While looking into the racial and divided day to days in this “horrible and racist America,” discrimination runs prevalent in all manners of life. It seems that a large portion that is affected by the existence of white nationalism, is the act of theft, beyond the stealing of tangible items. That is correct, with the existence and heavy handedness in art, music, clothing styles, artistic liberties, and literature, cultural appropriation plagues the basis of artistic cultural integration and spreading of idea.
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But this isn’t the case, that, this theft is the turning down of cultures and ideas suggested by these “oppressed” peoples. In fact this “stealing from cultures,” is a step in the right direction allowing for the better integration of ideas and arts from one another, allowing for better cultural exchange.
To start addressing the issue of appropriation, we need to have a fair enough understanding of what the term means. This, however proves difficult, due to the inconsistencies of the term, with the varying definitions provided, an excellent definition wil come from a quote from Elizabeth Coleman’s “Aboriginal Art and Identity: Crossing the Border of Law’s Imagination.” Firstly, “that the appropriation of their art is the appropriation of their identity, and secondly that without appropriate protection for their art their cultures will be destroyed(Coleman 135).” Coleman describes appropriation as the taking of a culture as the extension of the individual’s sense of belonging, sense of alignment with their ethnic identity. By taking from an individual’s culture, begins the spiral of appropriation. As we begin “taking” from the individual so comes the varying levels of harm that these individuals are subjected to. In Luma Zayad’s talk of “Systematic Cultural Appropriation and The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Zayad provides what will be consider the second half of this definition of appropriation, and as well as its respect to harm, “Systematic cultural appropriation involves the appropriation of both tangible and intangible cultural heritage, destruction of cultural heritage, and the theft of cultural property(Zayad 82).”The definition presented by Zayad allows for the elaboration of what constitutes harmful, and to a degree, it would involve “the destruction of a cultural heritage through this theft presented,” Even then, what constitutes the destruction of cultural heritage? If a culture is being respectfully admitted into another culture’s it is in essence losing the cultural values that it pertained before, and is being represented as an art in the culture that “appropriates it.” Of course the whole idea of exchange versus appropriation does spring up, but that appropriation is the first step into exchange.
On the concepts of exchange and appropriation, there needs to be a discussion over these two constitutions. When discussing appropriation and exchange, the common context would be of disrespectful versus respectful cultural interaction. But, within the context of this discussion, appropriation is infact exchange, and vice versa. Appropriation, in regards to the context presented in this writing will contain the ideas of any type of interaction culturally between two differing cultural groups. The lateral thinking of good or bad is out of the question here, the baselining of this discussion on whether there is an exchange between the two groups or not, rather than whether or not it is done well. If the appropriation is done poorly then, it is poorly committed exchange, if the appropriation is done “respectfully,” then that was a good exchange between the two culture groups.
To respond to individuals who see appropriation as a mockery to culture exchange, and cultural integration, although as wonderful it is to see a difference in respectful interpretation and distasteful mockery, appropriation is exchange, respectful or not. If the concept of exchange presented by Frank Guan and Craig Jenkins in “Is Culture Borrowing Always Theft?” is that exchange is “ net good. . .putting a human face on the [African Culture](Jenkins 1).” is a faulty ideal. See in every exchange between two cultures, there is not only going to always be a backlash of individuals who recognize the exchanged art as appropriated and insensitive, but every exchange is always going to be seen as uneven, as long as the exchange is witnessed and focuses on which of the culture groups are involved. The exchange will never be seen as true “net good,” because it is always going to be considered negative by some other group, that “has a say in the issue.”
