Posts Tagged ‘cultural appropriation’


Today I was reading a post by an artist friend. Someone had accused her of capitalizing on the Hispanic culture in her art. She wrote a rather lengthy response about her heritage and her DNA explaining that she is in fact part of that culture. I would have taken a different tack. This whole idea of cultural appropriation is one of the most regrettable things I have ever seen. Let me explain why.

The arts have always been something of a melting pot. People influenced by people of other cultures, creating unique works that meld cultures. Is this to say people have never been exploited, of course not, there will always be unethical people trying to rip people off and those people should be dealt with accordingly, but the idea of cultural appropriation is not the way. The majority of artists are just looking at the world around them and expressing it through their hearts, minds and media. They’re not looking to rip people off. They’re saying, “Wow that is cool, but what if we applied it to this.” Let’s let art be what it was always meant to be. A cultural unifier that allows us to appreciate one another and learn from each other.

What’s the alternative? Cultural segregation. Do we really want a world where white people can only create “white people stuff,” and people of color only able to create stuff from their people group? And who will be the arbiter of which is which. Do we really want to say that you can only create based on race? I surely hope not. That would seem to be taking us back centuries. Hamilton would need to come off Broadway immediately. We’d need to remove and destroy all rock and roll recordings yesterday and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I don’t want to live in a world where the arts are segregated. Rather I’d like to be free to work with whom I want, and to be influenced by who I want and create work that honors whatever heritage has influenced it. I want to create work that speaks to people, not just my people group. Rather than thinking about cultural appreciation, maybe we should think about cultural appreciation instead. Let’s not build walls in the arts. Let’s join hands and create a better world.

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I’m hoping this is not read as insensitive because I don’t mean it to be. I heard the story recently of some folks in a community arts organization who thought it a bad idea to do a production of a show that is usually predominantly cast with African American actors, because the group has few African American actors trying out. The opponents of doing the show cited “cultural appropriation.” This is not one of those shows where the plot demands that the characters have to be one race or another, as some shows are written, for example, Hairspray. It’s just an awesome show that’s a lot of fun that I have seen community groups do very well. My hope would be that doing a show like this would open doors to greater diversity, etc.

I guess I just don’t want to build walls around art. My belief is a primary strength of the arts is the ability to cross all of our manmade borders and bring us together. The arts allow us to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and create bridges to understanding. While certain genres have at times been attributed to certain cultures and ethnicities, great art is great art. Why not let it do what it was designed to do? We have enough walls, let’s open a few doors.