Cultural Appropriation, Vanilla Edition

I’ll be responding to this post  from . . . Black Girl Dangerous . . . and yet I’m still going to have to try to take this seriously. Okay. I’ll be responding to a post called Can People of Color Culturally Appropriate? Yes. BUT . . . which is a title that inspires confidence in me. So much.


Does it seem like I’m getting more and more depressed? I honestly can’t tell. There’s just so much bullshit in the world, guys. I just don’t know. Let’s get started. The picture for this article is some chubby Asian kid wearing “urban” clothes, which I think is perfectly fine (Koreans have consistently proven themselves to be better at “black” things than black people, after all). I don’t know if this author has an issue with it though. Maybe this is one of the buts.

Lets face it, cultural appropriation sucks. We’ve all seen white people with dreads stomping around like they own the place, or drunk hipsters at music festivals with headdresses and bindis. As people of color it can be incredibly frustrating to see things like this. It reminds us that we live in a world in which whiteness continues to steal cultures without regard to the actual people who’ve invented or maintained those cultures.

“White people with dreads stomping around like they own the place?” Really? Why do I even have to respond to this? I feel like that sentence sums up everything wrong with this mentality in a nutshell. I’ve already talked about headdresses before, and I feel inclined to point out that bindis are only seen as important by some cultures. Other countries in Asia see traditional bindis as a fashion thing and that’s about it. Also, I’m sure there’s never been a vaguely brown hipster at any point ever who has worn feathers in their hair at Burning Man. It’s only the socially-acceptable-to-hate white people who do it. But, hey, dismantling that idea is what this article is all about, right?

So . . . these are the issues you have, huh? Horrible, horrible white people wearing their hair how they want to, and annual music festivals having dumb fashion trends? These are the hot button issues that oppress you? I feel like your life is pretty okay, then, if this is what you complain about. Am I the only one confused by this utter disassociation that certain POC want to have with mainstream American culture? They act like they’re not a part of it at all–like they never participate in fashion trends, or use new slang, or watch what other people watch, or listen to Top 40 radio hits, or go on YouTube. They utterly refuse to believe that they are a part of that at all because “They’re a person of color, and mainstream shit is for white people.”

But if white people are culture stealing bastards, you are just as much a culture stealing bastard too. I would prefer that you don’t group me together with you and your ilk just because we have the same skin tone. This doesn’t frustrate me. Personally, I find it really fucking cool whenever something like box-braids or tattoo designs reach a cross-cultural appeal. It shows that we are becoming one people of planet Earth not divided by barriers as ultimately arbitrary as different cultures, that we can find mutual joy in things and share in each other’s unique aesthetics in order to create our own unique worlds that incorporate many things. White people can do it. Everyone else can do it. It’s great fun. But if you want to see that as a dirty white person punching you in the face and stealing your shit, I guess that’s fine too. I guess I just like liking things and people and not assuming the absolute worst of someone for shoddy reasons. I’m weird that way.

Cultural appropriation occurs when members of a dominant group take elements and symbols of another culture for their own economic or social gain while simultaneously devaluing and silencing the bodies, opinions and voices of the oppressed culture.

So cultural appropriation is one of those things that wholly depends on where you are, then? Can a white person complain about cultural appropriation if they go over to Japan or Korea? They would be the overwhelming minority in that case. How about an African American going over to Nigeria? Can that black guy get mad at the other black people for making hip-hop songs, which are a very African American invention. Can a Southern white person go up to Canada and get mad at the appropriation of cowboy hats there? I’m just confused as to what your standards are.

I’d be inclined to agree with the notion that economic exploitation is bad, but, once again, it’s never economic exploitation that you talk about. It’s white people with dread locks, or hipsters wearing headdresses at Coachella. Was someone taking money out of Native Americans’ pockets in that situation? Was a Cherokee guy waiting in the wings to sell feather hats to the hipsters, but a white person just punched him in the face and stole his merchandise? If Native Americans want to sell feather hats at Bonaroo, I’m sure they’re perfectly able to, they just don’t. Is the person getting a Ying/Yang tattoo taking money away from Chinese people? Was the American who came up with that design stealing it from a Chinese tattoo artist and taking all his customers on the basis of offering that one tattoo that he stole?

