Danger in ‘Cultural Appropriation’
Perhaps there’s another reason.
Maybe people realized that newspapers went beyond just political incorrectness and entered the realm of “cultural appropriation” (CA) – a phenomenon where one culture adopts (aka “steals”) something from another.
And the Germans designed the first printing press.
With all that cultural appropriation – akin to plagiarizing other nation’s inventions – it’s no wonder so many papers have struck out.
Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.”
Of course, given that the Cambridge Dictionary is affiliated with the famed Cambridge University Press – oldest publishing house in the world, located in the United Kingdom – it would itself be cultural appropriation to cite Cambridge for the definition.
It should be obvious that the CA movement – driven by, you guessed it, Millennials– is a quest into the absurd, and merits no attention.
And yet it continues to garner headlines, and, by extension, steam. Which is ironic, since the first steam engine was invented by the British. Or was it the Romans, or Turks?
And that “conundrum” alone should be all that is necessary to appropriate the CA movement to where it belongs – the trashcan. How far back do we go as to what culture or nation “owns” what? And what happens when history scholars disagree as to who invented what, and when – as they so often do? But the far more important questions are A) who really cares? B) why is this absurdity receiving any attention? and C) who gives anyone the “right” to tell others what they can and can’t wear, think, say and do?
But it’s happening at an accelerated pace. A few examples:
• Keziah Daum, a high school senior in Utah, was eviscerated by some on social media. Her “crime?” She wore a Chinese-style dress (a cheongsam) to her prom. Yep, that’s it. And for that, someone with way too much time on his hands started a firestorm by tweeting, “My culture is NOT your (expletive) prom dress.” The story became an international sensation, with one British columnist opining that Daum’s transgression “was the embodiment of a system that empowers white people to take whatever they want.”
Lost on these self-righteous folks is that A) it was just a dress with a nice design – nothing more. B) Daum wasn’t making a political statement (but so what if she had been?). C) The 18-year-old was lauded by people in China, who were honored by her choice (the design symbolizes women’s strength), D) the cheongsam, designed by liberated Chinese in 1911, has roots in European fashion (how’s that for irony?), and most important E) they ruined the senior prom of a girl who just wanted to have fun at her last high school dance. Instead of spewing inaccuracies about “their” culture, those loudmouths would be better suited learning about that universal thing called “class.”
• White girls at a local high school were told not to wear their hair in a way that resembled braided cornrows, because that would be insensitive to the black students.
• A popular burrito food cart closed in Portland, Ore., after someone accused the two non-Hispanic women owners of cultural appropriation, since, after all, they weren’t Mexican and therefore, were out of line selling Mexican food after having visited there.
“Because of Portland’s underlying racism, the people who rightly own these traditions and cultures that exist are already treated poorly,” a critic wrote. “These appropriating businesses are erasing and exploiting their already marginalized identities for the purpose of profit and praise.”
Too bad the critic doesn’t understand that no one “owns” a tradition or culture. Under that rationale, the billions who are wearing clothes made by other cultures, flying on planes invented and built by Americans (Wright brothers and Boeing), and drinking clean water and taking life-saving vaccines courtesy of others, are all “guilty” of cultural appropriation. After all, how many “understand or respect” the cultures that makes those planes airworthy and medicines so effective?
And all the U.S. military secrets stolen by China and Russia? That’s cultural appropriation, too. If the critics had any guts, they would accuse Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping of such – to their faces. Yeah. Didn’t think so.
Where does it end?
It won’t, until two things happen:
1) The media stops reporting such stories. Cultural appropriation is an entirely made-up term from the entitled, “I’m offended by everything” class. And since it has no real-world meaning or application, there is no need to headline news programs with such preposterous reports. Doing so serves only to amp up both sides of an already hyper-partisan country, injecting more toxicity and divisiveness.
CA stories are the real “fake” news because reporting on those who feign “offense” amounts to legitimizing carnival barking and tabloid hearsay.
Enough is enough.
The news media has more important things upon which to report than the whining of a few — and yes, it is only a few — bored people leaving vacuous lives. Ratings are necessary, but they are better achieved by in-depth examination of the world’s complexities, not the over-magnified musings of people living in their parents’ basements looking to become the next “viral” social media sensation. Cultural appropriation is not a story. Stop making it one.
2) Without new coverage, most cultural appropriation accusations would cease. But for those that remain, the American people need to push back hard. We need to stop living in fear of being called “racist,” and instead, aggressively defend those persecuted for simply living their lives. Patronize their businesses. Protest the protesters (which won’t last long, since most left-leaning protesters have no stomach for braving the elements, and persevere only so long as their lattes and avocado baguette sandwiches last). Challenge the two notorious bastions of cowardice – schools and workplaces – when they bow to overmagnified social media pressure and institute rules that curtail freedom. And make your opposition known via letters to the editor – in newspapers! – social media, and electing common sense representatives.
Otherwise, silence from the majority will embolden the coddled-but-boisterous few to push it even further, allowing cultural appropriation to fester, and its cancer on society to grow.
America is the world’s most diverse melting pot, so given that most people are ethnic “mutts,” the “rules” would make it impossible to do anything. There would be cultural litmus tests for everything. Blacks could not sell burritos. Whites could not wear Chinese clothing. Italians could not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Christians could not marvel at a beautiful mosque. Jewish people could not sing Christmas carols.
And applying cultural appropriation to history is a no-win game. Should only blacks be “allowed” to talk about slavery, or only Jewish people permitted to speak of the Holocaust? Obviously not, since both evils were defeated by myriad other races, and because discussing such topics openly, and free from CA accusations, is the only way to ensure they never again occur.
Here’s an idea: Let’s stop giving the time of day to those who thrive on dividing, and instead focus on celebrating the incredible diversity America offers. Of course people should retain their cultural customs, and celebrate their rich traditions! Those amazing aspects of our culture are, and always have been, the path to a united country. It should be not just permissible, but encouraged, for others to experience and yes, take home, parts of what makes our individual cultures so unique. That’s why American remains the envy of the world.
Feel free to disagree. But while contemplating your musings of dissent, just don’t do so over coffee (Arabia), tea (China), wine (Iran), beer (Syria) or sushi (Japan). As for this author, he’s going to enjoy a wonton burrito over souvlaki hummus in his teepee while wearing a toga. Cheers, mate!
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His print column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]