Post No.: 0160
This post may be controversial but taking into account all of my personal views expressed in Post No.: 0063 about giving and taking offence, intent and inconsideration – I overall don’t personally agree with the argument of ‘cultural appropriation’ (or misappropriation). This argument usually applies to a dominant culture in a country culturally appropriating from disadvantaged minority cultures. Protecting copyrights matter but these complaints don’t usually refer to anyone’s intellectual property.
Now it’s difficult to generalise such a view though because cases must be taken on an individual basis but, in the main, most people accused of cultural appropriation never intend to mock the sources of their inspirations and are more often trying to pay homage to them. Yes, the taste and/or naïve inaccuracy of their executions may frequently be questionable but that’s no reason to go as far as to believe they were intentionally being malicious e.g. why would someone from an English-speaking country intentionally get a tattoo with nonsense Chinese characters or phrases on them?(!) I’m sure they truly embraced the tattoo with warm fluffy intentions and heart. Why would a person wear a certain national attire from a former colony that is not their own to intentionally make themselves look stupid in order to try to make another culture look stupid?! (Unless it’s for Halloween I suppose.) For me, it’s snobbish and almost as if things must be ‘kept pure’ to have people only do things absolutely authentically or not at all.
Cultures mixing ideas, or cultural elements (memes), is an incredibly common, natural and overall beneficial thing that has been happening since cultures existed and could geographically mix – just as normal and natural as Homo genus organisms (e.g. Neanderthals and Homo sapiens) genetically breeding with each other whenever they had the chance to meet and mix, to create many of the humans alive today. Mixing and diversity are generally good for genes and are generally good for cultural memes. Should the Beatles never have used a sitar in some of their songs? Should rich people from Asia or Africa never copy relatively poor people from Europe or North America now?
Must ‘Caucasian people’ stick to only doing what ‘Caucasian people do’ and never venture into exploring other cultures? Must ‘Oriental people’ only be allowed to do what ‘Oriental people do’ and not allow other people to explore their cultures? It’d be an incredibly boring world to not mix in a jam session. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Cross-fertilisation is almost central to creativity. Few things that exist today, if anything, are truly original, as in had zero inspiration or no traceable lineage from something that existed before (e.g. Facebook was inspired by, well, the yearly face book that some universities had; Dyson domestic cyclonic vacuum cleaners were inspired by industrial sawmill cyclonic systems) – there’s a lot of money and advancement to be made in mixing ideas.
When we see a cultural offshoot or fusion – let’s say a Korean dish with a Mexican twist – it doesn’t make the original dish disappear. The original authentic Korean dish will still exist as long as it’s popular enough to remain in the marketplace, except now there’s another idea in the marketplace too. One also wouldn’t bother trying to market a product of any kind if one didn’t honestly think it was any good to sell so there’s logically no intent to mock anyone here.
Eating food from other cultures is, for some arbitrary reason, not supposed to be included in the realm of ‘cultural appropriation’ but there are parallels of logic e.g. some dishes were originally ‘peasant’ dishes – food of the poor and oppressed (as in very poor rather than some people’s modern ‘first-world’ conception of poor) – must a person today feel the oppression or discrimination of the people who invented and ate those dishes to be allowed to eat them? If you’re not Italian then you should be able to eat or even make pizzas without judgement. One may say that certain cultural items have deep or historic meaning to certain groups, but a classic basil, mozzarella and tomato pizza represents the colours of the Italian flag – yet one doesn’t need to be a patriotic Italian to cook, serve or eat one.
Imitating a cultural item inaccurately may itself seem disrespectful and a distortion of the truth, and maybe something does not befit the name of a cultural item because it may be construed as misrepresenting it – but putting a blob of ragù in the middle of a mound of spaghetti is not how it’s supposed to be done either yet no disrespect was intended, and surely people can state that it’s their own interpretation of something to avoid mis-selling – creativity is stifled otherwise, or a language will become excessively complicated in order to have new words for every single new variation of something. And watching people eat noodles off a plate with chopsticks is hilarious to watch – not offensive to ‘Far Eastern’ minorities in a ‘Western’ country! So it matters not if a non-Spanish person cooks paella. It matters not if a non-Japanese person wears a Japanese dress. It matters not if a non-black person styles dreadlocks into her/his hair. It matters not if a non-English person watches English language movies. And so forth. This ‘cultural appropriation’ argument goes too far in most cases in my opinion.
What matters is the genuine intention to mock, satirise or fetishise, which cannot always be judged from the outside. The absolute key is whether there is any intention to harm a culture or not, and in most cases there is no such intent and there’s often a genuine interest and admiration for cultural items such as fashions, symbols, music, languages or styles, even though some attempts at learning about a culture are less than ‘scholarly’. I do understand things done with a malicious intent, particularly against discriminated minority groups, but there isn’t always a malicious intent. In fact, people are often accused of not trying to explore, mix, imitate or integrate enough! So to quash people for trying to do so would be unfair.
Most of all – no one chooses where they were born or what skin or hair colour they happen to have been born with so people should be allowed to choose which cultural elements they wish to embrace. Everyone should be able to choose their own styles and interests. If they need more education on what they’re trying to emulate or signal then these encouragements don’t require putting them down for trying. A white person never chose to be white, for instance. It’s not their fault for being so.
If some genuine cultural sensitivities have been breached due to ignorance i.e. if certain cultural memes have deep or historical meaning to certain groups that relate to oppression, rebellion or struggle, then offence can be legitimately taken, but the response again should not be angered uproar – the solution again is to educate the persons involved. And if no offence was truly intended then I’m sure these people will have no issue with articulating a heartfelt sorry and being more considerate next time. A knowledgeable person knows that there’s always still so much one is yet to know so no one can be expected to know everything, and so such apologies should be accepted. We should embrace and educate people rather than defensively shut them out of our own cultures – being so insularly protective won’t help your minority culture get more known and properly understood in the world. One also cannot claim everything as uniquely one’s own culture’s either (e.g. dreadlocks apparently have many different historical origins).
Although sensitivity evolved for a reason, I sometimes find people are too sensitive in other contexts too. For example, are advice like ‘please keep your belongings close, double-check your locks and look out for each other’ or ‘update your software to get the latest security patches’ examples of victim blaming if something bad happens? It’s indeed primarily the fault of the thieves, hackers and other types of criminals but it’s still sensible and practical advice that empowers potential victims to take the initiative and some control of the situation. And why direct your hate on those who are trying to practically help? Messages like ‘please don’t steal’ tend to fall on deaf ears, and if protectors push harder with more interventions than worded advice then some other people will accuse such actions as those of a ‘nanny state’(!)
Meow! I suppose everyone is entitled to her/his own views, and these are just my own. I guess the bottom line is that you cannot ever please everyone. Still, I don’t personally believe this should be an excuse for not trying one’s best, but do accept that mistakes will sometimes be made without an intention to offend.