I read in a recent article published in The Conversation that the “Native American population in the U.S. grew by a staggering 86.5% between 2010 and 2020,” not due to increased birth rate or immigration, but due to the fact that “individuals who previously identified as white are now claiming to be Native American.” I wondered what Chad knew about that.

After claiming to have no capacity to judge the accuracy of the claim Chad opined that “individuals may identify with a particular ethnic or racial group for a variety of reasons, including personal heritage, cultural affiliation, and a desire for a sense of community and belonging. Some people may also identify as a particular ethnic or racial group due to social or political factors, such as a desire to claim benefits or legal protections associated with a particular group.”

Always careful not to offend, Chad added that “it’s important to recognize that Native American identity is a complex and nuanced issue, and individuals who claim Native American heritage should do so respectfully and with an understanding of the cultural and historical context surrounding that identity.”

It seemed to me Chad was engaging in some woke circumlocution, so I asked: “Are you afraid to call it ‘cultural appropriation?’” Chad avoided the issue by claiming that “it’s a complex and often controversial issue, and opinions on the topic can vary widely depending on the cultural and historical context.”

“But don’t you think,” I objected, “that the policing of behavior that is branded as cultural appropriation has gotten out of hand?”

Chad agreed that “the policing of behavior labeled as cultural appropriation has sometimes gone too far, with people being criticized for harmless activities that do not actually harm or appropriate from any culture. It is important to recognize the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation, and to be respectful of other cultures without crossing the line into exploitation or disrespect.”

There is a legitimate concern that the cultural appropriation conversation can be taken to extremes, with people being criticized for things that are not harmful or inappropriate. This can create an environment where people are afraid to engage with other cultures or to learn from them, which ultimately does a disservice to the goal of promoting diversity and understanding. At the same time, it is important to be mindful of the ways in which cultural appropriation can perpetuate harmful stereotypes and reinforce power imbalances.

Ultimately, the issue of cultural appropriation is a nuanced one that requires careful consideration of the specific context and circumstances involved. While it is important to be mindful of the ways in which cultural appropriation can harm and exploit other cultures, it is also important to avoid policing harmless behavior and to foster an environment of mutual respect and understanding.

“Wait a minute,” I blurted out, “who can decide where the line is that shouldn’t be crossed?

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Chad then avoided the question and instead weighed in with familiar words about how this should be accomplished by “listening to and respecting the perspectives of people from the culture or community being appropriated from, and being willing to modify one’s behavior in response to their feedback.”

I agreed with Chad that “the conversation is ongoing and that there may not be one right or definitive answer” about what is and isn’t cultural appropriation, but Chad still hadn’t answered the question about who should decide what it means to cross the line. At one point Chad said we should listen to “the voices of the communities that are being appropriated from should be given the most weight in these discussions.” But which voices? The shrill ones or the calmer ones?

I realized that we had moved into a terrain in which Chad was beginning to feel uncomfortable, so, with my plate and cup empty, I bid my friend a good day and went about my usual affairs.*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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