Cultural appropriation and Political Correctness in writing

Or ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’

I am guilty of culture appropriation. I used a teaspoon of live yogurt from a tub from the store to get my own yogurt going. And anyway yogurt is doubtless a dietary item brutally wrenched from some Steppe dwelling pastoral nomads who were doubtless engaged in their traditional cultural pastime of invading and conquering effete city-dwellers (it is not politically correct to criticize this important cultural activity, or indeed, to resist, for fear of displaying cultural insensitivity. Do modify your behavior and writing accordingly or you will have a cloud of shrieking internet harpies descend on you.)

Yeah, it’s all a bit ridiculous isn’t it?

Culture – what is it besides bacteria? (They’re in everything. Even toxic individuals you’d swear could not possibly harbor life.)

That’s actually a harder question than you may think. A lot of the time it seems to mean just whatever some berk wants it to mean, so he or she (I’m sorry, I’m just a biologist. You want 23 sexes talk to an Arts graduate. It’s beyond me) can be offended. The being offended part seems important, at least to them. The Cambridge English Dictionary explains culture as, “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time.”

Here’s my take: It’s a complex moving target, which means different things to different people. It is almost never totally unique (because all cultures take whatever they fancy from other cultures, and some have other cultures thrust upon them). It’s a composite of both history and the interaction with the current world (so the culture of a specific group of people, even if totally isolated from the world fifty years ago isn’t the same as today’s). There are elements of geography, the food, the way of life, the language, religion and laws and probably Aunt Mary’s in-growing toenails in there. One can only hope the latter is not in the food.

There are isolated cultures (few these days) cultures alongside other cultures, mixing well into something inseparable and different in places, and like oil and water (poisoning both) in others. There are cultures within cultures, and little cultures within those, like Matryoshka dolls, all bellowing loudly that they the equal if not far far better. There are gay cultures and women’s secret business and men’s secret business, hipster cultures and tribal cultures and so on…

Culture. I’m not too sure anyone actually agrees quite what it is, or really has set bounds, but you’ll know it when you see it. Only what you see as it today, is not what you see tomorrow.

And it doesn’t belong to you any more than bacteria belong to you. ‘Keep your bugs to yourself, will ya?’ Doesn’t work any more than ‘cultural purity’ does.

Oh, and attempting to ‘set’ it, unchanging, unresponsive to the outside world, seems the equivalent of cultural suicide. The same is true of exclusivity: with genocide of anyone who tries, you can stop other cultures pinching bits they fancy, changing them and making them theirs, but there really is no other way. So maybe you can stop the neighboring Ping-ping tribe from adopting the Pong-ping conical headdress and adding the complete affront of feathers, by overwhelming force and with elephants, or by refusing to buy Ping-ping yogurt… but if people really want or see an advantage in something unique to your culture, they will rapidly make it non-unique.

In fact, if they don’t and won’t… you know they consider your culture, or that aspect, inferior. Worthless. While it’s considered massively politically incorrect to compare cultures (the only comparison allowed is that ANYONE else’s culture is way, way better Western Judeo-Christian – which is why so many people want to migrate from everywhere else to these Western countries. Because the West’s culture is awful and unsuccessful.) The facts on the ground say people adopt (and move to) the ones they like most, that work best for them, or at least aspects of those successes. It’s the weak culture, that which offers little, which needs to fear being destroyed.

With this very obvious and demonstrable fact…

Enter the newest shibboleth of Arts world (along with 23 sexes) intended to divide and exclude.

Cultural appropriation.

I’m a wicked man because I talked about Yogurt (Turkic) and Matryoshka dolls (Russian) and shibboleth (Hebrew). These words, and a meaning of them have all become quite normal in English, understood, accepted… and maybe not quite what they meant (or still mean) in their root-culture.

But the culture of the permanently offended (the one I adopt nothing from, because yes, I consider it inferior, and overdue for the scrapheap of history.) has discovered it as a new and valuable thing to… you guessed it!… Be offended by. Demand reparations for the terrible damage done. Exclusivity even. Heaven help you if you’re not gay, and write about something that could be considered gay culture, or Aboriginal, or Inuit or quite possibly of sex number 23 (is that the one where you identify as coffee table?). Contrariwise, you are to be utterly condemned, pilloried, attacked, decried as a sexist, racist, homophobic misogynist if you don’t include all the possible groups (including number 23) in your books, in the prescribed stereotype roles.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. In other words, unless you’re one of the permanently offended, you simply may not write at all, because this is, a la apartheid, a reserved profession for designated victims and ‘other cultures’. Of course, even there the discrimination cheerfully continues: you may – if you’re black, or gay write black or gay characters, so long as they live up to the preconceived stereotypes of the same.

You may come from Cameroon (where you lived a wealthy, comfortable and educated first world lifestyle, because that too is real), and have been beaten up for being gay there, but do not dare write this unwanted truth. The stereotype foreign primitive African culture full of gentle, tolerant but colonially repressed people must be there.

