7 flawed things about cultural appropriation


Hi my name is Femandrogyne Kim. Yeah, I’m
returning to the subject of Cultural Appropriation. Sorry not sorry. There are many things about
this whole thing that I find annoying and I’m going to talk about them.
Although I understand that there are situations where the whole concept of cultural appropriation
is a valid criticism, like when there are mocking stereotyping, disrespectful, rude
portayals of other cultures. Like when people benefit financially from things or something
is considered a white thing when it comes from another culture, and basically the culture
that it comes from gets exploited and fucked over in the process. There are valid criticisms
with regards to cultural appropriation. But the way it often gets talked about these
days, particularly since it’s become the trendy new social justice topic, is really kind of
annoying. And I have had some new thoughts about the issue that I’ve not really talked
about yet. So I would like to share them. So these are my 7 flaws with cultural appropriation.
They are not in an order like a usual top 10, they are not in an order where the one
that I talk about last is the most problematic one or whatever. They’re just in an order
that is useful for discussing it in a way that’s coherent and makes sense.
Firstly, and I don’t think I’ve heard anyone mention this before, black culture is actually
the dominant culture when it comes to popular music for example. And popular music, let’s
not forget, has a massive influence on fashion. Whenever someone objects to the whole notion
of cultural appropriation with regards to white people wearing dreads or twerking or
whatever it might be, and then they say so all these people of colour who use computers
or whatever should stop using them because they were invented by a white guy. The counter
criticism is always white culture is the dominant culture and people of colour need to fit in
with it in order to get ahead sort of thing. It’s funny though when people criticise white
people for adopting elements of black culture that they are exposed to because of reggae
music or hip hop music because the funny thing is in popular music black culture is the dominant
culture. People look up to and idolise these very succesful music stars and they want to
be like them. How is that different to, well obviously it is different because fitting
into “white culture” can affect your ability to find work and stuff like that, I admit
that’s more serious than emulating popular music stars. But it’s funny that nobody seems
to mention that actually when it comes to popular music black culture is the dominant
culture. the majority of the tracks on the charts are hip hop or RnB tracks. And in a
way this has been a success story for people of colour. That back in the old days of rock
‘n’ roll white artists would basically cover, rip off black artists RnB songs and repackage
them for white audience and the original artists wouldn’t get to see any money from it whilst
the white artists became massively succesful. And this was I suppose reflective of the racist
culture of the times, that whites and blacks were very segregated from one another back
then and that there was definitely massive inequality. What’s happened over time, and
partly because black music has influenced white music stars, black artists started to
make a success for themselves in their own right, like with Soul in the 60s an 70s, through
the whole reggae thing to the hip hop and RnB of today. And now that is the dominant
landscape when it comes to popular music. Rap and RnB are the most succesful styles
of music on the planet at the moment and I don’t think it’s surprising when white kids…
Kids always want to emulate the music stars that they idolise. They always want to adopt
the fashions of the style of music they listen to. That’s why Rob Halford took the leather
and studs thing out of the gay S&M scene and then it became the heavy metal uniform, in
a similar way you get fashions that come from black culture because the black stars are
the ones making the music. Kids look up to their stars and want to emulate them. Kids
admire a style of music and they want to adopt the clothing that goes along with it.
I thought it’s not cultural appropriation if the culture that’s being adopted is the
dominant one. And this leads me a little bit to another
point. Black performers are some of the richest people on the planet. Jay-Z and Beyonce, I
mean you can’t claim these people are oppressed. They’re very rich and very influential.
The third thing I would say is that 99% of white people take inspiration from other cultures
for positive reasons. Yes I know about the stereotyped portrayals, disrespectful use
of native american headdresses for fancy dress, horribly stereotyped and insulting portrayals
of Chinese culture or whatever. There are all of these examples where it’s rude and
disrespectful. There are many shallow borrowings of things, like people who want to put Ganesha
on their altar just because he looks cool, rather than because it actually means anything
spiritual to them. But you know what 99% of the time when white people or people of any
culture for that matter take on aspects of other cultures, it’s because they see something
in that culture that they admire and respect and they want to enrich their lives by including
it in their own lives. You shouldn’t have to immerse yourself fully in another culture
if that’s not comfortable for you or not the way you wanna be. It doesn’t stop you from
taking aspects of other cultures that you appreciate, admire and respect and integrating
them into your own life. There seems to be a lot of assumptions that when white people
borrow from other cultures they’re only doing it for the meanest, most disrespectful reasons
and this actually is quite an intolerant and prejudiced way of looking at it because it
just isn’t the case. The fact of the matter is that a lot of white people think it’s the
right thing to do, to look at other cultures and take inspiration from them, so that they’re
not a racist bigot, so that they’re not ignorant of other cultures. They want to partake in
other cultures and explore and experience… Admittedly it’s a little bit of a patting
yourself on the back, self-congratulatory thing. but white people have been told for
so long that we are racist, that actually this situation where white people look to
look to other cultures and want to engage in it and absorb aspects of other cultures
and enrich themselves. It’s because white people want to be multicultural. We don’t
want to be racist bigots. We want to be multicultural, we want to not be ignorant, we want to learn
from other cultures. This feels like a respectful thing for white people. So that’s why a lot
of white people get upset when they’re being criticised for what they thought was the opposite
of racist. And are now told it’s cultural appropriation and it’s wrong. And I’m not
sure it is because if it is out of respect and admiration for other cultures then it
is actually coming from a good place. And don’t tell me that you’re making a distinction
between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. That’s just something you say
to deflect the criticism that people make about the arguments your making because you’re
still picking on white people for wearing dreads, you’re still picking on white people
for adopting aspects of hip hop culture or whatever when 9 times out of 10 people who
adopt aspects of hip hop culture do so because they admire that culture, because they want
to be part of that musical scene, that fashion and that subculture.
