Tag Archives: bell hooks

Appropriation needs appreciation

16 Apr

One would be hard pressed to argue that Arab influence on American culture is fully appreciated.  Hell, appreciated?  How about realized?  An Arab comedian was quick to point out the existence of a Black History month, Latino heritage month, Irish American heritage month, etc. (granted, these ethnicities have been present in America for a longer period of time, but still..) The dominant idea about the split, and difference, between Arab nations and Western nations is that Western nations broke off with scientific exploration, conquered the rest of the unknown world, and now sit atop a pedestal that clearly and definitively exists.  This notion, of course, is entirely false.

A beautiful thing about American culture is its unprecedented diversity of thought, norms, ethnicity, and culture.  This diversity exists not because of some linear trajectory of Western invention and ingenuity, but is rather due to the timely appropriation of inventions, tools, ideas, and information from co-evolving cultures around the world.  bell hooks, an American author and social activist, has written extensively on the concept of “eating the other“.  Eating the other refers to the cultural commodification and consumption of non-white culture and is a continuation of the power/dominance hierarchy, with subtler mechanisms.  I like to think of this concept as appropriation without appreciation.

In her article Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance, bell hooks analyzes the cultural commodification of non-whites as a continuation of the power/dominance hierarchy and how this behavior is rampant in American culture.  She states: “Cultural appropriation of the Other assuages feelings of deprivation and lack that assault the psyches of radical white youth who choose to be disloyal to western civilization… Masses of young people dissatisfied by U.S. imperialism, unemployment, lack of economic opportunity, afflicted by the post-modern malaise of alienation, no sense of grounding, no redemptive identity, can be manipulated by cultural strategies that offer Otherness as appeasement, particularly through commodification.”

What I wonder is where is the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation?  How can one enjoy/appreciate a different culture without participating in its commodification?  hooks’ analysis seems to be in search of recognition and reconciliation without consumption, which is valid, but provides a formidable challenge.  What could, say, a western white youth do to approach such a situation?  It seems assuming a leading role in such a movement could be viewed merely as a continuation of the power/dominance hierarchy.

Regardless, the purpose of this post is to show some appreciation for cultural items (goods, inventions, ideas, art, etc.) that I consume frequently that were appropriated from the medieval Islamic world.  Here’s a quick list:

1) Coffee

2) Numbers

3) Algebra

4) Beer

5) Guitar

As a college student studying mathematics, there isn’t a single one of these items that I could presently live without.  This simple list of 5 appropriations consists of things that I haven’t gone a week, much less a day, without in a number of years.  I am thankful for the existence of these items, and appreciate the historical context and cultural context from which these inventions emerged.  I appreciate these appropriations.

Are there things that you utilize frequently that you haven’t fully appreciated?  I encourage you to do this simple exercise, post it below and let me know what you think about how to properly appreciate cultural appropriations.

 

Devin Riley

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