However, as a sop, you may, as a gay black woman who has lived her entire life in a pleasant enclave of Reunion, describe, with impunity, the culture of white heterosexual men living in Nebraska, where you have never been, have never met any of, and never bothered to research… As long as they’re barbaric brutes, stupider than rocks who drag homosexuals behind trucks, that is.

I’m sick of the perpetually offended. Screw them, and the donkey they rode into town on. There are obvious areas I avoid, like religion, like deliberate belittling, or selective stereotyping. There is being stupid and vindictive. There is even being insensitive. I make an effort to avoid deliberate offense, to fact check as best as possible, to find first readers who do have the background. To give a fair and balanced picture.

But none of the perpetually offended give a damn about these issues when they write. Let them lead by example, start making an effort to be less offensive themselves, to people they have decided they don’t like. To show appreciation and respect for those cultures… To condemn their own when they make offensive productions about, for example the Mormons – there certainly have been many opportunities to speak up. I don’t think most Mormons care… but they do expect the converse to apply: You do to us, don’t complain when we do the same to you.

On the other hand: if you think your culture is exclusively yours… Then butt out of my culture. Take nothing from it, make your own. I’m not writing in Ping-ping glyphs with a ping-mechanical-wobble-stick onto sheets of ping-tree bark. I might be writing about Ping-ping myth, but it’s in English, with a computer, and printed on paper. If they wish to be true Ping-ping they will be blissfully ignorant of what I say and do, and therefore not offended by my getting it wrong. One can’t have it both ways – This is not modern divorce. What’s yours is not yours exclusively, but what’s mine is also yours. Either ours is ours, or yours is yours and mine is mine.

But all of this misses the key thing about the ridiculous “cultural appropriation” issue.

Which is simply this:

A story is not destroyed by getting told. It is not even destroyed by being told wrong, or disrespectfully, or without elements that one culture considers important and the other irrelevant.

Just because Joe Popular Author told the Primal tale of Ping-ping, WRONG, and sold a million copies…

Does not stop Joe Ping-ping author publishing it next week, RIGHT… and selling as many, or more, or none depending on how good it is, how well written. Its chances of success are in fact better because of Joe Popular. And respect and interest in the otherwise unknown Ping-ping tribe are vastly improved.

And Jolinda Ping-ping Author can write the woman’s point of view the next week, and Joe-Linda Ping-ping the trans version the week after.

The story is not destroyed. It is strengthened. The culture it comes from is not destroyed. It is strengthened. Changed perhaps… but a culture that can’t survive change, is dying anyway.

A story dies when it is not told. Not when you get a little wrong.

127 thoughts on “Cultural appropriation and Political Correctness in writing

  1. On one of these blog posts I mentioned something about liberals not understanding dynamic analysis. That systems react when you change parts of them. For example, you cant just raise taxes on the wealthy and expect everything else to be the same afterwards.

    Likewise, Liberals don’t recognize cultures as vibrant and ever-changing. Cultures are frozen in time, and consist of the stereotypes that liberals have formed about them, which may not even have any basis in fact (American Indians are all tree-hugging environmentalists. And we should relocate them back to their original tribal lands so they can be like that again, instead of raking in big bucks from casinos and untaxed Cigarette sales.)

    1. What original tribal lands? Those territories have changed over time. There are probably extant tribes who held the same territory at different times? How do you settle that? Ask a Cherokee what happened to the mound builders.

      1. As witness the lovely situation in British Columbia, where the outstanding aboriginal land claims, added together, considerably exceed the total land area of the province.

        Which leads sane people in B.C. (there are a few) to say: ‘We are not giving you 110 percent of our land, because that’s only possible in sports clichés. Go fight it out among yourselves, and come back to us when you’ve got your poop in a group.’

  2. I’m an American. “Cultural appropriation” IS my culture.

    Heinlein is said to have said “”There are three main plots for the human-interest story: boy-meets-girl, the Little Tailor, and the man-who-learned-better.” I think you’d have to do some serious mutilation to cram some stories into one of those boxes, but he was right in that there are only so many types of stories.

  3. You’ve defended your position well, in a manner they cannot refute.
    But they don’t care. They’ll point and screech anyway, because that is what they do.

    1. Yes. They will. But it is not for the point-and-screech I did it. It’s for the others. That’s internet arguing for you ;-/ it’s seldom about convincing the person you argue with – they won’t listen, won’t change their minds no matter how clear, how convincing, how well supported by evidence your position is. But there are a huge number of people ‘listening in’ – and it is who wins the debate with that audience’s ‘vote’ that wins.
      Sometimes I think the internet is merely one big ‘party line’ (did you have party lines? Know them? different word maybe – a shared telephone line, with different rings for different subscribers – but anyone could listen in. And many bored housewives, lonely farmers, elderly folk did.)

      1. The family had a ranch (of the “investment” sort) when I was a kid. I hadn’t learned anything about party lines then – and all of us had been trained to pick up the phone when it rang, because my Dad was a veterinarian and it could be an emergency call for him.

        I don’t know how many of our neighbors I startled with a very professional “Dr. *’s residence, how may I help you?” – in a six year old’s voice…

  4. The Commandment not to bear false witness seems quite appropriate when appropriating from other cultures. Thus I wholly endorse the practice of seeking out Ping-ping first readers to vet one’s prose about them.

