Cultural appropriation

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(417)

The term “cultural appropriation” (“Who decides if culture is authentic?”, April SR) commonly refers to the use of an oppressed group’s culture by members of the dominant culture of a society. It covers three instances:

1) Oppressive and stereotypical use of an oppressed group’s culture. This can be opposed with the standard terminology that something is racist, for example.
2) Commercialisation. The use of an oppressed group’s culture which ignores the context or origins of a cultural item or practice and is repackaged for profit.
3) Multiculturalism. The mixing and evolution of cultures as well as the taking up of an oppressed group’s culture as an act of solidarity.

The term cultural appropriation is bound up with the idea that cultures are static and that the absence of oppression means that a person benefits from the oppression of others. Therefore I don’t think we need to use the term to oppose racist or stereotypical uses of culture nor to oppose commercialisation. We celebrate multiculturalism from below and the term cultural appropriation is a barrier to this end.

Chris Newlove
London