Also, the statement that your voice is devalued and silenced rings a little hollow when you have a very popular blog all about how your voice is devalued and silenced. As a general note, people telling you that you’re overreacting aren’t silencing you, as much as you’d love to believe that. They’re telling you that you’re overreacting. That in no way means that they’re making you stop or taking away your platform to speak. They’re saying they don’t agree with the assertions that you are making from that platform. You know what is silencing, though? Telling someone that they can’t do some benign thing and then utterly disregarding their opinion on the matter because their parents weren’t from the right place. Pot, meet kettle. You’re fucking black.

This is problematic for a lot of reasons, and triggering for people of color because it reinforces the way imperialism and racism have allowed the white Western world to steal and exploit people of color while simultaneously denying us representation and rights.

Sorry, I had to take a moment to laugh out loud at the mental image of a black person having a ‘Nam flashback because they see a wigger walking down the street one day. It’s triggering? Way to utterly infantalize a group that you yourself are a part of. Don’t go to The Gap any time soon, I hear they have lots of plaid prints out right now, and the past and current oppression of the Scottish should make the presence of plaid in our horrible, horrible American stores really terrible. I’m surprised someone hasn’t had a heart attack. Fun fact: different plaid patterns are actually important in Scottish culture, so this should actually count as cultural appropriation. And if we’re talking about imperialism, you don’t even want to know how traumatizing it was to be a Westerner in Japan.

Why do you keep talking about this in terms of stealing? You realize that you can’t steal abstract concepts, right? Unless you lose the ability to do something just because someone else can do it too, no one stole anything from you. They just have it too now. Sharing sucks, amiright? But, Moooooooom, I had it fiiiiiiirst!

Since most things regarding race in the US are thought of in terms of their relationship to whiteness, it’s easy for people of color to spot when white people are appropriating our cultures. It’s harder to examine the ways that we borrow from, steal from, and erase each other.

Why are you using this universal ‘we’ like all people of color agree with you and understand what you’re saying? Stop that. I don’t agree with you. I don’t want people to think I agree with you. I don’t want you to think I agree with you. I don’t. Stop putting words into my mouth based off of nothing but my skin tone. Insert accusation of racism here.

Are we finally going to start some good ‘ole identity politics infighting? Golly gee, I thought only the feminists did this, but we’re finally getting to draw ethnic/racial lines now in our attempt to lessen the cultural importance of ethnic/racial lines. Makes sense! Should be fun.

So, can people of color appropriate from each other?

I’m going to go with no seeing as how you’ve spent this entire article so far talking about appropriation specifically as something committed by white people against non-white people with not a glimmer of an idea that it could be any other way, all while setting up very blatant us vs. them situations and using us vs. them terminology that paints them as the perpetual oppressor and wrongdoer in this situation that all of us have to deal with. So no, they can’t. That is my guess.

1. Yes, we can. But:

2. Sometimes people call things appropriation without understanding that multiple cultures engage in the same practices and have shared practices for centuries.

Wha . . .

Just . . . what?

Okay. People of color can commit cultural appropriation, but not really because when a non-white person is called out for cultural appropriation it’s really just people not understanding that cultures have similarities? Okay. Whatever. How does that argument not apply to white people, then? Are there just no shared practices between any of the “white cultures” and all the other ones? No white people in the history of ever have ever had symbolic tattoos or dreadlocks? And how the fuck does this explain away the Asian kid dressing like a gangster? What, are people just not aware of how Africa totes has so much in common with Japan? They’re both not white, and that’s a good enough similarity to me!

That is a piss poor reason designed solely to passive aggressively say that people of color can commit cultural appropriation . . . but actually not really, with that “but actually not really” conveniently excluding white people entirely even though the single qualification you gave should obviously include white people as well.

While all groups of color face our own unique problems that grow with intersecting identities (gender, sexuality, class, etc) we all face a lack of representation and the repercussions of negative stereotypes in America.

Just replace “groups of color” with “people” in that first sentence, and you’ll have something that makes more sense. What about negative stereotypes about white people? What about negative stereotypes about white people perpetuated largely by people of color? What about positive stereotypes of people of color?

