An Unpopular Opinion on Cultural Appropriation
by Nathan J. Lichtenstein | published Oct. 14th, 2015
I'm going to come right out and say it: I think this argument about cultural appropriation is a load of horse shit.
For the blissfully uninformed, our friends at Everyday Feminism define cultural appropriation as "...when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that's not their own." Before you go out and burn me at the stake, please read my words carefully. Trivializing the plight of minority groups it not something that should be taken lightly, but in my opinion dressing up like an American Indian is not my way of supporting the Trail of Tears. You may be asking what authority a cisgender white male like myself has on this topic, but, as a Jew, I'm a minority too, and I think rabbi costumes are hilarious.
... I think rabbi costumes are hilarious.
The main driver in the cultural appropriation argument is that it is a more dominant culture stealing the identity of an oppressed group. Is the reason we don't see many American Indians running around in feathered head dresses because the white man has stolen his identity? No, it is because it is 2015 and the head dress is an iconic symbol of their history. The easiest way to portray one's self as a member of that culture is to do so using something indicative of that culture, something historically well known. Is it the most politically correct thing to do, most likely not. Is it degrading and stealing from a culture's identity, no. If anything it's mimicking something iconic that has been assimilated into our own culture.
Let's take RIT's recent ALO-Hockey pep-rally as a prime example. On September 23, RIT held a "Hawaiian style pep-rally" to kick of the 2015 - 2016 hockey season. Included in the festivities were free food, give aways and leas. I honestly cannot find anything remotely wrong with this event. If anything it is a cute homogenization of two elements that are not native to American culture, but have assimilated into our cultural fabric over the years.
Contemporary ice hockey began in Montreal, Canada in the late 19th century and the luau as we know it began in the early 19th century. At its most basic level, ALO-Hockey was a joyous celebration inspired by the Hawaiians celebrating a game created by the Canadians taking place at an American college. Some would want you to believe this event made light of Hawaiian culture, and possibly Canadian culture, but you'd have to really grasp at straws to draw that conclusion.
Though it may sound cliche, America is a melting pot and we tend to absorb the culture of everyone around us and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. In essence, American culture is composed of all of the minorities that form the patchwork of American society. A friend of mine defined cultural appropriation to me as getting the benefits of a culture without the responsibility, but I really don't see it. I view it more as an exchange of cultures.
Another article published by the Everyday Feminism says that the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is being invited. I don't think you need to be invited if you want to experience another culture. The way you experience it may be exaggerated, but it's still acknowledging another culture.
I think in the end, it all comes down to freedom of expression. As long as you're not purposely harming people for who they are, I say we just let people do what they want and focus on larger world issues at hand.