Cultural Appropriation: It Ain’t No Fun If the Homies Can’t Have None

America, a country founded on the freedom of religion, expression, and individuality, is being threatened by a new breed of savage. After having systematically eradicated the majority of anything that could be perceived as racist, sexist, or homophobic, from popular culture, these savages have taken it upon themselves to find a new cause and invented a new term to go along with it: “Cultural Appropriation”. A slew of woebegone and hapless students and ‘writers,’ obsessed with Russian philosophers, typing from an Egyptian-grown alphabet, in a West Germanic language, on computers designed in America and manufactured in China, wearing Italian-inspired clothing, sip their French white wine, in a country based on the notion of Greek democracy, while they chastise other Westerners for everything from belly dancing to dreadlocks to wearing headdresses to a Shakespearian play set in medieval Japan.

The majority of Western thought and logic allow for cultures to exchange ideas, fashions, expressions, and technology. Cultural Appropriation is where comedians have gotten some of their best material, how fashion developed some of its more cutting edge ideas, and how humans have culturally and intellectually evolved as a whole.

1. Cultural Appropriation is A Delusion

Culture is fluid, you can’t steal it; it is formed through the exchange of ideas and information. In a globalized culture, everything is ‘appropriated’ just look at the Crucifix and how it has transitioned from a religious symbol to a fashion accessory. Christians weren’t up in arms over that transition, if anything they may have enjoyed seeing it displayed more readily as it has personal significance to them. The only culture that, perhaps, cannot be accused of ‘appropriation’ are the Sentinelese Islanders who have remained isolated for centuries. Japan’s primary crop, rice, was ‘appropriated’ from China and its religion was ‘appropriated’ from India. What is interesting to note is that the major gripe is coming from ‘cultures’ that are historically undeveloped but, thanks to Westernization, are liberal-arts educated and able to voice their asinine complaints on their ‘privilege granted first world computers’ (voicing their complaints via smoke signal would not have been as effective).

2. Cultural Appropriation Implies You’re Their Spokesperson

Alright, so it could be argued that the majority of examples I have mentioned are not “cultural appropriation” but “cultural diffusion;” supposedly, a separate term based on “how the originating culture feels about it.” This alone is problematic, as I am fairly certain that an entire “culture” was not polled concerning their emotions on everything being propertied as ‘cultural appropriation’ these days. People grumbling about “white people who act black,” or embrace modern black culture, never seem to comment on “black people acting white”; the reason for this is because the entire notion of “acting” a certain way is to dismiss individuality and personality. In the same way that you cannot poll an entire “culture” for their thoughts on what they consider to be “appropriation”, you cannot stereotype a culture as having universal opinions and sentiments.

3. Cultural Appropriation is Anti-Aesthetics

When you actually think about it, feather headdress, themselves, are purely aesthetic. They have absolutely no true practicality. They were designed for ‘fashion’ and fashion in and of itself is a status symbol. Did European royalty start writing irate articles when Burger King began giving out cardboard crowns? No. But when Harry Styles is caught wearing an Indian headdress… sorry I mean Native American… err I mean Indigenous people… a slew of articles were written proclaiming how inappropriate it is; it was quite obvious that he did not don the headdress specifically to offend people, but nonetheless people felt the need to take offense. An odd ‘publication’ by the name of Autostraddle published a piece titled “Top 10 Instances of Open and Unapologetic Celebrity Cultural Appropriation in 2013!” They apparently find the issue to be so exciting that it deserves an exclamation mark! All the examples given as their top ten were aesthetic. Therein lies the problem, fashion for years has borrowed from cultures; it is how fashion has developed. Another aesthetic currently proclaimed to be cultural appropriation and racism are dreadlocks; this specific author showcases his ignorance with the claim that “Dreadlocks originated first with Jamaican Rastafarians and then in Indian Sages and Yogis.” Dreadlocks were worn by Spartans in Greece, Sadhus of India, Sufis in Pakistan, and Jewish cultures that have been around for thousands of years in comparison to the Rastafarian movement that started in the 1930s.

4. Cultural Appropriation is Ruining the Liberal Arts

I once believed that Cultural Appropriation claims were going to eventually be seen as a “trend offense” and die out at the liberal arts schools that provide the breeding ground for this cranial disease. Unfortunately, colleges from Dartmouth to Williams keep jumping on the “cultural appropriation” bandwagon with each new class of freshmen who take on the term as quickly as people use to take on idiosyncratic lingo like “same”, as a statement, and “cray cray”, as an exclamation that I still barely understand. I think at this point, they’d be better off bringing “cray cray” back and dropping the equally racist and combative term “cultural appropriation.” Aside from the inherent racism found in those proclaiming “cultural appropriation” there is the much larger issue of cyber bullying, chastising, and rationalized slander that many students at liberal arts institutions fall victim to. One of the latest, and I believe prime examples, of the warped logic that some of these people take can be found in a recent Williams College article titled, White Fragility Is Not My Problem, which would more appropriately be titled It’s OK That I’m Racist, I’m Not White. In it, student  trumpets her deeply bigoted outlook and her “right” to persecute anyone who she interprets as a vile Cultural Appropriator, with a pitch-fork-yielding cry to rally  proclaims: “To those among you who cry ‘cyberbullying’: it seems like you are just trying to steer attitudes towards empathy and understanding in hopes that you won’t be treated as harshly on the day that you slip up on the act and let your true self out. To those among you who cry ‘public shaming,’ it’s pronounced “accountability.” I wish that this sort of thinking was simply an isolated insolent, but the victimization, unapologetic ‘public shaming’, and ‘cyberbullying’ are continuously rationalized under this same premise, across multiple college campuses. It is truly “cray cray.”

