Cornrows: Cultural appropriation?

Amandla Stenberg (born 1998) is an American actress best known for her roles in the Hunger Games movie series. Here, from an article in the Authoritarian Left Daily Huffington Postis a video in which Stenberg complains about the wearing of cornrows by non-blacks as a form of cultural appropriation.  The PuffHo piece has the title below; click on the screenshot to go to the article.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 7.47.16 AMAfter the headline, the article ends like this:

Jenner should watch this video and think twice before she wears cornrows again.

So proclaims a privileged white editor at PuffHo. Here’s the video, called “Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows”. (Note Stenberg’s own hairstyle.)

I’ve always thought that this kind of complaint is misguided, for—as in the example of cornrows—the “appropriation” is not in any sense a denigration of black culture, but a sign of admiration for a hairstyle that—let us recognize it—originated in Africa.  As they say, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

In the video, Ms. Stenberg definescultural  appropriation, which apparently applies to this hairstyle, like this:

“Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalization or stereotypes when originated, but is deemed as high fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves. Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture they are partaking in.”

Note that this differs from others’ definitions of cultural appropriation, which don’t involve “racist generalizations or stereotypes,” but “stealing” from oppressed cultures without paying tribute from them, like eating Chinese food without some kind of mental genuflection.

Now I’m not sure whether cornrows were once the subject of racist generalizations or stereotypes, though there has been controversy about banning that hairstyle from the workplace, but let us also grant that some people who weren’t black made fun of that hairstyle in the past.  I could then understand why some blacks would be miffed if that hairstyle was originally subject to racist taunts, but then was later adopted by non-blacks. (The earliest example I remember is Bo Derek in “10”.) In such cases, what do you do? I would think that the proper response would not be to tell white people to stop wearing cornrows, but to tell white people, “Look, if this hairstyle is so ugly, why are you people wearing it?” Or, “You do know that that hairstyle was once made fun of, right?”

And I can understand bad feelings if, for example, white people took over rap and hip-hop, musical forms originated by blacks, and then made tons of money while black artists made nothing. But that isn’t the case. Yes, we have Eminem and Iggy Azalea, but there are plenty of rappers and hip hop artists who are black, rich, and successful.

Further, if people incorporate cultural borrowing along with invidious stereotypes (Stenberg shows Katy Perry with a watermelon fan, though I’d need to watch that whole video to see the context), then yes, that’s offensive and inappropriate.

Finally, I do agree with Stenberg that if you’ve become successful using a trope from another culture, particularly one that’s considered oppressed, you’d do well to recognize and pay homage to your roots. When jazz began, it was almost entirely played and enjoyed by blacks, who developed the style, but became so attractive that it was adopted, played by, and enjoyed by many whites; these include Benny Goodman, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Django Reinhardt, and so on. Is that cultural appropriation? Not according to Stenberg’s definition, as jazz was rarely, to my mind, subject to much racial denigration. For a while it stayed within the black community, but quickly became widely popular in both Europe and the U.S. It was just too good! And even if a few whites in the 1920s and 30s made fun of early jazz as “black people’s music,” is it now and forever cultural appropriation for them to enjoy it these days? I don’t think so. Jazz is now accepted as a musical form that anyone can enjoy.

In fact, many of the white musicians who first played jazz were fighters for black equality. Benny Goodman, for instance, was criticized for incorporating black musicians into his bands and quintets. He ignored the criticism. It seems to me that if you take a behavior, food, or style from one community, it makes you less likely to demonize that community, and that’s what happened with jazz. Granted, white people’s love of jazz in the 1930s and 1940s didn’t immediately lead to integration: one remembers the odious spectacle of black musicians playing for all-white audiences in Harlem’s Cotton Club.

But if the popularity of jazz isn’t cultural appropriation, why is it so for rap and hip hop? Can’t we just take those bits of culture we like, appreciate their sources, and make them part of our culture? Isn’t that the real melting pot we all favor in America?

I’ve tried hard to appreciate what points Stenberg is trying to make, and can sort of understand why people like her get offended, but in the end I think that offense is a losing battle. Cultural appropriation is not racism or oppression; it seems to me it’s the opposite. But by all means comment below if you feel differently.


ADDENDUM: In Food and Wine magazine, cultural icon Lena Dunham has just endorsed the Oberlin Kerfuffle about banh mi, “disrepectfully” cooked sushi rice, and improper General Tso’s chicken being unacceptable and culturally appropriated foods served in the school cafeteria (Dunham went to Oberlin):

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 10.41.21 AM

That’s not “right on” at all; it’s ridiculous. Such are the heroes of the young folk.


  1. Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I just realised that is was a world-famous actress complaining, otherwise I would have paid more attention. My apologies.

  2. tony in san diego
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Looks like she culturally appropriated her own hairstyle from somewhere north of the Mediterranean.

