I suppose I have misappropriated culture many times in my life. Being made aware of that does not make me too concerned. There seem to be many other things of far greater importance to worry about, among them: having such a fickle culture that its appropriation by others apparently diminishes one as an individual person.
I think that social scientists have nothing else to do other than invent new things that give them increased personal, or political, or corporate-type power. Pointing out cultural misappropriations seems to be one of those things.
I never was a plains Indian, but I wore many a homemade Indian outfit. I never was a cowboy, but certainly had many cowboy outfits. I never was a Cajun, but I like Cajun music and eating craw-fish. I have never been Black, but I like old country blues music, which I think is the authentic kind. I like what non-Southerners call Soul-Food, which is what everyone eats in Mississippi: black, white, mixed, native, or whatever. I suppose some recently arrived ethnicities don’t care much for cornbread and collard greens, but if they did, I wouldn’t mind. If they didn’t, I still don’t mind, though I think a corn tortilla is a poor substitute for a slice of cornbread. I wouldn’t deny anyone the cornbread. I don’t expect anyone minds if I use a tortilla, though they might, in which case I might wonder, “Why?”
I have been listening, lately, to traditional Chinese music. I find it very relaxing. I like Chinese food and misappropriate chopsticks every time I eat it. I am good with chopsticks, and can subdue and capture every wayward grain of rice with them.
I like Mexican food, Thai food, Mediterranean food, and Indian (eastern) food. I have a couple of Dish-Dashas I wear for pajamas and to knock around the house when no one is there but my family, and they laugh at my cultural misappropriation. In the summer, I wear a sort of homemade keffiyeh (Arabic headscarf worn by men) under my hardhat at work, which keeps my neck cool by shielding the sun, which is a very practical application of something developed by people native to hot, sunny climates. In fact, if you dampen the homemade keffiyeh the evaporation is downright cool on your neck. I salute whomever thought up this very practical article of clothing. I have misappropriated it without any shame, second thoughts, or disgrace.
I read this morning that women should never wear toe-rings unless thay are married to a South-Asian: that this is an egregious cultural misappropriation. Apparently, so are bangle bracelets. There are just too many things to culturally misappropriate, with scores more being added every day. I can’t keep up. Whoever wrote that has nothing else to think about, apparently having run out of cogent things, or worse, perhaps, never having had any.
There are lots of things to worry about in this world. Worry over guilt associated with culturally misappropriated toe-rings is not one of them, I should think. What to wear for your Halloween costume is another, since Halloween as a holiday is nearly as irrelevant to life as the costumes people wear for it.
Our skin has grown so thin that we see offenses where there are none. We revel in creating offenses. Apparently offenses make some feel a greater worth, as if their worth is defined by how many offenses they can collect.
If we are outraged by everything, we soon become outraged at nothing, choosing to live our lives in a state of continual outrage. After a while, outrage loses its lustre, becoming indistinguishable with being only slightly perturbed. Thus, the molehill becomes an insurmountable mountain, or so we are told. None of us are convinced. If we were, learning a second language would be a cultural misappropriation. Apparently academia thinks this in its academic heart, as learning to read, comprehend, and write languages of any kind, native or otherwise, seem to be smouldering atop a nearly defunct, sooted-up back burner on a rancid baked-on greasy decrepit old gas stove, its oxygen-starved yellow reduction flame flickering in time to the lazily whirling blades of the cultural misappropriation from whomever invented the ceiling fan, odorlessly and malevolently spewing it’s mind-numbing carbon monoxide. We painlessly, invisibly poison ouselves.
Are formerly patented devices the next cultural misappropriation? Is John Deere’s steel plow a cultural misappropriation? Is ginned cotton a cultural misappropriation? Is driving an assembly-line built car a cultural misappropriation? Enjoying a book that is out of copyright? Listening to music we have acquired for free, denying its composer and artist their income? Somehow, these things are OK, but wearing a toe-ring is not?
This is mysterious to me, as are what seem to be the University safe-spaces demanded and acquiesced to, which are not just reminiscent of segregation, but meet every definition of the word. In those safe spaces, there must be some cultural misappropriators. After all, Native Americans appropriated the horse from the Spanish. And the bow and arrow developed simultaneously on six continents, or was appropriated from its first inventor and spread far and wide. I suppose its inventor never got the chance to claim a patent on this useful invention.
In the midst of diversity, there is much exclusivity. We draw boundaries around things that cannot be protected, for they have no owner, no right of property as we know property rights, only an inflicted cultural shame, much akin to the Scarlet Letter forced on Hester Prynne.
If that analogy escaped you, you should try some cultural misappropriation for yourself. If you do and fail to see Hester Prynne’s relevance to modern life, you should write your alma mater and inquire about a refund.
©2016 Mississippi Chris Sharp