You may have heard the term “cultural appropriation.” But I have found that many of our listeners were unfamiliar with the term and how it is used to criticize anyone who is not deemed to be “politically correct.”
The online cultural appropriation police were in full view recently when a young woman decided to wear a traditional Chinese dress to her school prom. Since Keziah Daum is not Asian, this infuriated people on social media when she posted a picture of her in the dress. She thought it was beautiful. Social-justice warriors saw it as bigoted and a clear example of “cultural appropriation.”
The term “cultural appropriation” has been used in sociology to explain how a majority culture borrows or adapts from a minority culture some custom, fashion, or cuisine. In the past, it was a descriptive phrase. Now it has become a proscriptive phrase used to punish anyone who appropriates something from another culture.
Sometimes these accusations get very confusing. Vogue, for example, was accused of cultural appropriation when it featured “manicure sculptures” of white women with long nails. The criticism was that only black women can wear long-adorned nails because that belongs to black culture.
But others pointed out that long-adorned nails go all the way back to upper-class women in the Ming dynasty. They were a sign that you were too rich and powerful to do any manual labor. Should Vogue apologize to African-American women or the descendants from ancient China? It all gets very confusing.
Perhaps it is time to remind these critics that the meals we eat and the clothes we wear are usually the byproduct of centuries of “cultural appropriation.” Even the English language I am using right now derives from many previous language sources. Let’s leave this young girl alone and focus on things that are really bigoted and offensive.