I really like to find out how, when and where social issues and trends come into being. So, I ask, how, when and where did the idea of “cultural appropriation” spring forth into the social narrative in just the last few years? Were cultures just way cooler in regards to sharing their stuff way back when in 2011? Or did subjected cultures just keep their resentment to themselves when different cultural trends were adopted? I suspect a gringo or two wore a sombrero to a Halloween party pre 2012.
According to Google Trends, “cultural appropriation” was nearly unheard of until 2012, as the internet was modernizing and Twitter was becoming more popular.
I am fascinated by the invention of the various social issues du jour. Be it the “White Flight” of the 70’s or the more contemporary uproar over Standing Rock, many of these issues seem to disappear as fast as they enter. Or, at the very least, the dissipation of outrage wanes rather quickly.
So a new politically correct law enforcement unit has been formed, as if the word police enforcers were not enough.
So what is this cultural appropriation trend?
Appropriation is, essentially, taking something from someone for your own personal use. I could appropriate your bank account, take $1000 and use it for my own pleasure. Cultural appropriation is taking something from another culture and doing with it whatever we please.
Before diving into my feelings on the subject, I believe expressing what drives my general fundamental values on this subject is in order. I realize my perspective is coming from a very individualistic, low power distance and low context perspective and I certainly recognize my own biases in this regard.
But that’s ok. We are all products of our varying cultural dimension.
Some time ago, Rene’ and I were having dinner with some friends who happened to be Jewish. We recently attended their daughter’s bat mitzvah so discussing issues of a Judaic/ethnic/religious matter was on the table and “appropriate.” I asked our friends if they would be ok if their daughter eventually married outside the Jewish community.
“No,” he said firmly, “that would definitely not be ok.”
Kind of made me want to crawl under a big, fat, gentile rock.
I mean I get it and understand it. I really do. I once thought that way as well in terms of being, “unequally yoked.”
However, we have no control over our unchecked initial guttural reactions to something and, in this case, it was a feeling of sadness. What if their daughter fell deeply in love with a gentile? What would happen to their relationship? Is that fair to put that kind of pressure on one’s child? I believe love should be between two people who share mutual feelings for each other regardless of religion, ethnicity, gender, politics, etc. and it is only their business and that of no one else…even parents (that’s the individualism in me, I know).
However, what struck me at the deepest level was a more general and overriding value –my disdain for unnecessary societal divisions and further segmentation.
I understand that basic tribalism is a fundamental feature of the human race. We like and need “tribes.” Whether that tribe is a religious community, a family, ethnicity, hell -even as my students would say, a “rave squad”- we like to segment into our preferred groupings. In the above case it would be the tribe of Judah.
As much as I see the necessity of this grouping process for basic human survival, it rubs against my personal grain of social unity and coming together when it is practiced to, what I believe to be, the extreme.
Simply, I like to see society and cultures come together and not further divide based on, well, whatever you want to base it on –race, religion, sexual orientation, customs, traditions, class, etc.
So when I read and hear of people getting upset that another culture is hijacking one of their cultural customs, be it food or fashion, the same unity trigger goes off in my head. Cannot we all be nice and share in the goodness of each other’s culture? Last time I checked there are no cultural trademarks or proprietary laws. I do believe the exception would be in cases where a culture holds something to be sacred and it is appropriated in such a way that does not afford that something the respect it deserves. I totally get that part.
Anna Chen writes, “When cultures meet and mingle, they inform and enrich each other. I can wear tartan, wear pyjamas, knock up a curry, curl my hair, cry along to the blues and dance to funk. I know the difference between a schmuck and a schlemiel. I’ve sat shiva for a friend’s father. I love gefilte fish. Does this make me a cultural appropriator?”
Good question. It’s 2018, who knows?
It is ironic that something with such good intentions as a desire for cultural unity can be perceived as something disrespectful or insensitive.
I love hip hop and rap. Yikes.
When in Croatia I purchased the Croatian national futbol team jersey. Whoops.
Hell, I even own a pair of bright orange FUBU shorts. Why? I ask myself the same question.
I really solicit feedback on this issue. Please help me see what I am missing. Again, I understand those things a culture holds sacred and dear should be afforded a high level of respect. I would hope a Muslim would not use the Bible as toilet paper in the same way I would never use the Koran as such. Conversely, I want to respect a book or custom a culture holds dear whether I subscribe to it or not.
Please. I want to share my Hungarian Kapoosta with you all. I want you to enjoy my Hungarian national treasures: Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor. Goodness, I’ll even throw in Olympic Volleyball player Karch Kiraly.
This whole issue kind of makes me wonder what we will be outraged by 5 years from now. I am sure we will think of something.
Humans seem to never fail or disappoint in this regard.