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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Cultural appropriation

The Yale lecturer who suggested that Yale Halloween costumes not be supervised by the college administration, Erika Christakis, has just resigned.

Her crime was to send an email saying, "I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious,” she wrote, “a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?”

According to the NY Times:

She wrote the email in response to a directive from the Intercultural Affairs Committee at Yale that warned students that it would be insensitive to wear costumes that symbolized cultural appropriation or misrepresentation, or both, like feathered headdresses, turbans, war paint, blackface or redface, or costumes that made fun of people.

The committee evidently specified that it was okay for, say, people of Mexican descent to wear sombreros and serapes, but not for students of other ethnicities to do the same.

As campus political correctness hit an apogee this fall, the cultural appropriation issue came up more than once.

A yoga class was canceled at the University of Ottawa in November because, as The Ottawa Sun reported:

The centre [at the university] goes on to say, “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 centre official argues since 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.”

But why stop there? Perhaps whites should be prohibited from eating General Tso's chicken, or sushi, or tortillas, because that is, after all cultural appropriation. Perhaps whites should be sensitive about practicing judo, or playing lacrosse.

The issue of whites "stealing" other cultures' traditions is not new. It has long been an article of faith in the black community that whites "stole" rock and roll from blacks.

I happen to know a young white man who told me that he had heard this from a black man he worked with. The young man had replied, "Right, and black people stole guitars, amps, and recording equipment from whites."

(The black man, to his credit, laughed and replied, "You right, man.")

In any case, the larger point is that like all other aspects of racial politics, the notion of cultural appropriation works only in one direction. But should it?

If wearing sombreros is cultural appropriation for whites, is wearing button down shirts and sweaters appropriation for other ethnicities? If whites should refrain from practicing yoga, should other ethnicities refrain from driving cars? Flying in airplanes? Refrigerating their food? Firing an automatic weapon? Watching TV? Using penicillin? Or using computers?

These suggestions are of course ridiculous. But no more so than some of the recent suggestions from academia.


Anonymous said...

What I just love is how non-whites want to live in white societies and then feel they have the right to dictate how we're supposed to think, speak, and behave. Non-whites would do better focusing on their own people, making improvements to their own races. They want what whites create, invent, etc. and because of non-whites, our country is forced to dumb down. I am beyond sick of political correctness.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
No one can help what society they were born into, but the idea that cultural appropriation is a one way street is typical liberal hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

This lecturer who resigned, I wish her well. May she take her abilities and put them to good use. Yale probably just lost a decent, sane employee. Their loss.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
That one comment of hers did exude common sense, a quality which seems to be sorely lacking at Yale these days.

Anonymous said...

Sad isn't it, a place of higher learning, no less, speaking and doling out PC gibberish.


John Craig said...

Birdie --
Whenever a code of belief takes over, any sort of genuine thought is always stultified. This is true when religions gain too much power as well. And political correctness is really just another religion, in a sense.

Anonymous said...

Agree! Thanks for the post. As a Christian, the times that we're living in speaks volumes to me, if you know what I mean.


Anonymous said...

The cultural appropriation thing is of course absurd, as you point out.

Why has no one pointed out the same about The Wiz? Where's the outrage?

Lady Bug said...


I had the same experience with a black woman many years ago. She was quite a lovely person, but at one point she burst out "I hate Elvis Presley!" for, guess what, stealing rock n roll. This was before the au courant "cultural appropriation." At the time I was a young lass & didn't say anything. In fact, maybe then I thought she had a point. Whatever.

I've hardened up considerably since then. Add to the list of Muslims (hate 'em), white SJWs (hate 'em more than Muslims) whining blacks who want to use all the benefits of Western (i.e. white) culture and then bitch about us borrowing a few tools from them.

The reality is that rock n roll is Southern white music with a bit of black added to it, it is really more white than black, so why can't whites sing it?

And what if blacks want to play Mozart? I'm all for it. Blacks singing opera? The more the merrier.

My relationship with the black woman was permanently affected. Luckily I didn't work with her, she was just a casual acquaintance.

There is a tsunami coming. We are part of a huge wave.

Peñaflor said...

