Hoops of Change

I have been given the liberty to change my column to write about CHANGE. I believe that I am the only officially recognized agent of change in Pennsylvania. I have the necessary skill set to write about change. Elements of change are everywhere around us, as we interact with media, institutions and individuals. I hope to be able to comment intelligently about changes that happen to and around us. Some of what I write is going to make people uncomfortable, but that is what change is all about.

I have been writing about immigration and wage slavery of what seems to be an emerging underclass of undocumented individuals. To a great extent, people just want to fit in and go to work and get paid. America is a great melting pot. Elements of culture that are particularly identified with a single nationality group or racial group that are deemed to be exciting or interesting, will weave into American popular culture.

Last week there was a story in the news where, at a basketball game at Hampshire College, the visiting team from Maine was physically attacked because of their hairstyle. Charges of cultural appropriation lead to criminal assault charges against a young Latina woman. She felt so strongly that the team wearing hair in braids were stealing her culture, she physically attacked a member of the team.

This comes on the heels of an incident at Pitzer College where white women were accused of cultural appropriation because they wore hoop earrings. There was a campus wide effort to stop the white girls in hoops. Many know that I have an interracial marriage and I realized that I bought my wife hoops… she doesn’t wear them. Over the weekend, I was wondering if the reason she did not want to wear them was that she thought I reinforcing a stereotype, or was she culturally appropriating my whiteness. I never thought of her as black, but more just as my wife.     

I started to wonder about what is white culture, and could people of color appropriate white culture. I imagined myself walking up to people and telling them they are acting too white. Attacking a black person in an argyle sweater because the penny loafers took him over the top in cultural appropriation.

America is a melting pot and we should be looking to embrace cultural differences and use them as our own if we like them. It is a freedom of expression and a creative justice for our own style or swagger. It is about being an American. 

Australian singer Iggy Azalea recently was condemned as sounding too black in her presentation. At the same time, we enjoy Van Morrison and Mick Jagger’s imitations of black blues music. Rumors that someone complained about cultural appropriation at Altamont provoking the Hells Angels that day are… false.

Cultural appropriation will always seek to culturally divide us. Sets the black from the white. You’re black you act black. You’re white you act white. This could go to nationalities too, act as you would in whatever country that represents your ethnic interests. I do not think that people are trying to act black, white or Latino if they are something other than that group. 

I instead think it is more like a Cultural Kavorka! “The lure of the animal” which was provoked by Cosmo Kramer once in a TV show.  The wanting to imitate something you saw is not a crime. It is an kavorka-like inner desire to embrace that culture. It provokes white women to wear hoops which it seems like they have done for generations.  Although I tend to remember Angela Davis wore some nice hoops.

I am not sure what to make of cultural appropriation because, after all, we are all Americans… except for Iggy. I am trying to figure out is it even possible to call someone out for being too white? Is that a double standard?  Being a white male, if I need to act white I am not even sure what that means. 

Then there is the case of Rachel Dolezal. She passed for black and was the head of a local NAACP until they found out she was culturally appropriating her race. She says she feels that way, she feels black. How is that any different than a male being trapped in a female body? We think it is good for that person to be able to live it as they feel it, but she can’t? It is no different.

As an agent of change, I always look for consistency of argument and here in the case of cultural appropriation it just does not ring true. People of color should not be expected to act as a stereotype, and white people should not have to act white. Although I am still having a hard time thinking about what is acting white. 

My grandfather was an illegal from Italy, and although he and my grandmother spoke Italian all the time, none of their kids spoke Italian. They were American, damn it! But every Sunday we ate spaghetti, while my dad waited for the roast to come out. He was Irish and he was probably unconcerned about usurping the Italian culture, but more in reinforcing his Irish-ness. Maybe it never occurred to any of us as we were living life as it was dealt to us.

In a world where globalism seeks to win out over nationalism, in many cases cultural appropriation ideology is embraced by globalists. This seems like a contradiction in terms, that you can be a globalist and worry about cultural appropriation. It may be true that a racist view (stealing my race/stealing my nationality) is now politically correct. Is that correctness based upon broad interpretations in word usage and racial folkways or in the case of cultural appropriation, the prevailing wind from Vichy?

It is not contradictory if you are a nationalist in a very general sense, if you think of it as nationality rather than national state. I would think that the Greeks are happy we culturally appropriated the Olympics. That is an example of an ancient cultural event that was so powerful that the world accepted it as its own.

I believe what I am watching is blurring the lines of what has traditionally leftist or right wing thought. Cultural appropriation takes a separatist view by limiting verbiage and cultural expression in a manner associated with similar actions by right wing Arian separatists. Considering that America is a melting pot, should there be any tolerance for these kinds of actions?  By supporting a separatist view, are we really helping anyone or are we acting to limit our own social expression?  If something is an art form, we need to accept it as art, if it is fashion, we need to accept it as fashion.  Hoops and all.