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Cultural Appropriation and Its Ethics

Cultural appropriation is defined as the possibility of some cultural features to assimilate into another culture. Cultural appropriation may be explained as the desire of one particular culture to adopt the qualities and features of another one. Still, it would be better to refer the appropriation to the assimilation when people living in the multicultural societies apply the features of some societies over their own cultures.

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Nevertheless, cultural appropriation may be of different types and nature. When cultural appropriation is a result of the natural existence of two or more cultures in one territory, it seems that the assimilation of those cultures is inevitable. However, there are cases of cultural appropriation which may be considered theft and assault. The problem of cultural appropriation is closely connected with the question, “Who owns the culture?” There are some particular cultural items that are shared with the whole society, but some of them may belong to particular people and the desire to share those items should be viewed as assault.

Cultural appropriation is considered as the “taking – from a culture that is not one’s own – of intellectual property, cultural expressions or artifact, history, and ways of knowledge” (Scafidi 9). Applying to this definition of cultural appropriation the problem is going to be discussed whether the issue is good or bad from the side of cultural heritage.

The problem of cultural appropriation has two specific sides, positive and negative. On the one hand, the problem of cultural appropriation is crucial for those who possess some cultural treasures and the use of those by others may be considered as theft or another assault. On the other hand, the assimilation of one culture into another is the way to get others acquainted with the cultural tradition of a specific nation and to help those gain or develop their personal culture.

The decision whether the cultural appropriation is an ethical issue or not is rather complicated as many aspects are to be covered and much attention is to be paid to the advantages and disadvantages of each of the outcomes of the affair. Nevertheless, having considered a lot of examples and the consequences of cultural appropriation it may be stated that the issue is more unethical as the unjustifiable harm and unjustifiable offense are delivered on a culture whose treasures, ideas and traditions are stolen.

The problem of unethical cultural appropriation becomes serious if to consider it from the point of view of stolen ideas, means, and opportunities. Of course, it is easier to consider someone’s culture, and to try to assure others that one is doing a great thing, he/she delivers the information about someone’s culture to other nations. Still, what in fact happens is that a person just steals the ideas of other people and tries to become popular or wealthy.

It is important to distinguish between informing other nations about the culture and tradition of one specific country and stealing those traditions (the examples of the presence of the specific objects of arts in the museums of other countries due to illegal delivering in the past are numerous, for example, the museum treasures taken by Hitler during the war and delivered to Germany). As it has already been mentioned, cultural appropriation is an unethical issue that hides the theft under the cover of good intentions, and there are a lot of examples that may be used for supporting this opinion.

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One of the most visible and crucial examples which brings much more harm than profit is the CDs which are sold by the pirates. Of course, on the one hand, these people make a singer popular in another country, but in fact, it is theft as the owner of the music recorded knows nothing about the delivery of his/her compositions and gets nothing of it. The one who has stolen a CD and who has sold it acts unethically in relation to the person and his/her cultural heritage (Young 21).

There are a lot of other examples of the same idea when the cultural items are stolen and sold for personal benefit by means of hiding under the desire to deliver the message and to tell other nations about the particular culture. The representation and copying of the pictures, re-singing of the songs, and rewriting of the folk of the nation with the purpose to deliver those to another nation is exactly the issue.

One more aspect, which makes cultural appropriation an unethical issue, is the misinterpretation of the facts and ideas. When people use another culture with the purpose to apply their ideas on themselves, they spoil the original idea and the cultural message comes wrong. The culture is changing under the alien impact (Young 25). For example, the use of foreign words in the communication is a norm, however, it contaminates the native language and many words lose its meaning being substituted with international ones.

Moreover, it is easy to consider the situation from the archeological discoveries. Conducting a research, archeologists find some pieces of cultural heritage of some particular population, but the representatives of the citizens are not interested in the treasures and the archeologists take the cultural pieces to their countries. There is no direct steeling of the objects, however, the cultural signs appear in another country and this is wrong.

This is the example of the theft of the cultural objects and as a results the cultural appropriation as the foreign country takes the pieces of this particular culture and it may be copied or applied to the décor or design ideas there as the specific and strange for the culture of that foreign country (Young 72). Many paintings are bought and brought to other countries. This is not a theft as these paintings are taken legally, however, the country loses its cultural heritage. So many pieces are taken from the tombs in Egypt, that much information about the history of this place has gone forever.

Looking at the problem from another side, the positive features may be found. The whole world is going in direction of globalization and multiculturalism. People get acquainted with the cultures of other nations and living side to side with them, they become closer. The problems of discrimination are reduced. There is no culture which exists isolated, all cultures are closely interconnected that leads to the national unity of all civilizations.

However, people forget about their cultures. In the mess of signs and cultures, it is impossible to see which particular culture one belongs to and many unique cultures just disappear. This is wrong. Culture is the achievement of many generations and the present multiculturalism and cultural appropriation destroy all the memories and aspects which may never be reconstructed once lost and this is one of the main ethical problems which are to be solved in the cultural relation.

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People forget their own cultures, they forget their language and as a result, the whole nations disappear. Many Islamic immigrants to the Western countries assimilate and lose the connection with their native culture. However, it is difficult to meet Western immigrants in the Islamic countries who have fully assimilated and accepted the national views of those countries.

Therefore, the cultural appropriation is ethically wrong as being hidden under good intentions the harmful effect is provided. Being the theft in its real representation cultural appropriation should be considered correctly in order to avoid misunderstanding and unethical behavior. Moreover, cultural appropriation makes it possible that in the future all cultures are going to disappear with their unique customs and traditions and only the mess of different cultures is going to remain with the title multiculturalism.

Moreover, the problem of cultural appropriation touches the theft of the objects which do not belong to the concrete person, but to the whole community (like the painting of Picasso and other well-known artists). Thus, cultural appropriation is an unethical process which is to be reduced to minimum as even when one culture gives the push for another culture to develop, the harm which occurs in the highly developed cultures cannot be even considered. The future is going to put the things on correct places, but to make sure that he cultural uniqueness and significance is going to be saved in the future, it is important to take care of the culture today.

Works Cited

Scafidi, Susan. Who Owns Culture?: Appropriation And Authenticity In American Law. New York: Rutgers University Press, 2005. Print.

Young, James O. Cultural Appropriation and the Arts. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Print.

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