Blue-eyed soul. White girls twerking. Race-themed Halloween costumes. The new “Harlem Shake.” Non-black folks rocking braid extensions. White women in belly dancing classes. The list of things that have been deemed “cultural appropriation” has grown exponentially over the past few years as people of color have become increasingly vocal about their concerns over “outsiders” laying claim to things they’ve created. But as our society becomes progressively diverse, are some folks just turning into overly-sensitive “grievance-mongers”?
That’s the thesis of a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed, which argues that the phrase “cultural appropriation” has become a catchall for those looking to complain about White people who enjoy the food, music, or traditions of other cultures.
Bet you didn’t know that white people eating tacos falls into the category of “cultural appropriation.”
Well, it does now. This past May 5 — a.k.a. Cinco de Mayo — two colleges canceled or significantly altered their annual “Phi Phiesta” taco-bar fundraisers after complaints about cultural appropriation from offended Latino student organizations.
You may be wondering, at this point, exactly what is cultural appropriation? Technically, it’s the process by which one culture adopts and incorporates elements of another: the Romans sculpting Greek-style statuary, for example. But now, it’s become a catchall designation for anything that white people might borrow from an ethnic culture that the grievance-mongers in that culture don’t like.
Some of the cultural appropriation complaints are well taken because the appropriated practices genuinely include mockery of the affected minority group: minstrel-show whites in blackface, for example. Sombreros and fake mustaches might fall into that category. But tacos?
As the ethnic grievance industry grows ever more shrill and its spokespeople more thin-skinned, the list of ethnic practices forbidden to whites grows ever longer.
Allen cites a Salon article by Arab-American writer Randa Jarrar titled, “Why I can’t stand white belly dancers,” as proof of how some folks have “overreacted” to cultural appropriation.
In the article, Jarrar argued, “Arab women are not vessels for white women to pour themselves and lose themselves in; we are not bangles or eyeliner or tiny bells on hips. We are human beings. This dance form is originally ours, and does not exist so that white women can have a better sense of community; can gain a deeper sense of sisterhood with each other; can reclaim their bodies; can celebrate their sexualities; can perform for the female gaze.”
Many pushed back against Jarrar’s perspective on White women participating in belly dancing, asserting their decision to dance was a result of cultural exchange, not cultural appropriation, but Jarrar was unmoved. She penned another article taking on her critics to task once again.
Let’s be clear. Christopher Columbus syndrome is real, and White folks have been absorbing and profiting off the culture and creations of people of color for years (see: the colonization of Africa, India, the Transatlantic slave trade, and Rock n’ Roll).
But have we gotten too sensitive about labeling the innocent byproducts of living in an increasingly diverse society as “cultural appropriation” instead of cultural exchange?
Let’s talk about it, folks.