This is reinforced and evidenced in many ways, such as the creation of the model-minority myth of Asians in America, colorism (discrimination based on the pigmentation of your skin and the belief that lighter skin is better), or hierarchy among immigrant generations and who is considered ‘more American’.

It seems like the model-minority idea is just a cop-out to ignore that Asians don’t really have anything negative said about them. I can think of one negative stereotype, and that’s that they’re bad drivers. But we can spin that into racism somehow! “People find us respectable and intelligent because they’re racist!” “Colorism” sounds like a fancy word for people just being dicks and also another cop-out to blame white people for the racism of non-white people because we can’t call non-white people “racists.” And the idea of “being American” among immigrant generations happens with white immigrants to America as well. And I doubt you’re ever going to acknowledge “white European” cultures as something that can be appropriated by Americans since they’re “white”, so I wouldn’t mention that if I were you, in order to avoid the hypocrisy.

When we take from each other, we might be assimilating into our neighborhoods or schools or community in order to be accepted by them.

Or, or, just hear me out here–maybe you just like something. I know, I know, shocking revelations all around. It’s not like the black kid who gets a kanji tattoo got it because he wanted it, he only got it to assimilate to horrible, horrible white culture that says that it’s okay. It’s not like that Mexican kid who braids his hair just likes the style, it’s because white culture has taught him that stealing from the blacks is cool! Opinions and likes and personal autonomy don’t exist! A spade is never just a spade. A spade is a sign of fucking oppression.

And assimilation isn’t bad by default, by the way. This is another example of a social justice warrior just talking about something like it’s bad, like I’m already supposed to know that. I don’t. Why is cultural assimilation bad, again? Tell me. I don’t even think this author thinks that cultural assimilation is bad as long as it’s assimilation to a culture she likes. But if it’s evil, bad Western culture, assimilation is bad. The idea that Western culture is the devil with no good qualities and no actual culture confounds me. It’s not like assimilating to Western culture means that you don’t have a culture anymore or that you have a lesser culture. It just means you have a different one than the one you had before, one that happens to be more prevalent (a prevalence that does not make it evil).

Because many communities of color are set next to each other in the U.S., we often end up in a series of cultural exchanges that can be mutually respectful and important to our survival or negotiating of America. My friends of color would often hang out with me for Eid and dress up in our traditional clothes. We constantly exchanged food and recipes. I would go to their houses for Easter, Christmas, and Kwanza and participate in all of the rituals that came along with those holidays. The key here was that we were active participants in celebrating each other, not erasing each other. We were invited by each other to participate in customs, not just donning them because we thought they looked or sounded cool. We also weren’t gaining social or economic capital from partaking in each other’s cultures.

Yeah, Little Mexico being right next to Little Italy means that I can get my indie brewed olive oil and homemade salsa all on the same block! Awesome! So, what I gather here is that cultural exchange is good as long as it’s people of color doing it. As soon as a white person gets involved, though, let me guess . . . that exchange could not change at all yet suddenly turn much less “respectful” in your eyes, right?

How dare you just “play dress up” in your traditional clothes? Don’t you know that that is trivialization of an important garment? So you would go over to their houses for holidays and hang out? Well aren’t you the regular fair weather cultural taste-tester? As a note, I think it’s awesome that she did these things growing up. It sounds fun to me. But using her own logic, it shouldn’t be okay that she did any of this because it wasn’t in the “right” context and she wasn’t an active participant in the new cultures as much as she was just sticking around for the cool parts then leaving. I think that what she did was fine, but her own rhetoric can easily be used against her.

What does “erasing each other” even mean? You were playing fucking dress-up, okay? You thought the clothes looked pretty, so you tried them on. That’s what little girls do. Once again, something tells me that the second a little white girl “plays dress-up” with her Asian friend, she’s going to get accused of erasing the Asian identity by taking the clothes as her own without learning about the appropriate time to wear them because she has white entitlement. This all seems to boil down to “It’s okay when we do it. But when you do it, it’s bad.”

And how exactly is a white person supposed to “education themself” on the culture if they don’t have a helpful ethnic friend to invite them to a “Come do cultural things with me!” party? This idea that you can get your ethnic friend’s permission for something goes against so many progressive talking points it’s ridiculous. It’s making that person a spokesperson for their whole race. It’s tokenizing that person. And then a white person can still be called racist by saying that their Indian friend told them that wearing a bindi to prom was okay, because it’s only the people of color who tell their white friends things that you agree with that are representatives of their race, otherwise they don’t represent a culture . . . unless they do. It’s a lose/lose situation.