    1. Yeah, I consider it polite, and sensible. But when last did you hear of an author of an approved ‘victim’ class going to a conservative white hetero Christian and saying “Your kind are the stereotype villain in my book – again – I’m none of those things so I just want to check I got it right? ;-/

    2. If I’m writing about the Ping-Ping, yes. If I’m taking interesting elements for my fictional Ying-Ying tribe used as a foil for my heroine, it ain’t appropriation and who cares if I got it right?

  5. A perfect example is Heinlein. Back in the 1950s, he wrote about protagonists of different races, and futures where non-Western cultures were in ascendance. In short, he defies the stereotypical modern understanding of his era as bigoted and xenophobic.

    And what does the other side call him now?


    1. A lot of that comes from “The Sixth Column,” which I believe was about 95% John W. Campbell and 5% Robert A. Heinlein.

      Even by the standards of the 1950s, that book was racist to the point of absurdity.

      I hope RAH got a fat paycheck for putting his name on Campbell’s mass of half-baked story, because it came around and bit him hard.

  6. I searched the records, and as far as I can tell, my ancestors never gave anybody permission to use OUR ALPHABET, the one invented in the eastern side of the Mediterranean, to write about cultural appropriation. And they can’t use the silly excuse they use the Latin alphabet either, it is derivative work. If people want to write about cultural appropriation, they can get their own alphabet. And unless their ancestry is from the British Isles, they can’t use English either.

    I wonder if you can write about a story world where victimhood is a negotiable currency, so poor people get abused by the police on purpose to sell their victimhood points to the rich for cash.

    1. My first name is Greek, my middle name is Hebrew and my last name is Ukrainian. I speak English. How many cultures am I “appropriating” just by existing?

      1. Hebrew, Chinese, and French names here. My middle name is “Lee”, which sounds patriotic here in the South, but my mom delivered me in California, and told her obstretician she’d name the baby after him if he gave her an epidural.

        “Lee” is a fine old California name, going back to the Gold Rush days…

          1. “Lee” being one of the more common Chinese surnames, I’m sure there have been plenty of everything…

            It would have been nice if it was James Paris Lee, though. I’m quite fond of his designs.

          1. Love the name! In English cognates: Born Hassler (born to hassle). Lots of people need that.

      2. First name is Sindarin, middle name is Elizabeth (English, I think), surname is Scottish.
        I am a human. All human cultures are mine to pick and choose from.

        1. When my daughter was in middle school she asked about her heritage. I explained that my side was German, Irish, scots, welsh with a smidge of French thrown in; mom was Greek and Italian. She asked what that made her and I replied: “You are NATO – all of Western Europe under an American commander – your Mom”

    2. my ancestors never gave anybody permission to use OUR ALPHABET

      I thought (briefly) about replying to this using the Shaw Alphabet, but I don’t seem to find a Unicode encoding for it…

        1. Uh, thanks (I think). Looking in the PDF, I see that the various Shavian letters have names! I don’t think I knew that before. Those names make those the military assigns to traditional English letters sound positively same.

  7. I’m already preparing myself for a ration of Social Justice Ninnies whining about cultural appropriation when I finish one of my next book projects – a small South Texas town full of interestingly eccentric characters, about half of whom are Hispanic. I have a whole bunch of snappy come-backs already prepared and rehearsed…

    1. You can still run into people with Hispanic surnames in Texas, whose families own land that was deeded to their ancestors by the Spanish Empire, before Mexico was even a country, much less the Republic of Texas or the United States of America.

      1. I believe they call themselves Tejanos, and tend to get really irritated if people call them Hispanic. (That’s from my memory of a years-ago conversation with a friend whose wife is Tejano.)

    2. Just don’t make a distinction between “citizens” and “undocumented” residents. Not only will you get jumped, they will refused to tell you the PC term to use in situations where you might need to make said distinction. And ignore you or denigrate you for any facts or statistics you offer in defense. And Lord help you if you ever say anything negative of Travelers or Gypsies.

      1. Some years ago I was in Houston and had to fight off a case of the giggles as a Hispanic man and the Black clerk at the hardware store were grousing about the “d-mn w-tbacks and n-gguhs” driving down wages.

        1. Aff had an Aborigine coworker some years back who would make the most HORRIBLY UNPC statements. They were eating lunch at a local burger place when some hip-hop teenagers, most of them white, came in. After several minutes of their loud gangsta talk, that coworker muttered loudly, “Damn wiggers,” causing his other coworkers to almost choke on their food, laughing. The group of black African students with their very neat uniforms eating and studying at the next table over were unable to eat or study from laughing for the next half hour.

          After that lunch, Aff tells me they walked past the local welfare office, which had a throng of Aborigines lined up. Very loudly, the coworker rants that it would be AWESOME if he could be given shittons of money for free by the government just for being “An Abo,” that he could just booze away.
          Aff, because his mind was on other things at the time, absently replied, “But you *are* an Aborigine,” before realizing where they were.
          His co-worker looks down at himself as if surprised, taking in the pressed suit and polished shoes and his hands, looks over at the group glaring at him, and says, “Well, fuck that then!” and they hurry back to work.

