There’s really nothing more that a sane adult need say about the idiocy of “cultural appropriation”… is there?
My DNA is Scottish (on the Harris side) and Welsh (on the Davis side), with a lot of English (a.k.a. Sasanach) stirred in. The stirring actually raises the first critical point about the absurdity of equating culture with genetics: all of us are mongrels. To the extent that Scots were Celts, they were dark (like me); but we often picture a kilted Scot as tall and blond—Scandinavian characteristics imported by the Vikings. Likewise for the Welsh, and indeed the Irish: as much as red hair is associated with those groups, it is owed to interbreeding with the Norsemen, for the true Celt was, like Cu Chulainn, a “little dark man”. And who knows what streams had flowed into the Celtic river? Many northwestern Europeans are up to five percent Neanderthal, meaning that quite a few of us are not even entirely products of a single species.
Now, equating a particular kind of dress or food with a particular culture would be almost as preposterous as equating culture with race. How many cultures graze upon a form of bread that looks something like a tortilla? How many wear kilts or bonnets? I don’t really know—but I know that the answer is, “More than one.” And again, if we could confine the chili pepper to Central and South American cultures, how could we possibly maintain that so broad a swathe of real estate demarcates a single culture? And how can we call that culture “Hispanic” or “Latin” when the chili pepper itself is a New World vegetable “appropriated” by Old World invaders who more or less fused with the natives? And how do we sort out the natives? Where did the Maya come from? Why do some Cherokees have blue eyes?
It is also quite dumbfounding to see “offended snowflakes” whimpering over the “appropriation” of a dress’s pattern when they embrace none of the deeper values of the culture they claim to hold dear. Ask them about gay marriage or sex changes or abortion or the right to self-defense, and you open the spigot to a slurpy spate of sentiments about expressing oneself and exploring one’s identity. What happened to honoring the ancient culture that was supposed to determine that identity?
Personally, I don’t care if someone directly “insults” my culture. Big deal. I grew up seeing images of a winking Scotsman on Safeway’s cans of Scotch Treat frozen orange juice—the message behind the brand being that your stereotypically stingy Scot would smile at these prices. The imputation of tight-fistedness never bothered me. Pinching a penny is a smart way to achieve independence. Non esse cupidum pecunia est, wrote Cicero: “Reducing your needs is an easy way to give yourself a raise.”
And as for “welching” on a deal… well, I never really thought about the word’s origin until our hyper-neuralgic culture of offense brought it up. I didn’t care before then, and I didn’t care after. No, the implicit stereotype isn’t very charitable—but I’m a hundred thousand times more offended by the Erectile Dysfunction flyers that show up in my box with graphic illustrations, making me grateful that we no longer have young children in the house. And the source of my irritation isn’t my “bourgeois Christian culture”: it’s my sense of common decency, and also my moral conviction that sexual appetite shouldn’t be supercharged any more than anger, greed, or the other passions. Culture can reinforce morality, but only as a subordinate reinforces his commander.
Maybe being a Southerner has insulated me from keen cultural sensitivity. As a white male who happens to have ancestors galore from Virginia and South Carolina, I was a despicable bigot before I exited the womb. Nothing I could ever do would change the fact that I was scum in the eyes of the Beautiful People… and so I got on with my life and left them to pose admiringly in their hall of mirrors.
There is one final observation, however, that needs to be made about the current wave of pseudo-cultural consciousness—of tribalism in search of a pretext. I’ve offered this insight before in other contexts, and it continues to grow upon me: the healthy, vibrant spirit exhales itself—not in ego-assertion, but in self-effacing self-discovery—into the surrounding universe, but the “genius of evil” sucks energy in like a black hole. The wicked forces behind “cultural consciousness” (and some of this lot are indeed deliberate in their mischief) are seeking to persuade people to sever their ties with the rest of the world. You are… a woman, an Asian woman, a professional Indian woman who has broken with the patriarchy and found new roots in the Harvard sisterhood and some reformed variety of Buddhism. You are… a young gay African-American of the male sex but identifying more as female who observes Kwanzaa and eats soul food. The pathetic stew of garage-sale titbits that such “movements” include in order to achieve a viable caricature of cultural rigor goes beyond my mimicry. What it all has in common is the aim of reducing the cultic participant to a figure so severely defined that he or she spiritually suffocates. Music can no longer be enjoyed unless it has a “cultural” connection. A sublime mountain view becomes loathsome because the Trail of Tears passed somewhere this way (so they say). The person whose imagination has been snared by such clever devilry is spiritually bound up the way a spider balls a fly into a corner of her web.
It’s evil, this boa-constrictor occupation of minds—and cultural practice is no excuse for wickedness. Indeed, where culture does not exist to confirm basic moral teachings, it has no reason to exist at all.