Yesterday, whilst perusing the Twitter feed on my phone, I came across an article about indigenous people seeking to make cultural appropriation illegal. I do not agree. Cultural appropriation simply should not be done. Making cultural appropriation illegal, would only further negative feelings and create another useless, unenforced law like the laws against United States flag desecration (U.S. Code Title 4, Chapter 1, § 8, “Respect for flag” https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/4/8 and U.S. Code Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 33, § 700, “Desecration of the flag of the United States; penalties” https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/700).
On Memorial Day, various groups held flag-retiring ceremonies in Central Montana and this past Wednesday, June 14, Flag Day was celebrated in the U.S. People should not don garments of honor or culture they haven’t earned or been a part of, just as people shouldn’t cut up a flag for clothing accents and other purposes. Flags are retired with honor for a reason, and are done so with special ceremony – as appropriate – just as when a dropped eagle feather is retrieved during a powwow. That military person’s flag is considered sacred, a sanctified representation of that person, by that person’s family, friend and peers – among others – and should not be worn on the backs of those who haven’t earned the right to do so, especially under the guise of “patriotism.”
There will always be those few who’ll be childish and selfish and seek to demean others via cultural appropriation. That said, it would be un-American to seek law to enforce what human beings should be doing anyway; treating others how they would like to be treated themselves. Making cultural appropriation illegal could cause more harm than good. There are those who unwittingly appropriate a culture in genuine (hopefully) ignorance (example: children wearing Blackface for their school’s wax museum “exhibit,” or who dress as a Native American “princess” for Halloween), and those who appropriate culture out of a moment of stupidity (example: Katy Perry dressing as a geisha in 2013). Such examples of cultural appropriation would be better corrected if used as a teachable moment – an opportunity to create dialogue and understanding, and hopefully, empathy. Making cultural appropriation a crime would have the opposite effect – and likely encourage defensiveness, hate and spite, which – I hope – is not the goal sought.
There will always be assholes. I’d like to think however, that there are more good people than disrespectful, malicious bigots in our community, our state and our nation. Educate instead of prosecute. Knowledge is power, and that power can be used for the good of all. I would hope that with understanding, education and empathy, there will be more support for various cultures instead of appropriation; discussion instead of dismissal, should bounds be overstepped. Communities need to come together to show bullies and other small-minded people that their level of intolerance and entitlement will not be tolerated. We are stronger united. #UnitedStrengthsOfAmerica ??