        1. It is almost if there are differences between sedentary peoples and nomadic peoples that are rarely reconciled.

    1. Just remember the essential Norse advice all fathers gave their cultural appropriating sons when they left to go a-viking.
      “Rape BEFORE arson and murder.”

        1. “We’re gonna rape,
          We’re gonna rape, loot, pillage and burn!
          (Eat the babies now!)”

          (It’s an orc chant that I’ve also heard applied to Vikings. I got it from some friends who went to MIT and then, totally by accident, discovered later that one of my Colorado bosses was one of the originators of a slightly clunkier version back forty years or so.)

  8. “but if people really want or see an advantage in something unique to your culture, they will rapidly make it non-unique.

    In fact, if they don’t and won’t… you know they consider your culture, or that aspect, inferior. Worthless.”

    Now there’s the perfect comeback next time I hear someone spouting this “cultural appropriation” horseshit. 😀

    Of course, it’s always someone of $Minority, miraculously speaking English…

    Cultures die when no one considers them worth “appropriating”.

    Truth is it’s just one more way for the SJWs to shriek “Look at me! I’m special!! Don’t touch my Preciousssss!!!!!!!”

  9. To (badly) paraphrase Yoda, “Appropriate or be appropriated. There is no unappropriated.”

  10. I just had a thought, and I’m going to share it before it dies of loneliness. My son is adopted from Kazakhstan. Am I appropriating his culture by adopting him, or is he appropriating mine?

    1. I usually tell them that they need to stop reading books, because we appropriated movable type from the Chinese.

      1. You need to stop reading English. You know how many languages it stole from?

        1. What was the bumper sticker I used to see in dealers’ rooms at some cons about English hitting other languages over the head with a club and going through their pockets for loose grammar?

          1. Which, by the bye, is wrong. English goes through other languages’ pockets for loose vocabulary. The English language is deathly allergic to grammar, and tends not to use even the little it has of its own.

              1. Because, as I said, English tends not to use even the grammar it has. It has been shedding case inflections and similar trappings for over a thousand years. There seems to be a law of compensation at work: the larger the basic vocabulary of a language, the fewer forms each word is liable to take. An issue of memory and learning time, at bottom, I suppose.

                1. Yet much of the grammar is similar to French and very unlike Old English which more closely resembles Old Norse and Old English. The shift from a case based language to a word order based grammatical structure is non-trivial.

                  1. You have to remember that French underwent the same change very nearly in parallel with English; but much less completely. French preserved the Late Latin verb system more or less intact, whereas English (which had a simpler verb system to begin with) ditched a lot of its verb forms and relied heavily on auxiliaries. Both languages lost their nominal case system, but then, so did Spanish, and the Italian case system was heavily eroded. That has been a feature of the Western Romance languages generally.

                    Anyway, the loss of the case system does not constitute a borrowing from another language, because English did not actually replace its case system with anything taken from French. It simply reduced its noun forms to a small subset of those it already had. The plural and genitive -s endings, already established, were regularized throughout the vocabulary (except for a few native holdouts and, of course, some loan words) and orthographicalluy distinguished, at a later date, by use of the apostrophe. All other noun case endings were abandoned. The only way in which French contributed to this process was to give Middle English a large element of new vocabulary, for which there were no Old English case paradigms, so that the loan words were assimilated to the dominant -s declension and encouraged the habit of regularization.

                    1. The best thing that happened to English is that all the important people in England spoke another language for several generations (after the Norman Conquest). Languages are shaped as much by a need to express social status as by the need to communicate while English was a low-status, communication-only language, it lost most of its inflexions and other fancy features.

                      Some readers may enjoy drawing a lesson from this …

                    2. Yet it did so on the influence of the different languages pouring in. Some of the structures adapted to latin. Some of the structures adapted when the Normans came in, and I’m betting the Old Norse/Germanic fusion came when the Saxons invaded, but my studies haven’t gone quite that far back. The erosion of the case based system came from trying to integrate vocabulary and grammar from other languages as they came to the islands. And frankly it was, linguistically speaking, a relatively stark fast change.

                    3. Isn’t the apostrophe in the English possessive a contraction? “Joe his book” -> “Joe’s book”?

      1. Thank you, sir. Adopting him was one of the most significant things I’ve done in my life. Wish I could do it again.

    2. Assistant Village Idiot( adopted two Romainian boys, so he’s good on vampires (or wampires).

  11. I offend an awful lot of easily offended people by stating the facts as I know them to the best of my ability. It’s difficult enough to know the truth in a world when the media has to “whitewash” stories. And apparently I’m not up to date on all the PC terms and labels, thus committing faux pas that the easily offended claim are hate crimes.

    Should I “check my so-called privileges”? Or do I have to be a undocumented, foreign-born, mixed-heritage, trans-gender, paraplegic, vegan, neo-pagan, NAMBLA member, liberal arts grad, victim, dependent chimera to have a valid opinion on the real world and a genre that includes the word “science” in it’s title?

