Cultural Appropriation – Really?

August 3, 2017

by Beth

I was reading a piece in the Washington Post concerning “Cultural Appropriation.” The whole thing struck me as absurd, so my next step is to research this term and what it means to folks. From Wikipedia (via Google):

Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another cultureCultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture.

I’ve really stepped in it now because I’ve stepped not only into culture, but intellectual property, and that will lead me down the road to the negative effects of all out capitalism and a culture of “me.” This might take a while.

In this story from the Washington Post, I found a couple of ideas that rang true. I can agree with this:

Calling “cultural appropriation” is an easy way to call attention to an infraction, real or imagined. But the overuse of the term obscures offenses that might actually deserve more censure, exaggerates some that don’t deserve much at all and weakens the power of the concept in general. It’s “the boy who cried burrito.”

The more I read, the more I question. The Cambridge Dictionary (British English) uses this definition:

cultural appropriation
noun [ U ]

/?k?l.t??r.?l ??pr??.pri?e?.??n/ /?k?l.t??.?l ??pro?.pri?e?.??n/ disapproving
the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture:

Some see his use of African music as cultural appropriation.
Ah — the not-understanding or not-respecting part might hold a bit of weight.
As I react — and my reaction to this phrase is almost unanimously “this is dumb” — I do find I must step back and examine my own views just as I would when trying to understand “white privilege.” I do think that the unrecognized white privilege attitude is destructive.
“Cultural Appropriation” is how culture works. Throughout it’s 2000 year history, Christianity has been a master at cultural appropriation. So many of our Holy Days are appropriation of holidays and festivals from the surrounding culture: Christmas, in the darkest time of the year sits nicely in the spot for any number of non-Christian celebrations such as Saturnalia. An advent wreath and Christmas trees were appropriated from various pagan practices. Was this done without respect? Or was it done to speak using ideas and symbols already understood by the culture being appropriated? I’m not sure. But I am sure that these feasts and holy days are now definitely part of modern Christian culture.
I do find it frustrating that people are accused of cultural [mis]appropriation when they find something exciting and inviting in another culture and try to incorporate it into their own culture. Like the Taco truck that was shut down.
Some days I think I’ll just give up trying to understand.

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About the Author

Beth

Marathoner (hey! I did complete the Nashville Rock'n'Roll Marathon! -- never again!), peregrino (Via Frances, Camino de Santiago de Compostela 2013), techie behind famvin.org for over 20 years now, mother to David, Marie and Daniel, Mémère to Lily, Ella, Genevieve, Henry, Avery, Luke and Claire, Catholic Christian (when I get frustrated and want to leave the RC I find myself asking "But where would I go?"), Auburn Tiger (War Eagle!), retired from Auburn University Libraries, and after 44 years, I'm still married to JP.

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