Cultural Appropriation by Jens Kastner


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Jens Kastner, born 1970, sociologist and art historian, lives as a freelance author in Vienna where he teaches at the Academy of Fine Arts. He has published texts on social movements, cultural studies and contemporary art in various newspapers and magazines. Since 2005 he is co-ordinating editor of ‘Bildpunkt.Journal of IG BILDENDE KUNST’.

A boomerang by Chanel triggered a social media shitstorm in early summer. Not only because it was supposed to be sold for 2,000 euros, but also and especially because a boomerang was originally the weapon of Australian Aborigines. It is racist to sell him now as a wickedly expensive sports accessory. The excitement was even greater when fashion designer Marc Jacobs presented his spring 2017 collection with models wearing colorful dreadlock hairstyles. Because the models were mostly white, the accusation of ‘cultural appropriation’ was raised, the cultural appropriation.

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But what is cultural appropriation, ie cultural appropriation? This question may perhaps be answered very well by a book title. The book in question is called ‘Everything But The Burden’ and was published in 2003 by the American cultural theorist Greg Tate. The essay collection deals with black pop culture and its subtitle makes the topic clear: ‘What White People Are Taking From Black Culture.’ Greg Tates subtitle is the thesis: The Great Burden – The Burden – of blackness was that African Americans in the United States were denied human and civil rights as well as economic participation.

At the same time, however, American culture – music, dance, fashion, humor, spirituality, grassroots politics, slang, literature, and sports – has been ‘Afro-American in its origins, conceptions, and inspirations.’ What whites adopted, ultimately, without question, was ‘Everything But The Burden’ – everything but the burden of being black.

What has not changed until today. On the one hand, fashion designers and advertisers use black culture. On the other hand, inequality persists: white household wealth today is about 20 times that of black households in the US; There are 2,300 people in prison today out of 100,000 blacks, compared to just 450 in comparison to 100,000 whites. In one quarter of black households, there is so-called food insecurity, a euphemistic word for hunger.

Even under Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, the situation has not improved. On the contrary. Black families were much more affected by the 2008 financial crisis than white ones, as demonstrated by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Professor of African American Studies at Princeton. So while fashion and pop cheerfully make use of the cultural achievements of minorities and make money, the glamor and prestige of those who are the real creators are of no importance. Apart from exceptions, of course.

After all, whites – or more generally: members of the so-called dominance culture – have appropriated and benefited from cultural expressions. However, they did not have to go through the history of slavery and so-called racial segregation.Dominance culture: In the German-speaking world in the early 1990s, the term was coined by the late Berlin social scientist Birgit Rommelspacher. 

She wanted to draw attention to the fact that the rampant racism in Germany at the time was not just the problem of small neo-Nazi groups or the German past. In contrast, the notion of dominance culture emphasizes that – quote – ‘powerful and powerless are racially oriented if they have grown up in this society and have not learned to consciously distance themselves from it.’ – Quote end.With members of the dominance culture are thus meant all those, who profit because of the ethnic attribution ‘knows’ from social conditions. Whites do not expect to be penalized for their skin color on the job market; they do not have to be above

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