Social Justice Activists Want the UN to Make Cultural Appropriation Illegal

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 4:55 am, June 14, 2017

Due to the fact that the United Nations doesn’t have anything more important to deal with, delegates from 189 countries, including the United States and Canada, are lobbying in Geneva for the organization to institute laws to make cultural appropriation illegal – and for those laws to be implemented quickly.

The delegates are a part of a specialized international committee in the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) which was founded in 2001 to expand intellectual property regulations to protect indigenous art, forms of expression like dance, and even words.

According to CBC, James Anaya, dean of law at the University of Colorado, said that the United Nations document should “obligate states to create effective criminal and civil enforcement procedures to recognize and prevent non-consensual taking and illegitimate possession, sale and export of traditional cultural expressions.”

Not only could the state put you in jail for cultural appropriation, those who feel as though their culture is appropriated would be able to sue you for damages. In other words, you could go to jail for making and selling burritos if you’re not Mexican, or wearing a kimono while white.

Asian-American social justice activists protest cultural appropriation at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts against Japanese women

Anaya says that the UN document should also examine products that falsely advertise indigenous production or endorsement. This means that items of clothing inspired by indigenous designs will be in violation of the law, which has been in the works for 16 years.

Delegates are impatient over the amount of time it has taken for the United States to enact the laws.

“We are only halfway through 2017 and yet the number of occurrences of misappropriation happening to Indigenous peoples in all regions of the world seems relentless with no relief in sight,” said Aroha Te Pareake Mead, who represents indigenous tribes in Wellington, New Zealand. “We asked the international community to help deal with a problem that traverses international boundaries and are still waiting.”

A problem with getting the laws put in place is that most of the indigenous groups supposedly being represented at the committee aren’t even aware of what’s happening.

The United Nations may eventually create a set of laws for member states to follow,  but it’ll be up to those countries to institute them at a national level. Enjoy your burritos and kimonos while they last.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.