When you get white pop stars or whatever doing aspects of dance moves and things that come
from hip hop culture or whatever, let’s face it, it’s the dominant force in popular music
these days. Aren’t they just trying to involve themselves in what is the current dominant
force in popular music. Artists are always looking to explore and have elements of other
music in their music to expand their sound, to be more interesting and more relevant to
a broader range of people. And it’s something music artists do, they explore and expand
their musical repertoire into other areas. When George Harrison wanted to learn sitar
because he genuinely liked and admired Indian music, so he brought a bit of that into the
Beatles. I see nothing wrong with that. When you get some kind of dubstep artist, I don’t
think he’s white though, I forget the name of the artist, including aspects of Chinese
music in his music, it’s trying to explore other musical avenues, to enrich your sound.
It’s something music artists do. It’s not for any stealing reason, it’s for genuine
appreciation and admiration for that culture. And yet people still pick on them. Katy Perry
dresses up as Egyptian or Japanese or whatever in her videos. Pop videos are often make believe,
where stars will dress up as things. It’s part of the whole thing with pop music. Iron
Maiden had elements of Egyptian things in their Powerslave album. That sort of thing
has been going on for a long time. It’s not cultural appropriation, it’s part of a widening
of the mind to other cultures. It’s cultural appreciation. Yet people still criticise it.
White guys wearing dreads because basically, maybe they like Bob Marley’s music, maybe
they only associate Bob Marley with smoking weed and not with Rastifarianism and I understand
that that can be annoying but at the end of the day a lot of the white people who wear
dreads, they’re kind of hippyish, they’re trying to get back to nature, so they’re letting
their hair be natural so it locks. It is in a way a spiritual endeavour for them just
as much as it is for a Rastafarian. So this is the problem I have with it. 99% of the
time, white people are not adopting from other cultures to be disrespectful or mocking or
to steal it, it’s through genuine appreciation and genuine admiration and genuine respect
for other cultures and genuine desire to open your mind and not be ignorant. It’s genuinely
coming from a multicultural place. You can say all you want that there’s a difference
between appreciation and appropriation but you’re still criticising people for things
that are appreciation, saying it’s appropriation when it’s not.
Number 4 is that white people are not a homogenous group and we are not responsible for the decisions
of employers. Because with dreads specifically this is often said that black people lose
jobs for having dreads and so on. As if somehow white people with dreads are getting lots
of jobs. I think usually they suffer from the same problem. Employers can be pretty
judgemental about looks sometimes. I mean they’ll judge me for having long hair. It’s
not the responsibility of all white people for what people in positions of power are
doing. Not all of us are in positions of power. Most of us face many of the same problems
and obstacles when it comes to getting jobs because we might have tattoos or we might
have long hair or whatever it might be that they’ll view in a bad way and not want to
employ us for that reason. I don’t see how the kid down the street being a bit hip hop
and street or the hippy having dreads is really anything to do with that. It’s not like they’re
the ones in positions of power. It’s not like they’re the employers. Stop viewing white
people as a homogenous group of people that are somehow in conspiracy with each other
to oppress black people. Number 5, cultural appropriation has been
going on for ages. The Greeks and Romans stole many things from the Egyptians that have now
become part of our common culture. Rock music is based on the blues. Do you not realise
that whenever you say something is “cool” or something is “hot” that terminology comes
from Jazz culture. Is that cultural appropriation? We all use that language. You know what, cultures
have been mixing and merging for a long, long time. And yes because of the colonial, imperialistic
things of the past it wasn’t always done in the right way. But you know what, generally
speaking it has enriched our culture and made our culture a lot better. And to stop this
happening, you’re stopping progress itself. And you’re building walls instead of bridges.
Number 6, minorities have benefited from past appropriations. I’ve already talked about
Rock ‘n’ roll taking rhythm and blues and repackaging it for white audiences and yes
that was pretty shitty and bad. I’m not in approval of that at all. I’d much rather go
to the source material of the black artists than the Elvis covers of them. A lot of the
time they’re better to be honest. I’m not really an Elvis fan I’m afraid.
