By Andrew Turner
Cultural Appropriation (CA) is nothing new, and it’s found in absolutely every single culture. There are, today, no known cultures that have not had some contact outside of their own social ecosystem—and, of course, the moment one such culture is found, cultural trace contamination is guaranteed as enculturation naturally evolves into acculturation. So, the true question is not, and ought not be, has one culture effectively stolen the unique intellectual and anthropological aspects of another, but rather has one culture supplanted another through either strategic assimilation or ideologicide.
CA, in and of itself, is not ethically or morally incorrect, though it may be better to use the term appreciation rather than appropriation. This assumes a syntactic context of borrowing a unique anthropological aspect as a means of demonstrating support for the origin of the aspect or the inherent universal appeal of the aspect.
Strategic Anti-essentialism, however, is what most people actually mean when they mistakenly say CA and when speaking in terms of the majority cultural hegemony confiscating and repurposing minority cultural significances; and Tactical Anti-essentialism, when speaking of minority cultures deliberately magnifying or accentuating unique anthropologicals as a means of calculated differentiation. In the referenced viral video (linked above), it is unlikely, for example, that the individual had any intention of executing the systematic and deliberate devaluation of another culture in order to supplant it with his own, nor is it likely that he intended to strip away any particular cultural identity or group intellectual property in order to claim it as endemic in his own, or original to his own culture.
There is a distinct (and quite ironic) danger in the recent trend of Zero-Tolerance for Cultural Hybridization or CA: any full adherence to the rather narrow demands of such a philosophy necessarily requires a social state of inequality. If we are to agree that certain collected cultural paraphernalia of artistic hallmarks, artificial or ceremonial artifacts, or unique anthropological mannerisms must manifest in and only in historic representatives of a given culture, then it means that any given culture may claim for themselves a strict monopoly on elements of, in the modern era, an arguably global heritage.
On the issue of Privilege, which is the notion that certain demographics tend to enjoy socially heritable benefits over others, such as in the contentiously termed phenomenon “White Privilege” (often known more simply as Western Privilege): the logical conclusion of “checking one’s privilege” is a person who best resembles a strange amalgam of the stereotypical 1950s white Anglo-Saxon American with a 21st century socially aware epistemology. This neo-American homunculus egregiously identifies the term “American” with “white” and would necessarily need to adopt a mendicant aspect whenever contact with another culture occurred (this is the only logical way to “recognize one’s privilege”), have to speak a conceptual dialect of English, wear conceptual clothing, eat conceptual food, read conceptual books, listen to conceptual music, watch conceptual films, attend conceptual events, an so on, in order to strictly refrain from any accidental CA, remembering, naturally, that any act of CA, intentional or not, is an exercise of unearned cultural privilege. Of course, one must ask, what is meant by “conceptual” in this context? Interestingly, simply investigating this issue is an act of exercising the privilege one is expected to recognize and forthwith denounce.
Some may be inclined to argue that all this is simply a reaction to the irrefutable and decidedly distasteful colonialism of the previous era. Admittedly, there is no question that the Western cultural paradigm of the last millennium deliberately exercised a global initiative of manifest destiny, executed out of a triune sense of fear of differentiation, anthropological superiority, and the requirement of empire. Any tendency to remind one of the greater social benefits derived from colonial efforts is too easily countered by two responses, firstly, that said benefits were to the colonizers themselves, and secondly, that said benefits were only extended to the colonized as a means of surreptitious cultural genocide. Thus, asks the beleaguered peasant of ancient Judea, “What did the Romans ever do for us?”
So, how does one navigate the tremulous waters of today’s social neuroses, of which CA and Privilege are but related aspects? Faith and reason have the dual benefit of providing both a felicity of general beneficence for all humankind and irrespective of culture, and the rational means to logically analyze and investigate disparities, disagreements, and dishonesties between people large (cultures) and small (individuals).
It is within this universal and unified community that the transrational discussion may positively contribute to the liberation of both thought and faith, and promulgate between its members the peace of both thought and faith. For it is true, as Augustine would agree, that reasoned thought is a capacity inherent in the nature of being, and faith sees as equals the lives of both king and commoner: all are as children in the eyes of God.
The opinions expressed by the DPS blog authors and those providing comments are theirs alone; they are not necessarily the expressions or beliefs of either the Dead Philosophers Society or Holy Apostles College & Seminary.