The real problem is that ownership is the wrong model. The arts flourished in the world’s traditional cultures without being conceptualised as “intellectual property”, and the traditional products and practices of a group – its songs and stories, even its secrets – are not made more useful by being tethered to their supposed origins. But vigorous corporate lobbying has helped the idea of intellectual property to conquer the world. To accept the notion of cultural appropriation is ultimately to buy into a regime where corporate entities, acting as cultural guardians, “own” a treasury of intellectual property and extract a toll when others make use of it.
Still, the charge of cultural appropriation does sometimes point to a real offense. Typically, this involves forms of disrespect, which can indeed have to do with inequalities of power. If you’re a Sioux, you recognise that your people are being ridiculed when some fraternity boys don a parody of the headdress of your ancestors and make whooping noises. But disrespect isn’t best met with a charge of theft.
Kwame Anthony Appiah on cultural appropriation.
This is… an interesting reframe of this conversation. I’m not entirely sure what I think about it, but… I definitely have been thinking about it