Category Archive 'Cultural Appropriation'

16 Jul 2018

Victimhood and Cultural Appropriation

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Professional victim Yassmin Abdel-Magied.

In Tablet, Claire Lehmann discusses the sudden rise to powerful influence of cultural taboos forbidding criticism of recognized victim groups and the ability of members of such groups to wall off cultural items and artifacts from access by outsiders.

Perhaps the most famous American case occurred in the fall of 2015, when Co-Master of Yale Silliman College Erika Christakis responded with an email of her own to an admonitory pre-Halloween email from the Intercultural Affairs Council — a group of administrators from the cultural centers, Chaplain’s Office and other campus organizations — sent to the undergraduate student body warning against wearing Halloween costumes which could be interpreted as belittling or offensive: no sombreros, no blackface, no turbans, arguing in favor of freedom of undergraduate expression. The campus exploded with protests. University officials, including Christakis’s Co-Master husband, were confronted by screaming, hysterical mobs and, despite Yale’s famous Woodward Report affirming Freedom of Speech and some two-faced expressions of support from Yale President Salovey, both Christakis left on “temporary” sabbaticals never ever to return. A modest and polite demurral to an implicit ban on cultural appropriation sufficed to get two prominent Yale administrators and professors run clean out of town.

In 2016, a flare-up exploded over author Lionel Shriver’s speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival—where she infamously wore a sombrero hat while delivering her speech about freedom in fiction writing. …

In 2013, GQ listed The Human Stain as one of the best books of the 21st century. Arguably, such a book could not be written today, and would almost certainly cause a firestorm if published. That’s a pretty sharp turnaround in sensibility in a very short period of time.

The context surrounding the drama at the Brisbane Writers Festival is important for understanding why it happened. Abdel-Magied migrated to Australia at the age of two and, from a relatively young age, entered the public sphere as a “model minority.” She was an articulate activist and an accomplished student (becoming an engineer and memoir writer) who appeared capable of promoting a modern, sophisticated image of an urban Muslim-Australian. For her activism, she was showered with awards and publicly funded appointments, and given international trips for the express purpose of promoting Australia abroad. Yet for all her accomplishments, accolades, money, and travel opportunities—or perhaps in exchange for them—the young woman was stuck with the felt identity of a victim. This apparent feeling of victimhood was so strong that she interpreted arguments for creative license in art to be “lay[ing] the foundation for genocide.”

Many people—both then and now—find it hard to understand how such complaints can come from a place of good faith. Activists like Abdel-Magied seem unwilling to empathize with those who may genuinely want to show appreciation for cultures which are not their own, or writers who genuinely want to empathize with those who are different or marginalized, or simply to reach beyond a single layer or caste of the multicultural societies in which they live, an ambition for which writers and thinkers have historically been applauded.

What also seems odd is that activists like Abdel-Magied rarely appear to attempt to persuade others to engage with the foreign cultures they are purportedly defending in more sensitive or better-informed ways. Rather, their complaints have a hectoring, absolutist quality, focusing on the disrespect and lack of deference that white people have shown them. Listening to these complaints, it is difficult to come away with the view that they are about anything other than exercises in power. While being an effective social-media activist, Abdel-Magied is not a particularly good writer, which means identity-as-victim is therefore valuable currency at a writers festival. If literature is not reducible to identity, and representation is not a group property, then her own claim to literary significance would be a dubious one.

It is by considering the power dynamics at play that the logic of cultural appropriation starts to become clear. In a culture that increasingly rewards victimhood with status, in the form of op-ed space, speaking events, awards, book deals, general deference, and critical approbation, identity has become a very valuable form of currency. It makes sense that people will lie, cheat, and steal in order to get some. Expressing offense over a white person wearing a sombrero hat might seem ridiculous on its face—but for those who live inside these sententiously moralistic bubbles, it may be both a felt injury and a rational strategic choice.

Complaints about cultural appropriation are not really complaints, they are demands. When Abdel-Magied walked out on Shriver, it was not because of her insensitivity, it was because of her defiance: her refusal to kowtow to the orthodoxies written up by her moral betters, from which Abdel-Magied’s own claims to significance and social status are derived.

In their newly released book, The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars, the moral sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning describe the three main moral cultures that exist today, which they give the shorthand labels of dignity, honor, and victimhood. A dignity culture, which has been the dominant moral culture of Western middle classes for some time, has a set of moral values that promotes the idea of moral equality and was crystallized in Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision that people ought to be judged according to the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Victimhood culture departs from dignity culture in several important ways. Moral worth is in large part defined by the color of one’s skin, or at least one’s membership in a fixed identity group: i.e., women, people of color, LGBTIQ, Muslims, or indigenous peoples. Such groups are sacred, and a lack of deference to them is seen as a sign of deviance. The reverse is true for those who belong to groups that are considered historical oppressors: whites, males, straight people, Zionists. Anyone belonging to an “oppressor” group is stained by their privilege, or “whiteness,” and is cast onto the moral scrapheap.

In a recent interview in the online magazine which I edit, Quillette, I asked Campbell and Manning what they thought about cultural appropriation. They explained that they found such complaints baffling, like everybody else, but that they also “illustrate victimhood culture quite well.” One of the key components of victimhood culture is its projection of collective guilt, social offenses between individuals are no longer about the actual people involved, they are about “one social group harming another.”

