Cultural appropriation and the culture cops

sfsu

A recent altercation captured on video at San Francisco State University appears to show a female black student berating a male white student for having dreadlocks.

Though the YouTube channel the video was uploaded to states that the black female was a campus employee, a statement released by the university says that neither individual involved in the incident were employees and that the matter is still being investigated.

The white student has been identified as Cory ‘Soulr’ Goldstein via comments made about the altercation on his Facebook  page. Goldstein, an aspiring DJ, said he filed a report with the campus police but that he was not filing criminal charges.

It took little time for users of 4chan to identify the woman as Bonita Tindle who described herself on her LinkedIn page (before taking it down) as a “Cinematographer, Photographer, Editor, Journalist, Media Specialist.”

To me the whole thing is just another example of how ridiculous the notion of cultural appropriation is.  It’s an ambiguous, incoherent doctrine which is so inconsistent that even those that subscribe to the idea have no real way of fairly implementing it. Cultural appropriation is based on the notion that culture is a sort of commodity. Only those within a culture have ownership rights to it. Thus, it becomes a sort of theft when someone outside a particular culture uses elements from it.

The view of culture as property has led to a segment of the population that deem it necessary to vigilantly look for and point out any and all examples of appropriation. There was the student center at a Canadian university that cancelled Yoga classes due to “cultural issues.” The Salon writer that bemoaned white women belly dancing. The protest over “Kimono Wednesdays” at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The allegation of racial identity theft over cornrows. These are just a few examples reported by major media outlets. If you were to include the blogs, Tumblrs and Twitter feeds of the thousands of SJW types, you could spend years looking at such criticism.

But the culture cops are wrong on their view of culture. It is not something which is owned nor is it set in stone. Cultures are always in a state of transformation, especially in the modern era were different cultures are constantly interacting with each other. In the past, this was seen as a good thing as it led to increased availability and acceptance of cultural elements as well as a mixing of elements which created something new.

This is not to say that people shouldn’t be criticized for using cultural elements in a way which promotes a negative stereotypes. An obvious example would be the minstrel shows of the 19th and early 20th century where white performers would wear black make-up and do parody performances of black Americans as being stupid and lazy. But this isn’t wrong because whites stole black culture. It’s wrong because it’s racist and offensive. There’s a big distinction, and it’s one worth understanding.

 

 

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One comment

  1. You can see the smile disappear off that women’s face quite quickly when see realizes the whole thing has been recorded. If I white man were to implement this sort of white cultural appropriation the entirety of America would be up in arms. oh the double standard of today’s world. Nice post man. btw I deal with these sorts of things on my blog trooworldview.com

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