As people of color, many of us come from painful legacies of immigration, slavery, and exploitation. There is a violent erasure and orphaning that we have to deal with as we negotiate America.

You should really get into death metal. You describe things in the most metal way possible. “Living in America is a violent erasure/full of pain/cutting myself in the rain!” Has anyone ever told you to lighten up before? Jesus.

My experience has taught me that I am not considered American even though I was born here. I don’t speak Urdu fluently, am not well versed on the current politics of Pakistan, but cling to elements of my Pakistani and Kashmiri culture and sometimes romanticize them. I rock saris anytime I can and wear kameezes as dresses.

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION! You romanticize another culture that is admittedly not your own or one you are deeply connected to, CULTURAL APPROPRIATION!

I do my research before I wear something, but a lot of time that comes from the Internet and not from some deep cultural exchange in my family. That might be considered by some to be appropriative, but for me and other individuals of diasporic identity, it is a necessary part of survival and sanity in America.

Well, writer, without that “deep cultural exchange” what you’re doing is CULTURAL APPROPRIATION. That’s what you tell white people. Why should it not apply to you? Because you really like it? “That might be considered by some to be appropriative.” Huh, it’s almost like shrieking cultural appropriation is a totally subjective thing leveled by people who either have no idea what your thought processes are or who don’t care. It’s almost like people can yell cultural appropriation at fucking anything. You are so close to self awareness. So close.

Has it ever occurred to you that white people can have this same mentality? That a “diasporic identity” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with race and that a white person can feel just as alien in America as you for various reasons that you may or may not understand? Has it ever occurred to you that having these different cultural elements in their life, even if they’re not deeply attached to it, help them find sanity as well because they are finding things that bring them joy and that they find beauty in in a world that alienates them?

Maybe they identify with that other culture more than the one they were born into. Culture is ultimately a set of values and ideas reflected in certain actions like holidays or dances or art. Just being from a place or having parents that are from a place doesn’t mean that you identify with that culture. The cool thing about culture is that you can pick your own, and if there isn’t one out there that you identify with, then you can create your own either entirely uniquely or from the parts of others. That’s how culture is made. Especially if you live in America, you can create your own cultural identity out of many parts.

Nope! They do it ’cause racist. End of story.

My South Asian friends have complained about seeing other people of color rocking bindis or shalwaar kameez and called them appropriative. Yes, it hurts us to see our culture trivialized or worn as an easily dispensable fashion accessory, especially when it wasn’t seen as cool to wear those things growing up.

This is all about having low self-esteem. I see that now. It should have been obvious before. But this is totally about low self-esteem. Note: I’m making a more sweeping theory here, not specifically about this writer. So here’s my theory, tell me what you think:

You lack a firm sense of self and internal validation of your identity based off of your own ideas and feelings, so you attach yourself onto a culture and what that culture does as a means of giving yourself a concrete identity validated by those around you so you don’t have to worry about actually figuring out who you are. Because when you tried to figure out who you were, people didn’t think you were cool, and you need some kind of outside validation to feel good about yourself. Hey, if you participate in a culture, you get a cool little in-group that will always give you validation!

Attaching yourself to this culture means that this culture is the only solid means of forming an identity that you have, so whenever you see someone indulging in that culture in a way that indicates that they haven’t stapled their entire personhood to it, it freaks you out, because that means that some people have personalities outside of a culture that someone else arbitrarily told them that they should have because their parents were from a place. Who knows, maybe that person is also an insecure individual looking to tack their identity onto cultural expression. But as far as you know, seeing someone indulge in a culture without it being the foundation of their sense of self makes you feel bad about your own surety of self. So you don’t want to be around it.

Is that it? Am I close?

However, it ignores the incredibly complex and rich history of exchange between East and North Africa and South Asia. Though bindis have an important place in Hinduism, they are not only a symbol of Hindu spirituality, but also have important symbolic value and origin in Africa.

