Great cultures steal—and that’s OK
12 May 2018
It seems like every other day social media is alight with another episode of cultural appropriation. From singers who dare imitate or iterate on their favourite genre to film directors who simply want to capture the aesthetic of a different culture—everything sets these sensitive critics off.
The intent of the artist or the extent of their respect does not matter in the eyes of these people. Put bluntly, if you’re a white man, you have no right to adopt any aspect of another group’s apparent cultural identity. See, that’s called ‘cultural appropriation,’ and it’s a very bad thing nowadays.
Emphasis on ‘nowadays’ because only the modern progressive could conjure up such a false controversy.
Cultural appropriation is real but it is not the devil that so many social pundits have made it out to be. In fact, the adaptation of different elements from a minority culture to a majority one is what makes Western society the great big melting pot of the world. It is the lifeblood of any multicultural nation.
The exchange of information through language and visual inference has been one of the greatest skills humanity has ever been gifted. If a group or tribe hoards all of its knowledge, it closes off the possibility of ever receiving knowledge.
We are the most dominant species because every time a member dies, our wisdom doesn’t have to start from scratch. We’re not confined to our own intelligence, forged from our own surroundings, environment, and hardships.
Cultural exchange is the process by which information is traded, and the next step—integration—is why the United States and other Western countries are some of the most diverse and successful on earth.
Of course, some may argue that cultural appropriation is specifically the adoption of a minority group’s identity by the pervasive culture, with nothing given in return. I can see why this could be offensive to some people, especially if religious symbols are taken and misrepresented.
However, we shouldn’t pretend this is what social critics are referring to when they stick the phrase onto any instance of exchange or adoption.
Were people thinking of Bruno Mars’ Filipino, Puerto Rican, and Jewish heritage when they accused him of being a culture vulture? Arguably, a Filipino, Puerto Rican Jew is far more of a minority than an African American. Yet for a few weeks, people were suddenly at the singer’s throat for performing and making music that had its roots in black American culture.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, cultural appropriation is ‘the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.’
Bruno Mars is one of the great musical acts of our generation, and he has by far brought more respect and attention to black music genres than he has siphoned.
But like anyone cares about that.
It doesn’t matter if the artist is doing the art justice. All these people see is a not-black-man using the musical stylings of black men and women and turning a profit. All they smell is blood.
The problem with the ‘progressive’ left’s constant indulgence in identity politics is that the semantics never end. As everyone is different from each other in terms of heritage and self-perception, you can never draw the line on what exact things people aren’t ‘allowed’ to use.
A race is not just a collective hive mind. Not all members are going to have the same opinion on what is and isn’t the wholesale theft of a social identity.
In the modern era, people cling so desperately to any semblance of a social identity that they’re willing to exclude others from having a peek in, regardless of whether that outsider can bring in something new that we’ve never seen or heard before.
Basketball was invented by a Canadian white guy, but you’d be stupid not to recognise that black Americans dominate the sport—they’ve perfected it.
African Americans invented rhythm and blues, which led to rock and roll. Yet Rolling Stone calls the best artist of all time a group of white British boys from Liverpool.
If we don’t allow people to ‘appropriate cultures,’ we don’t allow them to iterate on it or infuse it with something that only adds to its greatness.
Artistic inspiration does not discriminate based on whose art it is. The acquisition of knowledge does not discriminate based on whose brain the wisdom originated from. The war against cultural appropriation is nothing but the fracturing of society into its racial and social tribes.
However, unlike the cavemen, we’re too afraid to let other groups enjoy and adapt our creations in exchange for something greater—a civilisation.