There is something schizophrenic about the kinds of demands that the social justice crybullies are making. They're not far from arguing that white Americans should not eat ethnic food as a form of cultural appropriation, but then, they are also not far from condemning eating "white" food as tantamount to committing incest. The changeability here is the thing: what they're after is the ability or, dare I say, privilege to arbitrarily attack others they do not like.

They have public meltdowns, and then demand the privilege of having their public meltdowns "respected." Maybe there is a not-so hidden desire in them to finally hear someone firmly say "no."

John Craig said...

Lady Bug --
I heard the same thing when young, and, like you, said nothing. But I did think about it, and listened to music with that in mind, and for the life of me, couldn't find any of the old black musicians (BB King, Muddy Waters, etc.) who sounded anything like the Beatles or Rolling Stones or Beach Boys. Chuck Berry was more similar, and I liked his music, but I still preferred the "British invasion" and the Beach Boys. I liked Motown a lot too, but for the most part they didn't precede the others.

Yes, the tsunami is coming, in fact you can already see it, in Trump's poll numbers. The media and even the Republican establishment has lined up against him, but despite that and awful lot of people seem to like him. (And he's not even that likable, personally.)

John Craig said...

Penaflor --
You call it schizophrenic, I call it hypocritical.

Hmm, I wonder, you could be right, what they really hanker for is a stern "no."

I've long thought that if you were to have an unbiased psychiatrist analyze a lot of these protesters, what they would find is that a lot of them are narcissistic personalities. They want everything their way, and can never admit when they're wrong. I suspect that their political attitudes are in large part reflections of their personalities that way.

Peñaflor said...

Thought you might find this interesting, if you have not come across it already - a recent post by Anonymous Conservative that proposes that narcissists are terrible negotiators. The comment by everlastingphelps is especially revealing:

Today's leftist narcissists can't handle situations where things are not already their way, and they cannot handle the work, the tug-and-pull, of having to make it their way. It's as though the thought of having to win is offensive to them. Thus, they fall back on insipid declarations of collective faith, like "that's not who we are" or "the side of history." The world they want to build has already been built, and to have to build it is too much of a burden for them to handle.

They try to make their touchiness strong by turning it into hatred. But their hatred is still too weak to satisfy them.

Steven said...

I propose that the intercultural affairs committee be renamed: the Uptight Killjoy Committee.

And that quote on yoga, my honest reaction was: 'what a bunch of fucking wankers'.

Its clearly a positive and natural thing when humans come into contact with each other and influence each other culturally. It shows we are all human and can benefit from and enjoy the same things, and that we can integrate. Its always been the way, all throughout history. Imagine every time something was invented, it had to stay with the immediate ethnic group that invented it. Bonkers.

Yoga is something that can benefit anybody as an exercise system. In terms of philosophy, yoga is a Hindu tradition and it means union, sometimes said to be of the individual and universal/divine. Since everyone is considered the same in their ultimate identity and their potential for enlightenment, it is suitable for everyone. So there.

Steven said...

As for Trump, the media in Britain are going after him big time since his Muslim ban proposal. Even the telegraph, which is conservative and generally sceptical about immigration, had a live blog about Trump in which was published a checklist of what makes someone a fascist, but then mused that he might not be intellectually coherent enough to be classified as such but just a populist who says whatever to make his poll numbers rise.

John Craig said...

Penaflor --
I'm not sure I'd put Obama's horrible deal-making down to his narcissism, the way that commenter everlastingphelps described it. With him, it's more that he was desperate to get a deal, any deal on the table, just because it would be part of his legacy and a failure to get a deal would have been looked at as a personal failure on his part. I guess what I'm describing sounds like the actions of a narcissist, but in fact with him it goes further, to the level of sociopathy: he couldn't care less about the long term consequences of the deal or even if it means that in the not too distant future some people will get blown up by a nuclear bomb, he just wants to be seen right now as a statesman who was able to achieve a sort of "detente" with Iran. I also suspect that Valerie Jarrett's fingerprints were all over this one; remember, she grew up partly in Iran.

Yes, you're right about the Left's emotions, but not only do they feel the hate, they then project that hatred onto the other side and accuse the Right of being haters.

John Craig said...

Steven --
As to your 1:14 comment, Amen. Agree with everything you say. "Killjoy" is a great term for what political correctness achieves.