5. Cultural Appropriation is Self-Righteous Self-Deception

A personal story: During my Sophomore year at Bard College, I was ‘caught’ listening to music by the rapper Nas; I say ‘caught’ because a fellow student, a member of two wonderful campus organizations, the BSO (Black Student Organization) and the MDC (Multicultural Diversity Club), told me that the artist I was listening to was ‘not meant for me’. This spiraled into a forced meeting with the ‘Dean of Multicultural Affairs’ (yes, this is a real thing). She ‘explained’ to me that some people feel subjugated and oppressed, despite attending the same school as me, with the same course offerings, and the same terrible cafeteria food; these students feel the need to protect what they consider to be ‘their culture’. Would the artists and musicians, themselves, feel the same way? As Snoop Dog once said, “It ain’t no fun if the homies can’t have none.” The word multiculturalism itself sounds absolutely wonderful; it suggests a beautiful melting pot of various cultures, societies and world views holding hands, skipping into the sunset together, as one; unfortunately this is not what the word has come to mean. Today, ‘multiculturalism’ is used as a divisive word whose aim is to emphasize people’s differences. Rather than saying, “lets share culture and evolve together” it is saying “concentrate on historic hardships and keep propagating those beliefs so that they continue to stifle you”. If something is borrowed from another culture, then it is not out of disrespect, but it is out of a form of appreciation for something, be it music or fashion or what have you, that culture developed.

6. Cultural Appropriation is Anti-Intellectual

Wearing a headdress is not the same as making a concerted effort to oppress a culture, neither is belly dancing as either a form of exercise or aesthetic, nor are any of the other things making the current rounds of ‘cultural appropriation atrocities’. The whole notion is incredible anti-intellectualism disguised as an issue of cultural preservation. Not being allowed to wear a headdress at a music festival, or take a class on belly dancing does nothing but further segregate us. If there was such an overt and overwhelming sensitivity to what is now being purported as ‘cultural appropriation’, then comedians like George Carlin, Dave Chappelle, Paul Reubins, Lenny Bruce, Dennis Miller, and Richard Pryor (to name just a few), would never have been able to come into existence. So, how about we give the whole ordeal a rest? The “this is ours and ours alone!” argument is nothing but parochialism concealed in various straw man arguments.

I will end with a quote from the Washington Post by Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA:

“Maybe—and I know this is a radical thought—artists, whether high or low, should be able to work in whatever artistic fields they want to work in. Maybe they should even be able to work in those fields regardless of their skin color or the place from which their ancestors came. Maybe telling people that they can’t work in some field because they have the wrong color or ancestry would be … rats, I don’t know what to call it. If only there were an adjective that could be used to mean “telling people that they mustn’t do something, because of their race or ethnic origin.”

Prologue

An example of how these ideas play out can be found here.

Comments (5)

  1. Dear Lucian,
    I, too, was a little indignant when I first came across the idea of cultural appropriation. Then I read something that helped me understand it in a different light. I will try to share the idea here, with a little analogy, and maybe it will help you too. Sharing ideas is of course a very natural and beautiful part of the world we live in. But when systemic oppression is the groundwork on which cultural “diffusion” is happening, it’s not diffusion anymore. It’s appropriation. There is a power dynamic at work that benefits some, while leaving others stomped on and disadvantaged.
    Let’s say you have a friend at school. The two of you have a loving and respectful relationship. One day, your friend missed breakfast and forgot to grab change for lunch, so they ask you to share your lunch money. Of course you don’t mind sharing your lunch resources because you are a partner in a mutualistic relationship.
    Now, if instead of your good friend asking you to share, a bully comes over, shoves you in the mud and demands your lunch money. You hand it over because you are scared for your safety, even though in this case, you are not a respected partner in a relationship, you are bullied and pushed around. You didn’t share your lunch money, it was stolen from you with force, while you were left with nothing, sitting in the mud.
    The bully in this analogy is colonial legacy (read: privilege).
    Oppression has definitely not been eradicated from the mass media and popular culture, nor from society as a whole. When there is about one person of color for every 30 white people on TV (not a statistic, just watch primetime and you’ll see the trend), then we’re still witnessing systematic oppression. So until all oppressed groups are represented as fairly and with as much autonomy as the Western, privileged population is, then the cultural ideas that you wrote about will remain appropriated, not diffused or shared.
    It’s hard to hear people tell you that something you are partaking in is bad or harmful, but it’s worth remembering that being a part of a problematic system doesn’t make you a bad person. And there is still lots of room to widen your vantage point a little bit and tap into your empathy stores.

    • lwintrich

      That analogy seriously doesn’t work on multiple levels; the first, and most blaring reason that it doesn’t work is because (as I said above) ‘you can’t steal culture.’ Culture is not quantifiable or tangible like that, it is not something you can ‘lend’ or ‘borrow’; similarly it is absurdism at its finest to think that any single individual can speak for their entire culture or made decisions about who can and cannot participate in different elements of it. More often than not, those who are presenting these arguments are masquerading deep seated racism as claims of ‘cultural appropriation’ (you can check out the image attachment to the prologue if you would like to see how these things tend to actually work in application.

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