Don’t be a culture vulture


Vivian Blevins - Contributing Columnist



I walk across the area carpet in my living room and think, “This carpet is 15 years-plus old, and we’ve spilled all kinds of liquids on it and we never bought a pad for it. And yet, it’s so beautiful. And it was made in Iran.” I acknowledge that in early May, President Trump called the 2015 landmark agreement with Iran “decaying and rotten” and said the U.S. would not be held hostage and that the highest level of sanctions would be imposed.

Do I continue to enjoy the carpet?

My diamonds are modest, so I’ve never given a second thought to whether they are blood/conflict/war diamonds — those mined to finance war efforts. Should I?

And when I bought wooden African masks, I verified the country of origin — Ghana. I noted they were hand-crafted as opposed to machine-crafted, and I was satisfied. Did I have an obligation to verify that the artists were appropriately compensated?

I subscribe to the Sunday edition of the New York Times, and as I read the Style Magazine of the May 20, 2018, edition, I noted page after page of designers hawking their latest wares: clothing, jewelry, home décor — culturally appropriated. Or was it appreciation?

A friend, Tom Galloway, responded to a recent column on this subject by posting a photo of a black man and a black child at the door of an urban slum dwelling. Galloway wrote, “This painting was in my grandparents’ living room for as long as I can remember. There was something about it, as I was always drawn to it. It was one of the few things I asked for when we cleaned out their house. Only recently, I questioned the racial issue you mentioned. I only saw an old man, watching a young boy play.”

David Fair also responded to that column: “As I read your editorial … my jaw hit the floor. It never occurred to me that someone would be shamed, ridiculed or offend others by wearing a traditional style of clothing from a culture not of their own.”

Then, Fair details the Asian clothing he wears and the art he possesses and writes, “No one has ever made a negative comment or a disapproving glance. In my opinion, Keziah Daum was the victim of political correctness gone mad!”

Columnist for County News Online Lois Wilson writes, “Think of all the things you use each day, the food you enjoy, the clothes you wear, the holidays you celebrate… Aren’t we a composite of all our country’s cultures and the people we’ve interacted with over the years?

“If you think this is cultural appropriation and that is a negative, then turn in your Levis — go back to Eden. There you’ll find your fig leaf.”

So I’ve shared a few opinions, and I hope you’re still reading as I share yet another comment on this subject sent to me at my request by Dr. Jessica Ayo Alabi who is chair of a sociology, gender, and ethnic studies department at a California college.

Alabi writes, “I’m really careful about cultural appropriation accusations, so I take a position of cultural humility, assuming that most have cultural ignorance and consume the culture of other people without regard for the actual people.

“In other instances, particularly with the dominant group, their culture is often imposed on others. That’s not cultural appropriation but assimilation. However, the minority may happily embrace it in order to fit in and experience upward mobility.

“Cultural appropriation then is always about power: who has the power to wear another person’s cultural dress.” The prices in “I Dreamed of Africa” in that recent New York Times section verify this: sweater — $1,790, scarf — $ 1,250, skirt — $790, and statements of “prices on request.”

Alabi’s words are thought-provoking and wise. Her final sentences say something most of us know and embrace: “Most people of color are not honored when people take their culture and put it on like minstrels. They prefer that you honor and respect the actual people who truly live the culture. Don’t try to do the culture in black face.”

In conclusion, let’s be respectful, of course, but let’s also shine a light on other issues we face as a nation and seek solutions: poverty, misogyny, racism, homophobia, domestic terrorism, and a host of other matters.

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Vivian Blevins

Contributing Columnist

Dr. Blevins has taught undergraduate and graduate students as well as prison inmates, and now teaches communication and American literature classes at Edison State Community College. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or vbblevins@woh.rr.com.

Dr. Blevins has taught undergraduate and graduate students as well as prison inmates, and now teaches communication and American literature classes at Edison State Community College. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or vbblevins@woh.rr.com.

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