Re: your 1:18 comment, Trump has been defending himself by saying that he's only doing what FDR did (with the internment camps for Japanese-Americans), but in fact, FDR went much further, as Trump isn't proposing putting anyone into a camp, merely registering them. so far the Left has been silent on the FDR analogy.

Steven said...

That doesn't seem like the most judicious defence. Its concerning if he thinks that's a reasonable step. Trump supporters have to hope he hasn't shot himself in the foot with this one (its certainly radicalised the opposition against him), but poll numbers are quite promising for him.

There's a petition with 275,000 signatures calling for him to be banned from the UK but if he becomes president, he can't be banned then. There's also a poll saying 60% of UKIP voters support his policy.

John Craig said...

Steven --
I actually think it's pretty clever for him to put himself in FDR's camp, the liberals have no response to that. I'm not suggesting they haven't responded to his immigration ban, just the FDR comparison.

I"m surprised it's not more than 60% of UKIP voters supporting his policy, to tell the truth.

Shaun F said...

John - I agree, I have yet to see a SJW that is not a complete narcissist - it just becomes a bit clearer with someone to help you see it. (For example, I doubt I would have ever figured out there was a big dipper if it hadn't been illustrated in the Cub handbook with someone to show me how to look at the stars). Glad to see someone is giving you the recognition and respect you deserve with the greeting "Dude."

John Craig said...

Shaun --
That's all the respect I deserve?? Being called "dude"?? That puts me at the level of three-quarters of the students in the high school cafeteria. But, okay, I guess I have to take what I can get.

Seriously, thank you. The link between SJW's and narcissism becomes clearer when you realize what a pose bing a SJW is: it's all about proving what a "good person" you are. it certainly has little to do with logic, or facts.

Steven said...

oh I see what you mean. Not being American, I didn't immediately register the significance of comparing himself to FDR but I get it now....the new deal, big government spending & employment...left wing etc. Yeah, that's quite clever.

what do the pundits think...if he gets the republican nomination, does he have much chance of making it to the white house?

John Craig said...

Steven --
The pundits, who are mostly Democrats, all hate him, and speak condescendingly about him, and all thought he'd be out of the race by now, so he's surprised them every step of the way. Every time he says something politically incorrect, they all shriek and holler and act outraged, but then his poll numbers come back stronger than ever, and they are mystified.

It's very gratifying to see.

Rifleman said...

There's an article somewhere, I've lost the link, that shows that Yoga as used now is NOT simply an Indian cultural practice. Instead it is heavily based on late 19th?? century early 20th century Scandinavian gymnastic culture.

The point about music is something I've always said - are we supposed to pretend that the piano, saxophone, trumpet, modern drum kit, stand up base, electric instruments, recording and amplification, record players, radio, stereo etc etc are of no value, no expression of cultural genius??

I guess we know the dynamic. It's like violent crime, "cultural appropriation" is a one way street and only inspires outage when it's "White on....." or "Western on...".

Seriously, thank you. The link between SJW's and narcissism becomes clearer when you realize what a pose bing a SJW is: it's all about proving what a "good person" you are. it certainly has little to do with logic, or facts.

This is THE key and why the claim of "White guilt" as motivation is untrue. These people aren't motivated by guilt, at least not their own. They are motivated by a vindictive moral oneupmanship and a deep narcissistic need to claim emotion and moral status.

It's all about mememememememe!!!

After Obama's election someone claimed we now live in the "Age of Obama". Sounds ridiculous but do.


John Craig said...

Rifleman --
Interesting, I hadn't realized that "yoga" was strongly influenced by the Scandinavians. I guess all practices like that evolve over time.

Yes, after that discussion i was inspired to write a post about social justice warriors-as-narcissists, which I'll put up sometime in the next few days. Their every behavior, from their manners to the way they protest to their inability to adapt to facts or ever admit they're wrong, is symptomatic of a deep narcissism.

And you're right, Obama is the Narcissist-in-Chief.

Anonymous said...

Yale has an Intercultural Affairs Committee (which sounds laughable). This is certainly something a PC university would have.

- Susan

John Craig said...

Susan --
I've heard that one of the reasons college tuition has gone up so much in the past few decades, way outpacing inflation, is because they have so many non-faculty administrators in positions like that now. And all of these people have to justify their salaries, and they often do so by adding to the general amount of political correctness so. I don't recall college administrators telling us what we could and could not wear on Halloween back when I was in college.

