The Conflict of Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation is the use of elements from one culture by members of a different culture.  According to law professors and psychologists, social scientists and politicians, cultural appropriation happens when one culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, and more are used without permission of the culture from which it is taken.  It’s especially hurtful when the culture being appropriated is one that’s been exploited or oppressed by the culture doing the appropriating.

In other words, cultural appropriation promotes the power imbalance of the ruling class over those who have been historically marginalized.

There are two kinds of culture:  Material culture and non-material culture.  Non-material culture is what’s meant when speaking about cultural appropriation since non-material culture deals specifically with intangibles.  Beliefs.  Traditions.  Values.

Of course, within material and non-material cultures are other constructs such as subculture (beliefs or behaviors that are contrary to the majority of the culture’s community) and counterculture (active rejection of aspects that are dominant in the culture’s community).  For the purposes of this essay, the focus is on mainstream non-material culture.

Now psychologists will tell you that culture and the people of a culture have a symbiotic relationship.  Each culture has its unique societal norms by which to live, and members of each culture live by shared expectations and rules that guide and determine their place in that culture.  To this end, people define and refine what their culture is, and culture defines and refines its people.

These days, there’s a lot being said about cultural appropriation.  Some of it is warranted such as the outcry against sports teams using names that are offensive to Indigenous peoples in the Americas.  But is it possible to create art without any cultural appropriation?

Was it cultural appropriation when the Bangles sang about walking like an Egyptian?

Was it cultural appropriation when Carl Douglas let us know that everyone was kung fu fighting?

Was it cultural appropriation when the Vapors thought they were turning Japanese?

Was it cultural appropriation when Steven Tyler and Aerosmith announced that dude looked like a lady?

How about when Toto decided to take on the entire continent of Africa?

This is where the waters are muddy.  If those songs and other art, literature, music, and more is cultural appropriation, where do we draw the line when it comes to enjoying past creative endeavors?  If we’re told to turn our backs on pop culture that draws on other cultures to exist, is it also time to boycott the classics whether it’s literature, art, or music?

Do we turn our backs on Béla Bartók’s Romanian Dances seeing he was from Hungary and not Romania?  Is it time to refuse to attend concerts where Brahm’s “Ballade Edward” is performed because it was based on a Scottish ballad and Johannes wasn’t Scottish?  How about Beethoven’s music based on Welsh, Irish, and Scottish folk songs?  After all Ludwig was German, was he not?

How about all those musicians who aren’t English but who have recorded “Scarborough Fair” or “Greensleeves?”   Should they be forced to make reparations for daring to sing something they obviously appropriated from another culture?

Should “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Go Tell It On The Mountain” be sung only by those of African-American heritage?  And next New Year’s Eve, should the traditional “Auld Lang Syne” only be sung only by those who can prove their Scottish ancestry?

Do we stop children and their grandparents from enjoying a rousing rendition of “Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be?” if they haven’t an ounce of English blood anywhere in their background — or going back at least eight generations?

Where no offense is meant, is any harm done?  Some say yes while others say no.  But if we are to say harm is done, where does this leave the English language which is an amalgam of several languages?  Is it time to dismantle the language to create a language that English-language speakers can safely call their own that doesn’t steal from other languages and cultures?

There’s no easy solution, and this is why we need to speak openly about what is, and is not, harmful cultural appropriation.  Certainly there are ways to draw upon cultures that are not our own without causing insult and injury.  It begins with mutual respect, and this means both sides must be willing to hear each other out before jumping to conclusions.  What are your thoughts on the subject?

Elyse Bruce

Elkmont Nature Trail

No matter where you may wander in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, every turn opens up to new wonders and splendors you could not have anticipated.  Whether it’s a well-traveled hiking trail or a lesser traveled nature trail, nature awaits you.

Photography / Videography:  Elyse Bruce
Music:  “Solitude” by Elyse Bruce
Copyright © Elyse Bruce, 2014

Chimney Tops

While it’s true that the Chimney Tops Trail has been undergoing upgrades and repairs since last year, that doesn’t mean parts of the trail aren’t still open for hiking.  This week’s video on Midweek Meditation takes you down some of that trail.  Enjoy!

Photography / Videography:  Elyse Bruce
Song Title:  The Water Is Wide (a traditional folk song)
Original Arrangement:  Elyse Bruce
Copyright © Elyse Bruce, 2014

The Old Mill

Sometimes, in the course of one’s travels, the unexpected reveals itself.  This is what happened while travelling the lesser known roads of Eastern Tennessee.  Out in the middle of nowhere, an old mill sat waiting to be discovered.

Photography:  Elyse Bruce
Original Music:  Elyse Bruce
Copyright © Elyse Bruce, 2014

Smokemont Baptist Church

Sometimes, it’s the little hidden away places that have the greatest impact on a hiker’s soul.  Smokemont Baptist Church in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of those places.

Photography:  Elyse Bruce
Original Music:  Elyse Bruce
Copyright © Elyse Bruce, 2014

Along The Appalachian Trail

Every Wednesday, there’s a new Midweek Meditation to enjoy.  This week, you’ll travel along the Appalachian Trail in the area of Newfound Gap where North Carolina and Tennessee meet up in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Photography / Videography:  Elyse Bruce
Original Music:  Elyse Bruce
Copyright © Elyse Bruce, 2014

Sugarlands Valley Trail

Back in the Great Smoky Mountains again, the photos and video from Video #8 of the “A Month Of Sundays” series were shot one cold January day.  The water was roaring and rushing down the mountainside along the trail.  Just a few yards away from the torrential waters were remnants of a fireplace that once warmed a house that no longer stands.

Photography / Videography:  Elyse Bruce
Original Music:  Elyse Bruce
Copyright © Elyse Bruce, 2014

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