I’ve got that icky feeling. I’m hooked on the weird Rachel Dolezar story and the issue of cultural appropriation. I watched her Today Show interview…that there is some convoluted logic. Then I watched this video by Amandla Stenberg. She’s 16 and made it for her history class. She also starred in The Hunger Games as Rue with Jennifer Lawrence, the white actress who played the “olive skinned, black haired Katniss.”
Totally cringe inducing.
I then read this article on why cultural appropriation is wrong. More cringing. But I also think it is missing the point by focusing on the symptoms rather than the cause. The point, as Amandla asks in her video, is “What if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?”
Or, to make it apply globally:
“What if we loved/accepted people as much as we love their things/money?”
Because that is what it really comes down to: money. One group suffers, another profits. On that level, rectifying cultural appropriation makes sense.
But on an individual level, how do you know if an artist is exploiting someone else’s culture for profit, or if they are being true to themselves and contributing to the process of creation? When is a fashion choice a fashion choice, and when is it a political statement? Where do you draw the line on where “cultural exchange” ends and “cultural appropriation” begins?
You can theorize. You can have an icky feeling. I get that icky feeling when I feel there is a lack of authenticity, awareness and/or knowledge about the subject. For example, when I go to an art fair and see that an artist is painting the themes he thinks will sell, not what he is actually interested in. But in the end, that’s just my feeling.
History should not give Elvis Presley credit for rock n’ roll. But I also don’t think he should have been so afraid of committing cultural appropriation that he never picked up a guitar. We need to work on the root cause (racism!) so that every innovator can be a success, not just the whitest ones. Telling people they can’t eat a burrito, wear braids or do trikonasana because they haven’t suffered what what the peoples who invented these things suffered…I feel really icky about that, too. I’m not a fan of the Appropriate Police.
I leave you today with Yoga, by Janelle Monae. You can be offended by her appropriation of Indian culture, proud of her hip hop sensibility, amused by her mockery of American yoga culture…or you can dance. I’m gonna dance.