Anonymous said...

Well, when we went to college, college administrators had better things to do with their time - they didn't need to dictate what grown men and women needed to wear on Halloween. A total waste of time and money being spent on frivolous, ridiculous sounding committees.

- Susan

Mark Caplan said...

"I don't recall college administrators telling us what we could and could not wear on Halloween back when I was in college."

When I was in college, Halloween was strictly for kiddies ages 5 to 11.

John Craig said...

Mark --
Good point. I do remember going to some Halloween parties after college though, where the 20-something "adults" were expected to dress up as something to go.

Anonymous said...

I, for one, will be on the lookout this upcoming St. Patrick's day for any non-Hibernians who DARE wear green, drink beer, eat corned beef or sport any kind of shamrock or leprechaun themed jewelry.

- Gardener

John Craig said...


I thought I'd lost you, it'd been so long. In fact, it's been so long you forgot that you spell your pen name with only one "e." (Unless that was auto-correct at work, in which case I forgive you.)

Well, if that's what it takes to meet you, I'll be wearing all green, drinking Guinness Black Lager, and wearing a leprechaun pendant on my lapel.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha!

I will happily lay the blame on autocorrect.

Not lost, just wrapped up in holiday madness. Been enjoying your sociopath posts as of late.

- Gardner

John Craig said...

Gardner --
Glad you're not lost….Thank you, have you actually been reading some of the older sociopath alerts?

With your two youngsters, I'm sure you'll have a lot of wrapping to do this next week. Enjoy.

MarieC said...

Wow. Yoga. Who knew it was so controversial?

I thought this was a good take on the Halloween costume controversy:

"Condemning people for wearing offensive Halloween costumes on Facebook = Not Fascist
You are expressing indignation at someone else’s choices, but not calling for them to be punished because of their expression.

Calling for students to be expelled for wearing offensive Halloween costumes = Fascist You are (1) calling for reprisals (2) for people expressing themselves (even if in a hurtful, offensive way)."

I can kind of see both sides, really. Having previously been (more rather than less) "life-experience challenged," I can certainly say that I haven't been a perfect angel and wish I could do some things over.

MarieC said...

I don't understand why people so into group exercise in the first place.

Have you seen "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Episode 11 (Kimmy Rides a Bike)?

Spirit Cycle by Tristafé!!!

John Craig said...

MarieC --
Just read the article, and yes, it is good. Trying to repress others' right to free speech is certainly fascist.

None of us are angels, and all of us who are honest wish we could do some things over.

(Did you used to comment on this blog as "Marie Curie"?)

John Craig said...

MarieC (in response to your 12:28 comment) --
My theory, group exercise is a little like having a personal trainer, having other people around you encouraging you (either overtly or tacitly) can give you more motivation to work out in case you're feeling lazy.

I tend to be a solitary exerciser myself, but am not entirely immune. Three days ago I challenged my son to a 200 meter race knowing that it would get a better performance out of me.

Anonymous said...

I've just read that the United Nations is now being called upon to make cultural appropriation illegal, with prison sentences for transgressors:

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
Amazing; one more reason to abolish the UN.

I feel the same way about "cultural appropriation" that you do, as I've said in this post. But in extreme cases, where a manufacturer is actually calling a product "Navaho panties," it borders on theft of intellectual property, or trademark infringement, or other legitimate concepts. (When the Chinese make bootleg copies of our movies and sell them without paying a royalty, that's not cultural appropriation, that's theft.)

I'm not saying what Urban Outfitters was doing WAS theft; but it was closer than the usual examples of "cultural appropriation."

Here's a theoretical example. If researchers from Merck go down to the Amazon and find an isolated Indian tribe which has an old folk remedy for curing cysts they make from the leaves of a tree which only grows there, and the researchers find that this folk medicine can cure cancer, and take some of the leaves back north with them, investigate the chemical compounds, find they can reproduce them in the laboratory, and take out a US patent on it, do they owe those Indians anything? I'd say yes. I wouldn't say they shouldn't be allowed to make that medicine, which could eventually save millions if not billions of lives; but it does sort of seem like they owe those Indians something.