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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Ignorance of "Cultural Appropriation"

William Harvey - Today I met the worst racist of this project....

"Today I met the worst racist of this project.

"People should learn to appreciate their own cultures," the young Latina facilitator at SOAWatch Encuentro at the Border was saying at the other end of the hotel lobby in Nogales, Arizona, just 1 mile from the Mexican border. I hurried up to her to ask what she meant.

"White people need to stick with their own stuff," she said. I cringed at the racist inflection she gave to "white people."

"Organize your own people, don't try to organize us. Learn to appreciate your own culture instead of taking things from our cultures and pretending they're your own," she continued.

"So you're saying white people shouldn't appreciate things from other cultures?" I asked.

"No, that's not what I'm saying," she said. Hm, it sure sounded like it. She pointed at my camera bag. "For instance, your bag appropriates Colombian culture."

"I got it in the Philippines," I told her. She was flustered for a second.

"Well, it's important to know the context for it."

"But let's use my bag as an example," I said. "I went to the Philippines. I bought it. I paid a fair price. What more should I have done?" She didn't have an answer for me.

I told her that I'm a classical musician and she brightened. "Yes, white people should listen to classical music." We agreed, but for the wrong reasons. She seems to think that classical music is the *only* music white people can listen to without being racist.

She continued, "But it's wrong to, say, take an orchestra and try to teach African-American communities and tell them that your music is great."

"That's exactly what I do for a living," I said. That made her uncomfortable.

"I'm not saying it's not great, but our music is also great." I wasn't sure who she meant by "our," since she's Latina, not black.

"You don't have to divide people like that," I said. "Classical music can come from anywhere. If by 'our' you mean Latin America, what about Revueltas, Piazzolla, Villa-Lobos?"

She must have recognized the names, for she said, "Oh, but they were trained in music that came from Europe." Thus, she denigrated the experience of any "person of color" who happens to value anything a white person created...minutes after saying that "white people should stick to white stuff." Is she advocating that I become a white nationalist?

For the last time: Cultural. Appropriation. Does. Not. Exist. You can put two words together and give them a definition, but that does NOT obligate anyone else to accept your new term as an intellectually valid concept. I can come up with something called "cultural amortization" but that doesn't mean I have a right to expect everyone to believe it is a real thing that exists.

Cultures have learned from and borrowed from one another since the beginning of human civilization. You know what? The reason the racist Latina facilitator confused my bag for a Colombian one is that when both Colombia and the Philippines were part of the Spanish Empire for 3 centuries, there's a chance that cultural exchange took place, and some Filipino artisan saw a Colombian design that he/she liked, or vice versa. To be clear: a person of color may have borrowed from a person of color. It's fine.

White Americans like yoga, and that's a good thing.

Afghans like Schubert, and that's a good thing.

Create something great, no matter your race, and the world will value you. Ask Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Uwem Akpan. There are universal values and objective truths that anyone of any race can uncover, and anyone of any race can marvel at the uncoverer's stunning temerity in revealing the coruscating brilliance of these truths to our frail and timid eyes.

No, I will not "stick to white people stuff." No, I will not become a white nationalist, as today's Social-Justice-Warrior, Regressive-Left "liberals" seem to want. I will continue to value music, art, literature, film, and food from all over the world, and I will continued to believe that we are all human, and there is a spark of divinity in each of us."
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