Because white people never had cultural exchange with any non-white people in the past or share any similar cultural ideas! Also, read over what you just wrote again. It is ridiculous. Do you think black teenagers wearing a bindi are aware of any of that? I get the feeling that they just saw the bindi at Claire’s and thought it was pretty, so they wore it, the same way a white girl would. You’re essentially saying that past cultural exchanges that are kind of obscure and that people may or may not even actually know about when they do something are the things that make people of color immune to cultural appropriation.

People who looked like them met up with people who looked like you once and may or may not have gleaned anything from that interaction. Awesome. Can you please just fucking admit that you just don’t want white people to be able to do something and that it’s fine for anyone who isn’t white to do it because they’re not white?

Therefore, people of the African diaspora have the cultural right to wear bindis in the same way people of the South Asian diaspora have that right.

A “cultural right?” What does that mean? This is so goddamn esoteric. People doing something 100s and 100s of years ago–people who current generations are most likely in no way attached to either intellectually or emotionally–gives someone “the right” to do something now? So if some black person somewhere ever engaged in some culture act, I’m just entitled to that act? It is mine? God, and you call white people entitled? You’re the one saying that you own everything that anyone whose ever looked like you has ever done. You’re the one claiming personal ownership of something that you don’t even know everything about because people who you may or may not be related to or even care about did it at some point. You’re the one saying that you own types of art and expression solely based on birth right. And that others shouldn’t intrude on your stuff unless they too can prove some convoluted birth right to it as well. You’re worse than Disney’s copyright lawyers who chomp at the bit to sue someone for putting three Mickey-esque circles together.

So next time you are quick to call out someone for culturally appropriating, ask yourself:

Something tells me this is going to apply to everyone, not just the coloreds who you should be giving a break to.

  • Do I know the full history of this symbol? Is it used in other cultures as well?

Why does that matter? Something tells me you would’t be okay with a black kid walking around with a swastika shirt even though the Buddhists thought of the symbol first. This seems like a totally arbitrary qualification that can easily be given to people you like, and then taken back as soon as you personally don’t approve of something. You can’t tell people to operate with discretion whenever they see a person of color doing something they don’t approve of, but then imply that the discretion isn’t necessary for white people as well. It relies totally on non-quantifiable and only vaguely qualifiable elements. How do you know how much a random stranger knows about something else? How much is “enough” in order for their behavior to be appropriate? And if the person doing the appropriating has no idea of that vague cultural connection, does that ignorance matter, or does their inherent birth right that they may or may not even know about cancel that ignorance out?

  • Do I know the identity of the person who I am accusing of being problematic, or am I assuming their identity?

Once again, how does this not apply to white people? How do you know their identity? I have white-passing siblings, so did that lose them their birth right to “black” culture?

  • By using or doing this symbol, is this person benefiting from it socially or economically while erasing the people who made it?

Benefiting from something isn’t bad, you know? I don’t even understand this argument. Do you benefit socially or economically from doing something that isn’t part of your culture? The whole appropriation claim is a double-edged sword, after all. Do you listen to Bach and get credits among the intellectuals even though you’re not European? Are you an Asian who plays classical music in an orchestra? You’re benefiting economically from German culture. Stop that. “Erasing the people who made it.” is such a vague term that it could mean anything. I get the feeling that, in most cases, all it translates to is someone doing something that you have attached yourself to, but they don’t give you the attention you want. It’s like an emo teenager whose entire life is My Chemical Romance getting pissy when they hear someone listening to “Teenagers” without acknowledging that they totally love MCR more than anybody else, dude.

This isn’t to say that people of color can’t be problematic or appropriative. Cultural exchange is important to know, but sometimes people can just fuck up and are appropriative.

This is generally coming across as a totally arbitrary accusation that you can level at anyone for doing anything for incredibly shoddy, personal, and subjective reasons. You personally feeling not okay with something is the only thing required to throw this accusation at someone. That’s at least what I’m gleaning.

We can do this by exoticizing other cultures, and like whiteness, taking while erasing the bodies of others.

Wow, racism alert. “Like whiteness.” Not even “like white people.” Just whiteness. Because the very act of existing while pale entails that you take things and erase people. That’s just what whiteness is, guys.

