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What’s Wrong With Cultural Appropriation?

Cultural appropriation is not something everyone understands. Most people don’t see where the harm is being done. Let me give you some pointers.

Cultural Appropriation, Another Name For A War Trophy

In the past, when two armies engaged in battle and one finally managed to gain the upper hand, war trophies were often captured. For example, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the English stole the headgear of the French Imperial Guard and put it on the soldiers of the English Royal Guard. In other words, the famous English Royal Guards wore French hats. It’s a war trophy, and could rightly be the subject of a diplomatic row between France and the UK. When one people has totally annihilated or humiliated another in the past (genocide, slavery, deportation etc.), the question of war trophies is doubly problematic. On the one hand, it openly mocks the victims and rekindles the wounds of the past, as a former enemy struts before the descendants of the victims with the attributes of his ancestors. The humiliation continues. A war trophy is humiliating for the person dispossessed of it, because the object in question often loses its sacred character. It was not uncommon for victors to parade around with the ears, scalps and even heads of defeated enemies. The sight of such processions was a source of horror for defeated survivors who had the misfortune to witness them. Now, for example, you might understand why it might be embarrassing to see an American of European descent wearing Native American accessories, knowing that the people to whom they belong have painstakingly erased or deported the original peoples of America.

Cultural Appropriation Wouldn’t Be A Problem If People Blended Together

If the taboo persists across the Atlantic, it’s because the wounds of the past have not yet healed. On the whole, people live in a fairly communitarian way. Racial identity is strong, and people still feel they belong to one camp or another (the victors or the vanquished). If people were to mix in their blood, they would be able to fairly appropriate the heritage of suffering and oppression, they would not continue to perpetuate the divisions of the past but, on the contrary, they would build a society that would be the fusion of its history and not the continuity of past opposition. The society would then be the legitimate child of a history unequivocally assimilated by all its members, who would finally be able to look forward together.

Appropriation Is Not Seen As Such When It Takes Place In Depth

Take the case of the Romans who subjugated the Greek cities in the 2nd century BC. Although Roman culture spread to the Hellenistic world after this period, the Romans continued to have a great fascination for the Greek world. Greek culture and language retained a special status within the Roman Empire, and as a result it was not low-class cultural appropriation. On the contrary, it was the study of Greek philosophers by the political elite, or their adoption of Greek as their first language of learning. Greek was not a war trophy, but a culture recognized as equal or even superior to Roman culture. In such a situation, one cannot deplore this appropriation because it is the consequence of great respect or admiration. The same thing happened when the Arabs conquered Persia. Persia was a far more brilliant and ancient civilization than the one from which the Arabs had descended, who had hitherto lived as nomadic tribes for millennia without really building cities comparable to the Persian world. The Persian cultural influence in the Arab world was almost total, whether in the fields of science, architecture, poetry, philosophy or commerce, the Persians served as a civilizational graft from which Arab civilization flourished. There were, of course, other influences on the Arabs (the Judaic, Greek and Indian worlds are all millennia-old civilizations that served as civilizational crucibles for the Arabs), whether in medicine, geometry, mathematics or even theology. When a people deeply absorbs the culture of another civilization and makes it their own, this appropriation is not really a problem; it’s more like a tribute, so to speak.

What Can Be Done To Eradicate Superficial Cultural Appropriation In The United States?

The theme of cultural appropriation affects the Anglo-Saxon world (Canada, the United States and Australia) in particular, where genocides have taken place without any interbreeding of populations (unlike in Hispanic territories, for example, with the exception of Argentina). To solve this problem once and for all, there needs to be a careful study of Amerindian cultures, and they need to be assimilated in hearts and minds, not just in dress or body. A new culture needs to be born out of the meeting of Anglo-Saxons and Amerindians, as it were. Perhaps the American environmental and agricultural movements can draw inspiration from pre-Columbian concepts? Perhaps languages or certain sociological aspects can be borrowed from indigenous cultures (property rights, status of women, prerogatives of the couple in society etc.). It’s a vast theme, and it involves studying the reality of indigenous cultures in depth to extract the nuggets that will be melted down to shape a new culture, a melting pot of European, African and current globalist influences. You can’t impose crossbreeding on people. This is difficult when a nation’s identity is based above all on race, as is unconsciously the case in Anglo-Saxon countries. When the nation is perceived as a culture (e.g. France, Latin American countries, etc.), miscegenation is more frequent and helps to shape a new culture that is more at peace with its past.

Anything Assimilated From Within Cannot Be Considered Cultural Appropriation

Finally, to sum up and conclude, I would simply say that not everything that is assimilated in spirit, i.e. in an intimate, inner way, can be considered theft. The sacred by definition implies an intimate understanding of things. If your approach is to assimilate a culture and not to collect war trophies, you’ll never offend unless people have misplaced sensitivities.

Misplaced Sensitivity Exists

There are minority cultures whose own members have forgotten about them. The latter sometimes react aggressively when outsiders take a sincere interest in their culture. This reaction proves their ignorance, because one of the ways to protect a culture is to spread it. In this case, disregard these protests, which are in reality nothing more than self-reproach, because your interest in depth highlights their own deficiencies in knowledge of their own culture. You’re an unpleasant mirror they’re desperate to hold up. Ignore them, because these people don’t know much more than you about their own cultures (apart from the collective unconscious they carry in their flesh).

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