Monday, November 14, 2016

cultural appropriaton

I have a question that I'm hoping someone can answer for me. It's about cultural appropriation.

This is a term I've heard used a lot over the past several months, the latest in a series of terms that essentially means "Don't be a jerk to other people." Now in most cases it's pretty clear what people mean; viz., "Don't reduce another culture or another people to a stereotype, or a two-bit caricature for a cheap laugh or gaudy entertainment." Other times it's a little more vague.

Keep in mind I'm in my mid-40s. When I was a growing up in the mid-1970s, very few people thought anything amiss to dressing up as an American Indian for a Halloween costume, or to games like Cowboys and Indians. Our high school mascot was the Indian "Warriors," even though we were at least 99.8 percent white, and one of the alternatives to the Cub Scouts was a group called Indian Guides.

And yes, in fourth grade our class reader included "Little Black Sambo."

I'm not saying all this not to dismiss the cultural appropriation argument as frivolous. My only point is to show the background I'm coming from. I recognize the legitimate objections people have to things people my age once took for granted.

Here's my question: At what point is something not appropriation but actual borrowing? Throughout human history, we've spread ideas, knowledge, vocabulary, food, clothing, language and other pieces of our cultures around from one society to another.

At the moment I'm wearing a pair of moccasins as slippers; I regularly eat (and even prepare) food from other cultures; and as Islamophobia has grown and spread, I've heard of Christian women wearing hijab to identify with Muslim women as they face harassment. My youngest daughter's school even has offered yoga classes.

None of these is something I would consider inappropriate, yet for each of these things, I've heard people on the Left criticize them as cultural appropriation. That just doesn't make sense to me.

One of the things we've always celebrated about America, at least in our better moments, is that we welcome immigrants from all around the world to bring their cultures and religions, their languages, their food, and their styles of dress and add them to our own. We celebrate our differences, enjoy one another's cultures, and often we adopt the things of value we see in one another, sometimes for a season, sometimes for much longer.

Using an ethnic slur for a football team is something I find objectionable, if for no other reason than it's an ethnic slur. And I get that it's problematic to co-opt a minority identity as high schools around the nation have done with names like the Fighting Sioux and the Indian Braves.

But I'm not following the reasoning for claiming cultural appropriation of yoga, blasting Caucasians who have their hair done in corn rows, nor for that matter criticizing someone who falls in love with and adopts an entirely different culture from what she was born in. (Actually happened.)

I genuinely would like to understand better. Anyone care to explain it to me?

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