    • jacoxnet
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

      To be fair, her own definition of cultural appropriation involves a “privileged” class adopting cultural features of the non-privileged. So her adoption of a “white” hairstyle (if that’s what it is) wouldn’t qualify. If anything, it’s a reflection of the application of European beauty standards to African Americans — another consequence of white supremacy, not an instance of cultural appropriation.

      With that said, I agree the whole idea of criticizing cultural appropriation is profoundly misguided. Borrowing from other cultures is a constant in history that goes back to our days as hunter-gatherers. It is profoundly human.

  3. Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    In “good news, bad news” every time I click on PuffHo my reader freezes up. Ordinarily I’d look for a fix, but …. meh.

  4. Kevin
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Deep concerns for one’s looks usually amount to vanity and insecurity. On the other hand if someone has a great body or hair or face, it is fantastic to show off those elements. Mimicking what other people do is at worst flattery, not racism. Am I missing something?

    • Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. The superficial shit these people focus on belies the…er…superficiality of their thinking.

  5. christopher
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Let us tie the cornrows to the previous post, mentioning popcorn. Now, corn (maize) was a crop originating in the “new world” developed by indigenous peoples of Mexico and central america. White people eat the hell out of popcorn, including the terrible movie popcorn, microwave popcorn, and that well-known brand that had an aged white dude as it’s very recognizable sales person. Will that font of cultural wisdom, Lena Dunham, and her regressive liberal storm troopers at Oberlin refuse to eat popcorn from now on?

    What about their precious pumpkin spice lattes? those spices don’t come from Europe, nor does the pumpkin (also Native American) that the spice originally was paired with. Of course, what about the coffee in that latte? I don’t think that’s the way they traditionally drank it in Ethiopia! I, therefor, have no choice but to accuse all the pumpkin spice latte-swilling SJWs of cultural appropriation and racism! Off With Their Heads!

    And now let’s move on, in our reign of regressive left terror, to those who eat maple syrup, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, vanilla, chocolate, avocados…

    • Filippo
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      And okra, from W. Africa.

      • Posted July 14, 2016 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

        They have my permission to send Okra back to West Africa with the quickness. I wouldn’t want them to be without their indigenous odious vegetable.

  6. Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I think this idea of cultural appropriation is completely irrational for most of the reasons JAC describes above. So when a white like Dunham gets in on it its clearly virtue signaling. She wants to show how magnanimous she is by bending over and gently lifting up and dusting off the downtrodden non-white. She cant actually believe whats shes saying, unless she thinks pizza is an insult to Italians

    This is all the fault of social media. The ability it gives every person everywhere to take every brainfart they have and send it to every other person on the planet instantly will be the end of humanity

  7. Bill
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Is this a retreat from modernity, from cosmopolitanism? What kind of a world does Ms.Stenberg want to live in?

    Does she ever eat at a chinese restaurant?

    Does she ever go out for a pizza? As an Italian-American perhaps I should be offended.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      The tomato sauce on pizza was culturally appropriated from the New World. The wheat used to make the dough was culturally appropriated from the Middle East.

  8. Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I for one love “culturally appropriating” foods. One lovely thing about a largish Canadian city is precisely the food choices … I love making stir fries with tomatoes and serving it on Italian pasta with Arab nuts and …

  9. Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Now I know what a conrow is. Thanks.

    If you really want to be fussy, you could make a case that coffee and pepper are cultural appropriations too.

  10. Bric
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I see in Vogue last December (I buy it for the Spot the Ball competition) Ms Dunham named An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey as one of her favourite cookery books. What are we to make of this?

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know what we’re supposed to make of it, but I’ll bore you with what I make of it: every person who complains of cultural appropriation is a hypocrite. There is always something – a word, an article of clothing, a food, an item of furniture, a game or sport, etc. – that comes from a group they’ve either mocked or criticized at some time in their life. If they don’t think that’s the case it’s simply because they don’t know enough about the history of everything around them.

      • Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        Right on. And I like Jaffrey’s cook books too.

      • Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

        Good point. Apparently it’s not YOU who have had to do the mocking to be guilty of CA. If your ancestors laughed at cornrows, but you think they’re cool and wear them, you’re still guilty of that sin.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 14, 2016 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

          Ah – the Biblical view of responsibility! Commit a sin and the next ten generations suffer, or if you’re a woman, you’ve inherited Eve’s punishment forever (even though it was Adam, not Eve, who was told not to eat the fruit and he was the one too weak to resist).

          • darrelle
            Posted July 14, 2016 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

            When my wife makes fun of me (ample opportunities for that) I respond with “Yeah, look who’s talking. You’re just a rib.”

            I wonder if Kenny The Ham takes that seriously too?

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted July 14, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

              Ha Ha!

              When I was a kid I believed men had one less rib than women, and I wondered why there didn’t seem to be a gap.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 14, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

                I thought the whole idea was just odd and figured I was missing something since I understood human origins as evolving and I really liked that explanation. Who says evolution is boring and the bible is beautiful – no it’s not, it’s stupid.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted July 14, 2016 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

          That’s original. The sin that is.

