CEPDISC Seminar with Aurelia Bardon
University of Konstanz
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Title: Cultural Appropriation: The Disrespect Argument
Abstract: This is a chapter of a book provisionally entitled Cultural Appropriation: Rights and Wrongs. In the book, we argue that not all cases of cultural appropriation (CA) are wrong, and that wrongful cases of CA can be wrong for three distinct reasons: because CA is like theft, because CA is disrespectful, or because CA ignores requests made by cultural groups. This chapter focuses on the second kind of wrong, i.e. disrespect.
We first argue that interpersonal respect should be understood subjectively rather than objectively. This means that there is no difference between disrespecting someone and making someone feel disrespected. This implies that we cannot know in advance when we are disrespecting others and, consequently, that we can never be absolutely sure that our conduct is fully respectful. However, there are also “easy” cases, which can be considered as disrespectful in a non-controversial manner because they express a lack of proper consideration (sometimes explicit) for others. This is what we call overt disrespect.
We identify three types of overtly disrespectful CA that, we argue, are prima facie wrong: stereotyping, insulting, and mocking. It is morally objectionable to disrespect people in those ways. But it does not follow that engaging in disrespectful CA is always wrong. Stereotypes, insults or mocking can be valuable themselves and when they are, there is no moral obligation to avoid overt disrespect. We therefore examine two considerations that matter to assess the degree of wrongness of disrespectful CA. First, it matters what the intention behind the disrespectful conduct is. Second, it also matters who is engaging in disrespectful CA, and who is their target. These considerations help to distinguish impermissible cases of disrespectful CA from permissible cases of disrespectful CA.