ANOTHER WAY TO DIVIDE US
What is cultural appropriation, you ask?
Simply stated, it’s adopting elements characteristic of particular cultural groups by people who are not of those groups. For instance, a white person who wears corn rows or dreadlocks would be considered guilty of appropriating hair styles.
If you aren’t of African heritage — so this thinking goes — you’d be trespassing on cultural territory to which you have no legitimate claim.
Sensitivities about the issue are high as Halloween approaches and young people are planning this year’s costumes and party themes. The Student Free Press Association’s College Fix reports that…
“Gone are the days when college students could dress up without fear of being reported to a bias response team. In recent years, more and more campus leaders have made it their mission to warn students what not to wear.”
Ablaze with social justice fervor, educational administrators aren’t concerned only with offensive ethnic images. They’ve gone beyond worrying about blackface and other racist iconography.
A flyer issued by the diversity office at the University of St. Thomas lists a number of inappropriate representations, including…
“wearing Native American headdresses, dressing up as a ‘Mexican’ by wearing a sombrero, dressing as a ‘geisha…’
…and so forth. It explains…
“Cultural appropriation is defined as ‘the act of taking intellectual and cultural expressions from a culture that is not your own, without showing that you understand or respect the culture….
“This can be as simple as wearing a Dashiki without knowledge or respect to West African culture, and as serious as wearing a fake Native American headdress without any regard of its sacredness. It generally incorporates a history of prejudice and discrimination by perpetuating long-standing stereotypes.”
On this basis, one assumes that it would not be considered inappropriate for a black student to wear a Dashiki, or an actual Native American to wear a headdress, or a Mexican to wear a sombrero, or a Japanese geisha to wear a kimono.
But then, who knows? Perhaps even authentic ethnic representatives wearing traditional garb would be “perpetuating long-standing stereotypes.” These days, you can’t know what might trigger a reaction to perceived “prejudice and discrimination.”
While I certainly understand that people don’t like outsiders mocking their group identity, characteristics, or “indigenous wear,” drawing rigid proprietary lines is not an altogether wise idea.
Throughout history, sharing cultural elements has been one of the most effective ways by which various population groups have advanced themselves.
Grouse, if you will, about George Gershwin or Elvis Presley getting rich by popularizing music whose roots were in the “Black Experience.” Would the African American community be better off if whites hadn’t taken jazz, blues, gospel, soul or reggae to their hearts? What opportunities would have been denied talented, creative black performers?
Of course, logical thinking is not in fashion on college and university campuses at present. What is in fashion is propaganda — as suggested by this passage in the College Fix article…
“At a ‘Conversation Circle’ at Princeton University this Sunday, students will ‘engage in a dialogue about the impact of cultural appropriation, Halloween, and why culture is not a costume.’”
Don’t expect too much actual dialogue. I suspect that the spirit of Maoist “cultural reeducation” is likely to prevail — as suggested by the titles of these Halloween initiatives underway on various campuses, including: the “Not Your Festival Wear” workshop at Minnesota State; the “Halloween and Cultural Appropriation Tabling” program at Goucher College; the “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume” poster campaign at Northern Arizona University; and the University of St. Thomas’ “Cultural Appropriation — What It Is and Why It’s Bad.”
See any room for dialogue here?
Granted, there are always plenty of thoughtless, tactless jerks to be found on campuses (as pretty much everywhere else in life). But no one who is sensible, well-intentioned, or aware of the current social atmosphere advocates making fun of people.
Indeed, this has less to do with cultural sensitivity than it does with driving in cultural wedges and ratcheting up ethnic anxiety. It’s just another means of advancing a politically correct agenda that seeks to cleanse academia of its European intellectual heritage.
Ideological skew is all too apparent in the roster of cultures about which students are expected to be sensitive. I doubt college administrators would fret that some group of kids might give offense by dressing up as a polka band.
The cultural appropriation idea is not only deeply divisive, it’s harmful to the interests of those groups it claims to protect.
But hey, Halloween is just around the corner, and I have a suggestion for the one costume that’s perfectly safe. In fact, it would capture that spirit of pompous irony so much beloved of the academic Left.
Dress up as Donald Trump.
An anonymous commenter observes that my final suggestion isn’t a good idea, since spotting a “Donald Trump” lurking about could cause all kinds of hysterics, possibly even bringing out the campus police. It’s a point well taken. So I’ll suggest this instead: Ask your mom to borrow one of her old ’90s-era pantsuits, and go as Hillary Clinton.
Incidentally, I love this image that’s currently circulating on Facebook. It’s a special award for those who have suffered triggering trauma.
Here are links to a couple of College Fix articles examining the cultural appropriation concern…
So fevered is the academic world about cultural appropriation that the University of Michigan’s Alpha Theta Chapter of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity was pressured to cancel a party whose theme was to be “Ancient Egypt.”
Are there people around today who still consider themselves part of pharaonic culture or who worship the pantheon of ancient Egyptian gods? I wouldn’t think so. But someone from the Egyptian students association complained, and the frat issued a statement insisting…
“We pride ourselves on being a diverse social fraternity with members from a wide variety of religions, races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, and other identities. It would never be the intention to make anyone from any group, especially a group that has been the victim of oppression for many generations, feel unwelcome or uncomfortable.”
King Tut, call your office…
The cultural appropriation idea has taken root well beyond college and university campuses. Writing on the Huffington Post, one Matthew Terrell, who describes himself as a “Queer Southern writer / photographer / artist,” argues that white people shouldn’t practice yoga. An excerpt…
“White people are continuing to recreate colonialist violence with their cultural consumption. It has to stop. The only way to end systemic racism and insensitive problematics is to force everyone to stick to their own race when it comes to the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the art we appreciate, and the life we live. Anybody enjoying a cultural product that is not there’s — whether it be a eating traditional meal or wearing a sacred garment — is guilty of cultural appropriation. This violence must be stopped! You should only be allowed to enjoy the culture of your own race.”
Some folks are still able to think with clarity — and they show up in unexpected places.
Writing in The Atlantic (flagship of East Coast liberal journalism), Quartz lifestyle reporter Jenni Avins takes a tour of the fashion and food items that punctuate her daily existence, and finds a virtual United Nations of cultural influence. She sees this as life-enriching…
“Such borrowing is how we got treasures such as New York pizza and Japanese denim — not to mention how the West got democratic discourse, mathematics, and the calendar….
“In the 21st century, cultural appropriation — like globalization — isn’t just inevitable; it’s potentially positive. We have to stop guarding cultures and subcultures in efforts to preserve them. It’s naïve, paternalistic, and counterproductive. Plus, it’s just not how culture or creativity work. The exchange of ideas, styles, and traditions is one of the tenets and joys of a modern, multicultural society.”
Avins is not without her own sensitivities, a few of which are slightly tinged with PC anguish. But overall she makes well-reasoned distinctions between cultural borrowings that can give offense and those that properly honor (and even benefit) their sources. Check out her argument at…