In an essay titled “In Defense of Cultural Appropriation”, Kenan Malik tried to argue about the advantages of creative appropriation while dismiss who would oppose the required “cultural engagement” (Bradford). He questions, for instance, what would have occurred if Elvis Presley could not trace the sounds of black musicians. The writer of “New York Times” became not the first to argue about such issue as cultural appropriation and its relevance.
The argument of Malik is that cultural engagement is almost impossible, while those who support it do not really understand what it is. It can be worse, when it comes to the misrepresentation of it to get people talking or disregard its complexities, which makes it simpler to reject both appropriation and those who oppose it. Canadian novelist Hal Niedzviecki juxtaposed cultural appropriation and character writing techniques with quite distinct personalities at the outset of the most current controversy – and they are not the same concepts.
It can be challenging to grasp the concept of cultural engagement since reducing it to description of several words or sentences does not help at all. Maisha Z. Johnson, a writer, describes it not only as an individual act but as a person acting within a “power dynamic in which individuals of a dominating culture adopt aspects from people who have been oppressed by a group” (Bradford). That is why cultural engagement and exchange should be considered as different concepts: there is no power imbalance in an exchange.
Malik dismisses the concept of appropriation as theft with ease: a trend that can be seen in a variety of cultural arenas, e.g., arts or food. For instance, authors should develop characters of a variety of ethnicities, cultures, social classes that they are not similar to their own. There are not many people who advise authors to develop characters who are identical to themselves.
To make matters even more complicated, people who perceive cultural engagement as a transaction are usually benefiting from it in some way or another. Even Malik’s rock and roll example is not as straightforward as Elvis “stealing” from black musicians. Even though black musicians inspired Elvis Presley and other performers of his age, rock & roll came to be seen as a culture which was developed, polished, and solely available to white people.
This example is indicative why people from different cultures who have been affected by appropriation sometimes demand that their customs or traditions should be regarded as intellectual property; it may seem like the only way to protect their heritage and try to force other cultures and their representatives to think about the consequences if they will try to “copy paste”. This has prompted Malik and others to accuse each other of gatekeeping: who has the authority to judge what is and is not appropriation and what does genuine cultural interaction entail. There is no simple solution to this, and this is why cultural appropriation is unjustifiable.
It has become not a practice of fair and productive exchange, nor is it a way for appreciation between different cultures, nor is it a requirement for producing inclusive art pieces (literature etc.). Cultural appropriation is harmful, and it is something that authors and other artists should strive to avoid rather than compete with one another to attain. Rather than making excuses for why appropriation cannot be prevented or allowing people to believe it is unimportant, it is more essential to assist them in becoming better artists whose works contribute to cultural awareness and progress that is beneficial for everyone.
Bradford, K. Tempest. “Commentary: Cultural Appropriation Is, In Fact, Indefensible”. NPR, 2017, Web.