The Myth of Cultural Appropriation: Delusional, Dangerous…and Dumb!

The newest fad among Social Justice Warriors is the concept that something called “cultural appropriation” must be condemned and eradicated. From Oberlin College students protesting the clumsy attempts of their college cafeterias to make fried chicken and sushi rolls, to backlash about Kylie Jenner wearing her hair in cornrows, to offense about a free yoga class at Ottawa College in Canada that resulted in getting the class cancelled, heated accusations of this new social crime seem to be flying everywhere. But what, exactly, is it?

Susan Scafidi, Fordham University Law professor, defines it this way: “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission… this can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

Making the food of a culture other than your own is not a crime. It’s simply making food you enjoy. Being offended because a non-oriental person tried to make food from your culture and, in your opinion, failed…well, if you think an insult was intended by this, you’re just too sensitive. Grow up, students at Oberlin College.

Wearing a hairstyle more traditionally worn by another group is not a crime. It’s simply expressing yourself freely. Who says hairstyles are the intellectual property of the cultural group from which they originated? Where, exactly, would one go to obtain permission to use something that is an aspect of another culture? Who would be authorized to grant permission like this? Are we honestly now expected to “stick to our culture” before choosing a hairstyle or article of clothing? How ridiculous!

And now we hear from Ottawa that the instructor of a free yoga class was abruptly notified by e-mail that her class had been cancelled by the college: “While yoga is a really great idea and accessible and great for students…there are cultural issues of implication involved in the practice. Yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced”, and which cultures those practices “are being taken from”.

The email went on to say that because many of those cultures “have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and Western supremacy… we need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practising yoga.” Ms Scharf (the instructor) said she suggested a compromise by changing the name of the classes to suggest “mindful stretching”, but was rejected. “I think it’s easy to worry too much about accommodating everyone,” she said. “By saving one person’s feelings, we’re ruined the experience for so many others.” Yes, we have. And all because some noisy, huffy group has decided that a relaxing activity taught by someone outside of the original culture of the activity is somehow insulting or demeaning to that culture. What outrageous, hyper-sensitive nonsense! Some people perversely need to feel like victims in order to feel good about themselves. We need to stop giving this nonsense legitimacy by bowing to it!

Patrick West, in his excellent article here, sums it up well: “Let’s be clear: there is no such thing as cultural appropriation. Why? Because ‘culture’ itself is the product of appropriation from the very start. Every aspect of culture comes from elsewhere. ‘Your’ culture isn’t yours, it is the culture of your ancestors and your peers.”

Should people in the west be offended or feel impinged upon because the rest of the world has unthinkingly adopted elements of western culture like cell phones, clothing, and social media without showing proper reverence for their origins? Culture is meant to spread in this way. Elements of culture are not trademarked. They can be freely used. Those who want to separate us by all sorts of cultural boundaries are no better than those who enforced segregation sixty years ago. I’m not going to feel bad about listening to Delta Blues music, eating collard greens, making burritos or singing in crazy Spanish for the hell of it. I’m not going to stress over the authenticity and thoughtfulness of my homemade egg rolls. Egg rolls aren’t oppressing anyone. Culture blend by individuals is exactly what’s supposed to happen in a free society! Those who want to put us in separate boxes according to the accident of our birth or ancestry are oppressing the rest of us. These folks would do well to remember the motto of our nation: “E Pluribus Unum”…’Out of Many, One.’ These social justice warriors who subscribe to this folly of cultural appropriation would do well to remember another thing: You are not the boss of me. I do not accept nor bow to your nonsense; I do not regard it as valid; I will never acknowledge it as having any type of authority over me or my activities, ever. No, I will NOT “check my privilege!” I’m NOT going to tell anyone what they can and can’t dress their kids up as (or wear themselves!) for Halloween, whether it be a Native Americans costume, or Jose Cuervo, or a Saudi prince/princess. Isn’t it exhausting to constantly be offended all the time? Oh, just one more thing: many Americans feel exactly the same way I do. Grow up, Social Justice Warriors. We’re tired of hearing you whine. And we don’t care if your tender sensibilities have been bruised. Toughen up, buttercups!

~Mike S.

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