  11. insidephotos
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    I suppose I’m going to have to go through my record collection now and destroy any recording’s of Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca, as well as Dave Brubeck’s version of it.

    As they say in Blighty, what an utter load of tosh.

    • Sarah
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Or, unless you are Austrian, get rid of all the Mozart.

      • Bethlenfalvy
        Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

        Mozart hailed from the prince bishopric of Salzburg – not a part of the Austrian Empire during all his lifetime.

        • Sarah
          Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

          Best get rid of everything, just in case.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 22, 2016 at 3:10 am | Permalink

      “As they say in Blighty, what an utter load of tosh.”

      Errm, unless you’re a Pom (Brit, Limey, whatever) that’s cultural appropriation. To minimise offence, please restrict your comments to vocabulary from your own ethnic/cultural origins.

      Thank you.


      ( 😉 , just in case)

  12. Sue Sommers
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    My first reaction is, why is anyone giving this serious attention? My second reaction is, are these college students the ones who will be in charge in an actual crisis? How will they handle a war or a plague? Maybe with more students living at home after graduation society is just extending childhood into the twenties?

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      They’ll be dead in war because they won’t be able to defend themselves using the gunpowder appropriated from the Chinese.

      As for plague, the cooperation between multiple scientists required to find a cure could never have happened, and I’m not aware of any of them being USian either, so they’re screwed there too.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 14, 2016 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        They’ll be dead in war because they won’t be able to defend themselves using the gunpowder appropriated from the Chinese.

        I really need to brush up on my knapping (the “oldest profession”).

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

          I’d love to learn how to do that – but I thought it was the second oldest profession!

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted July 15, 2016 at 5:23 am | Permalink

            Well, reports vary. Offering sex for goods has been documented in the last decade or three amongst various apes and monkeys. But similarly reports of tool use and tool preparation also spread phylogenetically further.
            Perhaps the flint-knapppers and seamstresses could set up a joint club, a knocking shop even. Unless someone has a third contender for the oldest profession?

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted July 15, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

              I suppose you could call a flint knappers a knocking shop. Knocking flint with a hammer stone etc.

              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted July 16, 2016 at 3:25 am | Permalink

                Ah yes, that is a slightly archaic expression for a brothel (though I’ve seen it spray-painted on house doors in the last 10 years – not that the police did anything for at least another year), and I’m not sure if it’s exclusively EN_GB. Clearly not EN_NZ.

              • Heather Hastie
                Posted July 16, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

                We use the expression knocking shop here sometimes, but prostitution and brothels are legal so it’s not such a big deal.

  13. bric
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    AS has been mentioned here before, many archaic Greek statues have what certainly appear to be cornrows

  14. Sarah
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    You don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this nonsense. One of the pleasures of living at the present time is that we can share all these things that would have been impossibly exotic in the past. Copying bits and pieces of other cultures is what we have been doing since trade and warfare began, to say nothing of peaceful coexistence, which encourages curiosity and admiration. “Cultural appropriation” is an absurd concept.

  15. Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Thought experiment in cultural appropriation:

    Suppose you are a Native American—-I am assuming that for the sake of this argument, it does not matter from which nation. One day you hear your favorite song about a major historical figure from your own nation, written by a member of your own nation and widely known from that singers’s performances — but a white person is singing it and the words have been replaced with lyrics declaring how great it is to be European. What do you call that? End of thought experiment.

    Now think of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah,” which has a verse about King David. A song by a Jew about a famous Jew. On the internet, a version of that has been circulating that has had the lyrics replaced with lyrics praising Jesus. The doctrine that Christianity not only follows Judaism and is built on its foundation but is supposed to replace it, known as “supersessionism,” is, while not universal any more, widespread.

    Equivalent? Different? Discuss.

    • Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know how a Native American would feel, but I’m a cultural Jew, and I could give a rat’s patootie if Leonard Cohen’s song were retreaded to be about Jesus. Who cares, except for the professional victims and Offense Takers.

      • Posted July 18, 2016 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

        Then you see no difference between borrowing and borrowing that implicitly invalidates or declares the inferiority of source.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 22, 2016 at 3:16 am | Permalink

        I wonder if French people are deeply offended by Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812’ which not only celebrates a French defeat but appropriates and incorporates variations of the ‘Marseillaise’.


    • Ramble
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      What would I call it?
      Anything from a cheeky rip-off to outright plagerism depending on the details.
      I might even call it in bad taste or even offensive.
      If I did get offended I would feel free to state so BUT I wouldn’t presume that my being offended gave me any authority to make demands what so ever.

