25 August 2016

I'm So Fancy: On the Consept of Cultural Appropriation

I used to have I'm So Fancy, by Iggy Azalea, as my phone's ringtone, for the express purpose of annoying Social Justice Warriors.


Because she is white (so say the SJW), she has no business making rap music.
Black people invented hip-hop, therefore only they have the right to produce it.
White people can listen and enjoy it, perhaps, but they should not be able to make any money off of it.

As counter-point, allow me to introduce "Unlocking the Truth"

Three Black kids playing (some pretty damn good!) metal music. Do these boys not have the right to play it?  Are they "appropriating" a music style which should be reserved for people who grew up in trailer parks?  It doesn't get much more white then metal.

I suppose one could make the argument that metal developed from rock, which in turn developed from blues, and claim African American roots...
So, fine, we'll use George Walker, a pulitzer prize winning composer, as our example instead

It used to be mainly racists who wanted to keep everyone "in their place".
Now it is the self-proclaimed "anti-racists" who want to do the same thing - the same one's who protest "gentrification" - which is really code for "white people moving (back) into traditionally black neighborhoods (ones which primarily got that way because of "white flight" a few decades ago); or, in other words "re-integration".

Faced with Unlocking the Truth, a supporter of the idea of "cultural appropriation" may claim there is a qualitative difference between white kids playing hip hop and black kids playing metal, due to the fact of the history of slavery and exploitation which was very much one-sided in this country.

But that rational doesn't work either: Iggy Azalea, who we opened with, isn't from this country.
She is Australian.  There is no history of Europeans bringing African slaves to Australia, followed by decades of Jim Crow.  That argument would only work if Iggy was playing the didgeridoo.
Which she isn't.

Race and culture are not interchangeable.

What is culture, really?

In essence, it is geographic conformity.  Everyone in a particular region, or an isolated subset of people in a region, all speak not only the same language, but the same idioms and slang and accents.  They produce and listen to the same music, dress the same, eat the same food.
That's what culture means.  The extent to which it follows ethnic lines is proportional to the extent to which ethnicities are isolated.

Marshal Mathers (a.k.a. Eminem, a.k.a. Slim Shady) grew up in 8-Mile Detroit.  The poor urban inner-city, predominately Black, was his home.  Hip-hop IS his native culture.

This is always how culture has worked: any two populations which are near each other or overlap borrow ideas from each other.  English has words from dozens of different languages, and dozens of different languages use a few originally English words.  While we think of potatoes as Irish and Tomato sauce as Italian, both of these foods came from the Americas, and didn't exist in Europe pre-Columbus.  A technology developed anywhere soon becomes the norm worldwide.  The olympics shows that people enjoy the same wide variety of sports in every nation.

And all this blending and melding and overlapping and sharing is a very GOOD thing!
It is the primary force countering a natural human tendency toward tribalism and xenophobia.
It is theorized by social scientists that the reason so many religions have strict food guidelines is to control and restrict their subjects interactions with other populations - if those in the neighboring village eat unholy food, how can you possibly accept them as friend or spouse?

If what we want is more integration, more racial harmony, more cross cultural respect and understanding, we should be encouraging cultural mixing in all of its varied and wonderful forms, from the Japanese Italian fusion restaurant in San Francisco's Japan town, to Unlocking the Truth, George Walker, and, yes, even Iggy Azalea.

Don't get me wrong - there are some circumstances which definitely count as legitimate cultural appropriation.  The cigar store indian, or indian themed sports teams, complete with "savage" mascots comes to mind.  Or the minstrel shows, and old black and white movies with white actors playing highly stereotyped Chinese.

But this really isn't the same thing.  Those examples are deliberately exploitative.  The people using other cultural symbology in those examples is not really trying to live that culture first-hand, they are not embedding themselves within it or adopting it, they are merely using it, even making fun of it, as an "other".

The musician examples above, in contrast, actually identify with the culture they are now a part of.
The say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

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