With the concept of appropriation hopefully well understood what blatant examples of what appropriation is, must be covered. So often, in the means of exchange, we are seeing the unsuccessful interpretation of the culture presented with, often times pieces that do not faithfully honor the culture over shadow the other times faithful and respectful interpretations of the culture. A negative example of what is appropriation is presented in Julie Valik’s Kimono Wednesday , essentially the production of a kimono wearing exhibit in the united states, was subjected to fiery rhetoric of pan-asian protestors. Although asian, the authority of their voice overshadowed actual Japanese and Japanese Americans opinions of indifference(Valik). With the expression of their ideals over the moral issue presented by the act of white americans being able to wear a kimono is beyond me, but digressing into the idea of kimono wednesday, although regarded as negative by a large group of protestors, the introduction of this fairly hands on and interactive experience with the kimono is the step into bringing the japanese culture over into the united states, highlighting the overall idea of the exhibit, and the appreciation of japanese artistry and its part of history. Kimono Wednesday provides excellent semblance over bad appropriation still being considered exchange, by pointing out the distaste that many individuals had over the issue, the individuals of the larger group still saw this interaction, as no big deal. Furthermore, it also provides a great speaking point of the cultural group, being appropriated and their place over the issue. Essentially with the inclusion of their voice, we can decide on what is appropriate in the discussion of appropriation, that way we can shift towards less polarizing appropriation, and present works that respect the cultures they come from, as to avoid future examples of “theft.”
Describing the harm done by appropriation, is something of difficult to track, with the idea in mind that appropriation is, often, a better word than exchange. Often times, appropriation is not harmful, often we see examples of individuals expressing a love for a culture, by appropriating it and bringing it to the forefront of discussion socially. As Rivka Galchen discusses in “What Distinguishes Cultural Exchange from Cultural Appropriation,” Rivka addresses the argument to be made about the Wu-Tang clan, and that is not cultural appropriation, but rather exchange(Galchen 2). Rivka can make the claim that it is exchange, but in the realm of this writing, the Wu-Tang Clan, did in fact appropriate Chinese culture, but just because they appropriated the culture, does not mean they inflicted damaging ideals or stereotypes of the Chinese, or of their culture, they brought only support and respect to individuals art they harbored.
Connecting both appropriation and exchange to one another, leaves the concept of good and bad appropriation in the open for individuals to digest, but with that, we should guide ourselves to what is seen as appropriate appropriation, as to avoid constant calling out of attempted interaction, let us analyze approaches presented in “Is Culture Borrowing Always Theft?”, on how to approach support for appropriation, and other interactions that lie in the vein of this cultural appropriation. The idea of appropriation presented by “Is Culture Borrowing Always Theft?” presents appropriation, something to be open to interpretation(Jenkins 1).The piece describes appropriation as something that can be interpreted by differently by many individuals. So we should make motions towards the normalizing of unsuccessful “interaction,” that is the idea of there not always being a faithful example of exchange, due to all forms of this interaction, all tragically being based on the theft of another culture. Secondly, to build on what we can do to get more individuals to believe in the integrity of the all is appropriation rule, is to discuss the topics of what the group of appropriated individuals has to say over the issue. We know for a fact that marginalized groups will speak up over an issue that bothers them, but when those groups have nothing to say over a piece, we can call over the idea of appropriation not having much quarrel with these groups. No quarreling with the group, the appropriated piece that is, then no issue is present, in that piece, or even in the defense of appropriation, no issue presented in appropriation.
Overall, the essence of cultural appropriation as a means of theft and using another culture’s sigils and symbols is often an overall good shift in interaction between two cultural groups. With better interaction, allows for better communication between the cultures over more appropriate acts of appropriation, which will eventually lead to exchange. Of course as of right now the issue, as it stands is a currently unharmful, and only has the potential to allow for better integration of cultures with one another. Until appropriation is more fully realized, and essentially adopted, as the definition of exchange, and allowed to be seen as a rebounding social interaction, we won’t be able to commit ourselves to a integrating society. As with integrating societies comes the idea of unity, but if we separate one another’s identities, and will not extend ourselves into interacting with it, via appropriation, how are we supposed to grow into this unifying group of ideologies and acceptance, if we cannot overcome the basis integration
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