The Problem With Cultural Appropriation
Last week, I was in my Complex Problems course for college. We were supposed to be having a discussion on how immigrants are perceived in America, but it eventually boiled down to people looking up whatever racist costumes or hairstyles they could find (like the ones you see above) and telling everyone why it was bad, in the pursuit of what they called "cultural appropriation". Needless to say, this idea didn’t stick with me, and in fact I have three particular concerns about this idea that make me skeptical of the whole concept. This is not to 'disprove' or 'destroy' the concept of cultural appropriation, but rather to show why people like me don't find it such a big concern.
My first concern with with an idea I've heard a lot about in class. My fellow students would argue about where the line is drawn in the terms of appropriation and appreciation of a culture. This would be a good talking point in my opinion, if it weren't for the fact that their idea of appreciation came to 'ensuring the culture from which it came was credited with they're contribution to the host-country'. There are two problems with this:
1. How do we determine what is and what isn't a part of a different culture?
Cultures have shared with and stolen off of each other throughout human history. Countries like Ireland and South Africa take claim to the potato as a food from their home country, usually without knowing that potatoes originated in South America and came there originally as European exports. Similarly, Chinese restaurants in America will use fortune cookies (which are Japanese in origin) while Irish-Americans eat corned beef on St. Patrick's Day (an originally Jewish cuisine). Are these examples of cultural appropriation, considering the fact that these cultures largely don't give credit to the culture of originality?
2. Who's duty is it to constantly appreciate a culture?
While cultures can be amazing tools for social cohesion that we ought to explore, they can also be the motivations for evil within any given society. In the case of American Indians (a term I'll be using because most 'Native Americans' use it), the biggest myth about them is that they were a largely peaceful culture. While they may not have had guns, cannons and cavalry like armies in the Old World, brutal acts like slavery and (yes) scalping were real problems in American Indian life back then. Similarly, Hindu culture wasn't all that peaceful either, with millennia of warfare in Indian history and with religious practices like Sati. That is not so say these cultures are evil either, far from it. My point is, what use is it to tell people in the West to look at other cultures respectfully despite how many of these cultures made many of the same grave moral errors as the West?
The second concern I have with the whole idea is the problem of perception. Cultures, as unifying as they can be, are not monolithic entities, and have members which may be skeptical at efforts to supposedly insult it. Back in 2018 Keziah Daum went to her prom in a traditional Chinese dress called a qipao. She was thusly berated on social media for being racist, so when she apologized for wearing the dress, a writer for the Guardian and woman of Chinese descent, Anna Chen, jumped to Keziah’s defense. She stated “When cultures meet and mingle, they inform and enrich each other.” believing that it was not offensive for her to wear a qipao as a non-Chinese person.
However, it is not just single people who might not have issue with supposed cultural appropriation. The Washington Redskins have been a problem for many concerned social justice advocates as a possible offense to American Indians. However, two years ago the Washington Post came out with a poll which showed that 9 out of 10 American Indians were not offended by the Redskins logo. The point is that offense is a subjective feeling, and we ought to understand that if we are to judge minorities as individuals than we ought to understand that some may not find things offensive that (let’s be honest) rich white people think will offend them.
Lastly, my third concern is how some people, particularly those on the political Left, overreact to scenarios like these. To tell you the truth, I feel I would have easily gotten used to the idea of cultural appropriation if my class had not been so emotional over a handful of costumes and white people with dreadlocks. There is an argument to made that such costumes are offensive, but the way that my mostly white, mostly well-off class made it sound as though it was an act against the Lord himself. However, I would like to call my class into question in regards to the priorities that many of these minority groups have.
Blacks are three times as likely to be shot by police as whites, and public housing projects have become slums as a result of decades of the federal government failing black communities. The last thing I think any of these poverty stricken African Americans would be concerned with in would be Justin Bieber, Zac Efron or Kim Kardashian wearing dreadlocks. American Indians are the most impoverished race in America, with the American reservation system failing them at every turn. It's no wonder then that 9 out of 10 of them wouldn't give much attention to an east-coast football team.
Of course America has problems, and it's these problems that we ought to be putting more emphasis on if we want to help minorities in America. Whining about cultural appropriation and other such subjects is not the way to do that.