50. Is Cultural Appropriation A Problem?

Halloween is just around the corner. Traditionally, this has been a holiday where kids can dress up as people they love and admire as they go trick-or-treating. But over the last few years, some people have decided that it is inappropriate for kids to dress up in costumes that portray another person’s culture. They call this “cultural appropriation.” But is this really a problem, or merely a way of showing appreciation and respect for other cultures?


Here is the transcript of our conversation:


Brittany: Hi Connor.

Connor: Hey, Brittany

Brittany: Brittany. So it is my favorite time of year. It is Halloween time and not just because Halloween is exactly a week from both of our birthdays because we do have the same birthday for our listeners out there if you wanna get us a present. But it is my favorite time of year,

Connor: hashtag November 7th.

Brittany: Remember the 7th of November? That’s what I want to say. So it is my favorite time of year for many reasons. One of which is because I was a nerdy theater kid, so I love dressing up in costumes. It’s one of my favorite things to do. It’s a little different now than we were kids though I’ve noticed, especially in the last couple of years that people, adults specifically, have started telling kids that it’s wrong to wear a costume if that costume depicts another person’s culture. So let’s say you wanted to dress up like a Native American. Now they’re saying you can’t do that. That’s inappropriate, that’s disrespectful. Or even, I believe the movie was called Moana. There was a Moana costume and some little girl just on Twitter, people were saying, You know, how dare you let your little girls dress up in this costume? They’re not that culture. And so there’s become this kind of divide in our country where people are calling it cultural appropriation, which is kind of a big term. Basically, they’re saying that we are stealing other people’s culture. And I’ve always kind of found this silly because to me it kind of seems like a compliment, kind of a nice thing like flattery. But I don’t know. Connor, what do you think about this?

Connor: Yeah, I haven’t really understood this either. We have this kind of cultural battle where people try and fight one another on social media, online, and even in person, and this is cultural appropriation. So first, what is culture, right? Culture is kind of like a shared style, a shared of values. What’s that

Brittany: Tradition a little bit too. Some shared traditions, I think.

Connor: Yeah, I think that’s right. Some shared musical styles. So you think of Polynesian Islands and Polynesian dancers. There’s kind of this there’s just maybe the style is a good word for it. It’s a kind of overall style that affects maybe your food, your music your dancing, your attitudes. And so after thousands of years of people living in different areas, everyone’s kind of developed these different little styles, this different culture, and we’re different. So I grew up in San Diego and San Diego has its own little culture. Little, yeah, surf. So I wore it, and when I was a teenager, I wore a Puka shell necklace.

Brittany: I had so many necklaces,

Connor: I walked around in flip-flops as often as I could. I wore shorts.

Brittany: Did you do the hang 10 sign to people?

Connor: No, I didn’t really get there, but I did bleach my hair a lot and I had this phase where I parted it down the middle that never looked good.

Brittany: Oh dear. Yes,

Connor: and the photos that are really awkward to look at, but I had my own style. There was this kind of culture that I was a part of. Well now I live in Utah and it’s cold half the year, and there are mountains and there’s no surfing. And the culture is just kind of different. Or I’ve hired people to come work with us at Libertas Institute from different parts of the country, and they have their different kind of way of speaking and their preferences and their kind of, yeah, they’re just-style. So there are all these cultures. Well then appropriation, I think uses the word stealing. I think that’s a good synonym for it. That’s kind of what they mean. You’re, or maybe even you’re inappropriately using someone else’s culture.

Brittany: Okay, That’s good. Yeah, I like that

Connor: You’re not allowed to use their culture cuz you’re not a part of it. And I think you’re right to point out if this girl who dressed Moana, if she really likes Pacific Island or culture, isn’t it respectful for her to wear that? Does she have one, where is it written that only someone from Hawaii or wherever can wear a flower dress or can dress like that? And especially because as I see it, Britney, I’d be curious to get your take on this. Everything changes and different cultures change over time. Our American culture used to be a cowboy culture.

Brittany: Texas, it’s probably still a little bit in the south. You probably might see little elements of that still be right. It’s different now.

Connor: And then immigrants came in and they married one another and shared cultures. And so then you have merged cultures, a cowboy marrying like an Italian woman and suddenly you have two cultures trying to come together. So then they’re kids. What is the kids’ culture? And that stuff changes over time. This is all very fluid. We have different beliefs and values and styles and those change as kids, we have a different style. And as we get older, we abandon that style that we think is kind of,

Brittany: Does this mean you’re not still wearing Puka shell necklaces and you don’t have

Connor: Bleed hair? I can’t firm, yes. And I no longer part my hair in the middle either. I still wear flip-flops as often as I can. So if it changes over time, then no one really owns it. It’s not like there’s anything that is fixed. In other words, there’s nothing set in stone. And so why is it that we can’t just continue to borrow and share and intermingle all these style ideas?

