More and more, I am under the impression that the people who cry foul at cultural appropriation are obstinately indifferent to any sensible understanding of what culture actually is. As pointed out at whyevolutionistrue, the Southern Poverty Law Center seems to be under the impression that a person who engages in an activity inspired by or associated with the culture of an ethnicity or nationality other than their own is committing some kind of egregious act of colonialist thuggery. This is such a high-octane distillation of straw-manning that only a true connoisseur of the art could have crafted it. Does the SPLC really think that anyone who eats a taco, dons an over-sized sombrero, or swings a stick at a pinata on Cinco de Mayo is under the impression that they have tasted the full breadth of Mexican culture? Such a person shouldn’t be chided for their failure to fully situate a taco in the tapestry of creativity and exchange, agony and triumph that shapes Mexican culture, but for being a goddamn ignorant rube.
Moreover, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to say that even the most obviously fumbled instances of cultural appropriation – the ones most reasonable folks can look at and say, “that was kind of gross” – actually diminish the appropriated culture. This is not a zero sum game. Mexican culture doesn’t become worth less when white people do a poor job of appreciating it. In fact, to argue otherwise is to suggest that the value of Mexican culture is contingent upon the way white people handle it. Way to empower the little guy, SPLC.
It simply doesn’t make sense to equate piecemeal engagement with unfamiliar and full-blooded bigotry and racism. This isn’t the sort of thing that makes the world better for the underprivileged. Rather, it’s the sort of thing that makes it harder to take organizations like the SPLC seriously when they try to draw attention to real problems. This isn’t the GOP trying to keep minority voters away from the polls or shatter the lives of immigrants. It’s people trying to have fun and enjoy a meal.