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!)