      • tms71
        Posted July 18, 2016 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

        Right but it wouldn’t make you wrong or ‘overly-sensitive’ if you did find it offensive. That sort of thing happens all the time. Some piece of art whose intended meaning is important to you has come to mean something else entirely to most people. You see it or hear it all the time being misinterpreted and it bothers you. But you can’t fight all of society. It has come to mean something very different to most people. Sometimes they are all quite literally misinterpreting it too. But you need to just accept it and try to preserve the correct meaning for yourself. You can’t make everyone else understand it.

  16. Stephen Zeoli
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Someone help me: I just bought a Greek Salad at a French Restaurant. French Canadians were an oppressed people at times in the past. Can I eat this salad with a clear conscience?

    • Cliff Melick
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

      Nope, you’ll have to use your mouth to eat it.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 14, 2016 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

        you’ll have to use your mouth to eat it.

        “I’ve got a gastric fistula, you insensitive clod!”

        (This is a joke on a meme popular in some parts of the Internet!)

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

      You can’t not eat it. There are children starving in $CONTINENT$ who would be glad of that food!
      Is there anyone here who didn’t hear that lecture as a youth?

  17. tubby
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    If someone didn’t admire the look of cornrows why in the world would they even have them put in? That takes forever to do. It’s a lot of time and money to spend on a joke or something you think looks bad.

  18. mikeyc
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    As an exercise it would be interesting to see if Ms Stenberg and similar useful idiots would be willing to extend their ideas about cultural appropriation in other directions. Cornrows are African American styles appropriated by the white community? Ok. what about basketball, baseball and football (both kinds) – sports invented by whites and appropriated (to great success) by African Americans. Hip-hop and Jazz musical genres appropriated by whites? Ok. What about opera and string quartets played by African Americans?


    The nonsense never stops.

    • charitablemafioso
      Posted July 15, 2016 at 6:48 am | Permalink

      In general, definitions of cultural appropriation involve a privileged class using (or stealing) something that was associated with a non-privileged class. So, in your example regarding sports, black people finding success in the NFL or NBA would not be considered CA, because historically blacks have been a non-privileged group in the US. I don’t necessarily agree, and think CA has become a feel-good term for SJWs looking for ways to feel superior to the rest of us unenlightened schmucks*, but privileged vs non-privileged and who can use what from what culture seems to be the general thrust of any argument about CA.

      *There I go, culturally appropriating a Yiddish term…

  19. Stonyground
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    It is as if we haven’t got enough real problems to solve so we have to invent new ones. I hope that non of you foreign people are appropriating my culture by travelling by train. We British invented rail travel and I will be so offended if I hear of any other country, not only using trains but running them reliably and on time.

  20. Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    the American Left has lost its f-cking mind.

    On almost all issues.

  21. Posted July 14, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    “Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalization or stereotypes when originated, but is deemed as high fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves.”

    She’s conflating different things when she talks cornrows. Sure grills, for example, are a racist stereotype. A black man with a grill is often perceived as a drug dealer, or pimp, and just a thug in general. So if a non black has a grill, and it’s perceived as “high fashion”, she might have a point. Cornrows however have never (at least in my lifetime) been perceived as a racist stereotype, racial perhaps, but not racist.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t even know grills were a thing before I read this post. When I’ve seen them I thought they were some sort of dental treatment like braces.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 14, 2016 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

        I thought grills were what you used to stop stones going through the radiator of your car. Or for roasting burgers, sausages, bananas and – what do the Antipodeans throw on the Barbie – is it a Ken or a shrimp?

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

          We throw just about anything on the barbie, but mostly steaks, chops, and sausages.

  22. Gareth
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Don’t understand the upset over Vietnamese sandwiches. They’re part of a continuum of a French tradition, and they’re not particularly fancy. Great snack if your in Paris’ 13th and love spicy pork, but you’d probably go a restaurant for a full meal.
    Not that I’m a fan of canteen food or anything, but you wouldn’t expect quality in that environment. I’d imagine the pizzas and pies there were very meh too.

    • Posted July 15, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      Some Vietnamese foods are quite deliberately “bizarro” versions of French things: banh mi, Vietnamese quiche, maybe even pho and some of the sausages from what I understand.

      I guess that counts as cultural appropriation. Or does it not count when the appropriate-ee is a colonial power? 😉

  23. Sastra
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Interesting. Stenberg at one point makes a distinction between “cultural exchange” (good?) and “cultural appropriation” (not good) by emphasizing that the latter takes place when the cultural aspect is only valued because it’s being taken on by the other culture. But as Jerry pointed out, I don’t think most of her examples apply. First comes admiration for the food, music, fashion, etc in their native form — and it continues to be seen as excellent when done by the original culture. A European cook who specializes in Chinese food or a white actress with cornrows doesn’t displace or exceed Chinese cooks and black cornrowed actresses.

    For a while ‘black’ music in the 50’s was homogenized by bland white singers … and everyone admitted that it sucked and it failed. Nobody thinks Chef Boyardee is real Italian or that one can get the continental experience at the International House of Pancakes.

