(OPINION): Cultural Appropriation and the 1st Amendment
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
"The United States of America is the most diverse nation on Earth. You will never find
more cultures living in peace anywhere in the world."
Author: David Barton
Cultural appropriation, the current buzzword. What is it? What does it mean? How does it affect you? How does it affect anyone? These are all questions that seem complex and full of nuances, but I would argue that cultural appropriation is nothing more than another reason for the easily offended left to get “offended.”
What is cultural appropriation? According to Dictionary.com, cultural appropriation is
"the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture." Wikipedia offers a longer definition: "cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture. Because of the presence of power imbalances that are a byproduct of colonialism and oppression, cultural appropriation is distinct from equal cultural exchange." In other words, if white people do anything or wear anything based on a “minority” culture, they a appropriating said culture.
But what if a black man puts on traditional Irish clothing and does some river dancing for Halloween? As a third generation Irish-American, I could not care less. It is his right to dress and act however he wants as long as he does not interfere with the defined rights of others. Notice the word “defined,” I chose that specifically to show that the “right to not be offended by something” is not a real right. So why do others not take this approach to cultural appropriation?
Irish-Americans were treated the worst of all Caucasian immigrants, in some cases, as bad as slaves. They were held in financial bondage through discriminatory hiring practices, forced to accept low wages, and in many cases were not even hired because of their ancestry.
Granted, I, like almost everyone alive and residing in this nation, did not go through what my ancestors did; but I still find the treatment of my ancestors appalling, and I am quite glad that our nation as a whole has moved on from those times. Therefore, according to the leftist mentality, I am well within my rights as a descendant of a minority group to get up in arms about people who are not and or falsely claim to be Irish, celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day dressed as and donning traditional Irish symbols and attire.
But I choose not to be offended by this “cultural appropriation” because I am a grown
adult, and what others do does not bother me. I do not feel a need to stop others from enjoying themselves because I feel they “owe” my people anything. In fact, I do not think anyone owes me anything.
In the past month, I have received and seen dozens of emails and Facebook posts about
cultural appropriation, and every one of them makes me want to go buy a Pocahontas costume and wear it on the big day. These messages are ridiculous as they often reference cultures and costumes in movies, a recent one mentioned Moana. They do realize that the characters in that movie were made up and they were modeled off of stereotypes of the cultures they represented, right? There was also a “meme” posted on a bulletin board in my hall, referencing people dressing as characters from Pocahontas, that movie was completely made up, and again, the characters were modeled off of stereotypes of the cultures they represented.
These movies and characters and the costumes based on them are all made up. Nothing about them pertains to anything resembling the cultures they supposedly represent. So wearing those costumes is not cultural appropriation. They also reference other traditional dress and attire that are often “appropriated” by white people. But they never discuss what other groups appropriate from white people, a topic for another time.
To justify their outrage, individuals often reference “systemic oppression,” “hardship,”
and not being “treated fairly.” But they fail to see how far we have come and how little
oppression there is from the people they direct their outrage at.
The United States of America is the most diverse nation on Earth. You will never find
more cultures living in peace anywhere in the world. We are so great, people are willing to break the law and illegally cross our borders to get here. I am not saying that racism is gone, but it is not nearly as bad as it used to be.
The arguments listed above are simply not good enough to justify denying someone’s
First Amendment rights. Wearing a costume is freedom of expression, there are no laws, nor should there ever be, regarding what type of costume I can wear. People need to just buck up and accept that just because they do not like something, it does not mean they can take it away from others.
We need to stop the “victim” and blame game. The United States is designed to allow
anyone who takes responsibility for themselves and what happens to them, to grow and prosper in what ever pursuit they want. We need to stop looking back and start looking forward. To quote Master Oogway: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it’s called the present.” The atrocities made against minorities in the past, should not be repeated today or in the future, but they also should not affect how we act and treat each other today.
The United States of America is the freest nation on Earth. We value the right to speak
and express ourselves freely the most. But there are many who would rather deny those rights to make themselves “feel better.” If we continue down this path, there is no telling what Orwellian future awaits us, where even our thoughts are policed. I pray that we stop this ridiculous trend of censorship and grow up as a nation and move on. The past is the past, it is time to let it go.
Note: I noticed a disturbing trend of racism and stereotyping in the images for the search “cultural appropriation definition.” Most of them portrayed white people appropriating other cultures. One image from the aptly named SJWiki, referenced how whites are often blamed for killing native Americans by saying “it isn’t like your ancestors killed them or anything.” I hope they realize how few people were involved in the wars with the Native Americans, and I also hope they realize how many people have strong Native American ancestry while still appearing white. Not all whites owned slaves, not all whites fought against Native Americans, and in fact, many fought for their lives and rights. Just something I found interesting and noteworthy.
Contributor: David Barton