This seems to be a hot topic of conversation, where people of BAME are feeling some forms of resent against white people taking the positive things about black people and attempting to make them their.
The opposite argument applies also. Where white people would argue that the modern way of life has be culturally appropriated from them.
What is cultural appropriation?
The definition from the Oxford Languages is as follows
“The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of customs, practices, ideas etc, of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society”
This can be quite confusing until you break it down. So, lets look at a few random areas and decide whether they meat the criteria. To explain the complexities, I will use examples that have come up recently in the press and social media.
Are Dreadlocks an example of cultural appropriation?
Firstly, we need to look at where dreadlocks came from. This in itself is difficult as there are murals, carvings and description of people that could all be potentially be wearing dreadlocks or maybe none.
Ancient Egyptian and Greece pictures depict people with hairstyles which could be dreadlocks. It is said that it was also possible that the Celts, the Vikings and Germanic trades may also have worn dreadlocks.
What we do know for sure was the prevalence of dreadlocks in Africa (The Ashanti, Fulani and Masai for example)
However, in modern society, dreadlocks became synonymous with Rastafarianism and then promoted throughout the world by the likes of Bob Marley, making it part of a “people”.
Dreadlocks are now used widely throughout the world by people who are not Rastafarians, which make it an “adopted custom” or an “adopted practice”.
So, what about “unacknowledged” or “inappropriate adoption”. This is where things become complex. How someone wears there hair, would be hard to conceive that this is done inappropriately.
In regards to acknowledgment, from the perception of someone who is not Rastafarian I feel that it is acknowledged as a style that belongs to the Rastafarians.
However, for the Rastafarians they see dreadlocks in a spiritual sense. “They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they have off the corner of their beard, not make any cuttings in their flesh” Leviticus 21:5.
This argument, I feel, will continue on, as Rastafarians could argue that wearing dreadlocks in inappropriate if you are not wearing them for spiritual reasons and therefore are not showing the correct acknowledgment.
Is Irish dancing cultural appropriation?
In July 2020, social media was inundated with press released of Morgan Bullock, a black African-American who had posted herself performing Irish dancing on TikTok.
Morgan received lots of support, but also gained trolls and critics accusing her of cultural appropriation.
So, lets break it down.
Is it unacknowledged, well it would be difficult to not acknowledge Irish dancing, as being Irish, when Irish is in the name.
Is it an inappropriate adoption of a custom by a people or society? If the dance was owned by the Irish, does one person constitute “a people”. No, however the same argument could be made towards another nationality performing Irish dancing, white or black. As this is a white dance, but an Irish one.
Again, either way it becomes difficult to argue that there was any inappropriateness in any culture outside the irish performing the dance, but more over a sign of respect.
If we were to apply the possibility of it being culturally inappropriate we would then need to do that for all styles of dance, ballet, salsa, samba, break dancing, body popping, the various styles of African dance, the varied styles of Caribbean dance, Bollywood dance, or the multitude of other dances.
However, in all cases it would be hard to argue that any of these would have been inappropriately adopted or unacknowledged as to the origins. As you can see, it becomes difficult to find something that fulfils the criteria.
However, there is one that we will now look at, which I feel meets the above definition of cultural appropriation.
Was tap dance culturally appropriated?
In the US, in the early nineteenth century, when Africans were still slaves. Slave owners became worried about the percussive music their slaves were making. Fearing that they were communicating in code about escape plans, they put a stop to it.
The black slaves decided instead to use their feet to make the music and tap dance was born.
The dance grew among black people, but also became very popular with white people, who would visit venues to see black people tap.
It wasn’t long before white Americans decided that they wanted tap in their establishment. However, instead of inviting the former slaves to perform for them (The Jim Crow laws were in place), they dressed up white people with “black face” and became “Minstrels”.
Before long, names such as Shirley Temple, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire were bringing tap dancing to the masses.
So, lets look at the criteria for cultural appropriation. It was and still is being unacknowledged, everyone I have spoken to, her in the UK, does not realise that this was the origin of tap dance, “Inappropriately adopted”, definitely so, due to the use of “blackface”.
So, this one actually meets the criteria and I am sure there are many others.
There is one more thing I would like to address. When some white people argue that all BAME people are culturally appropriating their whole culture.
Do black people culturally appropriate from white people?
The obvious answer is no. But let’s look at why I feel this answer is obvious.
Firstly, is it “unacknowledged”. It would be difficult not to acknowledge this, as there are many words to describe white society, “first world”, “civilised”, “western world” to name a few.
These words are synonymous with white society and encompasses all that is presumed good within the world.
Is it “inappropriately adopted”. Again, no. Westernised culture has been forcibly spread around the world by many European countries through unspeakable atrocities, killing off many cultures and races in the process.
The rest of the statement is inconsequential as it is dependent on fulfilling one of the above criteria.
This proves that it is impossible for BAME people to culturally appropriate white culture.
If you’re still not convinced think about the argument of the British finding it inappropriate for Muslim women to wear the full burka in public or the incident where a black wrestler in America was forced to shave his dreadlocks off to compete.