Thanks for engaging with this in a real way. I think the line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation is extremely narrow. You bring up a pivotal point about profit. There are many ways to profit from the commodification of racial identity. For example, you could pull a Rachel Dolezal and literally get paid for approximating another racial identity. I’m pretty sure most people would agree that what Rachel Dolezal did was wrong, but when we start getting into intangible benefits it gets a little more grey in most people’s minds.
Take Kim Kardashian for example. No one knew who she was until she slept with Ray J. she has had surgical procedures to mimic a Black femme in appearance. She uses makeup to make her skin several shades darker than it is naturally, and she often wears hairstyles and outfits that are traditionally perceived as Black. Individually, none of these things seem like a big deal, but collectively, they mean that Kim K’s brand is cultural appropriation. She gained celebrity status and commercial endorsements from cultivated proximity to Blackness, while Black women born with the features she bought are denigrated and criticized for the same hairstyles, features, and outfits.
The problem with cultural appropriation is that it’s part of a larger system of racial capitalism. White people are allowed to mimic, copy, or borrow from non-white cultures at their convenience for tangible or intangible rewards, while members of those same cultures face punitive action when they fail to perform their identity in ways that satisfy their oppressor.
One great example of this is how America’s Got Talent repeatedly policed Gabrielle Union’s hairstyles while The Voice (a similar show on the same network) had no problem with Christina Aguilera’s equally ‘urban’ aesthetic.
The cherry on this awful sundae is that white audiences often prefer other white people's performance of non-white racial identities over actual non-white persons. The most cursory google search reveals white women teaching yoga (an Indian spiritual practice), white men rapping (funny how no one calls them thugs), and white children (ruining their futures by) saying the N-word on Tik-Tok.
I say all this to say that appropriation is harmful because the cultures being borrowed from are not appreciated or respected in society at large. Until every state in the US has a law that prevents companies from firing women for their hairstyle (currently only California has one), maybe white girls could cool it with the box braids?
Just my opinion.