Friday, September 1, 2017


Just so you know, right up front:  I am a white woman of mainly Celtic origins  (with a smidge of Scandinavian).

So it is from this vantage point that I discuss the concept of 'cultural appropriation.'  I first heard about in a vague sort of way a couple of years ago.  The concept was illustrated by a black woman telling white women to stop wearing hoop earrings.  Hoop earrings?  I wore those back in the 1970s.  They were in fashion then, and apparently are again.  The very first hoop earrings can been followed back to the Sumerian culture (which we now know as Iraq).  Hoop earrings then became wildly popular in Egypt, Greece, and Rome.  White hippie women in America loved them in the 1960s and 70s.  So, who 'stole' from whom? 

And what's this concept of stealing ideas?  That is what humankind has always done.  A good idea catches on, and spreads across cultures, and enriches all.

The current concern about all of this is, apparently, that the ideas are being taken from 'marginalized' groups by people in the 'dominant' culture.  That leads me immediately to youth culture in Japan, where American dress and music are wildly popular.  Are they mocking us or honoring us?

Or how about French rap artists?

And what about the current clothing preference for many American woman, the tunic? The caftan, the kimono wrap? The dress of India and the Middle East and Asia.

Interest in other cultures is as old as the hills. The sharing of ideas, traditions, and material items is what makes cultures beautiful and learned, even (think Alegbra).

Yes, American black blues artists were ripped off, their music adopted by American and British whites who turned it into Rock and Roll and made a huge amount of money.  And changed a culture.  But, in later years, these old blues musicians were better acknowledged and their music shared once again by a new generation.  John Lee Hooker (one of my favorites) comes to mind.  He enjoyed great success as an older man, and worked with the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton.  Can all those old blues men and women ever be fully compensated?  No.  Can painters and musicians the world over who died in poverty ever be compensated?  No.  Dreamers and innovators are seldom compensated monetarily. 

But to get to the core of it: is anybody's culture solely their own?  Does any group of people have any greater rights to their dress, food, entertainment than anyone else?  In a world where people are waking up to the gross inequalities that exist, I can understand the anger from the disenfranchised.  There is nothing new under the sun, my friends.  We can work for economic and racial equality while freely adopting the things which we find useful, attractive and exciting, from each other.

Instead of "appropriation" I like to think of it as cultural celebration.  Or is that my privilege talking?

(Technical note: the comment section is here, but you have to scroll down quite a way to get to it!)


  1. I had to really look for the comments as this post has a huge white space before it showed up. Anyway, I love this post and well said how it's a compliment, not meant to take anything away from anyone. I am also European in descent with an interest in many cultures due to also being a writer. I've heard it said before than no white (nobody is really white) should paint Native American images as only a Native American has that right. A few painters have been verbally crucified and yet they have created work that told a very spiritual story because their souls were in sync with their subject. If we thought more that way-- soul deep-- there'd be less anger at possibly using an idea someone admired (Rolling Stones were much inspired by Chuck Berry and praise him lavishly in interviews as their inspiration). I have worn silver hoop earrings from the time I got my ears pierced and love that tunics are back in style (they hide a lot of sins ;).

  2. Interesting post, Tara. I never even think about cultural appropriation. I always just thought artistry and style belonged to the world. We are all influenced by what came before and by what we see now. I think of it as a celebration rather than appropriation. I live in jeans and tee-shirts, so what do I know? LOL!

  3. Yeah, I don't know why there is a huge blank space after the post and before the comments. I went into edit mode to check it out and can't see anything that would cause this. weird.

  4. i'm with the jeans and tshirt lady.

  5. All of this in the larger world -- this cultural appropriation stuff, the intersectionality stuff, the identity politics -- is exhausting. That's all I have to say about it. Oh -- and objective thought isn't valid anymore.

  6. Hoop earrings can be seen in Ancient Egyptian wall-paintings, and also have been found in the Bronze Age hoards discovered buried in the fields of Eastern England. So if anybody ripped off anybody it was a long, long time ago!