    I wonder how many SJW writers actually relate to the “real” world outside their environment. Have they toiled in the fields, shoveled cow shit, used an outhouse, been abandoned, been homeless, worked in the factories, gone through boot camp, worked on a ship, visited third world slums, repaired a car, built a computer with solder, change diapers, worked construction, worked in retail, have a technical degree, spent hundreds of hours doing astrophotography, taught a class, wrote a commercial program, climb a mountain, been discriminated against, been mugged, been burglarized, buried parents, buried children, chased drug dealers out of the neighborhood, worked in local government, been through multiple tornadoes, worked disaster(s), saved lives, had to take a life?

    Science fiction and fantasy are entertainment and escapism. I read for enjoyment and education. I don’t mind a message in the background but if I want to be preached to by charlatans, I can listen to the media. Some of these writers and “fen” are in their own little fantasy bubble that they think they can dictate reality to those that actually deal with it on a daily basis. And it gets tiring playing chess with pigeons.

    1. 🙂 I don’t even get the complete list. I have not spent much time on astrophotography, written commercial programs or dealt with tornados (wildfires yes) and I have not had to bury any of my children, for which I thank God and pray I will not have to.

  12. One point of contention here: The Book of Mormon production was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, and they make fun of everyone equally, liberal and conservative, politically correct and intolerant, religious and atheist. Frequently even themselves.

    1. Bob – I think you miss my point. If I – or Mike Williamson (an equal opportunity offender if ever there was one) mocked one of their holy cows – gay marriage for example, do you seriously think they’d say ‘Oh that’s Okay, he mocks everyone’? What they’re talking about is not creator of the work’s fairness – BUT THE OFFENSE TO THE TARGET – even if the target is not offended, doesn’t care, says the same things himself about himself and the creator of it pokes fun at everyone. They decide that it doesn’t fit their stereotype, their definition of acceptable. Their lines would have considered the Book of Mormon as totally vile if it was about Wiccans or Muslims. But they don’t like Mormons so it’s hilarious…

      1. Sorry, misread your point: I was thinking of hypocrisy on the part of the creators, not the audience.

  13. Modern policing in America traces its ancestry to the English adapting it from French practice. Anyone who does not identify with one of those is engaging in appropriation if they expect any protection from the police. If one does identify as one of those, one is still engaging in appropriation because the practice is then only authentic for one who identifies with the other one.

  14. As a total random note, I know a family from Cameroon. Well, the parents are from Cameroon. The triplets (yes, triplets!) were born here.

    Wish they lived next door. They could help wear my kids out.

  15. Feh. The whole “culture” thing gets into deep woo-woo. When our eldest came home with a “What’s your family’s culture?” thing, we had to do some serious head-scratching. Our whole conglomerated mess is Scot, Irish, English, French, Creek, maybe some Cherokee, maybe some German, maybe some Norse mixed in with the English. What did they mean “our family culture?”

    Our “culture” is American, as it has been for several hundred years. But my kids don’t know how to work on a farm, just as I don’t know how to hitch up a mule to a plow; and none of us have worn a tricorner hat. The insulting thing is the presumption that culture is something you’re born with, which is pretty danged racist when you think about it.

    Oh, and our eldest? They wrote down that we had been in the Americas so long that our culture was shaped by this region, where we’d been the last few hundred years. And that project didn’t seem to come up again.

    1. ” The insulting thing is the presumption that culture is something you’re born with, which is pretty danged racist when you think about it.”

      To be charitable, it can also be “what you are raised with”. You raise your kids as 100% Americans, being fully assimilated Americans yourselves. I am assimilating, but I do have a lot of Israeli culture in me (I lived there the first 24 years of my life), and that does affect my children. It may, somewhat, affect my grandkids.

      1. Culture is more about how a factory is run than dress, dancing, or food. (Says the guy who thinks manufacturing is more interesting than clothing, or eating.)

        It is also a function of what sort of people one chooses to associate with.

        1. Maybe this is just an America thing, but my wife and I, the first Christmas we were married, realized it was time to make our own traditions. Our “culture” was our own creation.

    2. The whatever-American comments always remind me of the scene in “a tree grows in Brooklyn” (I think) where the protagonist asserted she was just “American” unlike all her other classmates because both her parents were born in the country too. It’s a good reminder how our self-identification has changed since the 60’s.

      1. Hyphens make you “special.” For the meaning of “special” that has replaced various words for mentally deficient.

        I get a particular kick out of “African-American.” Last I heard we were all African-Americans; giving some group special status just because they left Africa more recently seems unduly preferential to me.

        The State Department also doesn’t seem to know the difference between “national origin” and “language group.” A friend’s wife was from Madrid; she used to get irate when anyone used the H-word to describe her, even though she was a for-real Hispanic. “I know what that is, and that word doesn’t mean what they say it means.”

