Cultural Appropriation

Common Sense Makes a Comeback

Cultural Appropriation

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I grew up with an innate appreciation for the cultures of other people. Frankly, I was always a little jealous that people had a culture at all. I didn’t really have one, at least one that I could identify in any meaningful way.

So, like so many other people, when I found some aspect of someone else’s culture that I found compelling, I adopted some of it.

I never did so disrespectfully, or to make fun of someone else’s culture. Quite to the contrary, actually, I have always been drawn to cultural differences primarily because I could actually recognize them.

If you know me at all, you know that my father was a bit of a redneck. He liked to refer to himself as a “general contractor”, but he was actually a handyman and part time insurance salesman. You could find him in a suit and tie pitching to some old couple in a back woods coffee shop one day, and the next in camouflage pants and a wife beater re-shingling someone’s roof.

My mother was his polar opposite. We consistently lived in predominantly black or Hispanic neighborhoods, and literally none of my friends were white kids. Thus, it was pretty simple for me to pick up the general colloquialisms and ways of thinking of my contemporaries.

This was, of course, an absolute horror to my father, who apparently grew up with a lot of antiquated and ignorant notions about race that his father had drilled into him as a young man. He spent most of our summer visits (mom had full custody) trying like hell to drill out of me what my environment had put into me.

I remember once when he came to visit me in Los Angeles, he had arrived a bit early and my mother told him that I was next door at the neighbor’s apartment. He knocked on the door and when my friend’s older brother answered the door and my father asked if I was there.

“Hey, tell that n—a Ragnar that his dad is here.”

This was a term of endearment that I was accustomed to hearing, and I never thought twice about it. And although I had been informed on many occasions by many many of my friends that I was allowed to use the word as well, I never did…and still don’t.

My father was livid. Once we were safely out of earshot and inside my mother’s apartment, he said “What the fuck did he just call you?”

It didn’t even register what he was so upset about at the time. And man, did he let me hear about it all summer.

The strange dichotomy of having such major cultural differences between my father and my mother stays with me to this day. I recognize both “sides” of the modern day culture wars, and I do everything in my power to rally against them in thoughtful and contemplative ways.

My father wanted to listen to nothing but old Hank Williams and Johnny Horton music, and my mother recognized musical ability in me from a very young age, and made a point of steering me towards different kinds of music every time I started to get stuck on a particular genre.

To this day, my playlist confuses the living shit out of anyone who sees it. I might be listening to Michael Bolton one minute, Brotha Lynch the next, and Beethoven immediately following that. And I get the same amount of excitement for all of it.

A few years ago, when the concept of “cultural appropriation” started to creep into the modern day Zeitgeist, I found myself immediately confused.

By and large, the people that get upset about cultural appropriation aren’t the people whose culture has been appropriated. Here’s a good example:

Until recently, I had long hair (long story, but I’m never cutting it again because I regret it so much), and I’ve had more than a few people give me shit about how I liked to braid my hair.

“You’re appropriating black culture.”

Interestingly, no black person ever said it to me. But a whole lot of uppity white people who don’t have any real conflict in their lives and therefore feel the need to create one sure did.

“Uh…this is literally called a Dutch braid…just stop.”

Now, if you’re walking around wearing an Indian (Native American) headdress, making chopping motions, and generally making a mockery of a culture you don’t understand, that is a very different thing than understanding a culture that you weren’t born into and enjoying and respecting it.

For instance, my lineage traces back to the Nordic people. I have about 40 tattoos in plain sight to honor that heritage. It’s something I take seriously. And if someone who isn’t of Nordic descent appreciates the main tenets of that culture and wants to borrow from it…FUCK YES. Borrow it.

There was a big stink back in January of this year because Gwen Stefani was “appropriating” Japanese culture. While a bunch of woke-minded people domestically lost their fucking minds that she would dare to incorporate traditional Japanese clothing and other aspects of Japanese culture into her act.

While we are over here fuming at how “inappropriate” all of that supposedly is, by and large, Japanese people rallied around her. “We’re glad you like and appreciate our culture” was the general response.

So what are we doing here? Why do people get upset when someone respectfully borrows from other cultures, especially within the United States, which has pretended to be a melting pot for quite some time now. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do?

If we are to progress and grow as a global society, what precisely is wrong with incorporating the great parts of other people’s cultures in a respectful and admiring way into our own lives?

And if you really want to understand what the problem is with the entire concept of “cultural appropriation”, maybe you should start looking at the people screaming about it. They’re not the ones, generally, that are even members of the cultures from which things are being appropriated.

People love to fight. And in the absence of conflict, and given enough time, people will create one just to fulfill the human biological imperative to engage in it.