13 June 2016

The dos & don'ts of Cultural Appropriation

In "The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation" (2015, The Atlantic), author Jeni Avins argues that cultural appropriation can actually be a positive thing. Heavily focused on the issue of cultural appropriation in fashion, Avins declares,
At my house, getting dressed is a daily act of cultural appropriation, and I’m not the least bit sorry about it. ...
As I dress in the morning, I deeply appreciate the craftsmanship and design behind these items, as well as the adventures and people they recall. And while I hope I don’t offend anyone, I find the alternative—the idea that I ought to stay in the cultural lane I was born into—outrageous. No matter how much I love cable-knit sweaters and Gruyere cheese, I don’t want to live in a world where the only cultural inspiration I’m entitled to comes from my roots in Ireland, Switzerland, and Eastern Europe.
Before you write this piece off as ethnocentric and privileged (or even generously, naive and frivolous)... Avins does lay out some arguments and cases for how and when cultural appropriation may be okay:
1. Blackface Is Never Okay
2. It’s Important to Pay Homage to Artistry and Ideas, and Acknowledge Their Origins
3. Don’t Adopt Sacred Artifacts as Accessories
4. Remember That Culture Is Fluid
5. Don’t Forget That Appropriation Is No Substitute for Diversity
6. Engage With Other Cultures on More Than an Aesthetic Level
7. Treat a Cultural Exchange Like Any Other Creative Collaboration—Give Credit, and Consider Royalties
Instructors may consider using this piece as a way of provoking or introducing class discussion around issues of cultural appropriation. Angles to consider might include how processes of globalization affect what cultural appropriation means, or how historical power relations play out today in such banal parts of our lives as fashion.