Cel­e­brate ‘ap­pro­pri­at­ing’ cul­ture

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - OPINION - Chris Freind Colum­nist

Cam­bridge Dic­tionary de­fines cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion as “the act of tak­ing or us­ing things from a cul­ture that is not your own, es­pe­cially with­out show­ing that you un­der­stand or re­spect this cul­ture.”

Of course, given that the Cam­bridge Dic­tionary is af­fil­i­ated with the famed Cam­bridge Univer­sity Press – old­est pub­lish­ing house in the world, lo­cated in the United King­dom – it would it­self be cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion to cite Cam­bridge for the def­i­ni­tion.

It should be ob­vi­ous that the CA move­ment – driven by, you guessed it, Mil­len­ni­als– is a quest into the ab­surd, and mer­its no at­ten­tion.

And yet it con­tin­ues to gar­ner head­lines, and, by ex­ten­sion, steam. Which is ironic, since the first steam en­gine was in­vented by the Bri­tish. Or was it the Ro­mans, or Turks?

And that “conundrum” alone should be all that is nec­es­sary to ap­pro­pri­ate the CA move­ment to where it be­longs – the trash­can.

How far back do we go as to what cul­ture or na­tion “owns” what?

And what hap­pens when his­tory schol­ars dis­agree as to who in­vented what, and when – as they so of­ten do? But the far more im­por­tant ques­tions are A) who re­ally cares? B) why is this ab­sur­dity re­ceiv­ing any at­ten­tion? and C) who gives any­one the “right” to tell oth­ers what they can and can’t wear, think, say and do?

But it’s hap­pen­ing at an ac­cel­er­ated pace. A few ex­am­ples:

• Keziah Daum, a high school se­nior in Utah, was evis­cer­ated by some on so­cial me­dia. Her “crime?” She wore a Chinese-style dress (a cheongsam) to her prom.

Yep, that’s it. And for that, some­one with way too much time on his hands started a firestorm by tweet­ing, “My cul­ture is NOT your (ex­ple­tive) prom dress.”

The story be­came an in­ter­na­tional sen­sa­tion, with one Bri­tish colum­nist opin­ing that Daum’s trans­gres­sion “was the em­bod­i­ment of a sys­tem that em­pow­ers white peo­ple to take what­ever they want.” Se­ri­ously? • White girls at a lo­cal high school were told not to wear their hair in a way that re­sem­bled braided corn­rows, be­cause that would be in­sen­si­tive to the black stu­dents.

• A pop­u­lar bur­rito food cart closed in Port­land, Ore., af­ter some­one ac­cused the two nonHis­panic women own­ers of cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion, since, af­ter all, they weren’t Mex­i­can and there­fore, were out of line sell­ing Mex­i­can food af­ter hav­ing vis­ited there. Where does it end? It won’t, until two things hap­pen:

1) The me­dia stops re­port­ing such sto­ries. Cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion is an en­tirely made-up term from the en­ti­tled, “I’m of­fended by ev­ery­thing” class.

And since it has no real-world mean­ing or ap­pli­ca­tion, there is no need to head­line news pro­grams with such pre­pos­ter­ous re­ports. Do­ing so serves only to amp up both sides of an al­ready hy­per-par­ti­san coun­try, in­ject­ing more tox­i­c­ity and di­vi­sive­ness.

CA sto­ries are the real “fake” news be­cause re­port­ing on those who feign “of­fense” amounts to le­git­imiz­ing car­ni­val bark­ing and tabloid hearsay.

2) With­out new cov­er­age, most cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion ac­cu­sa­tions would cease.

But for those that re­main, the Amer­i­can peo­ple need to push back hard. We need to stop liv­ing in fear of be­ing called “racist,” and in­stead, ag­gres­sively de­fend those per­se­cuted for sim­ply liv­ing their lives.

Pa­tron­ize their busi­nesses. Protest the pro­test­ers (which won’t last long, since most left­lean­ing pro­test­ers have no stom­ach for brav­ing the el­e­ments, and per­se­vere only so long as their lat­tes and av­o­cado baguette sand­wiches last).

Chal­lenge the two no­to­ri­ous bas­tions of cow­ardice – schools and work­places – when they bow to over­mag­ni­fied so­cial me­dia pres­sure and in­sti­tute rules that cur­tail free­dom. And make your op­po­si­tion known via let­ters to the ed­i­tor – in news­pa­pers! – so­cial me­dia, and elect­ing com­mon sense rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Let’s stop giv­ing the time of day to those who thrive on di­vid­ing, and in­stead fo­cus on celebrating the in­cred­i­ble di­ver­sity Amer­ica of­fers.

Of course peo­ple should re­tain their cul­tural cus­toms, and cel­e­brate their rich tra­di­tions!

Those amaz­ing as­pects of our cul­ture are, and al­ways have been, the path to a united coun­try. It should be not just per­mis­si­ble, but en­cour­aged, for oth­ers to ex­pe­ri­ence and yes, take home, parts of what makes our in­di­vid­ual cul­tures so unique.

That’s why Amer­i­can re­mains the envy of the world.

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