I came across a post asking about cultural appropriation and found myself (surprised to be) surprised that people still don't get it. I don't know if it's blind or it's willful, but this one really grinds my gears. Here are three reasons why appropriation matters (from the perspective of a black person. I welcome the perspective of other cultures as to how these or other factors result from the appropriation of your culture):
Credit. When the appropriating culture gets credit for the thing they stole. It's usually something that's been done without recognition for years, decades, or even centuries without their due, but suddenly becomes "popular" once appropriated. When cornrows suddenly become "boxer braids," Black Twitter WILL throw a fit and generations of the African diaspora WILL roll in their graves. Along with credit tends to come...
Compensation. Staying with the given example, black hair care is a multi-billion dollar industry. That's way too much money to accuse someone of having "very little troubling" them. An even better example here though can be found in music. It's happening with Hip Hop right now, but I'll talk about something you might be more familiar with; Rock & Roll. Rock music IS black music. It was invented by black people. White people wanted nothing to do with it -it was derided as, among other things, "devil music"- until they did. When it became clear how lucrative it could be, white people stormed the gates, Elvis Presley became "The King," and nobody remembered that this was a black genre anymore. All you have to do is look at how many Elvis songs were blatantly STOLEN from (as in previously written AND performed by) black men and women. Conversely, you can look at the looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong line of white people that Chuck Berry had to sure to get his due. To paraphrase a great Hip Hop quotable, Chuck Berry was your favorite artist's favorite artist, and they weren't even the least bit bashful about ripping him (or any other black artist) off. This naturally segues into...
Unequal treatment. I'll go back to the hair example because I can't think of a more poignant one. When my daughters can't wear any of their generations-old cultural hair styles, including natural (literally the way it grows out of their damn heads) to school, a professional job, or the military, but white people take them and are considered "edgy," or "stylish," or "avant-garde," (!?) how exactly am I supposed to feel?
When the same cultural cues that see our young people harassed, criminalized, brutalized, and gunned down with impunity are taken by non-black youth and just shrugged off as "Oh, they're just kids...," how am I supposed to react!?
So to be clear, imitation is the highest form of larceny. Let's call a spade, a spade, yeah?
Does the adoption of western style and music by the rest of the world count as cultural appropriation? The adoption of Buddhism by western nations? Sushi? Are the rest of the world steaing our ideas of Parliamentary democracy? Should blacks be allowed to play hockey or golf, actual white guy games?Can my tribe do anything your tribe did first? I don't have an answer beyond we're really just one tribe on this dirty little lump in space.
Who owns what? How fair back do we go? Who decides what was actually stolen, and what was merely influenced?
Currently copyright law can be interpreted to mean "7 words in a row" is theft. Somebody 'splain to me how that makes any sense.
Extremely good examples:
The current egyptians do NOT own the pyramids. They belong to the history of the human race. But, the current egyptians are charged with the protection of these icons.
The bones of those who died hundreds of years ago do NOT belong to whomever claim to be their descendants. EG: The current israelis should not be allowed to restrict scientific access to ANY archeologic find in the land they now occupy. Nor should any indiginous peoples be allowed to lay claim to any historical remnants.
If we're not growing together are we growing apart? This has always happened, I get that it's part of one culture taking over another in some ways... Christianity incorporated so many, 'pagan' festivals to get the natives on board, but a lot of history has been verbal. Are you saying that you'd get mad at my Maori friend for getting her hair chemically straightened?
Anyone with any knowledge of Rock and Roll knows that it predates Elvis, he sanitised it for the whites and it became more mainstream. But let's not forget that music transcended colour and artists played music together long before many people could eat or drink together publically.
Yes, hang on to your roots and call things by the names you prefer, but to stop people enjoying things from your culture and relating to your cultural heritage just seems to be fighting inclusion, acceptance and any celebration of what's special about it. Instead why not educate the people that are interested? It's a perfect opportunity.
I'll admit, I struggle with this. What if you genuinely admire another culture's fashion, hair styles, music? Is there a respectful way to appreciate it without appropriating it? Where do we draw the line? (And, for the record, I make an effort to check myself. I have tried to avoid doing or wearing anything that could be misconstrued. I figure it's best to err on the side of caution.)
The issue people have with the idea of cultural appropriation is that it seems to be saying cultures shouldn’t mix. What was made by X people is for X people, Y people shouldn’t touch it.
The exchange of cultures has been what drives society to change over time. It’s a good thing, and should be celebrated, not derided. The United States is called the great melting pot for a reason.
I'm a social worker. I see time and again so many people are incapable of empathy; they simply can't understand another person's experience. I've had many clients who are accessing social services for the first time, and telling me the unfortunate circumstances that led to their need to seek help. In the next breath, they tell me they won't be abusing the system like the majority of all these other lazy/lying/undeserving, expletive (insert derogatory terms for whichever populations they can't relate to or even blame for their own problems). They can't for a moment imagine that other people needing assistance are facing unfortunate circumstances as well and are just as deserving of help as they are. Even when walking a mile in another's shoes, many people still can't understand they're walking the same journey. It's very sad.
[imdb.com] Chris Rock did this great documentary about Black Hair.
I was incredibly shocked to learn that some women spend near $10K a year to have "fashionable hair". And that was in 2009.
As for cultural appropriation - well my family is French and white. We've been in the US long enough to be part of cultural assimilation. There are things I remember that are really French. Or French Canadian.
I guess it wouldn't bother me who carried on these traditions as long as they were carried on? I mean we had some great New Year's Day celebrations in my youth - and there was some wonderful food involved.
But I'm saying that as a white woman and I know it.