Two words on cultural appropriation

It is like plagiarism. If you use someone’s stuff and hold it out as yours, it’s wrong. Otherwise it’s just cultural diffusion, like adopting the Latin or Korean alphabet for a previously unwritten language.

We eat chocolate, a European variety of a Mexican recipe. Swedes are now talking about the Turkish origin of their meatballs. An American girl wore a Chinese traditional dress to her prom. This is all good.

But then you have a Greek visitor arrogantly telling you to “drop that Albanian nationalism, because Constantine is a Greek name. So Constantine the Great was Greek,” even though he was born in Dardania, or ancient Kosovo. Or George Washington was Greek for that matter, because George is a Hellenic name, too.

When you make something good, others will copy it. Take it as a compliment, unless they’re intentionally trying to put you down. Sometimes they may tweak your work in ways you wouldn’t approve of, but you should learn to appreciate freedom and the endless possibilities you created when you came up with the original thing.

We don’t have to like everything we see or hear. But we can’t impose subjective standards to the detriment of diversity and a stronger globalized world. We are better off learning from one another. And learning isn’t theft.

We could go on and on. Some proponents of indigenous rights speak of the intellectual property of ethnic groups over their culture. They want to keep certain riches from others, the same way tech companies keep their software from being used freely and improved by programmers worldwide. It’s about creating boundaries and protecting monopolies. And perhaps about revenge for the evils of the past.

But we ought to look to the future!

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