In a group of long time cyber friends the topic of cultural appropriation came up a few months ago. This was one of those things i couldn't just dash of a quick paragraph or two about, because with topics that impact how human beings relate to each other, i always want to give it more thought, examine it from different angles. With a few edits this is what i posted, would like to hear how you feel about it.
CULTURAL APPROPRIATION (CA)
It may turn out I have more questions than answers.
Anybody have a simple, relatively short definition of it? (Yes, I’ve already searched for official ones; I want to hear what you think/feel.)
One of the articles I read suggests it is only CA when a member of the ‘majority culture’ borrows ‘styles’, customs or language from a ‘minority culture’. Now is it only ‘wrong’ in that direction because minority cultures are exploited in so many other ways? With both Native Americans and African Americans the majority culture did everything it could to squash the original ‘culture’ of each group…so to me at least yes it is particularly offensive for white people to adopt styles of dress and hair from those groups. (BTW braids like dreads are virtually universal---most every culture has sported some version at some time---still white person with cornrows unsettles me.)
Many of the examples given in those articles also support something I’ve long said which is that even positive stereotypes can be insulting sometimes damaging for young people in the minority culture especially, because they focus on one aspect not seeing the individuals involved as whole human beings with a wide array of intellectual, emotional qualities. What say you?
When it comes to music and dance, as with language….these are things that for some people are kind of universal, organic. If it appeals to you, and helps you express yourself…how can you resist enjoying and using? But I think we do have to be careful not ‘own’ it, to be aware it’s a lovely thing we came upon, respect, admire and enjoy…but we didn’t invent or create. Language particularly….because the way the human brain is designed, and because even those of us most comfortable alone when we are with others we want to communicate effectively---people who hang out together a lot will pick up each other’s slang, favorites exclamations etc. From where I sit, Eminem may have come by his rapping honestly, naturally but spare me the obvious younger crop of wannabes, please. Yet I’m aware to a POC they may both be equally offensive, annoying.
Spirituality…this is area where I am definitely guilty of cultural appropriation. I made a study of religion, and folk lore and fairytales when I was in my teens. It was part of what made me abandon organized religion as a possible path for me, because 1) I saw the similarities more than the differences and 2) I felt there were little gems of truth and helpful insights in every faith and culture. When I talk about a concept I’ve integrated into my way of life I generally give credit for where it originated, not because I want others to know how much I read but because I want to acknowledge it that it did not originate with me. Still some might see what I’ve done in forging my own path using the light of many different kinds of lamps as CA. Sorry if I offend anyone with any of it, and certainly if someone voiced their objections I would try to respect their feelings and not reference the piece of their spiritual heritage I ‘adopted’ when in their presence. But if something works for me, helps me keep my life on track---I’d be an idiot to ignore it because it came from a culture other than my own. Wouldn’t i???? Where do we draw the line? Whether entering a Catholic Church, a Jewish Temple or Muslim Mosque I would cover my head---as a sign of respect for THEIR faith though I may only be there for a ceremony or to observe at the request of friend who is a believer. Am I guilty of CA when I respect the customs?
A lot of what is now being called CA when I was younger I simply thought of ‘racist’ stereotyping. And some folks may be unaware enough to actually try to use ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ as an excuse for wearing ‘tribal’ inspired outfits, but in this information overload age I’d have trouble buying that. Still--where is the line? I’m sure the clothing manufacturers, some of whom may be guilty of CA, are thrilled to find a wider market for a culturally specific style---Hawaiian MuuMuus or Japanese Kimonos. But do the people in those cultures find that offensive?
As I said…more questions and observations than answers and assertions. What say you?