Our world is a diverse one, full of different ways of life, different patterns of thought, and different social and physical environments. As communication and travel have grown easier, contact between different peoples and their ways of life has grown more frequent and more pronounced. When writing books, filming movies, programming video games, or doing any other creative work, sometimes the creators will look outside their own cultural milieu for inspiration in a bid to get away from their usual thinking patterns.
However, what was once hailed as open-minded cultural blending is now damned by a certain subset of progressive as “cultural appropriation” — which, in their mind, is an act of unspeakable hate.
“Cultural appropriation” is when someone of one race or culture uses tangible or intangible elements of another culture (clothing, food, religion, folklore, etc.) for some expressive purpose. Chinese character tattoos on non-Chinese are one obvious example of this, as is the practice of yoga by Westerners. In most cases, no offense is intended — quite the opposite. The one doing the appropriating just wants to show his appreciation for another culture.
However, social justice extremists don’t see it that way.
In this view, any use of a non-European culture’s iconography or other elements is an act of bigotry akin to wearing blackface makeup. To use non-European symbolism is to mock and degrade that culture no matter what the user’s intent or content was. It is part and parcel of the colonialist legacy, a racist act under the respectable cover of “art.” According to this thinking, fighting cultural appropriation is fighting the bigotries of this world.
Yet in practice, fighting cultural appropriation amounts to little more than bullying and intimidation.
On an American campus, students berated a woman for singing Hindu chants. Activists harangued a museum for letting people try on a kimono. A game company pre-emptively switched out a Native American-style costume for a cowboy costume.
As with all social justice crusades, this isn’t about “ending bigotry.” This is about domination and control, pure and simple.
To Social Justice, everyone must stay in their cultural box. All sharing must occur with the permission of activists. People exist only to further the Social Justice agenda, whatever it is this week. Anyone straying from this is likened to the worst bigots one could find, because your “hatefulness” is determined by political convenience. If you are called a bigot, you are a bigot. Asking for evidence is proof of your guilt. There is no clemency, no reprieve — just the arbitrary judgements of wannabe tyrants. After all, people who are free are people who are too hard to boss around, and Social Justice wants cowed subjects, not free citizens.
Culturally appropriate to your heart’s content. To see intercultural exchange blasted as reactionary — what a world we live in today!
With the novella Sword & Flower, I give cultural appropriation a try, and it is glorious.