Offbeat 29 July 2016
I’m going to be insensitive about cultural appropriation, so if you are culturally sensitive, don’t read this.
Still here? Good. Let’s get on with this.
Apparently some people believe that women with low levels of pigmentation should not wear braids. I observed this from a question posed on Facebook, by one of the smarter people I know. The context was something about it being cultural appropriation of racial identity, something about an African identity, yadda, yadda, yadda.
This is not the first time I have come across the thing. Another friend had a short story nixed because it used a Maori entity, in spite of the fact that she has some Maori in her family.
Somehow my mind turns to those little tinkers from IS launching yet another pathetic attack, only this time blabbering something about Western appropriation of Arabic numerals. If you listen carefully that rumbling sound is probably a million accountants shifting uneasily in their rolling chairs, wondering what they would have to do if they were required to switch back to roman numerals?
Of course we could but an end to IS by damning them for use of the combustion engine. And people who might claim Eurasian descent could probably claim royalties on trousers, assuming they want to trace their roots back that far.
Let’s step back to the original question. It’s a skin thing. Is it darker or lighter? And what are you entitled to on the basis of tone? The details of the answers are actually irrelevant. What it boils down to is a determination of insider or outsider status on the basis of a group.
Some of you may remember apartheid, and all that went with it. The factor of cultural determinations and norms, such as having an English or German heritage, was not particularly relevant. If you had a lighter skin tone, you were handed the nationalist culture and all the festering junk that went with it. If you turned it down, you got it handed to you forcibly. ‘Eendrag maak mag,’ served with a side of thuggery in schools and on playgrounds to hammer down the bits that stuck out.
At the heart of apartheid there was a dark possessiveness. This is ours, and that is yours. If you follow the tracks of that thought to a more primal level, you find the idea that sharing is a loss of resources. Giving something is equated with getting nothing in return, a net loss.
The economics of sharing, in my mind, is not clearly defined by economic modeling. I equate sharing with the idea that there is a benefit to the group. Vaguely, I believe that the wider the group, the greater the benefit of sharing. By improving life for one we improve life for all. If one person doesn’t have enough to eat, then the community surrounding that one person is characterised by hunger, and the whole is impoverished.
With something like the denial of cultural appropriation, even though culture is intangible in many ways, we create hunger by exclusion. We deny sharing and the common experience and understanding that sharing brings, so we are impoverished.
A couple of years ago, maybe starting two decades back, there was the idea of the melting pot, consisting of shared genetics and cultural aspects. Now the world feels like it is being partitioned again, perhaps in response to economic want. It is not a healthy trend, given factors like global wastage and the violent political insecurity of want. People who want are less inclined to reduce their want by violent means.
Sharing of culture is a way to contend with differences. The broader differences created by the cultural appropriation demand entrench cultural differences and that inevitably leads to further partitioning.
There is a reverse side to the coin. A demand for cultural exclusivity indicates that the person who demands it has less and wants to preserve something, even if it is intangible.
The argument against cultural appropriation is damaging at best. Culture needs to be shared. It’s a simple matter of spreading the wealth.