    I think Stenberg does have a point when she talks about white celebrities who mimic what was once exclusive to black culture but fail to follow up on support for black issues. Of course, there are plenty of black celebrities who aren’t particularly politically active, either. But that’s a real argument.

    I’m much less impressed by the claim that cornrows are “not stylistic” because they were originally intended to keep kinky hair from flying all over the place. Yes, and clothes started out as ways to keep us warm.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

      Wait. Chef Boyardee isn’t real Italian? Another fond childhood food memory crushed.

      • charitablemafioso
        Posted July 15, 2016 at 6:56 am | Permalink

        Ettore Boiardi (Hector Boyardee) was a real Italian. The food that carries his moniker is not. I’m not even sure it qualifies as food. (But I will admit to loving the beef “ravioli” as a kid.)

        • darrelle
          Posted July 15, 2016 at 7:21 am | Permalink

          It’s sad when many years later as an adult you try something you really enjoyed as a kid and find that it is actually pretty bad.

          Growing up we had cousins we visited in PA every 2 or 3 years and one of the great things to look forward to on those visits was peanut butter Tastykakes (and V&S subs, and Goods potato chips). Loved those things and back then they couldn’t be found anywhere we ever lived, only PA. Then decades later my future wife and I were strolling through our local grocery store when suddenly, there they were! Stacks of Tastykakes in a display of new items being carried by the store. And peanut butter ones! I waxed poetic telling my future wife how awesome these divine little kakes are. But no. No matter how hard I tried to maintain my enthusiasm they didn’t match my childhood memory of them. They sucked!

          But V&S subs and Goods potato chips where every bit as good, years later, as I remembered them! Though it has been a while since.

          • charitablemafioso
            Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

            I know what you mean. I made the mistake of trying the aforementioned beef “ravioli” as an adult. It went in the trash. Blech.

            • tms71
              Posted July 18, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

              I had a similar experience with Spaghetti-Os. Although I did finish eating them.

          • Posted July 15, 2016 at 11:58 am | Permalink

            Similar situations even apply to non-pre-prepared things. I remember a friend of mine was introduced to artichokes for the first time by his wife, who hadn’t had them since sometime early in her childhood. He adored them, but she remembered after the fact that she really didn’t like them.

  24. mcirvin14
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    It feels like all this beefing about cultural appropriation misses something fundamental. An open culture is appropriative by its very nature. The only culture that’s not replete with appropriation would necessarily be one that is completely closed and absolutely insular. Culture is the superorganism formed by human beings – it changes and evolves over time – mostly by spreading niche ideas and styles throughout its body.

    How anyone thinks we could – or should – escape this is completely beyond my comprehension.

    • darrelle
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      Yeah. It seems pretty evident to me that cultural appropriation is a very good thing for generating wider “circles of inclusion.” Exactly the kind of thing that helps lead a better society, especially in a world that has become so small due to ease of travel, trade, communications and population growth.

    • Sastra
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Another form of culture which would have no ‘cultural appropriation’ I think would be one which is both multicultural AND insular. There’s a diverse series of neighborhoods or sections of towns and states. Every tribe keeps to themselves and keeps to their own way of doing things. In order to ‘experience’ The Other you basically have to play tourist — leave ‘your’ land and tiptoe respectfully around someone else’s territory as you learn how others are different. No borrowing good ideas, no intermixing or marrying so as to create confusion. Everything in its rightful place — and every culture is respected.

      I suspect that neither Stenberg nor anyone else really means they want this. But it’s a little hard to tell exactly what they do want.

  25. Posted July 14, 2016 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I have read your piece (of course), the Huff article and also watched her video. I see a sentiment that can be found everywhere in subcultures, especially when you are a teenager. You have found your thing, and you want to belong to the tribe. You dress all black from now on an avoid the light as if it turned you to ash. You grow your hair long, and wear shirts with undecipherable band names. Maybe it’s the bob haircut and parka. You recognize others like yourself, who identify themselves as members of the same tribe. All is well, and welcoming as long as the tribe is obscure enough.

    Then comes along some celebrity who becomes a goth, a rapper, a punk, a rocker for a few months. Or some previously obscure band gets famous (“sell-outs”) and suddenly all those people who previously held prejudices and even bullied “outsiders” find it cool.

    Every teen that found their “thing” understands the feelings that follow, whether they see the “appropriation” today on Instagram or generations before on Top of the Pops or MTV. I can sympathize with that.

    But it’s not exactly rational and certainly not political. It gives a glimpse of our innate tribal feelings of identity, belonging and status. The culture does not belong to anyone, despite the feelings people have. The teenager in Britain also felt that Grunge was “hers”, despite being thousands of miles away from Seattle, and felt as if something was stolen when MTV aired Nirvana. A generation before, some early fan of the Rolling Stones certainly felt the mainstream “stole it” when it made them big. No doubt, he felt the well-adjusted folks around him are not “authentic” when they adopt this as the Flavour of the Month.

