Cultural appropriation

It appears we don’t actually have a general thread for this particular pernicious piece of PC bullshit, so here goes:

Who polices culture to prevent appropriation? Is prevention even necessary?

The above article is thankfully rather critical of the whole cultural appropriation fad. That is not always the case. The funny thing is, when you fanatically “protect” some poor native culture from being appropriated, you may well be shooting them in the foot.

Imagine the following scenario: my people and I all dress in khaki, we proudly wear a kruithoring-en-voorlaaier badge as symbol, we walk around with a Bible under the arm, etc. etc. In short, we look like real Boere. Just across the border in Kwazulu, everyone dresses traditionally, live in huts and look very Zulu.

Now, imagine the Zulu are fiercely defensive about their culture, and they forbid me and my folks from ever wearing their kind of dress, or using loanwords from their language, or using Zulu decorative patterns in our clothes or houses, etc. We, on the other hand, do not mind at all if Zulu folks appropriate any bits of our culture that they like: they can convert to Christianity and read our Bible, they can wear our kind of clothes if they like, they can speak our language, etc, etc.

Now tell me, in a hundred years, which of these two cultures is going to be the one that remains standing? It almost follows from a sort of cultural law of thermodynamics: if you have two containers with a membrane between them that only allows particles from A to pass to B, but not the other way round, then everything ends up in container B. If you allow “oppressed” people to freely contaminate their culture with mine, but do not allow me to engage in reverse contamination, then before long the oppressed culture will have gone the way of the dodo.

Well, that may actually be a good thing, so perhaps we should not complain too much about the cultural appropriation police. I for one would much rather have the Zulu adopt my culture than I have any wish to adopt theirs.

But of course, the whole thing isn’t really about who owns which culture; it is just one more way to bash evil white people like me. I could decide to respect other cultures by solemnly undertaking to henceforth never appropriate any of them: I will not learn Zulu, I will never use loanwords, I will not use their decorations, etc. etc. I will completely ignore them and all other non-western cultures. Will that satisfy the PC police? Nope, because then I am ignoring and marginalizing these poor oppressed folks. I.e. there’s no way to win; damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

show me one culture that hasn’t appropriated from some other?

That is the real summary of just about all of social justice. These systems of thought are carefully constructed much like religions to be similarly resistant to critique: The point isn’t truth. The point is power. From my POV, these are people for whom reality and facts are nothing more than impediments that should be overcome to achieve their goals. ALL they want is power and wealth, and the consequences of their actions seem completely immaterial. They’re the kinds of people who will happily starve millions if it means they get something out of it. This isn’t any theoretical point either: I do mean it quite seriously, and it has been done many times.

In this case, the power being sought is more powerful that many realise: They’re seeking to control not only discourse but culture itself. It’s not WHAT you do, it’s that they don’t get to control what you do. (Which is the essence of a narcissist but I digress…)

I do like your analogy of some kind of semi-permeable membrane between cultures with one side “allowing” appropriation and the other not, resulting in the one not allowing it ending up being destroyed. I do think it’s an accurate way of looking at things. I guess another case of “if you love something, let it go”. I guess the fear of losing the culture may intensify the veracity of trying to insulate and protect it: In the process destroying it. Much like the protective instinct of a parent can smother a child. May very well be why I feel so uncomfortable with people who are “aggressively Afrikaans”.

Yes, indeed. It’s a tricky balance to keep. In many ways, I sympathize with groups like Afriforum. We are now the Jews of South Africa: a small and increasingly resented minority group, held responsible for everything that goes wrong, and if we don’t look after our own interests, no one else will. I am all in favor (at least in principle) of such cultural organizations as the Voortrekkers (it might actually do black South Africans a world of good to set up similar organizations for their cultures/language groups).

At the same time, one should be careful not to let identification with one’s own descend into hatred of others, or obsessive insistence that everyone should “respect” you. Frankly, the more western culture the rest of the world appropriates, the better, if you ask me.

The influence of Western systems, values and norms is having an undisputed impact upon the cultural and humanistic values of traditional Africa. As is normally the case in most cultures, this assimilation process will have both beneficial and destructive effects on the recipient culture. According to the late Bishop Alpheus Zulu, the Zulu culture should not be considered to be threatened by modernization processes and its exposure to Western cultures as “our culture will assimilate what is good
in other cultures, discard what is bad and be the stronger for it” (Personal Communication, 1981)…from my Masters Thesis 1991.

I’m sure it can be done. The Japanese adopted western culture with gusto, without sacrificing one iota of their essential Japneseness, and it appear the Chinese are following suit. But it can be pretty difficult, and it is all too easy for people to end up somewhere in between, with no real culture or language at all. During my teaching days I have personally witnessed this, and what happens to kids who grow up without cultural or linguistic identity. It’s not a pretty sight. In fact, you can see it in action at your local Clicks. :slight_smile:

I don’t follow why being aculturist* is a bad thing. I would have thought that such clean-slate kids would be a pleasure to indoctrinate mold teach.

  • In the sense of not being rooted in the ways of your forefathers. Not simply hating the philharmonic.

Well, it depends perhaps on what exactly we mean by culture. But I had the dubious pleasure of teaching kids from middle class homes but with parents that were not really involved in their lives in any way. Perhaps they were blank slates? Don’t know, but it was impossible to teach them anything at all.