolating up here (especially in Acheman's comment, BFP's explanation quoted by belledame, and Mandolin in comments #5 and #22) is that to understand what's wrong with appropriation, you should focus on its impact on the appropriatee (as opposed to thinking in terms of procedural rules and a property metaphor). If what you're doing is contributing to the marginalization of certain voices, or undercutting someone's ability to earn money or prestige from their creation, or altering the significance of certain symbols in the public eye, or drowning out someone else's version, or perpetuating stereotypes (including the stereotype that a certain group is a source of "cool" or "exotic" stuff) — you're doing it wrong. And if you can identify in just what way your proposed appropriation would hurt the appropriatee, you can think about whether there's something you could do that would lessen the impact enough to make your actions OK. So you might say, for example, "repeating these ideas I got from a less-privileged person without attribution would contribute to the marginalization of their voices. But if I did give attribution, I might help to de-marginalize them a bit, or at least mitigate it enough that it wouldn't outweigh the good of getting them out to a wider audience."
And that's why power differentials and history are so important here — two acts that may be similar from a procedural/property analysis may, because of history and power, have very different impacts on the appropriatee.