        Take two Apaches of the same clan. One group lives north of the Rio Grande, one lives south. Even though they’re all related and speak the same language, the southemers are “Mexicans” and the northerners are “Native Americans.” Yet I, with a valid California birth certificate, am not a native American…

        And now the feelbadz are claiming the word “Indian” is a perjorative. Since the word is part of the Constitution they’ll have to put up with my continued use of it…

        An acquaintance actually had “African-American” on some of his Federal paperwork. He was a white-skinned Jew from Rhodesia. I imagine a few bureaucrats had brain implosions over that. State doesn’t seem to understand that there are whites, Semites, and even a sizeable number of Chinese who live in Africa. “One label suits all…”

        1. He was a white-skinned Jew from Rhodesia. I imagine a few bureaucrats had brain implosions over that. State doesn’t seem to understand that there are whites, Semites, and even a sizeable number of Chinese who live in Africa. “One label suits all…”

          *giggle* My father knew someone who had a very German name who was part of the American Embassy in Paris – so German that you expect a tall blond, blue-eyed fellow to come in through the door. Apparently the only description that fit was tall – he was Japanese, adopted by adoring German parents, who later moved to America. Bonus points for the Germanic accent that the man in question still had.

          1. Oh yes! I had a colleague from Australia who was ethnically Chinese. She had the *thickest* ‘strine accent on the planet. It did make my brain hurt at first, I will confess. She was culturally appropriating with a bulldozer, and enjoying herself 😀

            1. *trying to imagine, failing badly* Sadly for me, I still sound rather American in intonation and accent.

              *evil little smile* I note that nobody is complaining about the white ISIS recruits to be cultural appropriating…

        2. I recall a news article about a white boy from South Africa who’d moved to the US identifying himself as an African-American.

  16. I sympathize with the idea of cultural appropriation, but only in a specific sense. This seems to be true for me of many liberal bug-a-boos. I understand the original reasoning behind them, but feel they have been widely misapplied to the point of ridiculous.

    The place where I draw the line is when a ritual or symbol has a specific cultural/religious meaning that is nearly always treated with respect and those from outside the culture use it in a trendy/trivialized manner. There really aren’t a lot of these around anymore, though.

    1. Holy water and crosses in vampire movies?

      The White House Easter Egg roll?

      Flag-burning/trampling at a “peace” rally?

      The religious symbols incorporated into a COEXIST bumper sticker?

      Draw Mohammed contests?

      Any New Yorker cartoon that has God or Jesus in it?

      1. Feathered plains Indian headdresses. Those have a very specific meaning and treating them like a fashion accessory is very disrespectful. (Each feather represents a deed, sometimes of valor but sometimes otherwise, so a headdress represents a lifetime of achievement, so some fashionista sporting one is like seeing a college student bragging about their lifetime of achievement that they cribbed wholesale.)

          1. Of course. She isn’t getting paid for her opinions, unlike a spokesmen for some advocacy group, or a syndicated columnist. It was some years back that I decided that it was safe to discount the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over racism, sexism, and miscellaneous and sundry cultural infelicities by the professionally offended.

            1. Also, she doesn’t have a community leadership position whose value depends on how separate and unassimilated members of the community are.

        1. er. I think you’re inadvertantly making my point here. Look, I will buy ‘ignorant’. I’ll even buy ‘stupid’ or insensitive, or the fact that the plains tribe people found it objectionable and didn’t want them to do it… BUT…

          It is NOT disrespectful. It would be disrespectful if the person was a plains Indian, or knew this and did so to belittle the plains Indians. Plains Indians may feel it is disrespectful… but… they’re wrong. They’re seeing from their perspective, from within their culture, of someone else of another culture. Respect cannot be assessed like that. European culture for example requires a man to look you in the face, while addressing you. To not do so is disrespectful, and downright shifty. However the inverse is true with many African tribes, where looking a man in the face implies equal stature. Is the Xhosa who does not look you in the eye disrespectful?

          Imitation really IS the most sincere form of flattery. An you do NOT sincerely flatter people you consider of no worth. Look at the gypsey/travellers in countries where they are vastly disliked. See anyone imitating them – because it is ‘cool’?

          It is a conundrum when you wish to keep that exclusivity. I suppose you could make them despise you. The other way might be to do exactly what I said: communicate. Use that popularity to tell folk how and by whom you think it should be used. In truth (and I know almost nothing about the Plains Indians – but if there is more than one group (which I gather you implied) THEY appropriated this bit of culture from each other, or from a common source. The difference being that they appropriated the meaning too. That is victory for your culture.

          1. I know almost nothing about the Plains Indians – but if there is more than one group

            Bunch of different tribes, and the men were politically subdivided further. Essentially they were segregated into military factions by age and valor. The Indians considered these separate as far as things like peace treaties were concerned.

            After the Spaniards brought horses to North America, a bunch of tribes used them to set up as nomads, following the buffalo. They considered all men warriors, appropriate to torture to death if captured.

            They were pacified short of extermination by taking away their children. Boys who spent a critical period of their time inside were not training as warriors, and ended up significantly less enthusiastic about fighting the Army.