RTWT

02 May 2018

One Prom Dress and the Left’s Insane Identity Politics

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Keziah Daum wore this quite becoming Cheongsam dress to her Utah High School Prom, and proudly tweeted some photos. And why not?

But the dress offended SJW Jeremy Lam, who reprovingly tweeted:

Note: 41,958 retweets — 178,771 likes !

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Iowahawk observed sharply in reply:

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And the editorials are still flying, days later. David French is perfectly correct.

As you survey pop culture, the academy, and American corporations, which side has the upper hand? Which side is defining American discourse? America’s most prominent culture-makers obsess over identity. They elevate prom dress choices to matters of national debate. And that’s why people who still possess a sense of reason, proportion, and manners (on both sides of the political aisle) need to push back. Reason can’t cede the public square to rage. Sometimes a prom dress is just a prom dress. But Lam’s tweet wasn’t “just” a tweet. It was a symbol of the incoherent anger that is tearing this nation apart.

05 Dec 2017

Native Americans Back on the Warpath at Yale

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The Oldest College Daily reports that hula dancing by unauthorized persons is a problem.

The Association of Native Americans at Yale this weekend condemned Shaka, an all-female Polynesian dance group, for appropriating Hawaiian and Tahitian culture and demanded that the group disband.

In a letter posted to its Facebook page Saturday afternoon, ANAAY condemned Shaka for “sexualizing and homogenizing Native [American] peoples, misrepresenting and erasing histories and political realities, and attempting to depoliticize inherently political culture and communities under colonial subjugation.”

RTWT

If shimmying in a grass skirt is “cultural appropriation,” how come spouting Marxist BS isn’t?

25 May 2017

Portland Burrito Shop Put Out of Business

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“Cultural Appropriation” has consequences in Portlandia. Fox News:

Just one week after Kooks Burritos in Portland, Ore., was featured in a profile for local publication Willamette Week, the pop-up Mexican food cart has closed down amid accusations that they ripped off their recipes.

Kali Wilgus and Liz “LC” Connelly, the two white women who started Kooks earlier this year, have been accused of stealing their techniques from the “tortilla ladies” of Puerto Nuevo, Mexico — because Connelly told Willamette Week that they gathered their recipes and tortilla-making processes during a holiday road-trip to the Baja California village.

“I picked the brains of every tortilla lady there in the worst broken Spanish ever, and they showed me a little of what they did,” she told the site. “They told us the basic ingredients, and we saw them moving and stretching the dough similar to how pizza makers do before rolling it out with rolling pins.”

In the profile, which first ran May 16, Connelly also claimed that, when the Mexican cooks wouldn’t give up their trade secrets, she and Wilgus “were peeking into the windows of every kitchen, totally fascinated by how easy they made it look.”

Connelly then said she used a trial-and-error process to recreate a tortilla with the same flavor and texture after returning to Portland. She and Wilgus then opened their weekend pop-up inside a taco truck on SE Cesar Estrada Chavez Boulevard, and began serving their Mexican-style tortillas filled with California-inspired ingredients.

Though the eatery had been open for several months, the owners of Kooks were only recently accused of cultural appropriation by The Portland Mercury and Mic.com based on Connelly’s revelations.

“Because of Portland’s underlying racism, the people who rightly own these traditions and cultures that exist are already treated poorly,” The Portland Mercury said, calling the closure of Kooks a “victory.”

The article continues,”These appropriating businesses are erasing and exploiting their already marginalized identities for the purpose of profit and praise.”

RTWT

16 May 2016

Cambridge Africa-Themed Dinner Provokes SJW Wrath

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QueensCollege
Queens College, Cambridge

The menu didn’t even include missionary!

Heat Street:

Students at Cambridge University have been branded racist – for organizing an African-themed dinner.

Invitations to the formal dinner asked if guests would like to “escape college” and “travel far away” and used Swahili phrases from Disney film The Lion King, including “hakuna matata”, which means “no worries”.

The menu at the Queens’ College event, organized by senior students, included Senegal fish balls in a spicy tomato sauce, chicken tagine from Morocco, Nigerian delicacy fried plantain, South African malva pudding, and Cape wine.

In response, undergraduate Alice Davidson wrote a 525-word blog titled “Africa Isn’t Yours To Appropriate” accusing organizers of “inappropriately borrowing elements of a minority culture” and using them as “fashion accessories”.

Ms Davidson said it would have been better “if the initiative had come from members of the African Society Cambridge University themselves, who could then determine the menu and terms of cultural exchange.”

Pointing out that the dinner was held in the Cripps Dining Hall, which is “only” filled with portraits of white people, she added: “Or maybe if the [dinner] was more honestly named ‘West African’ or ‘South African’ themed, rather than attempting to reduce an entire continent into three courses.”

She went on: “Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture, specifically adoption of the minority culture by the majority. Whether it be hairstyles, music, ‘fancy dress’ or food, what’s key is the power dynamic by which the majority has historically oppressed the minority.”

Another student supported Ms Davidson, accusing organizers of lumping together 50 countries without giving any thought to their cultural differences – which they would never have done with European states.

Cambridge University African Society president Halimatou Hima confirmed the group withdrew its support for the event over historical prejudices.


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