I read a lot about cultural appropriation. And I get it. But, like so many other issues that tend to create friction where none previously existed, a burr seems to have grown into a full-fledged mesquite covered in monstrous thorns. I understand the indignation that arises when people “appropriate” an element of another culture and claim it as their own. But I do not understand the rage that accompanies “appropriation” when full credit is given to its source. Does my appreciation for and enjoyment of Mexican food count at cultural appropriation? What if I modify “original” recipes to better suit my personal tastes? Must I ask someone for permission? And how about hair styles? I’ve seen considerable anger over dreadlocks on white people, along with assertions that the hair style is a statement by black people asserting their African ancestry. Perhaps adoption of dreadlocks in Rastafarian culture counts as a recent claim to the style, but research suggests the style originated in India or Egypt long, long ago. So, if someone appropriates the style, who is the party injured by the appropriation? And, frankly, why does it matter that people outside the originators’ culture appreciate and adopt a hair style or food preference or anything else?

I can think of very few culture-specific things that are truly unique to the culture. Historical contributions outside our realm of experience color all aspects of our lives. I, for one, appreciate and am happy to acknowledge the contributions of other cultures to my enjoyment of the one in which I live. Barbecue’s history is not uniquely WASP, but should I not use my grill because that method of cooking did not originate in my culture?

My reading of the outrage over cultural appropriation is this: it’s a symptom of a deeper anger at one culture’s dismissal of the contributions of another. Frankly, at that level, I understand and can appreciate the anger. But I believe that anger could just as readily be channeled in another emotion, joy, over the fact that an aspect of one’s culture is so appreciated that people outside that culture adopt it. As long as it’s not claimed as one’s own (as in, I created this), I think cultural “appropriation” is, in fact, an expression of deep appreciation.

Now, that’s off my chest. Of course, if someone reads this and thinks I’m dead wrong, I’d like to hear how I’ve missed the mark.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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