          2. Note that I said “fashionistas.” As in people who are famous for fame, and who generally act like drunken twits. Nobody thinks that they’re doing it out of respect. 😉

            Side note: I worked at a summer camp that had, as its incentive program, a thing called Tribe. A couple of years ago, I had a chance to fix up the script. I actually didn’t change much, mostly getting rid of “white man” in favor of “immigrants”, because this is California and the immigrants aren’t exclusively white by any means, and also getting rid of the comment about Indians being gone from the land, which is really stupid given that there’s an Indian casino twenty miles from the camp. As for the rest of it, well, it’s a bit silly, but they do try to be respectful about this imaginary tribe, and on a few occasions, the camp has actually gotten authentic grass dancers or fire dancers to perform.

            And the last time I was up, I know there was at least one staff member with registered tribal blood. He looked pretty much like the rest of the Californian hybrids. He made a comment about how he was getting picked to do costume repair because of it and I quipped back that no, it was because he worked in Handicrafts.

      2. A blonde twit bursting into tears because she can’t figure out how to wear the sari she bought, then appearing half an hour later semi-correctly draped and sporting a bindi dot. And then wondering why the Christian student from India got miffed. (Asking said student why she didn’t wear the sari, “because they are sooo stylish” was the icing on the cake.)

          1. No. She had no clue. She came back from a spring break cruise to Jamaica with “dreads” and wondered why we weren’t gushing with admiration. Sorry, but they looked horrible. One of the older Black students, who has worn dreads since the ’70s, sat the blond down and gave her an earful. Don’t think it made much difference.

              1. About trying to be “rasta” and thinking that having her hair in dreads suddenly made her “part of the movement.” The young lady had no clue about Jamaican politics and what certain things meant for Afro-Caribbean people as compared to African-Americans. But that didn’t stop her from trying to ingratiate herself with the older Black activists on campus.

                1. ohhh. oh wow. that’s just…embarrassing. I almost (almost) feel bad for her… *gigglesnorts*

        1. At Worldcon, there was a lady running a sari-draping workshop*. She’d been born in Calcutta but raised in New York. When somebody brought up the appropriation question, she looked honestly baffled and eventually worked out an answer along the lines of “saris are beautiful and wonderful and I think people look great in them.”

          *She is apparently running them at every foreseeable Worldcon, so she encourages people to bring one to wear, and she will fix it for you.

      3. Most of that are things where even the culture from which they stem don’t take them very seriously. The Christian one’s can be discounted primarily because Western Protestantism has diluted the understanding of ‘symbol’ so far as to be meaningless. Also, I don’t care if parts of the culture or objectors to the culture deliberately trash the symbol. At least by doing so they are acknowledging that the symbol is meaningful in some way.

        My objections are more around when something that is universally treated within a culture as having a specific, significant meaning are used as a ‘fashion statement’ by those with no connection to the original meaning.

        I guess it would be as if the Chinese suddenly had a fad for getting baptized and taking communion to show off how hip and multi-cultural they are.

    1. So I’ve heard. Over the past few years it became very common for literally to be used as a synonym of for really, very, etc. It has literally come to the point that literally is used as the antonym of its traditional meaning, in some cases. One of my “favorites” was a talking head on the news who said something along the lines of “The president literally threw him under the bus.” Now, I’m not a fan of President Obama, but I’m pretty sure he only figuratively threw one of his underlings under the bus, rather than literally. Later that year, I heard that additional definition (emphases) being added to the dictionary for the word. Sad, very sad.

      1. I googled “literally”. I clicked on the Merriam Webster result/link. I read the definitions. I rechecked. Yep. They listed two “uses” for the word. One means…”literally/actually/truly”. The other? The other use means “figuratively” or “extremely”. As in “If I fail this test I will literally DIE!” …that’s right. They’ve gone full turnip. (or is that potato? some other root vegetable?) They call it the “informal” use. It’s not blasted informal, it’s the precise opposite of the actual meaning of the word! It is literally, objectively *wrong*! Can language change? sure. Can language change after the advent of audio recordings? maaaybe. But it would still take (at minimum) many decades/centuries. I…I need my weeping closet.

    2. You can find some “progressive” dictionary that’ll say anything you want, but “literally” in that sense was a Deep South thing that drove me nuts when I first encountered it in the 1960s. Oddly, I very rarely hear it now. Maybe it migrated…

  17. Ever notice that the ones who say that cultural appropriation is a bad thing tend to be the same that want nothing to do with Anglo-American or European culture?

  18. More Vile 770:

    “For someone like Freer likes to mock of the culture of the perpetually offended I’ve yet to see a post by him that isn’t written from the standpoint of being offended by something. Perpetually offended by the perpetually offended.”

    Offended? Dave is having FUN. 🙂

    1. In fairness, they may be offensively insensitive to person of monkeyness issues. They don’t enjoy throwing coconuts, and they presume that they speak for everyone. How othering.

    2. Oh Vile 770 (snort) is that where the brain-dead go to feel bright? Ever notice the complete absence of humor there? I’m not sure if its too hard for them or just that someone needs to take them seriously, and no-one else is prepared to. They have a problem telling the difference between offensive mockery and ‘whine that you’re offended’, poor things. Here’s cluebat: the former lances pustules – does things, the latter whines that it needs special perks, reparations, privileges, safe spaces and apartheid to make up for you being mean to the poor little dears. You must do these things for them.

