Appropriating Culture, While There’s Still Some Left

Although our day was largely occupied by a glum early morning chore and some evening amateur theatrical rehearsals and the latest slap-the-forehead sort of news from the presidential primaries, we found a moment’s bemusement from one of those “viral videos” that routinely invade our daily reading of the news. This one didn’t involve any cute cat shenanigans, but rather captured a confrontation between an angry black social justice warrior and a dreadlocked white hipster, which might not be so cute but is at least as hilarious.
Someone who happened to be standing on a nearby stairwell with one of those ubiquitous cell phone video cameras caught the aforementioned black social justice warrior, an employee of San Francisco State University, telling the aforementioned white hipster student who happened to pass by that he had no right to be wearing his hair in a dreadlocked fashion. Anyone familiar with the latest academic jargon knows that this is a matter of “cultural appropriation,” and even the obviously stupid black social justice warrior and the obviously stupid white hipster know that, and the ensuing conversation and inevitable reality-show scuffle about this utterly stupid concept is more ridiculous than even our crazy cat can come up with.
If you haven’t been keeping abreast of the latest academic hilarity, “cultural appropriation” means that if you’re white and Western you’re not supposed to enjoy much less make use of anything that some non-white or non-western culture ever came up with. Western mathematics should have stuck with the Roman Numeral system rather than the simpler Hindu-conquered-by-Islamic system, James McNeill Whistler should have never done those beautiful Japanse-influenced paintings, Elvis Presley should have never done that much-improved cover of “That’s Alright, Mama,” a very alluring yet very white friend of ours shouldn’t be doing her belly-dancing, and the Nazis were at least polite enough to eschew the “Jewish physics” of Werner Heisenberg and his notions of an atomic bomb. We’re not sure how such strict standards would have improved the world, but we’d sure hate to miss that Elvis recording and those Whistler paintings, and our friend is a pretty good belly-dancer and in any case she’s got a right and we’d hate to be struggling with our bills at the end of the month with Roman numerals.
We’re not sure how this post-racist concept would have worked out for our non-white and non-western friends as well. That angry black social justice warrior employed by San Francisco State University was probably intending to drive home after work in an automobile, which is a product of white and western culture, and probably expected to see herself celebrated on the Internet, which is a product of an industry that is oft criticized for being insufficiently non-white and non-western, and she seemed to be wearing pants, which is another white and western invention. We also notice that no one objects when such outstanding African-American musicians as Wynton Marsalis and Kathleen battle do their much-improved performances of classical Baroque music, which is about as white and western as you can get, and we’re at least grateful for that.
That dreadlocked white hipster by no means strikes us as an exemplar of white and western culture or or whatever third-world fashion he’s trying to state, and his bizarre rant about ancient Egyptian culture is as stupid as what his harasser is talking about, and his haircut is every bit as ridiculous as the current Republican party’s presidential front-runner’s, but we figure he’s also got a right, too. Our meanderings around the internet turned up a more frank and jive-talking black fellow who came to pretty much the same conclusion, so at least there was some bemusement.

— Bud Norman