Like me, I’m sure most of you feel that the issue of “cultural appropriation” is one of the defining debates of our time, far more so than petty concerns over things like terrorism, war or an exploding national debt. (Okay… I’ll stop with the sarcasm for a while.) But what to do about it? In the United States we have all of these pesky rules about free speech embedded in our constitution and a history of allowing free expression for individuals. How do you get around that?
Never fear. The United Nations is ready to rush to the rescue. If a major committee in that august body has their way, they will soon try to force all of the member nations to punish people guilty of adopting the visible, culinary or audible benchmarks of other cultures. (Vice)
Indigenous groups around the world are currently calling on the United Nations to make the appropriation of native cultures illegal, reports CBA News. A special committee has been asking for sanctions since 2001, long before Twitter and Instagram became the default ways for offended communities to call out BS and make their cases heard. This week, though, the ball is really getting rolling. Delegates from 189 countries are currently meeting in Geneva as part of a specialized international committee within the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).
The committee is pushing for three pieces of international law to put sanctions place. This will expand international property regulations to protect indigenous property ranging from designs to language. The UN should “obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent the non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale and export of traditional cultural expressions,” James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado, told the committee.
First off, I really love the way Vice titles their piece, saying that the UN, “may finally make cultural appropriation illegal.” Yes. Finally. I know we’ve all been waiting so long for this. (Sorry… that sarcasm reflex is really hard to tamp down.) They also claim that too many of us can’t differentiate between appreciation and appropriation, owing to, “the proliferation of runway chola bangs and high street Navajo panties.” I don’t know what several of the words in that sentence mean but I have a feeling I’d just be ruining my day further if I Googled them.
In general terms I’ve already made my views on so-called “cultural appropriation” known and you can read about them here. We’re a nation of mutts who’ve adapted all sorts of cultural bits and pieces to build our own. And nobody owns cultural signposts unless it’s in the field of commerce and you have legal title to them. Let’s just say I’m not a fan and leave it at that.
And then there’s the United Nations. What once probably seemed like a pretty good idea has turned into an international bastion of incompetence mixed with hate and occasional bouts of pure evil. When they aren’t condemning our allies and trying to make Israel out to be the source of all sin in the world they’re sending “peacekeeping forces” to remote lands in crises where their troops seem to inevitably wind up sexually abusing the women and children of the region and opening their own brothels using slave labor.
And now they want to preach to us about “cultural appropriation” and “obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent the non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale and export of traditional cultural expressions.” (Yes… that’s a direct quote.)
Good luck with that. Now come try to enforce it here. We’ve got some other cultural traditions I’d love to show you.