But you know what, as a result of that black music came to white audiences and that led
to situations where black artists could hold their own and become succesful in their own
right. As happened in the 60s and 70s with various Soul and Reggae artists that were
successful then. Right through to the 80s and beyond when Rap music became so successful.
And maybe in part Beastie Boys had something to do with that, though I think Run DMC were
just as successful at the time. But maybe that’s because they did a song with Aerosmith.
But you know what. sometimes the dominant culture takes a thing from another culture
and make it massively successful, sometimes it’s bad because white people get the credit
for it rather than the original culture but sometimes you know it allows people from the
dominant culture to have their eyes opened to the other culture that’s out there and
then thanks to that the other culture ends up having success in their own right. It happened
with Reggae with Eric Clapton covering a Bob Marley song. The cultural appropriation leads
to the original culture becoming successful in our culture, so that positive results can
result from it. And once again I want to mention the Rob Halford thing. Rob Halford took gay
S&M uniform of leather and studs and made it become the universal kind of uniform of
heavy metal music and many heavy metal fans adopting this. And most of them were not aware
that it came from a gay subculture. But you know what, Rob Halford was very successful
in that very successful band Judas Priest and what he managed to do was take something
from his own sexuality and make it the uniform for heavy metal. Do you think he really feels
upset about that cultural appropriation of all those metal kids wearing those leather
and studs. No I bet he’s secretly laughing about it, how he took something from a gay
subculture and made it acceptable in a very masculine, very heterosexual subculture such
as heavy metal. And you know what, that’s the thing about it as well, it’s also really
funny. Because any homophobia you encounter in the metal community, you can always counter
with the fact that you’re wearing a style of dress that basically originated from gay
S&M, it makes that bigotry laughable, a joke. It’s not always true that cultural appropriation
has bad effects. It can have very positive effects. Minorities can benefit from the process
of cultural appropriation. It’s a very simplistic argument to make that it’s always a bad thing.
And I know you’re going to make that distinction again between appreciation and appropriation
but some of these things clearly are appropriation and yet positive things result from it.
And finally, my final big flaw that I’ve noticed in the whole cultural appropriation argument,
which is basically a pretty obvious conclusion to make. Sharing culture builds bridges. The
more we mix and mingle with each other, the more we tear down those walls, build bridges,
the more our cultures influence each other, the better it gets. Stop viewing white people
as these racist overlords. Most of us don’t have that much power, most of us genuinely
are interested, fascinated with other cultures. Partly I suppose because we find something
lacking in our own. There’s nothing wrong with looking for inspiration and wisdom or
just really cool things from other cultures. White people will look at other cultures,
they’ll find something that resonates with them, that inspires them, or just that they
think is really cool, and they want to adopt it into their own lives. But they don’t necessarily
want to immerse themselves fully in the other culture and yet even then, even when they
just take one aspect or a few aspects from a culture, the fact that they benefit so much
from those things will make them look at the people of that culture and have respect for
that culture and for those people. It builds a bridge. And that’s a good thing. Multiculturalism
is a good thing. I’ve always argued against racists by saying all these people who come
to our country, who come to the UK, from Asia, from Africa, they’ve enriched our culture,
they’ve given us so many things that we appreciate. Black music styles have created all the popular
music we enjoy. Rock and metal are based on the blues. Dance music is based on Rap and
Reggae and Soul. We’ve all benefited from that. We all benefit from the cuisines of
other cultures. We all benefit spiritually from other cultures. So many people are turning
away from the Christian church because they see aspects of it that really, to be honest
don’t make a lot of sense or seem plain mean spirited and unhealthy. And some go atheist
and some go pagan. But many, many, and this has been going on for a long time, since the
60s – many have turned to Eastern religions, to Buddhism etc. And sometimes people take
some aspects of Buddhism but not all of it. And it still enriches their lives and makes
it better because Buddhism is a very wise philosophy. So even if just some of it rubs
off on you, it will improve your life. And I don’t see any Buddhists complaining about
this. Usually they’re very glad when aspects of Buddhism infect other aspects of culture,
like with the New Age movement. I’ve never heard a Buddhist be negative about those sorts
of things. It’s great. Even if only some aspects of the Buddhist message get out there and
affect people’s lives it’s still positive for everybody. Obviously it’s best from a
Buddhist perspective if you adopt the whole thing but you know what, every little helps,
some is better than nothing. Our lives have been enriched by the way cultures
have mingled with one another. New hybrids come forth because of the way cultures mingle
with each other. Heavy Metal is a good example of that, based on the blues but also partly
on Classical music. This is a good thing. Multiculturalism is a good thing. Stop agreeing
with the white nationalists that it’s a bad thing. It’s a good thing. As cultures mix,
bridges are built. Even if you just take on a few aspects of another culture and use it
to enrich your own culture, still a bridge has been made. You will then forever more
look on the people of that culture with respect. Adopt aspects of their spirituality, you say
they’re wise. Adopt aspects of their music, you think they’re cool. You know what, this
builds bridges. This is the opposite of racist. It’s a good thing.
So those are the problems I have with the cultural appropriation argument. If you liked
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