Cultural appropriation. It’s a term that describes people adopting elements of a different culture. It used to be considered a compliment, people loving and appreciating the beauty of what others have created so much that they adopt it for themselves, adding their own elements to create something completely new. You know, like how Italians took pasta from the Chinese and created dishes Asian cultures never imagined. If it wasn’t for cultural appropriation we wouldn’t have spaghetti and meatballs, ravioli, or (God help us), lasagna!
Not anymore. Somehow, somewhere, someone decided that the food, the religion, the art, even the hairstyles that originated from one culture became its intellectual property. Furthermore, not only has it become oppressive to appropriate elements of someone else’s culture, it’s become the new bar the politically correct now beat us with. I, for one, have had ENOUGH!
Last year, Kylie Jenner was called out for wearing her hair in cornrows. Cornrows are a type of braid, similar to the French braid. Yes, they likely originated in West Africa, but can anyone tell me which culture holds the current patent on braids? What about dreadlocks? They originated in Greece. Am I allowed to wear my hair in a bun given its origins in Japan, China, India, and Europe? Or may I simply wear the hairstyle I think looks best on me?
Just last month, Oberlin College promised to change its student cafeteria menu so it would be more “culturally sensitive.” This after students accused the institution of “cultural appropriation.” Ironically, a Vietnamese sandwich known as banh mi and a General Tso’s recipe took center stage. It seems the cafeteria didn’t accurately represent these cultural dishes. I say “ironically” because the Vietnamese originally “culturally appropriated” the banh mi from the French. They took the traditional French baguette sandwich, added their own local ingredients, and made something new. As for General Tso’s chicken, guess what? It was first made and served in America. Yes, but the school’s cafeteria steamed the chicken instead of frying it like the Chinese do. Just like the Vietnamese, they took a dish, added their own way of making it, and came up with a newer (healthier) version.
The thing is, there is no such thing as owning a piece of culture. Culture is a living, breathing, ever-changing, always growing entity. If you think your culture is the first to wear a certain hairstyle, make a certain food, or create a certain type of art, you are most likely wrong. Every song, every recipe, every dance, every painting, every book, every idea owes something to someone who came before — often someone from a different race or culture. It’s how the arts and sciences grow.
Were it not for the impact of French artists, Spaniard Pablo Picasso would not have created his Cubist masterpieces; Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity grew out of hypotheses produced by scientists from too many cultures to list; and William Shakespeare’s writing is largely influenced by early Greek and Roman literature. Each cultural block builds upon another.
Now, pass the lasagna!