    There will always be angsty teenagers, but let’s not overlook the monstrous ideology that assumes these fears and the sense of disorientation, and which offers an easy “intersectional” framework instead. Complicated relationships become easy identity categories with essentialistic features, and any argument becomes a clearly demarked affair between good-and-evil. Cognitively distorted impressions of the world, and social-media-filtered “just so” story seem profound and confirm the ideology. People who say otherwise are all racists, misogynists, and worse than Hitler.

    It is arguably already the mainstream that has replaced New Atheism within the US secular “movement”. It could be called Intersectional Atheism, Critical Race Theory Atheism or Social Justice Atheism, and it makes the atheist project no longer seem worthwhile thanks to anti-intellectual, postmodern, illiberal, regressive and anti-pluralist features.

    • Posted July 14, 2016 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      That comment makes perfect sense. It’s the same thing packaged as cultural appropriation.

    • tms71
      Posted July 18, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Great comment. Yeah, I used to enjoy atheist and humanist websites. Now I can’t tolerate them. And I’m generally sympathetic to the disadvantaged.

  26. prinzler
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    “Lost Chords” details the contributions of white jazz musicians in New Orleans and elsewhere at the beginning of jazz.

    The contribution of African-Americans to jazz is essential and enormous, but things are more complicated than generalizations (duh).

  27. Posted July 14, 2016 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Italian food of course has to be done away with, because those awful Italians culturally appropriated the tomato, which was known only from South America, and made sauces out of it.

    After that we have to keep non-Jews from eating bagels, lox, and pastrami.

    • Posted July 14, 2016 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Italian food also has to be done away with because they misappropriated pasta from the Chinese.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 14, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        And the Dutch got tulips from the Turks – the appropriated them so thoroughly that we associate tulips exclusively with the Dutch.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

      I fully expect the Icelanders to rise up against people eating their rotten fermented shark slices too. (“Hákarl“)

      • darrelle
        Posted July 15, 2016 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        Hmmm, yeah. Probably not much to worry about there. In any case, anyone who can keep that stuff down deserves only praise for their fortitude. And a wide personal space.

  28. Reggie Cormack
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Am I right in thinking that the American anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, has words written by Francis Scott Key(American)and the tune taken from John Stafford Smith(British)? May we have our culture back, please?

    • darrelle
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      Only if you take those yellow cans of Boddington’s with it.

      • Filippo
        Posted July 14, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        I look forward to the day when I hear of a U.S. middle school boy happening on a can of Spotted Dick at the supermarket and bringing it to school.

  29. Ken Phelps
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    OK, it’s all starting to make sense. On stuff like abortions, women are autonomous. Haircuts, not so much.

  30. Posted July 14, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    mainstream culture is derivative

    and no “one” owns anything

    especially when it occurred before anyone one’s birth

    culture codes are memes

    they spread, they have a way of doing that, eh?

  31. Posted July 14, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I was in an “unlearning racism” workshop

    where a woman lectured about her culture being taken over by “white people”

    she was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt

  32. Vaal
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Amazing. We can see the pernicious effect in other “honor” and “offense-based” cultures, and yet some folks want to drive us right into similar channels, looking for ever more examples of what people “should” be offended about.


  33. Malcolm
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    You only need to look at statues of Greek Youths from the 6th C BC (Kouroi) to see that cornrows have been culturally approprated from there 🙂

  34. Toni Jordon
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I get the concern over cultural appropriation. To be fair though, could us black girls be accused of “culturally appropriating” straightened hair?

    • Christopher
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      yep, guilty! and Charlie Pride and Ray Charles appropriated white country music, so they’re guilty too. And George Washington Carver appropriated peanuts from pre-columbian cutlers in South America, so he’s guilty, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. appropriated his religion from the Mid-East, and his name from the Germans…hell, even the English language we are using to talk about cultural appropriation was culturally appropriated from multiple cultures! I guess we’re all guilty of everything! Oh, the HORROR!

      • Filippo
        Posted July 14, 2016 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

        I remember listening to a 60’s live album (on an 8-track tape) by Charlie Pride. In the stage patter, he reflects on words-to-the-effect about a woman who asked him, “How come you don’t sound like you’re s’posed to sound?”

  35. Hempenstein
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    In re. origins of jazz, reminds me of the line explaining Bougey Woo-gey music to m’lord in Long John Baldry.

  36. Filippo
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    Is there anyone who, for allegedly culturally appropriative reasons, is not allowed to wear baggy pants at the lower-limb (celestial navigation term, as in the lower limb of the moon, getting “mooned,” Ar! Ar!) level of their buttocks?

    Can anyone here give me the essential difference(s) between Rap and Hip-Hop? And if it is in fact music, in principle one should be able to look at sheet music reflecting it, eh?

  37. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    For most of my life I was made fun of for being very pale. I think it is cultural appropriation for Asians to want to be pale. And in China, they are the dominant culture, so the privileged ones.

