I am taking a bit of a Choral Ethics break during the summer, and today we have a guest blogger. I will be working on the fall’s Blogs during the summer, so if you have a Choral Ethics dilemma or query or comment, please email me: .
Choral Ethics Guest Blogger: Issues for Our Time Part 1: Appropriation
By Benjamin Amenta
With the dreadful war initiated unjustly by Putin’s Russia, we are reminded of an example of a people’s dignity, the nation of Ukraine inspiring us all. It is a self-evident fact; anyone’s culture represents their dignity. In history’s unfortunate mistakes, not everyone has honored intercultural dignities, including this recent example by the Russian military. For many of us in everyday life, how might we maintain dignity among nations and cultures? The just sociological concept of how we deal with appropriation is a crucial example in how to maintain dignity among cultures and nations.
An important idea is one does not appropriate. Most of us are familiar with this sociological concept from public discourse. It is important to understand to make sure each and every culture has dignity. If we appropriate, we are not honoring the dignity of the culture that person is from. And it is unacceptable. So how do we not appropriate? It important to understand the concept of appropriation so we may use it tool and as a cultural rectifier and maintainer, and how to be diverse properly.
Cultures oppressing one another goes back to the Adam and Eve story in Scripture. We must understand things in terms of specific history. That a problem has existed, and to horrible degrees, suggests that as we progress, we further have needed to put out the fires of bigotry. The last several hundred years, racism has reached peaks in America, with nineteenth century imperialism. But there were different stages.
First came chattel slavery. Then the pathetic deconstruction period, though thankfully after the thirteenth amendment. Then the Jim Crow era gave lip service to equality among races with plenty of hate existing, forbidding people sharing things with one another. Then thankfully the Civil Rights laws yet still lesser forms of explicit racism. Racial indifference came around the 1980s given this loaded history, one assumes that we are all good without doing the work of rectifying, with many people personally doing this while at least a handful of economic and governmental policies still semi-explicitly showing forms of racism. Examples of white oppression done to blacks each progressively becoming more benign but still unacceptable, not to mention the many other forms of bigotry. This brings us to the concept of appropriation. Given these colossal problems, in order to put out this latest breed of racism, indifference, we have cultural appropriation used as a rectifier. Its function is to make sure ignorance cannot pollute other cultures by using them while a user still has prejudices.
A beneficial concept of appropriation is dignity, in which a culture is viewed with pride. They know that an oppressor dominating the landscape does not have a monopoly on goodness, and that the often oppressed had goodness within them that the oppressor has overlooked with their hatred. Cultures and nations inherently have their strengths and joys that deserve maintenance so that they may not be ignorantly treated from prejudices.
Yet, the global world is getting more diverse much to our delight, and we like being with people from different races sharing parts of themselves, including our universal human culture, so we may benefit one another. For mutual partaking in cultures, we need proper manners. To partake mutually in each other’s cultures, we first must learn to refrain and ask for permission. Attitudes for proper access include, generosity, appreciation, universal meanings and commonalities, deconstruction of ignorances and hatred, “doing our homework,” asking the person from the culture to enlighten, and perhaps most importantly, respect. While the concept of intellectual property is individual, the concept of appropriation is a group version of intellectual property.
It is important to note, the concept of appropriation is not the only means to rectify, in our most current breed of racism, indifference. It is specifics that deals with people’s joys and livelihoods, which include choral music as a framework for rectifying historical wrongs. We must properly understand it as something beneficial, to greater rectify, maintain, and properly understand diversity. In terms of morals, we need to fight for just causes, righting wrongs in other avenues, with other social justice means. We right historical wrongs that do not have to do with bigotry per se but often bleed into our interactions that could ignite bigoted sparks. This is why in our personal lives, we always aim to cleanse ourselves from unrighteousness and further grow, as we manifest Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream where we can freely enjoy one another, each with our own diverse identities.
Benjamin Amenta began piano lessons at the age of eight and received B.M and M.M. degrees in Piano Performance from the Chicago College of Performing Arts of Roosevelt University, where he was introduced to Social Justice issues in the context of Classical Music. Ben now focuses on Sacred Music. An active member of the American Guild of Organists (AGO), Ben often writes on a multitude of subjects for AGO newsletters. He holds dual AGO memberships; the Southwest Suburban Chicago AGO Chapter and Ben is Dean of the Northwest Indiana AGO Chapter. Ben is the Midwest Motet Society’s Assistant Music Director, as well as accompanist, and sings baritone with the chamber choir.