  19. Well, since the SJW contingent insist that classic SF was nothing but a white men only club, doesn’t that make the modern SJW diversity in SF movement an exemplary model of cultural appropriation?
    After all, stories are the bedrock of culture.

  20. Seriously Dave, brevity is the soul of wit. This thing is borderline illegible; you could have made the same point in 1/4 the amount of text.

    1. Bwave Anonymous. Did you struggle to find something to be offended by in your skim? You know, in several million readers, and hundreds of thousands comments you’ve been the first I can recall whinging about this. Have you actually considered that the problem might be you? Anyway, don’t tell me. Show me. Do better, get more readers, and come back with courage of your own name and e-mail address. Until then, goodbye.

    1. We have let y’all license our alphabet (OK, it was the Phoenicians, but they’re our cousins). Centuries later, we let you license our scripture. We even let you copy Monotheism, even though we think you got it wrong. Yes, you can sing the Jews.

  21. I have no idae what you are talking about. I see no display of anything like you state in this article among the traditional publishers. I think you are just projecting.

    I mean if you were right, thast would mean that BIG FIVE sponsored web sites would push stories named like, I do not know, let say:

    Meanwhile in the future nobody cares aboyut your gender

    in which they would push ideas of transgenderism through SF

    or you would have the editor of the publishing house writhe a schathing review of a their own newly relase book by the new author, condemning it because

    it lacks gender variety ( meaning there is not more than two sexes )

    because there is n o variation of sexuality ( everyone is heterosexual )

    and notmuch diversity of races,

    and totaly not mentioning the qualty of characterisation or prose styles, mentionign that she is sucha a jaded reader that she cannot be excited about anything that does not feaure previously mentioned charactersitics lacking in this novel ?

    Like someone would post succintly – she spells out that they’re specifically that–her preference/personal taste that she can’t get excited about a novel unless there are nonwhite characters, queer characters, and a Bechdel pass

    I mean if that were the case, you would guess they would be called out, right? Right?

    1. That makes two of us! I also have no idea what on earth you’re talking about. It seems to be an incoherent and nonsensical attempt at DARVO by someone who is struggling with English. I am curious what I am ‘projecting’? Have you been told that’s latest meaningless buzzword? Are you upset because your pet jack-off of 23 sexes is made fun of? Or are you just blissfully ignorant and have no idea at all what is going on in publishing? Or all of the above?

      Can we have a better quality of stupid troll please?

      1. Mr Freer, I am going to have to start my posts with tags like /sarcasm or /badattemptsathumor

        Yes I struggle with english, as it is not my native language.

        Try this -“I have no idae what you are talking about. I see no display of anything like you state in this article among the traditional publishers. I think you are just projecting.”

        It means of course – You are absolutely right – and I see the examples everywhere.

        Than I give two glaring examples of said attitude among st the big five, or why bnot THE BIG ONE, through said bad attempt at humor, which I will translate here

        Tor is heavily leaning in influence at site called io9. This site published an article called, as i mentioned
        Meanwhile in the future nobody cares aboyut your gender

        ( which somewhat reminded me of Guardian article about SF reflecting that the future is queer, by the way )

        and it s all the pandering glory of pumping out nonsense about gender indentities through SF, guess what guest Anne Leckie promotes her novel that way.

        Tor is heavily influencing their own site Well, of course. There a columnist reviewed their next big thing of a novel in which she wrothe a schathing review of a their own newly relased book by the new author, condemning it because

        it lacks gender variety ( meaning there is not more than two sexes )

        because there is n o variation of sexuality ( everyone is heterosexual )

        and notmuch diversity of races,

        and totaly not mentioning the qualty of characterisation or prose styles, mentionign that she is sucha a jaded reader that she cannot be excited about anything that does not feaure previously mentioned charactersitics lacking in this novel ?

        which one commenter condensed into:
        she spells out that they’re specifically that–her preference/personal taste that she can’t get excited about a novel unless there are nonwhite characters, queer characters, and a Bechdel pass.

        As it is blatantly stupid, and blatantly obvious representantion of the behaviour they claim do not practice ( meaning grading the art according to the non – literary elements, such as gender/sex/race ), I asked should not someone call ’em out on it?

        Can you hear me now?

        Real trolls would do a better job at trolling. ANd as I asked Ms Hoyt about penguins seen not heard, I would ask you to explain what darvo is,

        By the way, I tried not to link to the sites that promote tor, so I tried an oblique ( I hope it means what I hope it means ) way to reference them and articles. But between all the brouhaha aboput that article about diversity pulled from Forbes, and poor Bieber mocked, I realize not many people care about SF and thankfully, not read articles pushing tor’s idea of what SF should be.

        1. DARVO = Deny, attack, reverse victim and offender – Standard operating procedure for the current crop of ‘Social Justice Warriors’ which as I really didn’t get that it was a joke – I have had serious comments like this, is what it came across as.

          1. That pretty much sums their modus operandi, yes.

            No need for apologies. You just keep on writing great articles on which I can post ridiculous comments.

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