I have this really cool sweater coat I bought at Lucky about a decade ago. It's obviously inspired by historical Chinese fashions with wide sleeves and a mandarin collar. It's gorgeous. I used to wear it all the time until I heard about "cultural appropriation". Now I NEVER wear it, and I also never wear in public other clothing or jewelry that someone might claim as their own domain. This includes some dangling earrings my sister got me in India, or a Mah Jong tile bracelet (although maybe I could argue that they represent my connection with old Jewish ladies, I suppose?), or a Halo T-shirt with the word "Hola" on it, or my Korean-inscribed T-shirt...
I feel really confused by the extent to which "cultural appropriation" is used as an accusation or even a threat in the US now, so much so that I'm afraid to wear anything or do anything someone might see as not of my own heritage (which so far, according to my sister's 23andMe DNA testing includes mostly Scotland, England, Ashkenazi Jew, a dash of Native American and a dash of West African.) I realize I look like a white Anglo-Saxon (I think I look equally British and Norwegian and would look even more so if only my mother hadn't used all that over-the-counter benzedrine in 1963), so I've been far less likely to buy "ethnic" goods like fair trade fabrics from India. If I wear my African-made earrings of little giraffes is that cultural appropriation? Will someone call the news about it and get me fired from my pathetic two-hours-a-week job?
I thought maybe I was taking it too far until an Asian-American colleague at work told me I shouldn't wear mandarin-collar clothing to work because it was insensitive cultural appropriation. So I won't. Similarly I don't want to be on TV getting beaten up because I wore an embroidered blouse for Cinco de Mayo.
That's the thing I find so sad about it. I mean, I know in my heart of hearts that I love the fact that in the US we have all different cultures represented, and I know in my heart of hearts that I love my non-white friends and relatives as much as I love my white friends and relatives. And I know that the majority of people do not give a crap if I wear a mandarin-collared outfit, or a kimono-styled blouse to work. So I know that I mean utterly no offense by wearing objects I find beautiful. I know that I will go above and beyond to help my students no matter what their race, religion or sexual identity. So the only reason I don't wear the giraffe earrings my Korean-American BFF brought me from her two month stint on the African continent is because I don't want to get fired or reported on or beaten up by social justice warriors. The SJWs of the world seem to think it is absolutely okay to destroy anyone they've decided must be a bad person for the most innocent of acts they've decided are offensive.
I also find utterly baffling the apparent desire by (mostly young) Americans of varying cultural backgrounds to segregate themselves from fellow Americans of different genetic heritage. That they want to get rid of the white people they live with. I honest-to-god don't get that at all. I remember rampant mainstream racism from the 1960s. My WASP-grandparents belonged to a restricted country club (no blacks or Jews allowed). Didn't my hero Martin Luther King Jr die specifically because he was calling an end to the evil of segregation? I saw a news story that a college student group in Michigan wanted a place on campus that didn't allow whites. Don't they realize that if they get the legal right to discriminate by skin color that the crazy white supremacists will then have the legal precedent to do the same? And then we'd see students demanding whites-only days at school. It would be a disaster that I think would spur terrible violence and tragedy.
Back in the 1970s, the message my parents taught me was that in America we should accept all cultures and races and bring them into our own lives with acceptance and understanding. America was the "great melting pot" and as new waves of immigrants arrived we took those cultural influences and made them part of our greater picture. Each culture had its own national pride, sure. And each wave of immigrants sadly had to put up with some fear and bigotry... the Irish faced it, the Italians faced it, the Jews faced it, the Chinese, the Mexicans, the Muslims... It sucks but it isn't specific to non-whites by any means.
Here In Chicago the Irish and Polish were big influences when I was growing up, but there was also Chinatown and Greektown and areas of the city where you could go have a meal where English wasn't on the menu. Those places are still here; just in the last year I've gone to restaurants where the staff and customers all spoke Lithuanian, Korean, Japanese and Bulgarian. Do I have the right to take a selfie while I enjoy a meal at a Korean BBQ? Should I feel scared to tell people I really like a particular Japanese Ramen shop? I honestly don't know. And I hate feeling I've lost the right to free speech. Especially since everything I think usually comes out of my mouth without a filter. ACLU all the way, baby.
The vitriol on the news and on social networks make me actually afraid I might be offending someone who cannot control their violence or vindictiveness. I've been teaching at Oakton for ten years and there is usually someone in every class who thinks I've said something typically sexist or racist or whatever (usually because I talk about pharmacology issues intertwined with genetics or gender). For example, every year I get someone who says, "I looked up BiDil on the internet and what you were saying about it being only useful to African-American patients was actually true!"
*Insert Facepalm Here* Why would I make up stuff in lecture that is easily checkable? Students have such weird ideas about instructors...
Anyway, I was thinking about this whole issue in the shower after watching this video about some protest because white people were wearing kimonos. The conclusion I came to is to not wear or talk about anything the young SJWs of the world might decide I shouldn't because it just isn't worth getting publicly scorned or beaten because I wanted to wear my dangly earrings.
If you really want to bring people together it has to be in a loving, welcoming way. Educating people is far more likely to change minds than threatening ever will. Trump is a hot mess but I know intelligent, liberally-minded people who voted for him in part due to fear. Not fear of people of color or Muslims or LGBTQs, but rather fear of those social justice warriors. Because those people are f*cking terrifying.
The pigs' slogan "Two legs bad, four legs good!" was a powerful motivator on the farm, but it didn't work out at all for the horse. Just sayin'...