(OPINION) Cultural Appropriation is an Illusion
Author: Craig Orji
Halloween signals resurfacing of the cultural appropriation fever. Again, the topic is making the rounds in the media.
Michigan State University is not exempt from this yearly ritual. A myriad of flyers line hallways showcasing the culturally appropriate costumes students are not to wear. People behind this cultural appropriation campaign have continuously used emotive devices as well as logical fallacies to convey their message, which so far has been very effective on some students. As a result, I feel compelled to provide students with an alternative to this narrative most commonly expressed by left wingers.
Cultural appropriation is most commonly described as someone of a dominant group adopting the elements of a marginalized culture. The cultural appropriation crowd claim that wearing hairstyles such as braids is oppressive. How do they justify such an assertion? Well, they argue that historically, aspects of those cultures were attacked by the dominant group, and by stealing aspects of the marginalized groups culture, they continue this atmosphere of oppression.
The argument is very misleading when you take your time to reflect on its second premise. The idea that someone who wears a piece of clothing is stealing from you originates from absurd formulations of intellectual property. The formulation is basically this: when a social group creates an idea, they own every right to control the use of the idea. The reality is that practicing the idea beforehand doesn’t mean you own the idea. Meaning that your consumption stops me from consuming. Which is clearly not the case here.
Even assuming you are not convinced by my arguments against the foundation of these moral principles, there is still serious problems with the second premise. For instance, any creation of new ideas in this system will be considered stealing. I purposely specify new ideas, because proponents argue that minorities in the past have been forced to adopt western ideas. However, new dance routines, foods, and social conventions avoided these objections and forced them to take a difficult position. If the second premise fails at least this version of the argument completely collapse as stealing is at the center of their thesis of oppression.
I assume that most cultural appropriation advocates are somewhat sensible. They argue that cultural appropriation is insensitive and disrespectful. The problem with this argument is that most of the time activists, instead of ordinary people, lead these ideas. You’d think combining cultures in diverse harmony is something leftists would appreciate.
A common response is that people are disrespectful because they don’t take the time to learn the cultural significance beforehand and often misrepresent this culture. This is a dishonest argument for several reasons. Underlying this argument is the implicit assumption that if you are of the culture you must know everything about it, which is blatantly false.
However, there is some truth to people making mistakes while trying to imitate other cultures. These mistakes are much farther than wearing a sombrero or Native American outfit for Halloween.
This is not a moment to demonize but to inform people without using the assumption of white Americans or westerner’s malicious intent to undermine minorities and non-western cultures. In today's day and age, instead of fighting over futile things, we should focus on serious issues in the world.
Again, underlying most arguments against cultural appropriation is an assumption of white Americans or westerner’s malicious intent to undermine minorities and non-western culture. These ideas are intellectually bankrupt and should be abandoned before western civilization sinks further.
Contributor: Craig Orji