Main menu


What does cultural appropriation really mean?

featured image

Culture is not static, and within countries and communities there are myriad variations and innovations of traditions (which may be more actively controlled internally than outsider experimentation). In 2016, Bon Appétit was widely criticized for publishing a recipe for Halo-halo, a Filipino iced dessert, and garnishing it with gummy bears and popcorn. Some called it “blasphemy.” These are certainly non-traditional ingredients, but in this case the tradition is only 100 years old. The Philippines began receiving ice shipments in the mid-19th century. From the 1920s to his 30s, the Japanese dessert of adzuki beans in syrup on ice appeared (itself part of a much longer tradition in Japan, dating back at least to his 10th century). ). The name “halo-halo” literally means “mix-mix”, and the treat is characterized by exuberant richness. It’s entirely possible that someone somewhere will try to add popcorn instead of corn or corn flakes. Halo-halo is “endlessly customizable,” as Filipino-born chef Yana Gilbuena writes. . So the problem was history and lack of context. Magazines took liberties without explaining what they were doing liberally in the first place. (Obviously not consulting Filipinos didn’t help.) Above all, it turned halo-halo into just another commodity. As they write in Eat It, “Eat, but realize that we have eaten too. Our bread is not your adventure story.”

The evils of appropriation arise when the possibilities of culture are reduced to a disembodied set of gestures. A style without substance can approach blasphemy, like when non-Indigenous people talk about having spirit animals. (American anthropologist Michael F. Brown argues that indigenous peoples oppose New Age rituals not because they are “fake, but in a sense real…To them, the New Age is a kind of doppelganger, an evil imitation so close to the real thing that it upsets the delicate balance of spiritual power maintained by Indian ritualists. As Korean-born German philosopher Han Byung-chul writes in Hyperculture (2022), culture becomes a “cultural tour,” a tourist circuit. Han postulates alternative ways of encountering others, based on ‘AND familiarity’, where cowardice or reaction is replaced by pure curiosity, and ‘difference is not by ‘either/or’, Mutual appropriation, rather than contradiction or antagonism, alters both possessor and appropriator, unlike “colonial exploitation that destroys others in favor of the same as oneself” means

But how can we transcend the colonial hierarchy of exploitation to arrive at this utopian “and”? “The idea of ​​cultural diversity influenced by species protection and only succeeding by introducing artificial enclosures… would be barren,” Han wrote, adding, “Having lively cultural exchanges not only does it mean that things spread out, but it also means a certain form…a life disappears.” Once upon a time, Americans touted the melting-pot idea that immigrants would abandon the past and assimilate. Then many white Americans began to fear the transformation of themselves in meeting others, exactly what Han wanted. themselves Melted, they defeated the retreat. In this regard, they recognize their declining status due to the rise of minorities and seek to reaffirm their identity as Slovenians by “excluding others who pose a threat”. It shares a bond with determined, still-dominant groups around the world. The philosopher Slavoj Zizek wrote: Still, he suggests, this fundamentalism has an eerie solidarity with seemingly opposite pluralism. and/or culture” — draw the line; to protect yourself.