In Favor of Cultural Appropriation

While working out this morning, I was attacked by white guilt. I was listening to rap. Isn’t this cultural appropriation? Yes, and that’s a good thing.

Later that morning I asked a white friend if she liked rap. She said yes, but mainly white rappers. I thought, “I could imagine a white-guilt-stricken person developing this preference as some kind of attempt at minimizing cultural appropriation.”

Aversion to cultural appropriation generates racism. It also opposes cultural evolution. Think of fusion cuisine. This is an evolved form of food which would not be possible without selective appropriation of many cultures. Is it a bad thing? Hardly! It presents us with new nutritional and flavor combinations. Take it or leave it on a personal level, but prohibiting this form of food would make some people worse off.

Now forget about fusion culture or multiculturalism. It is still the case that standard ethnicities and cultures appropriate from older cultures and nationalities. The Romance Languages all appropriate from Latin. Europe’s varied cultures generally appropriate from both the Romans and the Barbarians. To oppose cultural appropriation is to disapprove of cultural evolution and the products thereof, which include every culture on the map today. Even modern China, a nation which reaches as far back as memory serves, appropriated the idea of Communism and many modern cultural elements from non-Chinese cultures.

I saved the best for last: A direct moral and Biblical argument. Christianity itself is an act of cultural appropriation. Christianity appropriates from and evolves on Judaism.

The Bible isn’t conservative in the non-progressive sense (although I do think it’s conservative in the sense of pro-market and pro-Christianity). The Bible doesn’t say “Hold on to all the old ways.” It says “test everything and hold on to the good.” Which is remarkably progressive and pro-science when you think about it. The Bible is full of many such beautiful and complex ideas, often seeming to be contradictory but in fact containing great power. The idea that it is both progressive and conservative is just one example.

“Test everything and hold on to the good” can be applied in many ways, but here are two ways in connection with cultural appropriation:

  1. Don’t appropriate everything about every culture, but do explore all the cultures and retain their best parts.
  2. As a warning that not all appropriation is good, although some is. This can be applied to resolve the obvious question: “If it’s good that Christianity appropriates from Judaism (and many other cultures in today’s Christianity), then why isn’t it even better that Islam appropriates from Christianity?” The Bible advocates for some appropriation, not appropriation of everything.
    1. Notice that “some cultural appropriation” is equivalent to the simpler “cultural appropriation.” According to both academic and popular definitions, even minor, non-holistic acts of appropriation constitute full, rather than qualified, cultural appropriation.
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