Brittany: Sometimes I wonder if people just like being mad. It’s been something that I don’t like thinking about, but it’s really for over the past couple of years, it’s kind of something that’s always in the back of my mind. People seem to just love being outraged. You look at stories that make it in the news and it’s always somebody being mad about something. And I remember one a couple of years ago about a girl from your state, Connor in Utah whose father went to Japan. I bought her a beautiful kimono-style dress to wear to her prom. And she was so excited to wear this dress and she posted a picture on Twitter she got all this backlash and people were threatening her even because they were calling her a racist, telling her she was stealing someone else’s culture. And it’s so sad to me that here you have the 17-year-old girl who just wanted to feel pretty on a very special night and has had to deal with Twitter. And Twitter could be a very mean place where people are just attacking her. And it just really makes me wonder, do people just like being angry?

Connor: It is interesting. We, we’ve talked a little bit in past episodes and I’m sure all the families out there have heard of this cancel culture where if you do anything they deem wrong, they will basically just attack you. They’ll try and go after your employer, your job, or if you go to a college, they’ll try and attack your college. They’ll try and attack you online and bombard you with messages from all these people. It is just a very kind of mob activity. And to the point where you’ve even had sports teams that have had Native American names and they’ve had to abandon these names, right? Because oh, you’re appropriating their culture profiting off of racist

Brittany: Wash Redskins, the one whose name just changed. Yeah.

Connor: Yep, yep. And so that’s a concern if it’s almost like they have the expectation that we’re trying to be mean about it or we’re stealing from someone when really I think there’s definitely, And to be sure, maybe there are some people who do that with malicious intent, right?

Brittany: Intent matters. That’s a good word. I’m glad you brought intent up. We actually, Can we break down what that means a little bit? I think that would be important.

Connor: I think that’s a good idea. So intent is like what are you meaning to do? If I’m meaning to wear, Okay, let’s use an example, blackface. Okay. Blackface is this form of, I guess comedy in the theater. And back in the day, in the day, women didn’t act in theater. The men, it was only men and men. Some men would pretend to be women as part of the whole thing. And then I think it was that way with blacks. And so you’d have white actors who would make their face black to be a black person. And then it later turned into this kind of stunt or skit where if you did that, you were kind of poking fun at how silly or stupid black people were that you were making them look dumb and you were playing kind of a dumb black person. And so that the intent the meaning of doing that was to be mean.

It was poking fun at people that it can be very what’s the word just means, I guess is the best way of describing it. Whereas a girl wearing a Moana dress because she wants to be Moana, she kind of has this new little hero and she would love to go live in Hawaii she loves everything about the Pacific Island or culture and loves the people. Maybe her family has been to Hawaii or Tonga or wherever. And so she loves it. So she wants to pay respect to it, she wants to be a part of it. She’s not doing it with bad intent. She doesn’t have any bad meaning. And so I like how you paused us here to talk about intent because cultural appropriation, if someone’s being mean about it, right, then that makes sense that that’s not a good idea. But I think most people who are, when I eat at Taco Bell or if I make Italian food for dinner, I’m not being mean. It’s that I love the Italian people and I love spaghetti and pizza and I want that to be part of my life, celebrating the good things of someone else. It’s not appropriation, it’s more being grateful for them and wanting to be part of it.

Brittany: I’m glad you said that cuz I heard somebody say, and I think it was my friend Sean Malone, who makes great videos for a fee, he said something along the lines of its cultural appreciation, not appropriation, where it’s actually showing, You know what I really think about Moana? Let’s use that example. A girl has found, the young girl has found a new icon, a strong female role model, and she wants to emulate her. She wants to imitate her. And they say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, which I believe is a famous saying. And I think that’s what we need to remember, that this is, if you do it with ill intent like you said, that’s not right, that’s very mean. But if you’re doing it to say, I love this culture, this person, I don’t think that’s bad at all. In fact, it’s not just style or clothing. We get a lot of our music from other cultures. And without that, without borrowing from other places, can you imagine how boring and dull everything would be in our lives?

Connor: I watched a related video, not about music, but about fashion. This was actually a Ted Talk this is a little bit of a different topic, but she was talking about what’s called intellectual property. And intellectual property is like, I’ve written a bunch of books, so I have a copyright on those books. Or a software developer, like a computer programmer. They can create a bunch of code that does, let’s say the next Facebook, for example. And so they can kind of copyright or legally own that code. So if someone else steals it or tries to recreate it the same exact way then you can sue them under this idea of intellectual property. And so there are some people out there who think, and I kind of waffle around where intellectual property, because it’s not actual property, nothing physical you can possess, et cetera. You shouldn’t be able to have the government be your kind of strong man to tell other people.

