I wanted to take this time to reevaluate my take on cultural appropriation. I’m not necessarily changing my position on the topic. However, I want to expand on the broader issue behind cultural appropriation.
The rage towards Cultural appropriation stems from a visceral reaction to mass-marketing of ‘exotic’ cultural elements to a xenophilic consumer base, stripping those elements of their original historical/spiritual significance.
For example, numerous sports teams (from professional to little league) have co-opted
Native American iconography. Naturally, sports fans would casually wear Native American headdresses and warrior paint without acknowledging the traditional symbolism behind them. If you were a Native American, you would naturally be offended by drunken White sports fans clad in an attire meant for the highly-esteemed chiefs of your tribe.
However, it seems that the contemporary trend of perpetuating fake outrage has led us to call ‘cultural appropriation’ on anything and everyone. For example, Lena Dunham, creator of the HBO series Girls, had recently suggested that consuming sushi should be considered cultural appropriation!
No wonder a bland comedian like Jerry Seinfeld is calling out ‘PC culture run amok’!
However, it is also noteworthy to point out the effects of racial power dynamics on culture. Rock music stems from Black communities yet it never turned any heads in the music industry until White singers like Elvis popularized it with his sexy, hip-grinding dance moves. In the 1960’s, George Harrison introduced sitar music to a Western audience, yet Indian immigrants were ruthlessly discriminated in America (as a few of my older aunts would confirm).
Naturally, you would feel chagrined and annoyed if your culture was embraced but you were not.
Unfortunately, we have come to a point where everyone has become anal about what they can eat, what they can wear, what they can sing etc etc.
Cultural literacy is becoming more crucial in today’s world. It is always enriching to acknowledge and honor the origins of your favorite musical genres, your favorite clothes, your favorite foods etc.
We should respect what is sacred to a particular community. At the same time, we shouldn’t exclude anyone from partaking in another culture.
If you want to wear a salwar kameez or a kurta, go ahead. However, if you want to don a native headdress or Polynesian tattoos, you should probably think twice.
Nevertheless, we shouldn’t neglect embracing all people, irrespective of race or religion.