Saturday, July 14, 2018

We can't just take what we want

I think non-Hispanics wearing sombreros at a tequila party is a maybe little bit racist, but not really a big deal: it was certainly not intended to be disrespectful, intended not as mockery but as homage. I think a young white woman wearing a Chinese-style dress to her prom is completely fine: it's literally just a dress.

But the whole point of cultural appropriation is that it's pretty much irrelevant what I think: I drew a straight flush of cultural and economic privilege.

A long time ago, I was negotiating with a family member (the details are unimportant). I said that I wanted thus-and-such. The other person said that I should not want that. I was furious. Maybe I couldn't get what I wanted, but how dare they tell me I shouldn't want it.

I suspect Yassmin Abdel-Magied objects to Lionel Shriver for much the same reason. Shriver is saying to people of oppressed cultures that they shouldn't want to protect the integrity of their cultures from white expropriation. I agree with Abdel-Magied: Fuck you, and fuck your artistic white privilege.

It was not women, black people, brown people, Asian people, Muslims, gay people, trans people, etc. who drew boundaries around themselves and said, "None shall pass." It was straight white European wealthy men who drew those boundaries and said, "Everyone in those boundaries is not human, so we can take from them, and do to them, whatever we want."

Surprise, surprise, surprise! people in those boundaries are taking ownership: "You made the boundaries, but we're taking them back, and you can't have anything inside them without our permission." Sometimes permission is denied for what seems to li'l ol' privileged me to be petty or arbitrary reasons. So what? The whole point of you owning something is that absent exceptional circumstances, I must ask your permission, and I don't get to judge your reasons for refusing.

The intent of objections to cultural appropriation is not, I think, to maintain some mythical cultural purity. It is simply to start to take power away from European colonialism and imperialism, to say, "We are actual human beings, and we have the right to own this thing, our own culture. You cannot simply take what you want."


  1. But some people are going to not acknowledge that "ownership", as you call it. Inevitably some people are going to wear what they want to wear. (Chinese dresses, hoop earrings, sombreros, etc.) That is the reason why I asked those questions on the other post. I think it's perfectly reasonable to wonder where this is going.

    1. *wear what they want to wear, even without this "ownership" (Chinese dresses, ...)

  2. But some people are going to not acknowledge that "ownership", as you call it.

    Of course not. To assert ownership, well, you have to actually assert it.

    I think it's perfectly reasonable to wonder where this is going.

    It's not entirely unreasonable to so wonder. But literally no one besides hysterical alarmists are talking about making this issue into criminal offenses. Right now, if you transgress the boundaries (or seem to), you get a ton of shit on social media.

    Apparently, that's way too much for fragile snowflakes like Lionel Shriver.

    1. So you don't think it should be the law, but that it should be angry online mobs that ensure that nobody strays from their prescribed "cultural box" into another "cultural box" for which they don't have "ownership"?

  3. Mobs? This is the usual characterization of the people by anti-democratic elitists.

  4. We are conscientious citizens using our freedom of speech to express our righteous indignation at outrageous injustice.

    They are angry unreasoning mobs who threaten the very fabric of civilization.


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