Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past couple of weeks, you have likely seen the chaos and controversy swarming the internet and mainstream media having to do with “cultural appropriation.”
To be clear, there is indeed a negative aspect of cultural appropriation whereas a dominate culture will use a bastardized characteristic—either willingly or unwillingly—of a marginalized culture, to push messages of misinformation, prejudice, and stereotypes.
An extreme example of this would be blackface shows in the 1800’s in which theatrical makeup was used predominantly by non-black performers to represent caricatures of black people. A less extreme form of cultural appropriation would be a sports team using an facet of another culture as their own.
To deny that there is cultural appropriation that is mean spirited or prejudice would be to deny reality. However, these examples are evident and would be better defined as cultural mockery and reflect real racism. But, to call everything cultural appropriation—which seems to be the new norm—is not only lacking merit and intelligent thought but it’s promoting segregation.
The topic of cultural appropriation was forced into the limelight in 2016 when a video went viral showing a black female student at San Francisco State punch a man in the head because his hair was in dreadlocks. Many social justice advocates quickly came to the defense of the female student’s unprovoked initiation of violence against an innocent person because his choice of hairstyle was somehow racist.
In what world is it okay to lay your hands on someone and assault them for their choice in hairstyle? To assume this is acceptable behavior is as disheartening as it is dangerous.
Tolerance is not a one-way street.
If we are to progress and get over the sheer lunacy of judging others by their appearances, then we need to understand that aggressor/victim situations are wrong, period. Reversing those roles is not social justice, it is oppression, and it only leads to segregation through fear and an “us versus them” mentality.
While it is understandable for people of a certain race or culture to become offended at what they perceive as cultural appropriation, we now have people in the social justice movement—not affiliated with that culture at all—who are shouting down everyone who attempts to appreciate someone else’s culture or inadvertently participates in it.
One glaring example of this was the reaction to a high school girl’s prom dress earlier this month. Keziah Daum was one of many high school students who proudly posted photos on social media with the caption “PROM” this weekend. But her post was met with backlash on Twitter after another user shared her status and wrote, “My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress,” which sparked an argument over whether the cheongsam, or traditional Chinese dress, Daum wore was appropriate.
Although the twitter user, Jeremy Lam is of Asian descent, the massive backlash against a high school senior for her choice of dress came from all races among the social justice crowd. Ironically enough, however, a large group of the people she was accused of culturally appropriating—from China—actually began speaking out in support of her, exposing the overreaction and unnecessary rage.
What’s more, as TFTP pointed out, Americans appear to be more concerned with attacking a high school senior for wearing a Chinese dress than they are with their own government facilitating the slaughter of children in the Middle East. Where’s the outrage at the US participating in genocide in Yemen? That’s right, social justice warriors are more concerned with shouting down those who they disagree with politically on superficial issues than they are with advocating an antiwar message. This is due in part to the fact that war is bipartisan and is sold to the entire political spectrum as necessary for “freedom.”
Another recent example of segregation through cultural appropriation is Cinco de Mayo. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) came out with a statement on the largely celebrated holiday, noting that people in the U.S. who consume tacos and tequila on Cinco de Mayo are enganging in “textbook examples of cultural appropriation.”
Ask the Mexican owners of restaurants if they are offended by the windfall of profits they receive from people of all cultures flocking to their establishments to spend money and appreciate their culture.
That raises the question: Is enjoying ethnic food or wearing ethnic clothing problematic when there is no ill intent behind it? One could argue that cross-culture pollination—or, dare we say, cultural appropriation—is actually helping to undermine prejudice. By participating in and being accepted by other cultures, this breaks down barriers of tribalism and allows for the peaceful mix of cultural appreciation.
It’s also important to point out the double standard. When Rihanna culturally appropriated the Catholic church at the Met Gala last week, social justice warriors were silent. Not only were they silent, but the New York Times praised her outfit that was specifically designed to mimic papal tiaras.
The fact is that Rhianna’s outfit and Daum’s prom dress were both innocent and benign as neither of them had any ill intent. Just like many folks in China praised Daum’s dress, the Catholic church showed their support for this year’s theme at the Gala.
See how that works? When people don’t try to force others to stay within the bounds of their race or ethnicity that they just so happen to be born into, and allow them to experience and appreciate other cultures, prejudice is undermined. This is the exact opposite of what many in the social justice movement appear to want, however.
Saying someone cannot be a part of your society, or use the products that your culture uses, or dress like your culture or someone else’s—is the very essence of segregation. It is functionally the same argument used by racist white people during the Jim Crow era who wanted black people out of their culture.
It is time to move past this. The level of divide in this country appears to be at an all-time high in spite of all the progress of the past several decades. Americans are pitted against each other over superficial arguments that serve as little more than talking points for pundits on the left and right sides of the establishment.
While Americans bash each other over superficial issues of right vs. left or Islam vs. Christianity or white vs. black — those at the top, get richer, more powerful, more tyrannical, and spread more war.
We have been divided, and we are now being conquered — and political correctness and racism have served as the catalysts.
If a teen’s dress or Cinco de Mayo gets you more angry than the US dropping bombs on children in the Middle East, you might need to rethink your priorities. If the push to end war received one tenth of the coverage that the push to end perceived cultural appropriation gets, there could be peace by the end of the month.