“Cultural appropriation” means “This is mine! I hate you! Don’t touch my stuff!”
Cultural appropriation is one of those newspeak buzz-phrases that sound vaguely like real things, but upon any kind of inspection, completely fall apart. Wikipedia defines Cultural Appropriation as “the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture.”, but this is obviously incorrect. By this definition, Louis Armstrong committed cultural appropriation when he learned to play the white man’s trumpet. So is an immigrant who moves to the US and learns English.
Obviously this not what anyone means by cultural appropriation–this is just cultural diffusion, a completely natural, useful, and nearly unstoppable part of life.
A more nuanced definition is that cultural appropriation is “when someone from a more powerful group starts using an element of a less powerful group’s culture.” The idea is that this is somehow harmful to the people of the weaker culture, or at least highly distasteful.
To make an analogy: Let’s suppose you were a total nerd in school. The jocks called you names, locked you in your locker, and stole your lunch money. You were also a huge Heavy Metal fan, for which you were also mocked. The jocks even tried to get the Student Council to pass laws against playing heavy metal at the school dance.
And then one day, the biggest jock in the school shows up wearing a “Me-Tallica” shirt, and suddenly “Me-Tallica” becomes the big new thing among all of the popular kids. Demand skyrockets for tickets to heavy metal concerts, and now you can’t afford to go see your favorite band.
You are about to go apoplectic: “Mine!” you want to yell. “That’s my thing! And it’s pronounced Meh-tallica, you idiots!”
How many cases of claimed cultural appropriation does this scenario actually fit? It requires meeting three criteria to count: a group must be widely discriminated against, its culture must be oppressed or denigrated, and then that same culture must be adopted by the oppressors. This is the minimal definition; a more difficult to prove definition requires some actual harm to the oppressed group.
Thing is, there is not a whole lot of official oppression going on in America these days. Segregation ended around the 60s. I’m not sure when the program of forced Native American assimilation via boarding schools ended, but it looks like conditions improved around 1930 and by 1970 the government was actively improving the schools. Japanese and German internment ended with World War II.
It is rather hard to prove oppression–much less cultural oppression–after the 70s. No one is trying to wipe out Native American languages or religious beliefs; there are no laws against rap music or dreadlocks. It’s even harder to prove oppression for recent arrivals whose ancestors didn’t live here during segregation, like most of our Asians and Hispanics (America was about 88% non-Hispanic white and 10% black prior to the 1965 Immigration Act.)
So instead, in cases like the anti-Kimono Wednesdays protest photo above–the claim is inverted:
It wouldn’t be so bad w/out white institutions condoning erasure of the Japanese narrative + orientalism which in turn supports dewomaning + fetishizing AAPI + it is killing us
SJWs objected to Japanese women sharing kimonos with non-Japanese women not because of a history of harm to Japanese people or culture, but because sharing of the kimonos itself is supposedly inspiring harm.
“Orientalism” is one of those words that you probably haven’t encounter unless you’ve had to read Edward Said’s book on the subject (I had to read it twice.) It’s a pretty meaningless concept to Americans, because unlike Monet, we never really went through an Oriental-fascination phase. For good or ill, we just aren’t very interested in learning about non-Americans.
The claim that orientalism is somehow killing Asian American women is strange–are there really serial killers who target Asian ladies specifically because they have a thing for Madame Butterfly?–but at least suggests a verifiable fact: are Asian women disproportionately murdered?
Of course, if you know anything about crime stats, you know that homicide victims tend to be male and most crime is intraracial, not interracial. For example, according to the FBI, of the 12,664 people murdered in 2011, 9,829 were men–about 78%. The FBI’s racial data is only broken down into White (5,825 victims,) Black (6,329,) Other (335), and Unknown (175)–there just aren’t enough Asian homicide victims to count them separately. For women specifically, the number of Other Race victims is only 110–or just a smidge under 1% of total homicides.
And even these numbers are over-estimating the plight of Asian Americans, as Other also includes non-Asians like Native Americans (whose homicide rates are probably much more concerning.)
Call me crazy, but I don’t think kimono-inspired homicides are a real concern.
In practice, SJWs define cultural appropriation as “any time white people use an element from a non-white group’s culture”–or in the recent Kylie Jenner bikini case, “culture” can be expanded to “anything that a person from that other culture ever did, even if millions of other people from other cultures have also done that same thing.” (My best friend in highschool wore camo to prom. My dad wore camo to Vietnam.) And fashion trends come and go–even if Destiny’s Child created a camo bikini trend 16 yeas ago, the trend did not last. Someone else can come along and start a new camo bikini trend.
(Note how TeenVogue does not come to Kyle’s defense by pointing out that these accusations are fundamentally untrue. Anyone can make random, untrue accusations about famous people–schizophrenics do it all the time–but such accusations are not normally considered newsworthy.)
“Cultural appropriation” is such a poorly defined mish-mash of ideas precisely because it isn’t an idea. It’s just an emotion: This is mine, not yours. I hate you and you can’t have it. When white people use the phrase, it takes on a secondary meaning: I am a better white person than you.