I may or may not have a problem with appropriation in my WIP—for context, the first quartet “Feathers with Benefits” originally started as a two-part short novella, which then turned into a trilogy, which turned into multiple trilogies, and now it’s a quartet of quartets. I’ve had to significantly expand my worldbuilding and justify some throw-it-in choices I’d made. It started with pulling names out of a hat: the male human protagonist is named Torio, which is Japanese for “bird’s tail” as it turns out. Another human character (Kaya) also has a Japanese name, and connections started forming. I am pretty sure most of the human characters (if not all) are nonwhite, with Torio having Asian features (geological upheaval in the world’s past, population migration, blah blah).
If you can’t tell already, I’m retroactively justifying unplanned thematic choices and adding a heap of “make shit up” to fill in the blanks. I’m not the most organized or systematic about it. The predominant human culture isn’t based on your usual fantasy pseudo-medieval-Judeo-Christian morality and values system, and I avoid “it’s exotic and different” as a reason to add things, but I still feel like I’m on thin ice.
So, at what point does “throwing together cultural concepts and making something unique” slide into cultural appropriation? The examples I’ve found are generally focused on white artists appropriating minority music, fashion, etc. or hipsters wearing Native American headdresses, so I’m curious how this translates to fantasy worldbuilding. Apologies if any of this is unclear!