Cultural Appropriation

Cultural Appropriation

In a global society, it is almost impossible not to see an exchange of elements between cultures. And I believe that cultural exchange is often a good thing. It can make our lives richer and fuller (e.g I love different foods from all around the world). But I also think that it’s only a good thing when the exchange is equal and/or appropriate.

Our modern use of the term cultural appropriation implies more than a simple exchange. It refers to an exchange that is not equal or appropriate. In other words, it has come to imply a misappropriation. As we typically use the term now, it describes when members of one culture (often the historically dominant culture) take something from another culture, using it for their own purposes, without understanding it, without valuing it, without making compensation, and/or without giving credit.

Oxford Dictionary began including the term in 2017, defining it as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

It is a complicated concept, and there are many blurry lines between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation. For instance, the history of the African-derived banjo is full of what I think are clear examples of cultural appropriation – it’s use in the overtly-racist black-face minstrel shows being only one of the more blatant examples. But does that mean that I, as a white man in the 21st century should not play the instrument? I hope not since I love it so much. But I also feel a responsibility to be aware of the instrument’s history and to give credit where credit is due. And, truly, if I thought giving up the banjo would somehow heal the conflicts over race in this country, I would be more than happy to oblige. But I think that’s probably overly-simplistic answer.

There are many examples both of what I would call cultural appropriation and cultural exchange in the history of rock. Black and white music cultures have interacted in dynamic ways that have given birth to everything from the spirituals to the blues to country music to bluegrass to jazz to rock ‘n roll to various genres of rock.

The prompt for the discussion is this:

Please discuss where you see the line between exchange and appropriation in regards to things we have covered in class. Please use specific examples. There are many to choose from including (but not limited to) black-faced minstrelsy, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, the British blues revival, Led Zeppelin, southern rock, etc.

Feel free to talk about more contemporary examples. How do you feel about white hip-hop artists? What about someone like Bruno Mars (a person of color, but not African American) borrowing so heavily from funk? How about Miley Cyrus twerking?

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Approximately 250 words

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