Segregation and Appropriation

People self-segregate because it’s a natural reaction to one’s material and non-material culture.  World views, mindsets, race, class, sexual orientation, and more have always been the basis for human self-segregation.  When a group of people share common interests and values, the tendency is to self-segregate.  Another way to describe this behavior is to say that people form cliques.

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Don’t just take my word on this.  Sociology researchers Siwei Cheng and Yu Xie at the University of Michigan conducted a study that proved that when choosing friends, humans usually establish close friendships with those of a similar racial background.  It’s just how we are regardless of our ethnicity.

What does this mean when it comes to cultural appropriation?

It means that we, as humans, have created a situation where none of us can win.  If we keep to ourselves and reject all cultural appropriation, we are segregationists.  If we blend other cultures into our own, we are integrationists and guilty of cultural appropriation.

That’s quite the kettle of fish, wouldn’t you say?

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Kettle of fish is an idiom that originated in Britain and dates back to 1735.

If we are not completely segregationist (which is offensive to society), we are guilty of cultural appropriation (which is offensive to society).  In many respects, the situation is not unlike the oft-quoted double-edged question for which there is no answer, “Do you still beat your wife and children?”

Perhaps the answer is in adhering to a set of guidelines that clearly define what is acceptable cultural appropriation versus unacceptable cultural appropriation, as determined by the majority from which the culture is being appropriated.

Of course, this would require a further splintering and segregating of people for the purpose of ensuring that each group’s voice would be heard and respected.   The problem with this lies with those who are of mixed cultural backgrounds which constitutes the vast majority of people, especially in America.

What about Americans who are naturalized citizens?  Do they get a say in what is and isn’t cultural appropriation when it comes to the culture into which they were born but not about American culture?  Or do they get not say in either the culture into which they were born and the culture they chose?

What about first or second or even tenth generation Americans?  Do they get a say in what is and isn’t cultural appropriation, not only from an American perspective but also from the perspective of the multiple ancestries that may be part of their heritage?

What about those who are hyphenated Americans?  Would they get to speak for two cultures and two cultures only?

And what happens if a common ground for each culture isn’t arrived at in a timely fashion?  Who then decides what is and isn’t cultural appropriation?

With such a complex situation to resolve, an answer will only be found by way of respectful dialogue.  What are your thoughts on this matter?  How would you address the issue of segregation and appropriation?

Elyse Bruce

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