Cultural Appropriation VS. The Melting Pot

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Contributed by Marilyn Bennett

Whatever happened to the “melting pot”?  

When I was growing up, we talked about how the United States was one of the few countries in the world where anyone could come and integrate into the population.  
How did that work?  

When our ancestors immigrated to the United States, they brought with them a desire to become culturally “American”. They kept some traditions and embraced some new ones. This is what has made our country a rich and diverse “melting pot”.  

The American identity has always made space for new exotic foods, unusual hairstyles, added words to our language and accepted many different styles of dress. This has made our country unique in the world.

In February in Juneau, Alaska, we were made uncomfortably aware of the new trend of “cultural appropriation” at the Wearable Arts Show. The outfit that caused such outrage was called “Doragon” by Haines artist, Beth Bolander. It included a large dragon design, kimono-style fabric and face paint in the style of a geisha. A group approached the Arts and Humanities Council to complain about “cultural appropriation”. They defined cultural appropriation as, “Cultural elements that are copied from a minority culture and used outside of their cultural context.”

The Arts Council immediately apologized, instead of explaining that, “Art is now and has always been about expanding boundaries.”

Artists must have freedom to express themselves without fear of censorship, either by government or by special interest groups.

What bothers me is that now I am left to wonder. What am I allowed to wear that will not offend someone?

My serape could offend Mexicans.
My kimono could offend Asians.
My hoop earrings could offend African Americans.
My mukluks could offend Eskimos.
Cultural ownership and appropriation??? Who gets to say who owns what? And from whom do I seek permission? Also, what am I allowed to wear, eat or do? My heritage is mixed, as are many, if not most of Americans, I know I couldn’t handle the Norwegian side of myself, as I hate Lutefisk and have never had Sheep Head. I grew up on German and Irish food. I didn’t have a pizza ‘til I was a teenager and didn’t taste Chinese or Mexican food ‘til moving to California after college.  
Now there are pizza parlors, Mexican restaurants and Chinese buffets in every town in America, and I’m not going back to liver and onions with boiled potatoes 

I think trying different foods, clothes and customs is a good thing. It helps to unite us all as Americans no matter our color or heritage. We gain appreciation for others by joining in their celebrations and sharing their customs.  

The biggest problem with cultural appropriation is that it creates artificial barriers to sharing between cultures. When most of us in the “majority culture” wear clothes, eat foods, sing and dance in the way of a culture not our own, we do it in a spirit of fun. When we are shut down from doing such activities, it builds a wall between us and that particular “minority culture”. I don’t see how that is a good thing.

I would like us to continue celebrating the many cultures that make up the terrific “melting pot” of America without being castigated.

I ask you, I challenge you… When faced with someone upset about your cultural appropriation, please… give them a giant … hug, and tell them how wonderful it is when we all share the love of our clothing, food and customs with others.

That way we ALL… become a part of the Great American Melting Pot…