Cultural Appropriation, And The Art of Offending…Well, Everyone

This was first posted at Ricochet on May 8, 2018, and posted here only for sake of posterity. 


American society, such as it is, has always been an amalgam of various cultural entities that come together in a complicated intermixing.  From the very first days of Europeans escaping religious bigotry at home, and meeting Native Americans, this has been the case.

It is somewhat strange now to watch modern Progressives attack that basic American concept.

Cultural appropriation, such as it is, is a concept that has risen in modern sociology to explain the practice of adopting elements from minority populations into that of the greater society.  As used by modern sociologists, it is distinguished from the concepts of assimilation and acculturation because, when it is abused, it is presumed that there is a imbalance of power that imposes some kind of ‘theft’ or abuse of the original intent of the minority belief system.  In short, modern progressives view it as another form of oppression of minorities by the majority.

The ludicrous part of this is the interpretation of this ‘oppression’ in the context of the United States of America, especially modern America.

The modern version of the U.S.A., such as it is, is not a colonial power invading other nations and cultures to impose our values upon them. In every single example in modern America, we are discussing an interaction in which the minority is a immigrant class, who voluntary chose to become part of the modern American society.

Now, if these issues were relegated to how Native Americans were treated by invading Europeans, or by how slavery subjugated Africans, then we’d have a more relevant topic.

But that, is of course, not the real relevance of modern interpretations of cultural appropriation.

Modern progressives have expanded the meaning to mean that any minority culture is purposefully and willfully being appropriated and oppressed any time the majority of Americans willfully adopt and accept any facet of their culture.

Which is, of course, an insane interpretation of the initial intent of the term.

This past week, the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo started a new silly eruption in the latest iteration of the cultural wars. For those that are unaware, the historical significance refers to the date observed by Mexico to commemorate its Army’s unexpected victory over the French at the battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862. Of course, in modern America…it is primarily a day to enjoy Mexican food and drink; that is true even among Mexican immigrant communities.

Apparently, the social justice warriors feel such joy should be suppressed as soon as possible. And it didn’t start with some random Twitter user either; it started with, of all things, a tweet from the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Now, in past decades, the SPLC was a serious warrior in the efforts of equality and minority rights. This tweet shows how far they’ve fallen. When a national organization is wasting their time chastising people who simply are enjoying themselves on a holiday, things have gone seriously awry.

Amazingly, this isn’t even the first time in recent years that a burrito caused claims of cultural appropriation.  Last year, two White women were forced to shut down their popular burrito food cart in Portland, Oregon. Were they shut down for health violations? Or for lack of proper licensing? No. They were shut down because they had the audacity to research recipes for burritos from Hispanic women, perfect those recipes, and then provide a successful product to the public. For the extreme progressives in Portland, that was a form of oppression and cultural appropriation that simply could not be allowed to stand. How dare white women benefit from a cultural remnant of a culture that is not their own?

The most recent absurd example of course is the case of Utah teenager Keziah Daum, who had the audacity to wear…a Chinese themed dress to prom.

Any sane person would have just assumed that the entire episode was started by someone mentally insane. What possible positive result could occur by discussing the garment choice of a teenager to her prom?

But welcome to modern social media, 2018.

Once the issue erupted, it exploded on Twitter, Facebook, and later extended to the news networks. Twitter even promoted it on their ‘Moments’ page, which only fueled the fire. Other news outlets compounded the idiocy by reporting on the ‘major mass online criticism’ of the dress…barely noting that they themselves created the mass online criticism.

Simply put, this is another example of modern America simply looking for a reason to be offended. If these were actual attempts by perpetrators to cause stigma and offense to minority immigrant classes, that would be one thing.

But these days, it seems that it is a rite of passage among some: Find someone, or something, to be offended about; make it the cause célèbre; and then using the notoriety for self promotion. The template has been repeated so often, one wonders if there is a written guidebook somewhere explaining to people how to create, and then benefit, from these fake controversies.

It seems many progressive social justice warriors  simply can’t find enough real racism issues to focus on, so they have to bring up make believe issues like this one to the forefront. I personally believe there are many racial issues that we as a society need to focus on (disproportionate educational opportunities, wealth disaparity among minority groups, lack of access to adequate housing, etc)…but activists seem to want to waste their time and energy on these frivolous issues instead.

If the goal of these activists was to inform and educate, I might actually support them. But their purpose largely seems to be to first shame the individual in question, force them to admit some questionable crime against the greater good, and then use the entire episode to benefit themselves.

To young Ms. Daum’s credit, she didn’t take the bait. She refused to apologize, claiming that she was all along being respectful of everyone’s culture, and her dress choice was simply one based on appeal and beauty.  Although progressives in the US didn’t accept that…actual Chinese in China did.  Major Chinese news outlets reported that many Chinese were not only fascinated by the controversy, but actually applauded the fact that teenagers in the US considered Chinese style fashionable.

Again…intent matters. There was no intent here to offend the Chinese, or anyone else. It was an innocent choice by a teenager who was simply having fun. Like our above examples regarding burritos and Cinco de Mayo, these are innocent and playful interactions people have with alternative cultures. There is literally no harm involved.

It is in many ways similar to the recent outrage over the character of Apu from the Simpsons, which I have written about extensively. People want to be offended because bigots use a character that was created without any intent to offend. Instead of facing the bigots and their bigotry, people are displacing their anger at something that was never the root cause of the problem in the first place. Now, instead of a cartoon character, we are targeting margaritas, burritos, and prom dresses.

Again, as has long been the case with racism and prejudice, we keep missing the point. There are times to be truly offended, but those times are few and far between, and definitely are not represented in the cases presented here. Furthermore, wasting our energy and anger over issues that are not truly harming anyone only dilutes the true power of anger of the masses, when true prejudices arises, such as when people are shot or abused for their race or identity. These episodes do more harm than good, and the people using these issues to benefit themselves should really question their intent. Constant anger, in response to all things, is counterproductive.

The above Bloom County comic does as good a job of any of explaining this nonsense.  People just want to be offended by the ‘offensensible’.  Being offended for no reason other than to be offended.  Be like Ms. Daum; ignore the haters. Don’t take the bait.