A feminist author recently attempted to write a definitive piece on the evils of “cultural appropriation”, or rather it seemed to suggest that nearly all appropriation is MIS-appropriation. I accept that it contained lot of good points that people could learn from, but as the author herself hints at the importance of context, I would not — and cannot — subscribe to it wholesale.
Being a white rapper, for example, is not racist, passive or otherwise. Some might not like it, but at some point this and any other fight over “cultural misappropriation” is counter-productive and even squelches dialogue. It’s like we’re being told we can “appropriate” but only a little bit — eat at a Mexican restaurant but not hold a “taco party”? It’s like those being appropriated would rather enforce the stereotypes from within instead of from without, as if that’s somehow better. We’re being told who we have to be by others dictating what we cannot.
And once again, this is made to be predominantly about “white” versus “black”. It has to stop. The whole article focused on specific oppression and expect us all to accept that, including those who have never experienced it. It’s not that we should bury our heads in the sand — it’s that no group holds even the slightest monopoly on being oppressed. We’ve all been there. My father was spit on for being Polish in a German and Italian neighborhood and told outright that his “nationality” precluded him from advancement in the company he worked for. This isn’t anecdotal — it was the world we lived in. And still do. Again, if we want to be truly fair, we must admit either it is truly about context, or it is the right of one group over another to be more offended, and therefore self-righteously demanding. If the latter is the case, I would suggest we are counterfeiting empowerment, and at a far higher cost than people being unintentionally “insensitive”.
After all, this isn’t a contest. This is not — and never should be — about keeping score as races and ethnicities and genders and religions and what not. The whole issue of prejudice and bigotry is defining the group irrespective of the individual. If you don’t want me to treat you “black”, why would you assume it’s okay to treat me “white”? We are putting baggage onto each other from the burdens of our own souls.
We have serious issues as a culture, but that’s part of being multi-cultural in an imperfect world. We need to be more sensitive the other way around, where we appreciate good intentions instead of using tenuous offense to police others with our own limitations of ethnic acceptance.
Perhaps the reason I cannot subscribe to this view is because I feel entitled as a human being to embrace any and all human culture and experience. The very idea that anyone “owns” an ethnicity makes no sense to me. Maybe it’s my background. Or maybe underneath it all, I find it reeks of racism, ironically.
People might look at me funny if I wear a Native American outfit, for example, but there’s no spiritual copyright or trademark infringement going on. As long as I’m honest about who I am — and choose to be and how — there ought to be room for that. And if some Quebecois don’t want other people speaking French to them, maybe it’s best I don’t, but they are being impolite jerks, not me. But that’s a more closed society — America is such a mish-mosh, there’d be no way to keep ethnicities “pure” by exclusion even if it were desirable.
And I think that’s what we’re talking about. People want some sense of rigid, us-versus-the-world identity. Dogs and others-not-of-my-group-as-I-identify need not apply. Whatever benefit such may provide, what does it really serve in the end? We all have to take the responsibility for the consequences if we accept that line of thinking. So before we are too eager to be offended or not to offend, give it some thought. And consider that maybe it’s your right to choose to participate in human diversity — that maybe, just maybe, there really is no such thing as “somebody else’s” culture.