Cultural Appropriation Debunked (2018 Jul)

by Barry A. Liebling

Is it acceptable for an ordinary American citizen to make, sell, or eat food that comes from another culture? Consider clothing. Is it OK to manufacture clothes that resemble garments that are worn by people in other countries? And if you wear clothes or accessories that have an “ethnic appearance” but are not a member of that ethnic group are you committing a violation?

The answer depends on your political orientation. If you are not a member of the leftist cabal it is likely that there is nothing disturbing about noticing people in other cultures and bringing some of their practices into your life. Human beings have always copied from one another – both within a culture and between cultures. Usually imitating what people do is motivated by admiration, and the result is benign.

However, copying what people do outside of your “official” culture is alarming to social justice warriors – enthusiastic zealots who march in support of the leftist agenda. Their recently fashionable weapon designed to make everyone’s comfort level drop is “cultural appropriation.” According to this view, emulating the habits, customs, clothing, or food from a culture that is not your own can be a serious offence and a terrible insult to those that you imitate.

Within the past year a high school girl was lambasted on social media for wearing a traditional Chinese dress to her prom. Her hysterical critics wailed that she had no right to “appropriate” a garment from a culture that had previously been colonized by Western powers. In Portland Oregon two women who were selling Mexican food from a truck were forced by social justice warriors to close their business ostensibly because they were “stealing” Mexican recipes and had “no right” to enjoy the fruits of a culture to which they did not belong.

Outside observers who are not part of the cultural appropriation political movement generally dismiss the zealots. A typical, but naive, response to the attacks is that all over the world people learn from one another. If it is really terrible to wear a Chinese dress if you are not Chinese or sell Mexican food if you are not Mexican then nearly everyone is guilty of appropriation. Western customs are copied everywhere – such as having a first and last name, wearing running shoes, using devices such as telephones, computers, and air conditioners. If it is insulting for Westerners to imitate people from other cultures then it should be equally problematic for others to copy.

Here is why the outside observers are naive. They are innocently assuming that the same standard should apply to everyone. But the essence of modern leftist dogma is that there are entirely different standards for different groups. This is a basic Marxist notion. There are oppressed groups, and there are groups that are oppressors. Oppressed groups are victims and should be unconditionally supported. Oppressors deserve nothing but scorn.

A recent article by a leftist activist sheds light on the attitude of cultural appropriation enthusiasts. It makes clear that the possibility of offense goes in only one direction. The dominant culture frequently insults the victim (less privileged) culture by copying, but the victim culture can do no wrong. Think of class, ethnicity, sexual orientation – the favorite metrics of today’s leftist vanguard to figure out who belongs in the victim category and who is a “no-good oppressor.”

According to the leftist elite cultural appropriation by someone in the dominant culture is not necessarily wrong. But it is offensive when it is done “without the consent of people who belong to that culture.” And who is qualified to give legitimate consent. Were the women who sold Mexican food from their truck obligated to conduct a survey of all Mexicans? Of course, that is not possible. And if it were, not all Mexicans would have the same opinion. But self-appointed dictators in the social justice movement are always willing to speak for the people they pretend to represent.

What is the bottom-line, end-game of cultural appropriation? It is designed to trick people into accepting the fallacy of collectivism. The insidious dogma is that individual people are of little importance but groups and membership in groups is what really counts. When members of “less privileged” groups hear about cultural appropriation the goal of the social justice warrior is to stoke their bitterness and resentment against the dominant culture. Leftist politics depends on pitting one group against another.

The intended effect on members of the dominant culture is to make them feel guilty about being oppressors. Note that the definition of “oppressor” is to belong to a particular ethnicity, class, or sexual orientation that is frowned upon by leftists and has nothing to do with individual actions. Of course, members of the dominant culture (think of straight, white, males) can redeem themselves if they endlessly apologize for their “unearned privilege,” repeat the mantra that all cultures have merit except for Western culture which is irredeemably tainted, and relentlessly attack their peers who are not committed leftists.

Once you understand the essence and significance of cultural appropriation you will see that it merits no consideration.

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