The ‘cultural appropriation’ issue is complicated

Armchair Mayor
By Mel Rothenburger
October 24, 2017 - 5:28am Updated: October 24, 2017 - 11:46am

KAMLOOPS — Sometimes I think we look too hard for the things that divide us.

Let’s talk about what’s become known as ”cultural appropriation.” That’s the use or adoption of parts of one culture by someone from a different culture.

It comes in many forms, such as food, music and dress.

For example, the great singer Paul Simon was accused of appropriating South African music in his 1986 album Graceland. In my view, it was one of the best albums of all time, but it got all tangled up in the politics of Apartheid.

He didn’t get “permission” from the right people. Never mind that he collaborated with South African musicians on the album.

This time of year, at Halloween, costumes become a sensitive issue. An example is the wearing of First Nations costumes by people who aren’t First Nations.

I understand the objection to this, if such costumes are stereotypically of the Hollywood Cowboys and Indians variety, or are intended to mock.

But what if a costume is accurate to a culture? If it’s done with respect, does it not then increase appreciation of it?

If I was to wear a kilt — heaven forbid — to a costume party, I suppose it would be OK because I have some Scottish ancestry. But what if I wore a Japanese costume? Does it help that Kamloops has a Japanese sister city with which we have an enviable, lasting relationship?

When we eat that uniquely Canadian dish — what we call “Hawaiian” pizza — are we insulting our wonderful Italian community? I better ask my good friend John DeCicco about that.

Some examples are clearly offensive, such as the wearing of what’s called “blackface.” But others seem less clear — dreadlocks as a hair style… hip-hop dance, or even rap music.

It could be argued that culture is something we shouldn’t put limits on, that each unique culture should be enjoyed by all. But it’s not that simple, is it?

I’m Mel Rothenburger, the Armchair Mayor.