Why Cultural Appropriation Should Be Encouraged

cultural-appropriationOne popular social justice cause today is the movement to stop cultural appropriation: “the adoption of elements or practices of one cultural group by members of another.”1 However, cultural appropriation should be encouraged, not discouraged, because the blending and merging of cultures can improve an existing culture and bring unity to a nation. The movement against cultural appropriation is rooted in envy. It is an unjustified grievance, an attempt to control another person’s actions and restrict their right to freedom of expression.

Except in instances where a minority culture is being mocked or misrepresented, cultural appropriation is a demonstration of respect and admiration for a minority culture. Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, merged “the sounds of gospel, country and what was then called “race music — music by Southern blacks — to make something new.”2 Elvis showed his respect and admiration for black people by writing and performing songs that were directly influenced by their music. When musicians are influenced by other cultures, they can create new forms of music. Cultural appropriation is one way to make an existing culture more vibrant.

In a nation with the right to freedom of speech, the argument against cultural appropriation has no legal standing. Stopping someone from creating works influenced by another culture is a direct violation of their right to freedom of expression. Another reason cultural appropriation cannot be stopped legally is no individual has legal ownership of their culture. Culture appropriation is not copyright infringement because culture is part of the public domain. Because no single individual created their culture, it belongs to everyone, including those who are from a different ethnic group.

Unfortunately, despite having no legal standing, people have been punished for supporting cultural appropriation. In 2017, Hal Niedzviecki, editor of Write, resigned from his job after complaints about an editorial he wrote in favor of cultural appropriation.3 His right to freedom of speech was not tolerated or respected by the readers of the magazine, and he could not continue in his position. Punishing someone for supporting or practicing cultural appropriation is bully behavior. In a tolerant society, citizens should be free to speak and act according to their own beliefs.

Indignation against cultural appropriation is rooted in envy: “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.”4 When members of a minority culture see that someone has created a product that is influenced by their culture, it gives them cause for complaint. They believe they are victims who have been robbed. In reality, such complaints have nothing to do with social justice. It is envy: resenting another person’s financial success, and wanting it to be taken away from them.

The social justice movement against cultural appropriation is based on a double standard: “a rule or principle which is unfairly applied in different ways to different people.”5 Anyone is free to borrow from white culture, while minority cultures are considered “proprietary.”6 One of the unintended consequences of stopping cultural appropriation is white culture remains the dominant culture on the planet. The more that artists and creators are publicly shamed for appropriating minority cultures, the more likely white culture will continue to be dominant because it is the only culture that remains “open source.”7

The movement to stop cultural appropriation is regressive. Its goal is cultural segregation, to prevent the different cultures in a nation from influencing each other. In previous generations, there were people who wanted to maintain racial purity, to stop inter-racial marriages, which invariably result in the merging and blending of two different cultures. Today, social justice warriors want to maintain cultural purity, to stop cultures from merging and blending through appropriation. Fortunately, cultural appropriation is unstoppable. As people marry and make friends from different cultures, they will naturally adopt some of each other’s beliefs and practices.

Every culture on Earth has something valuable to teach us. Throughout history, nations have appropriated elements of foreign cultures, which often resulted in the advancement of civilization. Culture has the power to unite a nation, to bring people together though a shared enjoyment of books, music, film, theater, art, etc. Culture appropriation can unite people because creative works influenced by two cultures are more likely to appeal to people from both cultures. As long as cultural values or practices are not forced upon someone, the cross-pollination of cultures can be a positive thing. When people adopt the “best practices” of another culture, they improve their lives.

Notes

  1. Sebastian Leck, “Magazine editor quits after outrage over column saying he doesn’t believe in cultural appropriation,” National Post, May 11, 2017, http://news.nationalpost.com/arts/magazine-editor-quits-after-writing-that-he-doesnt-believe-in-cultural-appropriation
  2. George F. Will, “The left’s misguided obsession with cultural appropriation,” Washington Post, May 12, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-lefts-misguided-obsession-with-cultural-appropriation/2017/05/12/59e518bc-3672-11e7-b4ee-434b6d506b37_story.html
  3. Leck, “Magazine editor quits,” http://news.nationalpost.com/arts/magazine-editor-quits-after-writing-that-he-doesnt-believe-in-cultural-appropriation
  4. Oxford Living Dictionaries, s.v. “envy,” accessed June 8, 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/envy
  5. Oxford Living Dictionaries, s.v. “double standard,” accessed June 14, 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/double_standard
  6. David Marcus, “All Cultures Are Mine,” The Federalist, October 26, 2015, http://thefederalist.com/2015/10/26/all-cultures-are-mine/
  7. Ibid.

