What’s Wrong with Cultural Appropriation? The Concept of Theft.

Author: Pamela Lindsay

The University of British Columbia (UBC) VPFO EDI Glossary defines Cultural Appropriation as follows:

“Theft of cultural elements—including symbols, art, language, customs, etc.—for one’s own use, commodification, or profit, often without understanding, acknowledgment, or respect for its value in the original culture. Results from the assumption of a dominant (i.e. white) culture’s right to take other cultural elements.”

Note the use of the morally-laden word ‘theft’ in this definition.

Lets consider ‘theft’ in the following context: I stole your heart seems different from I stole your Rolex.

Yet, I stole your heart as in we fell in love seems morally distinct from I stole your heart to sell on the human organs trade market.

And I stole your Rolex as in I want cash to fill the tank of my Porsche for a joy ride seems morally distinct from I stole your Rolex to feed my starving kids.

I says seems because that joy ride might be my last dying wish due to my terminal cancer, the Rolex the means to fund the gas I couldn’t otherwise afford because I’ve lost all but my rusty old Porsche due to medical bills and lack of employment. And let’s say my kids are starving because I’m too proud to go to the food bank. Better a thief than a beggar. But not for the owner of the Rolex — which may have been her only means to avoid starvation.

Some might think theft, the taking of something that belongs to another without permission (propriety being another difficult concept), is wrong no matter the circumstances. Many starving ‘thieves’ were exported to the colonies on this assumption. Hence there are nuances in the concept of theft that should, it seems, appeal to a SJW’s heart.

If Indigenous art is an hot commodity, and the ragged Caucasian teen who ran away from an abusive home scores a meal by selling dream catchers rather than catching an STD by selling her body, then is the theft for the commodification/profit of these Indigenous items a morally egregious form of cultural appropriation? How about for the entrepreneurial mom who sells dream catchers in her gift shop to contribute to her kids’ educations? Or her Christmas vacation in Mexico?

Is the SJW who scores a job in the EDI department of a university by railing against cultural appropriation any less culpable than the sun-loving mom for profiting from cultural appropriation?


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