In the article, “Artworld Roundtable: Is Cultural Appropriation Ever Okay?,” Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò rejects worries about cultural appropriation in music. In this paper, I will argue that in the context of cultural appropriation of Native American clothing, Taiwo’s premises are true, but his conclusion is false making his argument invalid. Practically
Taiwo’s first reason for dismissing concerns of cultural appropriation in music is that it is impossible to claim ownership of a culture since all cultures have been significantly influenced by a myriad of other cultures. He extends this by noting that the evolution and creativity in music was possible because of extensive cultural exchange, thus discouraging exchange would limit creation. Taiwo believes claims of cultural appropriation overlook the reality that music progressed because people have learned from each other and combined elements from various cultures. He figures that instead of assuming malicious intent in cultural appropriation, we should focus on respect and the creation of great music.
The other reason Taiwo gives for this claim is that instead of being selectively critical, concerns of cultural appropriation should be aimed at the larger power dynamics that rule the way the capitalist music industry works. He explains how, “the industry itself is a system of exploitation, undercompensation, and under recognition of musical talent,” which is important because Taiwo believes most people driving discussions of cultural appropriation are those who are driven by money in the industry and are the very same people who benefit most from it (Taiwo). Ultimately, he claims that since cultural appropriation stems from dominant ideologies embedded by ruling institutions, concerns of cultural appropriation lose validity, so they should be dismissed.
In the context of cultural appropriation of Native American clothing, his reason is true, but I reject his conclusion to dismiss these concerns based on that reason. It fails to clarify the consequences of choosing to dismiss these worries. His first reason, lacks further explanation as to why people should decide to dismiss these worries. Although it is true that culture is complex in its history, lack of ownership does not justify perpetuating ideologies that have historically damaged the way Native Americans are viewed. This reason fails to consider that the image sustained by disrespectfully wearing a headdress or buying “Native American” Halloween costumes were indeed images that were created by colonizers with malicious intent to systematically suppress them. Tribes have been conglomerated into the term, “Native American” and reduced to a stereotypical look. Such image directly advertises the false representation of Native Americans, so Taiwo’s reason is not successful in considering cultural appropriation of people whose image has not been accurately portrayed, being reduced to stereotypes. It does not open discussion for the way that directly created political, economic, and sociological obstacles that stagnated them and keep divisions in place. Taiwo’s claim to dismiss these worries ignores the reality that media representation significantly influences the legal rights of Native Americans and how they are viewed and accepted in society as the “other.”
One might argue that focusing on the permissibility of wearing something and worrying about cultural appropriation reinforces divisions amongst people and we ultimately betray our human impulses toward feeling wholeness, freedom, community, and spirit. They might say that if we truly want to dismantle divisions amongst ourselves, we must reject concerns of cultural appropriation. I would respond that it is true that drawing boundaries on what is okay to wear and for who it is okay for limits our freedom to some extent, however it is important to consider that our human minds began formless until we were socialized into the culture we grew up in.
Culture forms our minds to be able to live according to that culture, but those same cultures have some components that are disagreeable. In this case, I refer to the idea that colonialism has its lingering effects in society and discrimination against Native Americans continues, therefore we should aim at paying attention to those still suffering its effects. Although we have the right to pursue any life we want, it is important to consider the intent and consequences of your decisions to appropriate Native American culture and be willing to listen to those who express opposition to your decisions because of what you’re ultimately supporting. For the sake of human progress, it is worth considering eliminating negative cultural appropriation and promote positive use of cultural exchange by staying informed and learning about the way we appropriate culture.
Taiwo’s second argument succeeds in shedding light on how the real focus should be on the institutions that have created the foundations for such behavior. Taiwo makes a great point by exposing the capitalistic greed for profit. This is why his argument is invalid, because his reasons are true and fit the discussion of appropriation of Native American clothing, but it does not follow logically to dismiss these concerns. Instead he seems to provide compelling reasons to reject his dismissal of worries of cultural appropriation, because he recognizes how deeply rooted the issue is. Although institutional powers are responsible embedding ideologies and allowing for the commodification of cultures, by ignoring acts of cultural appropriation leaves that person ignorant and through ignorance they will continue to collectively support the false narrative that has limited the lives of Native Americans.
The author Shen-yi Liao sums up the idea that cultural appropriation, “…depends not on identity, but power,” which helps us understand why I dismiss the conclusion Taiwo offers us (Shen-yi Liao). In this, Shen-yi allows us to understand that claims of appropriation should be looked at with a “power-first orientation,” not an identity-first orientation. It explains how in the power-first orientation, “the systems of power came first and made the identity categories” (Shen-yi Liao). This explanation helps us understand the importance of recognizing the larger institutions who created the kinds of repetitive tactics that create degrading representations of Native Americans as savages, drunkards, or free-spirits etc., which further stigmatized groups as outcasts and throughout time has served to maintain the wealth that allows them to keep the power dynamics in place. Hierarchies of white superiority thrive because of the power dynamic that is reinforced when people appropriate culture offensively and profit off of it. Ultimately the fact that these identities have been popularized to the extent of commodifying their culture show how normalized the dominance and suppression of this culture truly is. It is important to consider that most popular representations have been exaggerated and defined by those controlling the media. Dismissing worries of cultural appropriation of Native American clothing will only further continue the idea of taking someone’s cultural identity and capitalizing off of it.
Someone may argue that concerns of cultural appropriation is a superficial concern because there is no true singular way of life. This means that there is no life that is inherently right or wrong, due to the fact that the morality of how we live is a social construct created by the cultures we live in. This counterargument poses a profound question of culture as a tool for control. Agreeably, culture is a way for groups of people to develop a collective identity in sharing practices and understanding of certain symbols, however, it simultaneously creates divisions because people focus on what makes their own culture different. This seems egoistic in the sense that people want their culture to be unique, they want to find what makes them stand out or what makes their culture better. I am not arguing that people don’t have the right or authority to live life how they want and wear particular clothing/garments, but rather that I argue that it is important to make educated, conscious decisions of who we dress up as for halloween or the kinds of material objects we consume realize the lingering oppressive ideologies that are seen in consumerism. There is no right or wrong way to live, but it is one’s responsibility to escape ignorance and stop trying to cover up the brutal atrocities committed toward Native Americans.
Unlike Taiwo explains that music has evolved, due to appropriation, the main thing evolving when appropriating Native American clothing is a false narrative. His argument dismantle stereotypes, they only encourage preservation of a false limiting representation. Choosing to wear Native American without being immersed in the culture can be offensive because it misinterprets and misjudges their culture and identity.
It is important to consider that dismissing harmful use of one’s culture will only promote further creation that carries stigmatized images that have historically been used to harm people. I believe that it instead stagnates our ability to be creative in more conscious ways. appreciate differences rather than to claim superiority over it. It perpetuates the idea that dehumanization of people is okay. It limits room to educate people on learning to talk about injustices in order to understand why appropriating native american culture is problematic. It does not account for the way cultures have been erased due to power dynamics in place working to eliminate them and strengthen dominant ideologies of white supremacy. Take on the beautiful aspects of people’s culture without carrying the burden of the history and suffering associated with them. Worries of cultural appropriation should not focus on origins or ownership of specific cultural aspects, but rather about the dominant ideologies that problematize these concerns.