Shunning Someone You Disagree With

ExclusionTo shun is to “persistently avoid, ignore, or reject (someone or something) through antipathy or caution.”1 Shunning is a demonstration of intolerance toward another person, often because of something they said or did. While shunning may be necessary to safeguard one’s physical or mental health, it is usually not justified. Shunning is a way to punish someone you disagree with, can be a sign of hatred and contempt, and leads to contradictory behavior.

Shunning is common behavior among celebrities. On January 24, 2017, Ewan McGregor refused to do an television interview with Piers Morgan because of his comments about the women’s marches against Donald Trump.2 Instead of speaking directly to Morgan, McGregor tweeted, “Won’t go on with him…”3

When a celebrity shuns someone, they may rationalize it as a form of protest. However, if a celebrity wants to “protest” someone’s words or actions, all they have to do is exercise their right to free speech. Shunning is not required.

In reality, shunning is not about protest. It is a form of punishment. Its purpose is two-fold: First, to make the person feel the pain of rejection and social isolation. When you shun someone, you want them to pay a price: to become a social outcast for their words or actions.

The second purpose of shunning is to deter people from similar behavior. If a celebrity shuns another celebrity for their words or actions, it serves as a warning to society: If you speak or act this way, you deserve to be a social outcast too. Thus, shunning is a strategy to control people’s speech and behavior. It puts social pressure on an individual to change and conform.

The problem with shunning someone because of their words or actions is it often results in contradictory behavior. If you shun a person you disagree with, then you become obligated (by your own moral standard) to reject anyone whose words and actions are equally (or more) offensive.

As a case in point, consider Ewan McGregor. He refused to be interviewed by Piers Morgan, yet he made the film The Ghost Writer with Roman Polanski, a director who drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl,4 was found guilty of “unlawful sex”, and fled the U.S. to avoid going to prison.5 In shunning Morgan for his words, but not Polanski for his actions, McGregor is guilty of a double standard: “a rule or principle which is unfairly applied in different ways to different people.”6

Although shunning is usually not a virtue, there are situations where it may be justified. For instance, if a person has threatened you, or physically assaulted you, then you should stay away from them, and if necessary, get a restraining order against them.

It may also be necessary to shun someone who is verbally abusive. No one should have to tolerate a person who continually insults them. Shunning is justified when it is for your own safety: to protect your physical or mental health.

The dark side of shunning is it can be a demonstration of hatred and contempt for another human being. If you shun someone, you may view them as inferior to you, morally or intellectually. In such cases, shunning is evidence of pride and self-righteousness.

When you shun someone you disagree with, you are unable to separate that person from their words or actions. The alternative to shunning is to love people unconditionally, to treat them as you would want to be treated, even if you disagree with what they say or do.

You don’t have to be close friends with a person whose actions or words you find objectionable. But if that person is no danger to you, and is not rude to you, then there is no reason to shun them. Instead, be brave enough to tell them the truth about their behavior. If you speak the right words, you could impact their life.

Notes

  1. Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “shun,” accessed January 28, 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/shun
  2. Alex Ritman, “Ewan McGregor Cancels Appearance on Piers Morgan’s U.K. TV Show After Women’s March,” Hollywood Reporter, January 24, 2017, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/ewan-mcgregor-cancels-appearance-piers-morgans-uk-tv-show-womens-march-comments-967925
  3. Ibid.
  4. Andy Lewis, “Roman Polanski Rape Victim Unveils Startling, Disturbing Photo for Book Cover,” Hollywood Reporter, July 24, 2013, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/roman-polanski-rape-victim-unveils-591015
  5. “The Slow Burning Polanski Sage,” BBC News, September 28, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8278256.stm
  6. Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “double standard,” accessed January 28, 2017, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/double_standard