Is It Now Cultural Appropriation to Own Another Culture’s Artwork?
In 1986, Seattle resident Bruce Jacobsen bought an interesting robe at a Pioneer Square art gallery downtown. Known as a “Chilkat robe”, Jacobsen was drawn to the symmetrical pattern of geometric shapes, and decided to hang the aesthetically pleasing relic in his dining room. There it sat for three decades until his daughter, Sara Jacobsen, took a high school art history class, where she found that her home dining room adornment was, in fact, of Native American origin, traditionally woven by indigenous peoples of Alaska and British Columbia.
In today’s age of political correctness, social justice warriors, and thought police, it should come as little surprise what was to next transpire. Dad was charged by daughter with the serious crime of “cultural appropriation.” As Sara noted in an interview with local public radio station KUOW, “I started to wonder why we have it in our house, when we’re not Native American.” Yes, for today’s blue millennials, products of an education system that encourages them to regard such socialist luminaries as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as the egalitarian prophets of a new age, it is beyond horrifying to consider that, in their own homes, might exist works of art “appropriated” from other cultures.
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But it gets even better. See, it was not merely an issue of the serious offense committed by Seattle art enthusiast Bruce Jacobsen; it was an offense committed collectively by white Americans: “I feel like in our country there are so many things that white people have taken that are not theirs, and I didn’t want to continue that pattern in our family,” observed a solemn Ms. Jacobsen to a local news reporter.
Sara Jacobsen is obviously the product of a fine educational system: one that has inculcated her with the tenets of political correctness from an early age. One can only hope that her future scholastic endeavors may take her to the hallowed halls of Evergreen State College where she can help lead protest rallies to drive people like counter-revolutionary professor Brett Weinstein from campus.
Of all of the ridiculous charges and allegations leveled by the social justice warriors at everyday Americans, the crime of cultural appropriation exposes them to perhaps the greatest degree of ridicule.
No. There is absolutely nothing morally, legally, or ethically wrong with owning a piece of Native American art, or owning art from any race, ethnicity, nationality, tribe, or culture, for that matter. Bruce Jacobsen purchased artwork from a local dealer. He had every right to do so, and to display it, within the confines of his home, as he saw fit.
Now, if there were allegations that the Chilkat robe was stolen by Mr. Jacobsen, or by the art gallery back in 1986, that obviously raises a new set of legal and moral questions. However, what is most likely is that someone in the tribe, who made the robe, sold it at some point in the past. They most likely used that money to buy food, water, clothing, and medicine, for their tribe.
The tribe has their basic needs met, and is able to perpetuate their way of life, which is, of course, distinct from the traditional American way of life…and the individual that originally purchased the robe has an aesthetically pleasing object of art to enjoy. It sounds like a pretty reasonable exchange to me: and I think the vast majority of Americans would agree.
But that is not good enough for the new breed of social justice warriors. More than anything, their drug of choice is white guilt. White guilt is their fentanyl, their cocaine, their heroin. To the politically correct elites, white Americans should feel, and are, collectively responsible for the mistreatment of Native Americans in decades and centuries past. Thus, Native Americans should be given special treatment, from generous social welfare benefits, to lucrative casino rights, to great degrees of autonomy and self-government that virtually no other local communities enjoy.
The Native Americans of today, thus find themselves in a bizarre position where they are both “independent” of the federal government in a territorial and judicial sense, and entirely “dependent” upon the federal government for their economic survival. Their local economies are in shambles, their reservations are unsustainable, and poverty and addiction are rampant. They are wards of the state, largely unable to take care of themselves, and we do ourselves no favors by sugar-coating their dire situation, or romanticizing their past.
Yes…European Americans have, in the past, committed some grievous offenses against Native Americans, from the Trail of Tears, to smallpox-infected blankets, to an unjust legal system. But Native Americans should be thanking people like the Pioneer Square gallery owner and Bruce Jacobsen for buying their art. Far better to produce a commodity which commands a high price in a free market, than to rely on social benefits and government stipends for your economic survival. Native peoples have every right to sell their artwork, and everyone has every right to buy it. That is how a free market functions.
Furthermore, regarding the notion of collective responsibility, we must remember that we are individuals. We are not collectively responsible for anything. That is what separates us, as a civilized Western democracy, from totalitarianism. In Nazi Germany, “collective responsibility” was brutally meted out by Hitler upon innocent Czech people in the wake of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. In Bashar Al-Assad’s Syria “collective responsibility” is brutally meted out upon the family members of social and political dissidents. In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, collective responsibility was brutally meted out upon the entire Kurdish race through poison gas attacks.
Collective responsibility is a dangerous element that the American left is now seeking to introduce into our political discourse.
The real question for everyday Americans, (who have yet to buy into the folly of cultural appropriation), is…where is this going to end? Where do we draw the line?
One can only imagine where this preposterous trend will lead: Yoga? Well, we can’t do that; that is cultural appropriation from Hinduism. Enjoying jazz music? A highly offensive appropriation of the struggles of Afro-Americans in the early twentieth century Mississippi Delta. What about the sushi or phad thai you were looking forward to for dinner? Extremely culturally insensitive…how dare you enjoy rice and raw fish rolled up into seaweed when you’re not Japanese? Dreadlocks and reggae music?…don’t even get me started. Where is Sara Jacobsen to set us straight about all the “things that white people steal”?
You’ll be pleased to know, the story has a happy, politically correct ending. Bruce Jacobsen, after some initial resistance, decided to return the Chilkat robe to the Selaska Heritage Institue in Juneau, Alaska. They even flew to Alaska for a donation ceremony, where Native peoples played traditional drum music.
In conclusion, there is certainly nothing wrong with Mr. Jacobsen, out of personal kindness, returning this artifact to a museum; that is, of course, his personal decision. Yet, it should be abundantly clear and alarming that the folly of “cultural appropriation” presents us with a dangerous and slippery slope.
True social justice warriors should be advised to focus on substantive political and economic issues, and let the American people make their own decisions regarding art, entertainment, music, sports, food, and hobbies.