Cultural Appropriation

So, cultural appropriation has become a Thing. And people are losing jobs and/or livelihoods over it. May I side with this writer and throw a bit of gasoline on the conflagration by suggesting that some reactions to “inter-culturation” are positively Trumpian.

Susan Scafidi, law professor, speaking for the defense:

Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.

Which brings to mind some questions. Who is authorized to give permission? Can anyone do it, or does it depend on a committee social media mob, or some appointed expert, or any public official?

The playing field seems a bit uneven, as some guys (like this one or with this product) are grandfathered in as part of a food corporation (like this one). On second thought, maybe Tex-Mex doesn’t count as there’s some dispute about where the cultural boundary might lie. It might be a sexist thing, too. Note that men like Glen Bell or Ray Kroc might get a pass, but white women running a taco stand and being put in their place.

I think there are seriously good ways in which cultures can and should mix. Texas and Mexico may be a thing, despite the fact they were once one. Or maybe several if you count native Americans. I told a Lebanese friend that I used to make falafel tacos at home: the baked (not fried) chickpea/fava bean mix in a taco shell with vegetables of my choice. She wasn’t too impressed with my alternative to pita bread, but I liked the corn substitution for wheat.

More from Ms Scafidi:

It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.

I get this. I suppose the most problematic is when a large international corporation utilizes aspects of oppressed or exploited cultures. Thing is, I don’t see much battling on those fronts. People call out Madonna and Katy Perry (women, again) but not the media conglomerates behind them making more money off the adoption of gay, black, or hip-hop culture. What I do see is the Trumpian technique of going after the people you think you can get–not the big boys at the top of the heap.

Sensitive material? Things of religion, yes. Things of tragic events: tread very carefully I think. Things of common use, like food? Since we all eat and enjoy ethnic foods, I would think probably not.

Potential instances of cultural appropriation that might or might not be offensive:

  • learning the language
  • tourism
  • bad timing (eating an Arabic lunch during Ramadan, drinking milk at a Seder meal)
  • plagiarism of artistic works

Before a planned cultural exchange trip to Central America, my host described his hopes for our student visit. We weren’t there to teach music. We were there to share. Our plan was to learn songs, and record some of the local people playing and singing their own compositions–the technology was the one thing we could share. And in the main, just spend time and get to know people. That seemed to me to be the ideal for inter-culturation.

I find this anger and violence toward many people–women in particular seem to be targeted by this Trumpian dynamic–to be unseemly, and not wholly in keeping with what my friends of these cultures think. I wish the culture police would take more time themselves to listen to those they have branded as opponents on these issues. Continue educating, advocating for culture, sure. But lighten up, otherwise, when we’re not talking about appropriation, but appropriate sharing.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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4 Responses to Cultural Appropriation

  1. Liam says:

    It’s a reverse-engineered theory whose real focus is getting commissions and compensation to minority creators.

    The problem is that it seems more likely merely to (temporarily) employ agitprop generators.

  2. Jim McCrea says:

    “This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”

    And who, pray tell, is in a position to “authorize” said use?

    • Liam says:

      The Committee. It will let you know if you’ve been permitted to create. If you don’t hear from it, do not proceed to create, do not pass Go and do not collect $200.

      (In other words, an example of: be careful what one asks for, for one might get it.)

  3. Pingback: It’s Just A Dress | Catholic Sensibility

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