In fact, most claims of cultural ownership and charges of appropriation are bogus. While sometimes they provide an instrumental basis for tortious claims, as in pursuit of restitution for Nazi and other imperialists’ looting of artifacts, more often they posit a dead-end conflation of fixed and impermeable racial identity with cultural expression. As Michaels has argued for more than twenty-five years, the discourse of cultural ownership stems from the pluralist mindset that treats “culture” as a key marker of social groups and thereby inscribes it as racial essentialism.
— adolph reed, "the trouble with uplift"

the difficulty in talking about cultural appropriation lies here, in how we decide what is and what isn’t integral to our selves, in how we define ourselves by property, in how commercial doctrine has invaded the cultural sphere, and forced us to measure our identities in commodities. in a discussion that really has no latitude for complexity, we are forced into opposing sides of the room, putting tape and writing our names on things like items of clothing or decorative motifs. pain is divided into what we are and are not allowed to feel.

it’s frustrating because the urge to take the correct side is so overwhelming, to fight for those who have been wronged, to listen to those voices that are giving space to allow the celebration of their creations, but more importantly, the power instilled in cultural products today is counter-productive to the ultimate cause of mutual admiration and understanding. it makes so much sense that one would want to deprive their oppressors of the privilege to shop freely from the cultural market, especially to further their gain, and yet this concept fails to allow for movement and evolution within ethnic identities, whose individuals are not, of course, rooted in those cultural symbols, yet somehow are morally imposed to consistently honour and uphold them. what reed states is so crucial to this dialogue; the idea that there is no spokesperson, and no preordained agenda of thought that is circumscribed to a race.

cultural products are not definitive, but supportive. they exist as markers of those who came before us, and of stories that should be told with pride. they are evidence of what has happened, but they are not what happened. they are not chips we cash in to get through the gates of our communities. they are not strikes to make you more or less. the concept of ownership, extended to this degree, leans towards isolationism. there is no denying that appropriation is a source of aggression against minority populations, but it is a crime against the cultural pinnacles that cannot be marketed, or sold, or reproduced. it is a crime against histories, or values, or truths. what it falls short of covering, perhaps, is a dress-pattern.

shelly shan

hi, my name is shelly. I do a thing where I make words into unnecessarily emotional composites. I don't know why I'm allowed on the internet, but I like it here.