This can get really absurd sometimes I watch Shark Tank a lot, like religiously. I watch every episode, and sometimes you get these people who come on there and all they made was this different way of doing a sponge. And so they’re just selling a sponge. And so then the sharks will say, Well, do you have a patent on it? And what are they really asking? And they’re saying, Have you signed up with the government so that if someone else tries to make a sponge like this, then you can go to the government and they will use for the force of government to tell that other person, Hey, you can’t make sponges otherwise we’re gonna hurt you, Right? Yeah. That’s what patents are. That’s what intellectual property is. And so it’s a very interesting question. There are a lot of people who passionately believe in liberty who kind fall on different sides of that question.

Why do I bring that up? Will this Ted Talk I watched, this woman was a fashion designer, and she was talking about how when you don’t have intellectual property when you have the free sharing of information and ideas, you get a lot more innovation, you get a lot more creativity? And so she shared her experience as a fashion designer, and how all of fashion is basically “stealing” or “appropriation” from other people. Someone might look at an outfit and say, Ooh, I like that skirt, but I’m gonna make this little change and I like that design. I’m gonna have that be the blouse. And then over here I’m gonna borrow this, and suddenly I’ve created this new style out of many other styles. And then the next person might take that style and turn it into something else. And so

Brittany: Kinda like a variation on a theme is kind of what they call that, right? Yeah. Taking something, making it better. Adding your own

Connor: Like songs. There are cover songs where people will add a little twist or make some changes to it to add their own style. And so she was talking about how you get more creativity that it really pushes people to be creative because they know that they have to create in fashion a signature style that even if there are knockoffs out there, everyone knows that this is the quality brand. And so I think that’s really interesting with the cultural appropriation that we’re talking about too, where these ideas like foods and songs and dancing and all these things, they just kind of get mixed around and we imitate one another and then we add our little twist and then someone else takes ours and adds their own. And that’s how culture is developed. That’s how you get all these different styles over the years. And so now to suddenly have this mob of people in the past few years who were saying, You’re appropriating someone else’s culture, I just stand by and think, Have you not looked at world history? That’s how cultures developed. I don’t know.

Brittany: Not only how it developed, but how things got better. And I always returned to music. I’m a musician, so that’s a really big part to me. But I think about jazz. We wouldn’t have jazz in this country if it weren’t for all the amazing black artists that came and brought it to us. So all over the country, all over the world, there are all these different influences that make something better. And it’s kind of like together, by mixing everything together, you get something even better than you had before. It’s innovation. And so it’s crazy to me that people would be mad at this and it’s like, wait a second. We all just making the world a little bit better a place.

Connor: And I think it comes down to freedom versus control. As I think about cultural development, how everything just kind of flows and we borrow, we imitate, we share, we combine. That’s more freedom. People are kind of free to do these things versus these people who are arguing cultural appropriation, they’re usually big government socialist type of people who believe in control. They want to force other people to only do the things they think they’re allowed to do. You can’t do that. I say You can’t do that, therefore, I’m gonna get the government on my side. I’m gonna shut you down. Or ironically enough, these people who are anti-markets are using the marketplace, oftentimes trying to do boycotts and pressures

Brittany: Cancel. I mean, cancel culture is kind of in a lot of ways, like a boycott. You’re trying to get people to stop listening to somebody, which is kind of buying stuff, buying a product. So it’s very intertwined.

Connor: Yeah, it is. And so I think this is something we’re gonna have to watch closely because it’s so connected to this cancel culture, which even thinks of Liberty Discourse, being able to engage with other people, sharing the ideas of freedom like we are on this podcast. There are people who would love to shut us down, who don’t want us talking about these things. And you think about how America got started and people being able to preach at the pulpit and down at the tavern and share controversial ideas, literally treason against the king, and all of these ideas just mixing together and leading from one colony to the next, and people are now emboldened a little bit more and suddenly they’re dumping tea in the harbor and all this kind of stuff. It was because of the free-flowing nature of all of those ideas, and the freedom of people to express themselves that led to even having this country.

And now there are people in this country who want to think of control. They want to restrict people. They only want, as our friend, Tom Woods likes to say, the three-by-five card of allowable opinion. In other words, here’s my little card with a list of things you are allowed to believe. And so if it’s not on this list, you’re not allowed to. That’s a danger, I think, to freedom generally when there are people out there who have this attitude of control because it’s not just about cultural appropriation like address or a type of food for a lot of these people, it’s the right way to say this, like a life perspective. It’s just the way they think and that leads to how they vote, that leads to who they support in government. That leads to all kinds of other things that end up actually controlling us in a lot of other ways. So I think it’s something we’re gonna have to watch very closely. I think it’s something for you families out there to pay attention to because as our society seems to be changing a lot more quickly than in years past hopefully this is a development that doesn’t get any worse. Certainly, something to talk with the kiddos about what this means for our families. Thanks, guys for listening. Make sure you’re subscribed and Brittany, until next time, we’ll talk to you later.

Brittany: Talk to you later.

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