Cultural Appropriation: I’m Drawing the Line… ALL the Way Back.

Posted on July 13, 2015

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I have traveled the world, and there is a lot to love. If I want to wear, eat, own, use, or display anything that takes my fancy, from ANYWHERE… I will. You can stuff your “cultural appropriation” right where the sun don’t shine.

A friend recently pushed my buttons on this topic by telling me about some self-righteous shaming by some self-appointed guardian of all things politically correct, and this over the mere fact that a non-Mexican someone might like to own a nice little glass reproduction of a Dia de los Muertos candy skull.

I often think that the loudest people who claim to be offended by “cultural appropriation” are suburban white liberal do-gooders with too much time on their hands, too little relevance in the world, and very little connection to the cultures they leap to defend.  I concede that there is such a thing as offensive cultural appropriation, but things have gone way overboard.  If a Native American explains why outsiders should not wear a war bonnet, I will listen.  If some soccer mom tells me I shouldn’t own Bedouin jewelry or whatever, well, stuff it, honey.  I mean, dang, if the Dia de los Muertos skulls were so sacred to the Mexicans that gringos should avert their eyes from them… then why are all these things for sale here on eBay?  Ask EVERYONE IN THE WORLD who is all too happy to make a buck by selling tourists their Turkish nazars,  Native American turquoise jewelry, German Fasching masks or Trachtenmode, Russian matryoshka dolls, … the list is as endless as the number of cultures out there.   

But no, our snippy little hall monitors want to make sure that no one has any enjoyment from any other culture, ever.  It makes no sense.  What, Rachel Dolezal can arbitrarily decide to be black, but someone else can’t just have a nice souvenir from abroad?

Let’s take this to the extreme to see how ridiculous it is: all you owners of dachshunds, Rottweilers, and German shepherds? Return them to Germany immediately! And God forbid that you ever own an Icelandic pony or a Norwegian fjord horse, unless you have the same pedigree as your horse or dog.

I’d better never see you wearing a sarong on the beach, nor should you ever take classes in Tae Kwon Do or Karate or Judo… and for God’s sake, don’t wear the traditional clothing if you do misguidedly engage in those classes. No more playing lacrosse unless you can prove that you have more Native American heritage than Elizabeth Warren. No kayaking unless you are of Inuit descent.

Holidays are gonna change around here. No more fireworks for the 4th of July, because those are of Chinese origin. Only British descendants may participate in Halloween and Thanksgiving, only ethnic Chinese can celebrate Chinese New Year, and only the Irish – and Catholics – may participate in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

But wait, there’s more. I am HIGHLY OFFENDED to see Chinese, Japanese, and African foreign dignitaries wearing Western-style business suits. Who do they think they are? They should be strictly locked into their native attire from several hundred years ago. Baseball, basketball, and football must be confined ONLY to the United States; everyone else is appropriating those sports from us and should not be allowed to play.

You might also notice that Asia is pretty insensitive about stealing our art forms – rock music, for example (haven’t you seen the Japanese Elvis impersonators?) – and then as if it wasn’t bad enough that American whites stole rap from the blacks, now you have some Korean guy making millions from it… never mind that he wrote his own songs, the only important thing is that he stole rap from the black community. I am just SO offended, never mind that I am neither black nor Korean, nor much of a musician. I demand that he apologize.

We can roll on back through history: the Native Americans never should have appropriated European horses (hey, you ate all yours, can’t help it if you were a little short-sighted). We all would have been much better off had we never appropriated their tobacco, and had they not appropriated our alcohol (but both are so much fun). I also am offended that Mexicans put beef in their tacos, because there were no beef cattle in the Americas before Europeans came over, either. Italians must cease and desist in their use of tomatoes, the Irish never should have appropriated potatoes, nor should the Swiss or Belgians have stolen chocolate and perverted it with all that sugar and milk; no, chocolate never should have evolved beyond Montezuma’s bitter drink spiced with chili pepper. Silk should be unknown outside of Asia. You may visit it there, but you non-Asian types cannot wear it or own it.

It occurs to me that America, a land built on immigration from all corners of the world, could never exist without cultural appropriation, and a LOT OF IT. We’re not called “the Melting Pot” for nothing, and that is as it should be. Do we really expect that so many varied people will rub up against each other without rubbing off ON each other? Isn’t appreciation and enjoyment of some parts of another culture a good thing? A larger world, a more open and accepting mind? A doorway to better understanding?

Cultural appropriation is normal, it is the way civilizations grow and flourish, and it began long before Columbus opened up communication between the New World and the Old. Some 250 years before that, Marco Polo brought silk, gunpowder, tea, and pasta from China to Europe. The Silk Road that Polo traveled dated back at least a couple of millennia before that.

Where does cultural exchange stop, and cultural appropriation begin? Where does interest and joy turn to offense?  Before you condemn another’s innocent enjoyment, think long and hard about the cultural practices, items, foods, or clothing YOU have “appropriated,” because you absolutely have done so. Everyone has.

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