  38. Posted July 14, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    What about the following as “cultural appropriation”:
    1. People who shave their heads (like naturally bald people.)Or people who wear Mohawks. Or straight haired people who curl their hair. Or curly haired people who straighten their hair. Or…
    2. People who wear types of jewelry traditional to certain cultures. For example, if I wear my silver and turquoise jewelry. What if I wear a necklace that’s a chain with a torture device like a cross on it. (Also, pierced anythings.)
    3. White people who tan. Dark people who try to lighten their skin.
    4. Music of any kind.
    5. Food of any kind.
    6. Clothes of any kind.

  39. Posted July 14, 2016 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Pretend that this poem of mine is about
    “cultural appropriation”. (Sorry, I don’t have one for men yet.)


    Fashions come and go
    for Goddesses and women.

    Venus of Willendorf:
    was sculpted with no face,
    pendulous breasts,
    sagging stomach,
    massive thighs.

    Artemis, at Ephesus:
    had necklace-like
    numerous breasts
    hanging from her chest,
    a breast plate of tits.

    Coatlicue in Mexico:
    wore a necklace of hands,
    hearts, grinning skulls,
    and a serpent skirt.

    Women’s fashions go
    from extreme to extreme:

    Tiny, deformed feet,
    painful for walking;
    large sized feet, hard
    to find shoes that fit.

    Corsets pinching
    wasp waists, making
    it hard to breathe.
    Waists gone to flab,
    a bulging spare tire.

    Bustles imitating
    large derrieres;
    girdles with padded
    rear cheeks.

    Breasts that droop;
    bras engineered
    to cantilever breasts;
    breasts covered up, revealed,
    strapped or padded.

    Teeth: betel blackened,
    bleached white, filed to points,

    Skin: white, kept from sun;
    tanned, darkened by the sun;
    painted, scarified, tattooed.

    Hair: plastered with mud,
    dyed, plaited, extended,
    shaved off.

    Today, beautiful women
    may exercise and diet,
    have breast enhancement
    surgery, liposuction
    to remove excess fat,
    or botox to “plump“
    lips, smooth wrinkles.

    Why are we not
    beautiful as we are?

  40. Roo
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    I find it a little confusing in that, in my mind, there is likely a large overlap between “copyleft” and “information wants to be free” type thinkers and people who promote these views. Perhaps not, but if so, this seems a bit counterintuitive. Now if you’ll excuse me. I have to go starve to death because the only thing it is appropriate for me to eat our hummus and potatoes, but I actually can’t eat either because my Irish side shouldn’t appropriate from my Arab side and vice-versa. I suppose I will have to go invent a previously uneaten food, or eat only unnatural abominations like Circus Peanuts that could not possibly be claimed by any culture.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      there is likely a large overlap between “copyleft” and “information wants to be free” type thinkers and people who promote these views

      Spend some time on and you’ll be cured of that error of belief.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 22, 2016 at 3:33 am | Permalink

      ‘Copyleft’ refers specifically to the use of copyright laws to ensure that a free-to-use-and-modify work (such as, originally, a computer program) remains free in all iterations. Or as Wikipedia has it, “Copyleft type licenses are a novel use of existing copyright law to ensure a work remains freely available.”

      I’m not sure if the term as you used it means quite the same thing?

      In the sense that ‘copyleft’ is intended to *encourage* widespread copying, re-use and modification of a work, it would seem to be the antithesis of the ‘cultural appropriation’ camp.


  41. Posted July 14, 2016 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    White USian of European extraction here. I make beadwork, and I’ve been accused of cultural appropriation merely for the act of taking needle and thread and involving beads… because other cultures besides European ones also have beading traditions. (And no, I don’t copy traditional work from any source… though I will buy beadwork made by and offered for sale by Native Americans which appeals to me.)

    So I don’t have a lot of patience about this issue.

    • charitablemafioso
      Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      That’s just ridiculous. Similar cultural memes can develop independently in different cultures. For example, simply because the British have a concept of dragons, and the Chinese have a concept of dragons does not mean the British stole dragons from the Chinese. The idea of dragons developed independently in a number of cultures;

  42. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

    but a sign of admiration for a hairstyle that—let us recognize it—originated in Africa.

    While I’ve definitely seen people wearing corn rows in Africa (Benin and Tanzania certainly ; I think Gabon too), I’d always been under the impression that tthe style originated in America.
    But I”m no trichohistorian.

  43. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    I suppose the worst of the cultural appropriators when it comes to hairstyle are the Trustafarians — the trust-fund kids wearing dreads you see hanging out in beach towns and ski villages and sundry Bohemian ghettos.

