One Cultural Appropriation No One Talks About

Oh dear, it’s happened again. Yet another pop icon’s been busted and “called out” on social media for cultural appropriation. Shame on Johnny Depp for his part in an ad for Christian Dior’s fragrance Sauvage. The very short-lived “We are the Land,” campaign ads released as teasers August 29th, were pulled within hours due to complaints the message stereotyped Native Americans. The brain child of collaboration between the house of Dior and the advocacy organization Americans for Indian Opportunity, the ad—aiming to represent Native Americans in a positive light—still drew fire. 

Depp and Dior are not alone in their sin; Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus—to name just a few celebs—have similarly appropriated hairstyles, garments, accessories, and dance moves from other cultures for the sake of lucre and fame. Nearly all cultures over time borrow or appropriate from others—it’s called commerce and cultural influence. Russian composers borrowed the opera from the West and wrote new ones. They used Western European notation and scales, adding their own Russian accents to the music.

Ironically, since cultural diversity is in vogue, you’d think blending cultures would always be welcomed. But, living in the hypersensitive age we do, appropriating anything  from another culture is considered ignoble. You never know when you might cross the line into what’s called the sin of “cultural appropriation.” Just ask Johnny Depp.

Cultural appropriation as a vice today is the act of taking or using things from a culture not your own, without showing respect to the originating culture. It might even be considered the stealing of another’s culture—as characterized by beliefs, ideas, traditions, intellectual property—with little to no deference to that culture… a cultural plagiarism of sorts.

While a pop diva’s, Depp’s, and Dior’s “sins” have been brought to light, there is a cultural appropriation that few are talking about. Perhaps it’s not discussed because the appropriation happened slowly, having progressed over several generations. Two distinct and opposing cultures took time to differentiate into clearly defined camps—much like a speciation event. Over time the conflict that grew between these camps became known as the war between science and religion. 

The war’s title is deceptive; we’re led to believe it represents a conflict between that which is empirical, rational, and logical (science)—and that which is typified as irrational, illogical, representing dumb “blind faith” (religion).

If we could rename the warring factions to truly characterize their roles, we might recast this as a battle between two ideologies or worldviews: scientism vs. religion. As a faithful Darwinist, I fought on the side of scientism for many years, scoffing at the notion that anything objective or empirical could spring from religious thought. Unaware, I was a materialistic foot-soldier well-entrenched in cultural appropriation—as guilty as Kim Kardashian (but without the great looks). 

Perhaps you’re skeptical of the claims that modern, empirical science had its origins in Christian culture—Western European Christian culture, to be precise. Uniquely, there were many cultural beliefs facilitating science’s birth such as (1) the natural world following predictable, unchanging laws, (2) nature was discernible, (3) natural inquiry necessitated experimentation (not mere authoritative speculation), (4) nature was not enchanted, making dissections acceptable, and, (5) as image-bearers of God, it was man’s duty to study and leverage natural resources to create technology for the betterment of humanity. (See Pearcey, N. R., & Thaxton, C. B., The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural philosophy. 1998) These beliefs generated a cultural milieu that not only birthed science, but embedded it and gave it permanence. In the west—science was here to stay.  

Oddly, the completion of my undergraduate degree in molecular biology, a vast science library, and subscriptions to several peer-reviewed science journals never shed light on this seemingly quiescent history. Apparently, my native materialistic culture was not interested in revealing the metaphysical and cultural underpinnings that birthed the methodological system it completely annexed for studying the natural world. So effective was this unmitigated appropriation that upon learning of science’s real history, I rejected it—remaining only too happy to continue in my verbal assaults on Christian beliefs. Now if that does not demonstrate the power of total cultural appropriation, I don’t know what does… problem is, no one is really talking about it. 

Notes
1. Birk, L. (2019, September 3). Johnny Depp slammed amid cultural appropriation backlash for pulled Dior ad. Retrieved from https://popculture.com/celebrity/2019/09/03/johnny-depp-slammed-amid-cultural-appropriation-backlash-pulled-dior-ad/.
2. Tan, D. (2019, September 2). The lowdown on Dior's Sauvage Le Parfum Native American-based film, 'We Are The Land'. Retrieved from https://www.esquiresg.com/dior-sauvage-le-parfum-explore-journey-native-america-indigenous-heritage-with-johnny-depp-we-are-the-land-film/.
3. Twersky, C. (2019, February 4). Ariana Grande responds to fans who accuse her of appropriating Japanese culture. Retrieved from https://www.seventeen.com/celebrity/g22363821/cultural-appropriation-examples-celebrities/. 
4. Online Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/cultural-appropriation.
5. Nittle, N.K. (2019, July 3). A guide to understanding and avoiding cultural appropriation. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/cultural-appropriation-and-why-iits-wrong-2834561.

Emily has had a lifelong appreciation for science, teaching, and research. She graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno with a BS degree in molecular biology and a minor in cognitive psychology. As an undergraduate, she conducted summer research in immunology, microbiology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, scanning tunneling microscopy and genetics; she also published research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and co-authored a chapter on scanning tunneling microscopy. She is currently completing a Master’s degree in Instructional Design and Technology at University of Cincinnati and a Certificate in Apologetics with the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Emily has had the joy of teaching high school chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, anatomy & physiology, and pre-engineering classes over the last thirteen years. As a former Darwinian evolutionist, Emily enjoys stating the case for intellectual agency, considering the arguments posited by the intelligent design movement as much more credible than those proffered by Darwinists.

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