Indigenous activists from all around the world are calling on a United Nations committee to make cultural appropriation a criminal offense.
The 189-delegate committee, which is a subset of the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization, has been in Geneva this week working on a task that it began in 2001: Creating international regulations would ban people from “stealing” indigenous art, dance, and medicine.
This is, of course, incredibly stupid. Almost everything in the world has been called “cultural appropriation” by now, and it would be hard to think of a single person who might not end up inadvertently violating one of these laws. Yes, to be fair, the people advocating for them likely just want to penalize the big business who “steal” other culture’s traditions to make money — for example, Anaya pointed out Urban Outfitters selling “Navajo hipster panties” — but everything from being a white girl who wears hoop earrings to styling your eyebrows in a certain way has been deemed “cultural appropriation” at this point. I’m a white girl wearing hoop earrings right now. Should I get a ticket? Maybe go to jail? Or would the laws only apply to sales? What if my life got a little tough, and I sold my hoop earrings online for a little extra cash? Then would I be a violator? And who would get to decide?
The “hoop earrings” issue brings up another point. Usually, when social-justice types bring up hoop earrings, they talk about them as belonging to black and Hispanic women today — which is why white chicks like me can’t wear them. In reality, though, hoop earrings actually go much further back, to ancient times — which brings me to the larger issue: We as humans have been around for awhile at this point. So long in fact, that almost everything has some root in “ancient times”; it would be very tough to think of even one modern “original” idea that cannot be traced back to inspiration from another culture. Should we really be placing blanket criminal restrictions on innovation?
– Katherine Timpf is a reporter for National Review Online.