I’ve struggled for years to understand what the big deal with cultural appropriation is. It always struck me as an unhealthy thing to be worried about — to focus on someone else’s opinion as if it negated what I thought was important. Why would someone else’s opinion about something cancel out my own? Opinions aren’t zero sum. I can think something is deeply meaningful at the same time another person thinks it’s merely a fashion statement and one doesn’t cancel out the other. Whether or not you find something meaningful shouldn’t change with whether or not the person next to you does.
I guess I’ve felt some bitchiness growing up towards people who wore crosses and were not religious. I was deeply involved in my faith at that point so it had a lot of meaning to me, and I liked that it identified me as such. But in this circumstance, I realized that if I was doing it for recognition, the cross didn’t mean to me what I professed that it meant. It wasn’t a show. Later on, instead of a cross I wore a rosary. An acquaintance told me it was inappropriate and it hurt her, because she was catholic and that wasn’t how catholics used rosaries. But it was meaningful to me. I was struggling with my faith and the traditions and mysteries — like the rosary — were the only part I could connect with at that point. Who was someone else to deny what I judged as meaningful?
This girl didn’t own the idea of a rosary, she can’t tell me how I have to feel about it or what it must necessarily mean to me when I see its image. You don’t own anything, you own your interpretation of it and your beliefs about it, no one else’s. We understand this in other areas. That’s why you can’t put a copyright on an idea.
I understand what it’s like for there to be symbols of things you consider very important to you. What I don’t understand is how that changes when other people use the symbols in a way that seems disrespectful. It means they may not understand, or they’re willfully being jerks — but it’s unhealthy for me to be upset every time this happens. I can’t control what other people do, and I don’t need to. What they do doesn’t change any of my own internal beliefs. Other people’s understanding was never part of why they became meaningful to me in the first place. That’s a losing battle to fight, and the wrong way to build beliefs or the self-esteem associated with them.
The bottom line is that I do not think it’s healthy to give other people so much power that they can ruin the things that are important to you simply by not having the same values. What you take very seriously is flippant to others, and vice versa. We are beings with a finite capacity for being interested and passionate about something — and that leads to a diversity of voices, which is a good thing. Again, opinions are not zero sum where one expression takes away the opportunity for another.