The limits of Cultural Appropriation

By Robbie Travers (@RobbieTravers)

Cultural appropriation is a concept that should be viewed with deep suspicion.

 My objections to it are simple: Firstly, it is deeply authoritarian to police the behaviour of people because they are deemed to be appropriating the property of other cultures, often ones that are deemed to be marginalised. We should never seek to police behaviour that does not call for violence, or behaviour that are not violent. For example: teens wearing Bindis and Indian headdresses at festivals.

 The argument that many of these teens don’t understand the culture behind these items of clothing is levelled. The argument that they are participating in oppression by wearing them, either in a state of blissful ignorance or actively, is actually redundant. Cultures often take items from other cultures and integrate them as part of their culture, and whilst it may offend some, not allowing cultures to share and adopt traditions of oppressed cultures becomes authoritarian. How so? It creates privileged groups of people with culture that cannot be mocked, discussed and that their culture is there property and theirs alone.

 But also, what is an oppressed group? as different groups have different ideas of oppression. Are our values universal? as many of those who dress as Arab’s are criticised, but yet not all Arabs are oppressed, look at the Saudi Royal family for example. The argument falls to scrutiny.

 Secondly, the often hypocritical proponents of cultural appropriation define culture as a commodity that is in the possession of marginalised groups. That this is something they alone should have the ability to control and they alone possess. Culture should never be anyone’s property, nor should it exclusively belong to one group: this is how culture stagnates as it goes without discussion or adaptation.

 However, these same proponents are incoherent when it comes to the culture of groups in perceived positions of power, with some individuals claiming that cultures only occur due to marginalisation, hence groups in power have no culture and others claiming that only marginalised groups have ownership of their own culture. This is ridiculous, promoting the thinking that only certain groups should be privileged to have ownership and control over their culture. I don’t think any group should have said powers, but it is inconsistent to suggest that certain groups should and shouldn’t have this ability.

 Yet somehow, it remains their belief that culture should remain in the property of those who own it, rather than anyone outside said groups to try and adopt or adapt aspects of it.

 Cultural appropriation also tries to appeal to the idea of collective and ancestral guilt, that white people are somehow responsible for the actions of their ancestors and hence should respect other cultures due to their “sins.”

 However, consider this closely, are all white people the same? No. Those who often claim that white people appropriate other cultures and hence create mindless stereotypes appeal to mindless stereotypes to prove their arguments are solid. But also we should bear in mind that we don’t judge groups not perceived to be in positions of power for the sins of their ancestors, why should we do so to groups in power.

 Or why at all. If someone hasn’t committed a crime, don’t punish them for it.

 Hence, Cultural appropriation should fail to be convincing to any logical and rational thinker, as it is illogical and hypocritical thinking.

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4 thoughts on “The limits of Cultural Appropriation

  1. Pingback: A rebuttal to the censorious student Left | The Gerasites

  2. Culture is not a possession. It is not something you own it’s something you express. When people talk of policing the cultural appropriation of other cultures they are actually trying to do is enforce their own authoritarian Orwellian separatist culture onto other people. To suggest that non-Indians can’t eat curry or that non-English people can’t play football because it’s cultural appropriation is a totally bizarre and illogical position to take.

    The reason people adopt other cultural norms is because they are fun, interesting and better. People are usually proud of the fact that their culture produced something that everybody else likes. The act of marginalizing them and cutting them off from others is pure insult.

    There is some mileage in regretting the loss of indigenous cultures but most of these cultures disappeared because their followers chose to discard them. Many African tribes still perform African tribal dances but nowadays it’s only for the tourists.

    Without cultural appropriation many cultures would completely disappear like the Red Indian cultures disappeared in the face of American hostility. This is the total opposite of the Romans who conquered the Greeks and then took the Greek Gods for their own. Cultural appropriation is the normal, natural, progressive and appreciative way of showing your respect towards other cultures. Suppression of this very human behavior displays a supremacist attitude and a total disdain for all others cultures than your own. It’s Islamist.

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  3. Thank you for your logic sir. I find the current trend deeply troubling. Free speech may be problematic and lead to potential harm i.e. organizations like NAMBLA, but it is better than the alternative. I was wondering if you could address the idea of white privilege, especially as pertains to the idea that the only racism is systemic racism, and that incidents such as this 9-old boy hanging himself after being bullied for being white are not example of racism.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2283777/Boy-9-hanged-bullied-white.html

    It feels wrong, but I am unsure of how best to formulate a cogent argument against it. I’ve seen a lot of hate justified with the idea that POC can never be racist, even when they kill or rape people explicitly stating it is because of race. I believe in equality and compassion for all people, which is and always has been a controversial viewpoint, but I need better tools to argue that in this distinctly Orwellian era.

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