Once again, you just imply that exoticizing something is bad without ever explaining why it’s bad. At worst, exoticizing something is just inaccurate. It’s not malicious, or racist, or even inherently uniformed (you can know everything about a place and still have a rosy view of it after all). Yes, you can overdo it and become a weeaboo or a mod or something, but anyone can overdo anything. That’s not a “white” thing, that’s a human being thing. Thinking that something is cool because it’s different isn’t bad. That’s a tendency that gets us new things in the world because people actually care about not culturally stagnating in soul-crushing monotony.

I also like how you had to specify that they’re “erasing the bodies of others.” Because not even you would be disingenuous enough to say they’re erasing ideas, which you’d think would be the most important element of upkeeping a culture, you know, the ideas. They’re not erasing your culture or the ideas of your culture, they’re just ignoring you. And that is just unacceptable because you getting outside validation was the whole point of this. But if we talked about actual ideas, you really wouldn’t have any leg to stand on as far as complaining about people stealing it from you go.

For example, wearing Indigenous American headdresses because its ‘cool’ or ‘pretty’ when we are not Indigenous American (such as Pharrell Williams wearing a headdress). The erasure of Indigenous American bodies and culture is not figurative, but very literally enacted by the systematic genocide of indigenous people. Even if we (or our people) were not the ones to have orchestrated this systematic genocide, we live on stolen land and might be complicit in their erasure.

You must be super fun at parties. God, it must be so fucking depressing to have this mentality. You are complicit in every horrible thing that has ever happened ever. It doesn’t matter if you don’t approve of it or are even actively speaking against it, it doesn’t matter if you personally had nothing to do with it, it doesn’t even matter if your ancestors had anything to do with it. You are complicit in horrible things happening all the time. How have you not killed yourself yet if you are this perpetually responsible for everything wrong that as ever happened? How has that cross you’re irrationally baring not crushing you to death?

Also, as a general note, the only reason someone needs to wear an article of clothing is them thinking that they think it looks cool and/or pretty. That is the only reason you need. Because it’s clothes. And clothes, at least in the first world, are an outlet of personal expression. Sometimes that can be a cultural expression, sometimes it can be regular old artistic expression. If a singer known for wearing dumb hats wants to wear another dumb hat, there’s no reason besides your personal feelings that he shouldn’t. And he doesn’t have to listen to you or care about your feelings. He just doesn’t.

This is also true for the pervasive anti-blackness in Asian, Latino, and Indigenous cultures—the way that we can appropriate slang, dress, and black cultures while simultaneously erasing black people. Or the ways that we can benefit off of black civil rights struggle without contributing to it or fighting against anti-blackness.

Please tell me that you’re not another one of those idiots who thinks that “black foolishness” is black culture. Please. Also, engaging in hip-hop culture, which I’m assuming is what you’re talking about here, is not being anti-black. There isn’t a fucking cap. Black people aren’t being kicked out of the culture in order to make room for the Asians and the Latinos. Culture doesn’t have limits. It doesn’t run out. Someone else participating in it doesn’t mean that you can’t anymore. And this totally ignores the idea that imitation is the highest form of flattery, so maybe, just maybe, using “black” slang is showing an appreciation, not appropriation. But nope.

If you want to talk about how Asians, Latinos, and Native Americans can be fucking racist, I agree. I also agree that black people can be racist, and white people. But you’re not talking about people actually being racist, you’re talking about people doing totally benign things that you just so happen to not want them to do. Even worse, you’re talking about them doing totally benign things that they find joy and self expression in doing, and telling them that it’s morally wrong because they’re not from the right place. What the fuck.

Here are some guiding questions to ask yourself when you wonder if you are appropriating:

  • Why do I want to do this? Is it to be cool? Because it looks pretty? (Heads up: if it’s just to be cool or look pretty, it’s probably problematic)

Why is thinking that something is cool bad or problematic? Why is culture something that you can only indulge in in one very particular way, otherwise racism? Culture is the only thing we treat like this, too.

Even fucking religion, the mother of divisive issues, is talked about like a personal thing, like something that everyone does their own way and how everyone should be encouraged to go about doing in their own way because spirituality is a very personal endeavor. You can be super religious and follow the book to a tee, or you can just like gospel and nothing else. You can just like going to church or temple to hang out with friends. You can just like the atmosphere but not believe in the rest. You can Life of Pi that shit and be three different religions at once. You can do whatever the fuck you want whenever it comes to how your express your religiosity and spirituality.

