Editor’s Note: When I first saw the item in the newspaper about the girl who wore the Chinese-style dress to her prom and was castigated for doing so, I thought it had to be some sort of Onion-style joke. Either that, or I was reading it wrong. When I realized that this was an example of liberal outrage about cultural appropriation, I was annoyed that people from my own portion of the political continuum were being so petty, trivial and just plain embarrassing.

Cultural Appropriation: An Idea Whose Time Has Gone

When will liberals learn that barking at nothing makes people not want to listen when you actually have something to say?”

                                                                                                Bill Maher


One of the best things about being a columnist who’s just a bit inflammatory is the reactions from offended readers. The silliest criticism I hear — and I hear it often — is that I’m biased. Realistically, it’s part of the job description. Calling an opinion writer biased is like calling a prostitute promiscuous.

Predictably, I expend more ink mocking the Right than I do those at my own end of the political spectrum; nonetheless, I’m usually more annoyed by obnoxious opinions held by those on my side. Because my bias includes the conviction that conservatism is ruining my country, right-wing nonsense rarely outrages or even surprises me — you can’t be disillusioned if your expectations are low.

Conservatives often call liberals “snowflakes” for being oversensitive and “politically correct,” but neither side is immune. If you think those on the Right are too manly to be snowflakes, say something that calls into question the divinity of Ronald Reagan. For example, insinuate to a roomful of Republicans that selling missiles to Iranian terrorists, then lying about it, could be viewed as treasonous. This is likely to generate the same sort of petulant whining as calling Billy Graham an anti-Semite at a Values Voters brunch.

Comedy writer Michelle Wolf’s monologue at the White House Correspondents Dinner also caused conservatives to act like what talk show host Bill Maher has described as, “the professionally offended.” You’d think no one would be shocked that Wolf called Sarah Huckabee Sanders “a liar,” yet the Fox & Friends mannequins reacted like Rudy Giuliani confronting garlic, a wooden stake or direct sunlight.

Of course, the Left has its own touchy areas. Particularly annoying is their fixation on “cultural appropriation,” one more component of liberal guilt. Wikipedia defines it as “the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture,” including “cultural and religious traditions, fashion, symbols, language and songs.”

For example, some think white America’s celebration of Cinco de Mayo disrespectfully reduces Mexican culture to tequila, serapes and tacos. But why is it wrong to enjoy some pleasant aspects of a foreign culture? Our vast melting pot has absorbed and normalized waves of immigrants for centuries. Would it be disrespectful for Greek-Americans to put on lederhosen, eat sauerbraten and drink German lager during Oktoberfest? What about wearing tiny, green-plastic derby hats on St. Patrick’s Day if you’re not Irish?

It’s a slippery slope. If it’s wrong for a white American to sport a sombrero while drinking Tecate beer, then it’s wrong for a Mexican to drink Budweiser wearing a NY Yankees baseball cap. One of the best Mexican restaurants I’ve ever been to was in Singapore, where Chinese waiters wore serapes and played Mexican music on guitars between deliveries of nachos. It seemed a bit bizarre in that setting, but no more offensive than Singapore’s Indian or French eateries, which also had Chinese staffs.

When Utah teenager, Keziah Daum, wore a Chinese-style dress (a qipao) to her prom, one Asian-American tweeted that her clothes were “colonial ideology” — an opinion retweeted more than 42,000 times. With 1.5 billion Chinese worldwide, and the rise of globalism, it’s hard to see them as a minority. More importantly, as Daum put it, “It’s just a dress.” She didn’t start a trade war or murder a panda, and certainly did nothing to warrant death threats. It’s one more slippery slope — if American teens shouldn’t wear the qipao, then should Chinese teens be allowed to wear jeans and cowboy hats?

In the music business, accusations of cultural appropriation have been rife since Elvis became a millionaire popularizing black music from people like Big Mama Thornton. Eric Clapton has been accused of exploiting bluesmen like Robert Johnson, and white rappers like Eminem are sometimes criticized for getting rich from hip-hop.

But music is universal and has no race, and no ethnic group can claim exclusive ownership. Should black or Asian musicians be banned from playing Mozart? Should Nat King Cole have profited from his rendition of “The Christmas Song” (which was written by Mel Torme)? And is “The Wiz,” a black adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz,” a slippery slope of appropriation that disrespects white culture?

The film industry has historically cast Caucasians as Asians (e.g., Paul Muni and Luise Rainer in “The Good Earth,” and Marlon Brando in “The Teahouse of the August Moon”), as well as Arabs (e.g., Lawrence Olivier as the Mahdi in “Khartoum,” and Alec Guinness as Prince Faisal in “Lawrence of Arabia”). And a great deal of controversy was engendered when Olivier, in blackface, headlined a cinematic rendering of “Othello.”

However, it’s hard to argue with casting the world’s greatest actor to play the title role of the Moor in a film that received more Academy Award nominations than any other Shakespearean movie. And, if only black actors, such as James Earl Jones or Paul Robeson, should play Othello, then should thespians such as Denzel Washington be “blacklisted” from playing the vast majority of white Shakespearian roles?


Finally, is it a form of colonialism to appropriate another culture’s religion? Do Asians “own” Buddhism? Should Indians monopolize yoga and Hinduism? Christianity began as a Middle Eastern/Semitic faith that was eventually adopted and adapted by white Europeans, then by Americans, including Mormons.

I’m tired of people finding victimhood in “no harm, no foul” situations. And I’m sick of do-gooders who feel the need to speak for people suffering nonexistent persecution that almost no one cares about. They need to find something less trivial to worry about.

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