    Re: white jazzmen — In the 1920s, before there was a Benny Goodman, much less a Stan Getz or a Chet Baker, there was the great cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, a true jazz pioneer. Segregation laws kept him from ever recording with Louis Armstrong, but they still tell tales about the night in Chicago in 1928 when Pops came to see Bix play, then invited him back to his club for what’s been billed as the greatest all-night jam session ever. Bix died in 1931, dissipated on bathtub gin, just 28 years old.

  44. Vaal
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    I finally watched that video, and it’s even more uncomplaining than I thought it could be.

    First: Are corn rows really at the center of some racist baiting or something? I’ve grown up in a very multicultural community, lots of black people (and Jamaicans) and I don’t remember once ever hearing a white person, for some strange reason, point out scoffingly a black person was wearing corn rows.

    And the very LAST person who WOULD do that, I’d think, is the person who thinks it looks cool enough to copy! They are the ones paying most respect!

    Further, what I have seen in terms of scoffing is LOTS of scoffing of white guys wearing big dreadlocks. So I don’t see this “white people are lauded when they wear black hairstyles, but it’s not ok when blacks wear them.”

    At least from what I have observed, that video is getting the situation almost entirely the wrong way around.

    • Vaal
      Posted July 14, 2016 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

      “even more uncompelling..”

      damned, dumb spellcheckers!

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 22, 2016 at 3:36 am | Permalink

        Your spellchecker certainly sabotaged you there.



  45. Sarah
    Posted July 15, 2016 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    Besides the silliness of the concept, there is a serious implication. How do we move beyond this super-awareness of differences and stereotypes? (Frankly, I don’t think I know what all the stereotypes are anyway.) This whole line of thinking about “cultural appropriation” presupposes that all these little enclaves are inviolable and should remain so. Downtrodden minorities will always be downtrodden and in need of protection. It looks like a self-fulfilling loop. What would a post-racist, post-bigoted society look like? Stereotypes would be meaningless or a joke. Hairstyles would be eclectic and ad lib (as they seem to be anyway).

  46. Posted July 15, 2016 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    Cultural borrowing is as old as human culture.

    Do we complain when practically every culture in the world adopts American customs?

    Did Mohawks complain when young men not Mohawks wore the Mohawk hair style.

    Did the US Army complain when young men wore the the brush cut and later the skinhead hairstyles?

    As racism decline white Americans will adopt more customs of minority groups.

  47. Posted July 15, 2016 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Much a-do about nothing ….

    • W.Benson
      Posted July 15, 2016 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Or, it made me briefly consider smiling.

  48. Posted July 15, 2016 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    I have grown very tired of people trying to tell me how to dress or groom myself or what music I can listen to. Was it cultural appropriation in 1950 when The Weavers recorded Huddy Ledbetter’s songs or Pete Seeger sang them for his entire career well into his 90s? This term is an affront to rationality. If I wasn’t devoted to rationality, I would even call the term a microaggression.

  49. Posted July 15, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I’ve remembered that my friend Raven used to tell of a perhaps more genuine case, that of *earned* cultural symbols. She spoke of the plains natives, which wear the famous feather headdresses. She pointed out that one *earns* each feather for accomplishments. So to put a headdress on a child is silly and offensive, not because the child is not necessarily a member of the group, but *because the group hasn’t honoured him with the feather*. Sort of like how (originally) one earned the right to wear an academic gown or a mortar board.

    Would she stop it happening? No, but she might make fun of the silly parents who gave the gift or whatever.

  50. kategladstone
    Posted July 25, 2016 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    If cultural appropriation is wrong, we shouldn’t be using the alphabet (invented by Phoenicisns) or paper (invented by Egyptians) or the base-ten numerals and the zero they depend on (invented by Hindus) or, for that matter, writing (a notion invented independently by Sumerians, Chinese, Mayans, Egyptians, and lots of other folks that weren’t us).

    Oh, and throw away all pianos and violas and cellos (unless you are Italian) and all hamburgers and wieners (unless you are Garman) and all champagne (unless you are French) and all scotch (unless you are, of course, Scottish).

    Never learn to ski (unless you are Norwegian) or visit a sauna (unless you are Finnish).

    Don’t even think of eating chocolate (unless you are Aztec) or potatoes (unless you are Incan) or turkey or corn or squash (unless you are at least _some_ sort of Nwtive American)

    Don’t eat peanuts (unless you are African — and, even then, you had better belong to whichever African culture enjoyed them first).

    Don’t be named John or !ary (unless you are a first-century Christian with Hebrew roots), and don’t name your son Philip (unless you are Greek) or name your daughter Jennifer (unless you are Cornish).

    Don’t buy anything from Sony or Nintendo (unless you are Japanese).

    Don’t use a rain gauge on your farm or garden (unless you are an upper-class medieval Korean Buddhist, because it was invented by a medieval Korean Buddhist monarch, King Sejong).

    And don’t use the words “chair” or “table” or “face” or “kitten” or “fruit” or “easy” or “gentle” or “pork” or “beef” (unless you are a medieval Norman).

    Have a nice monocultural day.

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