In Praise of Cultural Appropriation

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As a girl, I would ask my mother, “Why can’t I have curls?” She’d always frown a little, and remind me that our hair is straight. My grandmother would get permanent waves, and my mother ended up nearly losing her hair to a truly disastrous chemical treatment – all in the pursuit of what we did not have from birth. The irony of this was that more often than not, the girls with the ringlets that I envied would have preferred to have smooth and straight locks like my own. It is that basic envy and admiration of what we don’t have that drives the imitation of styles we see on others – what some now call “cultural appropriation.”

The real problem isn’t the fact that people are “borrowing” from the styles of other cultures, because that has been happening from the time that people started wearing clothing and adornments. Today, we have an intellectual elite class that is teaching the masses that this act of imitation is essentially the same as being photographed was to some cultures that feared it desperately because they believed the images somehow trapped their souls. The problem is that people are being told that imitating style is equal to ripping something essential from their very existence.

These high-minded individuals have failed to recognize a very basic part of being human – as human beings, we engage in mimicry. In modern society, it is a very selective process, which means that we only choose to emulate actions (or in this case, styles) we highly admire.

There was an adage that applied to this phenomenon – “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Elvis Presley imitated music from black artists, because he admired their work not because he wanted to somehow keep those artists from advancing in the music industry.

The current targets of the intellectual elites are being told they can’t make certain fashion choices, like hoop earrings, because those styles are the exclusive property of minority cultures. Those same people are telling members of those cultures that they should feel insulted if people from other cultural backgrounds want to imitate them. The entire premise is based on two fallacies: first that anything in our collective culture is the exclusive “property” of a given ethnicity, and second that anyone who chooses to borrow styles from other ethnic backgrounds is doing so for malicious or racist reasons.

Every culture on the planet at this point has borrowed from other cultures at some point, so there is no such thing as “cultural exclusivity”. Humans have been migrating around the planet for millennia, and have picked up bits and pieces of their culture from the places they have called home over the years. The intellectual elites who are claiming that there is such a thing as “cultural exclusivity” must have skipped History, Anthropology, Sociology, and Social Psychology during their studies.

The claim that there can only be malignant or hateful reasons for people to emulate each other has no basis in reality. In truth, it is in direct contradiction with more than a few theories that these intellectuals should have learned in even the most basis courses on Psychology and Sociology.

So, this entire exercise is an anti-academic and anti-scientific social movement with the simple goal of causing outrage among minority groupings. Generally speaking, such activities have historically been used to control minority factions within a society. If the minority groupings are focused on being angry at a specifically defined “pseudo-enemy” that really isn’t a true threat to them, the ones telling them that they should be angry can then gain their trust on other matters. Those “other matters” are usually laws and policies that are truly a threat to those minority groupings. In America today, that could be the perpetuation of a permanent underclass for minorities, particularly in urban centers. Those intellectuals are also opposed to education reforms that could improve educational opportunities for that permanent underclass the government and intellectuals created.

But, it’s more important to be upset about the “wrong” cultural groups wearing the fashions inspired by minority groupings, right?

Image: Dr. Umesh Behari Mathur (CC)

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