In Defense of Cultural Appropriation
Date Written: 2017-06-14
Publisher: New York Times
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21750
It is just as well that I’m a writer, not an editor. Were I editing a newspaper or magazine, I might soon be out of a job. For this is an essay in defense of cultural appropriation. In Canada last month, three editors lost their jobs after making such a defense.
It took a social struggle - the civil rights movement - to bring about change. That struggle was built not on cultural separation, but on the demand for equal rights and universal values.
Campaigns against cultural appropriation reveal the changing meaning of what it is to challenge racism. Once, it was a demand for equal treatment for all. Now it calls for cultures to be walled off and boundaries to be policed.
But who does the policing? Every society has its gatekeepers, whose role is to protect certain institutions, maintain the privileges of particular groups and cordon off some beliefs from challenge. Such gatekeepers protect not the marginalized but the powerful. Racism itself is a form of gatekeeping, a means of denying racialized groups equal rights, access and opportunities.
In minority communities, the gatekeepers are usually self-appointed guardians whose power rests on their ability to define what is acceptable and what is beyond the bounds. They appropriate for themselves the authority to license certain forms of cultural engagement, and in doing so, entrench their power.