But, for some reason, when it comes to wider culture, even though “culture” is super vague and includes any number of things, unless you do it one “right” way, it’s unacceptable. Why? No one ever says why culture is so important that it needs to be shielded away and kept sacrosanct. They just say that it is.

  • Is this a symbol of a political statement? If so, do I align with the politics not in just dress and appearance, but in actual struggle and resistance?

Tell that to all the progressive liberal kids on my campus who appropriate the fuck out of the Communist hammer and sickle because they like Marx and fancy themselves socialists. Slap that symbol on a flyer for an ice cream party, it has no negative connotations whatsoever! Who cares if Stalin was worse than Hitler, this flag is perfectly fine to wear around. Not the Confederate flag though. That takes it too far. Note: I think they can use whatever imagery they want, just pointing out the hypocrisy there.

  • Do I know the history of this symbol or where it comes from?

This is a cool thing to know from a fun facts and trivia standpoint, but why is this a requirement? Do the random Japanese kids I see wearing American flag memorabilia know why that flag looks the way it does? Probably not. There’s a history behind everything, and knowing about it is all fine and dandy, but it shouldn’t be a pre-requisite to being able to do something totally benign like wearing a thing.

  • Have I been invited by a member of this community to participate in this this culture, word, or symbol?

What happened to the whole, “I am not an educator or representative of my race.” idea? Is that just out the window now? Okay. What if they were invited by a member of the community to participate? Would that change anything? Seeing as how my post about kimonos was rife with protesters calling people race traitors for saying that non-Japanese people wearing a kimono is fine, something tells me that you would utterly dismiss someone who says, “It’s okay, my Mexican friend told me it’s fine.” And really, that’s all you need? You just need some random foreigner who isn’t a representative of their race except for when they are to give you the thumbs up? That’s really arbitrary and pointless. 

  • What role has this symbol played in my own life?

Why does it matter? Also, what if a white person really cares about the yin/yang symbol and it actually had played a part in their life? Is that okay then? Is it? I honestly don’t know.

  • Why do I feel entitled to this symbol?

You do realize that saying, “This X is mine because it’s my birthright! And you shouldn’t be able to have it because it isn’t your birthright!” is also extremely entitled right? You didn’t do anything to earn that ownership, you were just born to certain people who happened to be related to other people who existed a long time ago and made up some cool stuff for their relatives to do. That is your reason for saying that you own a culture that shouldn’t be appropriated. That is your reason. So maybe think twice before you call other people entitled.

When we approach each other with respect for cultures and struggles as well as the awareness that communities of color have historically been reliant on each other for survival in America, we are much more likely to be able to define the line of respect and appropriation. We can question and examine our own choices rather than assuming that we should have access to everything.

So, after all of this, your end point is what I thought it would be: It’s only bad when white people do it (expect for on very few isolated occasions, only one of which I’m actually going to point out), and I’ll be able to jump through hoops to explain to you why it’s more okay when we do it. And, wow,  that last sentence is just . . . it’s just perfect, isn’t it?

How about a pallet cleanser? Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the very racially diverse hip hop dance group, the Jaborwockeez!

5 thoughts on “Cultural Appropriation, Vanilla Edition

  1. Ah, nothing like systematically rationalizing subjective (over)reactions and adopting it as an objective standard under the same political label used by people trying to *get rid of* absurd arbitrary cultural restrictions. As an SWM I find the whole ordeal incredibly triggering. Perhaps they will allow me to opt out of these standards.

  2. Jessica says:

    Yasssssss girl! Anyone that cries cultural appropriation needs to eat a dick. Yeah let’s end racism by further dividing our cultures. Anyone questioning if black people can appropriate culture just google “Chris Brown suicidal tendencies leather jacket” and go to images. Or try ” Lil Wayne skateboarding”. White people are the worst right? Oh and if you really want to get yourself all riled up Google “Dave Chapelle white face”. Right now I’m wearing a bindi a headdress my hair is in corn rows and I’m listening to ghostface, cry about it biiitttchhhh

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