Does cultural appropriation even matter? | The Tylt
Does cultural appropriation even matter?
Cultural appropriation is not the same thing as cultural exchange. It's all about context. Appropriation is a problem because of the power dynamic hidden behind these so-called "exchanges."
A deeper understanding of cultural appropriation also refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.
That’s why cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural exchange, when people share mutually with each other – because cultural exchange lacks that systemic power dynamic.
Claims that people are merely appreciating another's culture are extremely flimsy, especially when people of that culture are explicitly explaining why it's wrong. Explaining away appropriation as a "mistake" or a misguided attempt at "appreciation" is demeaning. If someone truly wanted to appreciate another culture, they must take the time to learn the history and context of what they're trying to do.
There's often a double standard in these situations. Things like wearing dreadlocks or cornrows are demonized when Black people did it. But when White people do it, it's seen as edgy, transgressive and cool.
Cultural appropriation shows that you don’t have to like a person or respect their identity to feel entitled to take from them.
It fundamentally comes down to respect. It's about recognizing the world we live in today is still racist. We're still dealing with the ripple effects of colonization. It's rarely about any single individual's action, but about the larger context in which it's happening. True culture exchange and appreciation must come from a place of respect. That starts with not being an asshole.
Click through below to see Maisha Z. Johnson's explanation of exactly why appropriation is harmful and a big deal.
Others argue the hysteria over cultural appropriation goes too far. You can't draw lines in the sand about who gets to wear what particular kinds of clothing or who gets to perform certain kinds of music. Who gets to say what can and can't be shared? Even if we were successful in gating-in cultures and could somehow create a framework to decide who can engage with what, it wouldn't really change anything.
Campaigns against cultural appropriation reveal the changing meaning of what it is to challenge racism. Once, it was a demand for equal treatment for all. Now it calls for cultures to be walled off and boundaries to be policed.
In minority communities, the gatekeepers are usually self-appointed guardians whose power rests on their ability to define what is acceptable and what is beyond the bounds. They appropriate for themselves the authority to license certain forms of cultural engagement, and in doing so, entrench their power.
For many people, the fight over appropriation seems petty and a waste of time. Does it really matter if Kesha used South Asian symbols in her latest video? So what if Katy Perry dressed up as geisha once. There are bigger things to worry about in the world than this. No one is being hurt by this. Feelings get hurt, that's the world we live in. It shouldn't be as big of an issue as people make it out to be.
Imagine that Elvis had been prevented from appropriating so-called black music. Would that have challenged racism, or eradicated Jim Crow laws? Clearly not. It took a social struggle — the civil rights movement — to bring about change. That struggle was built not on cultural separation, but on the demand for equal rights and universal values.