Three Cheers for Bari Weiss on cultural appropriation

Staff editor Bari Weiss is the columnist we needed at the New York Times, as she’s a progressive liberal who has no time for the Control-Left (see my three posts about her here). She must have snuck into the regressive Times under their radar! Yesterday she wrote the piece below (free access; click on screenshot), which is pretty much the way I feel about accusations of “cultural appropriation”.

Such accusations are often used so that ethnic groups can absolutely control discourse about their culture as well as determine who can rightfully borrow elements of their culture, including food, clothing, hairstyles, music, and so on. In general I think borrowing from other cultures, ethnic groups, and so on is a good thing, for it’s a form of flattery that says, “Hey, I like this and want to use/eat/do it myself”. Only under two circumstances do I find it inappropriate: when it’s used to make fun of or demean a group (I’d see a “Muslim terrorist Halloween costume” in this way, though I wouldn’t say it should be banned); and when the cultural appropriation actually reduces the well being of the people who are appropriated, as when a musician borrows a group’s style of music, hires some of the group as backup singers, and reaps all the profits while the singers get very little. This is exactly what Paul Simon avoided when he started writing and singing South African music, using the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo on his “Graceland” album, but making sure they got plenty of credit and money. Had he not done that, it would have been an inappropriate form of cultural appropriation. Simon went on to produce their first solo album in the U.S., which won a Grammy. He’s done the right thing.

The way cultural appropriation is supposed to work, according to the Control-Left, is that you’re only allowed to “borrow down”, that is, you can borrow elements from a “dominant culture” (again, here we have to decide upon a hierarchy of oppression), while borrowing “up,” say white Americans wearing dreadlocks or making the wrong kind of banh mi sandwiches, is wrong and requires all sorts of ancillary admissions, apologies, and reparations to absolve yourself. “Borrowing up”, of course, carries the two dangers highlighted above, but usually I can’t get excited about anybody wearing dreadlocks or Americanizing foreign cuisine, which hurts nobody. Most of the time, I think, the “damage” done by cultural appropriation is imaginary. Or rather, it offends people’s feelings, but that’s all.  And often it shouldn’t, as when white artist Dana Schutz painted a sincere homage to the murdered black teenager Emmett Till, a painting that many black artists said should be removed from her show or even destroyed. My response to that is not charitable; it’s “just live with it.” We needn’t take every complaint seriously, but of course the Left does that because we’re sensitive to the feelings of the underdog.

In the article below, Weiss echoes my sentiments, showing how ridiculous things have gotten when the MTV Video Music Awards yields three separate instances of “offensive” cultural appropriation. (Her words are indented.)

I haven’t watched MTV’s annual Video Music Awards since Bill Clinton was president. I was wearing a plastic choker and Alanis Morissette won for “Ironic.” But I wish I had tuned in this Sunday night. The award show was a veritable orgy — not of sex, but of cultural appropriation.

First up was Kendrick Lamar, whose backup dancers wore ninja outfits as they scaled a wall of fire. While the popular rapper went home with an armload of trophies, he was criticized for borrowing Asian dress. Later, Katy Perry, who just recently finished an apology tour for her previous sins of cornrows and kimonos, “snatched” off her long blond wig — a bit that was torn apart for caricaturing African-American women. Luckily for Ms. Perry, the floodlights lingered longer on her nemesis, Taylor Swift, who unveiled a new video that was immediately blasted for appropriating Beyonce’s “Lemonade.” Speaking of Queen B, I’m just waiting for the charge that she’s exploited Persian culture by naming her new daughter Rumi after the 13th-century Sufi poet.

And that’s just the rap sheet from a single night in pop music. Charges of cultural appropriation are being hurled at every corner of American life: the art museumthe restaurantthe movie theaterthe fashion showthe novel and, especially, the college campus. If there’s a safe space left, I’m not aware of it.

. . . The logic of those casting the stones goes something like this: Stealing is bad. It’s especially terrible when those doing the stealing are “rich” — as in, they come from a dominant racial, religious, cultural or ethnic group — and those they are stealing from are “poor.”

Few of us doubt that stealing is wrong, especially from the poor. But the accusation of “cultural appropriation” is overwhelmingly being used as an objection to syncretism — the mixing of different thoughts, religions, cultures and ethnicities that often ends up creating entirely new ones. In other words: the most natural process in a melting-pot country like ours.

. . . It’s no longer just the online hordes that will string you up for your unintentional sins, though the cost of that public shaming can be devastating. In Portland, Ore., activists recently created a list of “white-owned appropriative restaurants” for residents to boycott on the grounds that white people probably shouldn’t make banh mi or dosas. This summer, the University of Michigan posted a job for a “bias response team” employee to “enact cultural appropriation prevention initiatives.” I wonder if they’ll go after people for using algebra (thanks, Muslims).

. . . These days our mongrel culture is at risk of being erased by an increasingly strident left, which is careering us toward a wan existence in which we are all forced to remain in the ethnic and racial lanes assigned to us by accident of our birth. Hoop earrings are verboten, as are certain kinds of button-down shirtsYoga is dangerous. So are burritos and eyeliner.

(Do check out some of her links to see how ludicrous things have gotten.)

Weiss gives some examples of the kind of cultural appropriation that’s not only harmless but valuable: the singing of classical music by the great black soprano Jessye Norman, the writing of “White Christmas” by the Jew Irving Berlin (I’d add the heartbreaking “Old Man River,” a lament by a black slave stevedore, written by two white Jews), and the widespread aping of American culture by other countries. Cultural appropriation borrows both up and down, as what people like is no respecter of Hierarchies of Oppression. Further, decrying it isn’t going to work, for borrowing has been characteristic of human culture ever since different groups met without killing each other. (Even then they borrowed each other’s weapons!)  And the downside—the largely nonexistent dangers of stealing someone’s livelihood or making fun of them—is way overbalanced by the beneficial effects; as Weiss notes (even giving a caveat):

The point is that everything great and iconic about this country comes when seemingly disparate parts are blended in revelatory ways. That merging simply doesn’t happen in places where people are separated by race and ethnicity and class. And it’s not only what makes American culture so rich, but it is also a big part of the reason America is so successful. When we see a good idea, we steal it; when we have a good idea, the rest of the world is welcome to it as well.

. . . None of this means that all cultural appropriation should be cheered: Sometimes it’s just in plain old bad taste. (See under: ear gauges.) But so long as the impulse is one of homage and not derision, we should encourage borrowing. Culture should be shared, not hoarded.

What refreshing words to hear in the NYT! Think about your own culture; would you be bothered if people borrowed from it? As a secular Jew, I’m pleased that non-Jews like bagels with lox and a schmear, or bialys, or use Yiddish jargon like “mensch” and “chutzpah.” That’s surely borrowing up, but I don’t give a damn. The more the merrier. Do people need to bring up the Holocaust when they say “chutzpah”? Hell, no! I don’t need any apologies or verbal reparations.

But of course we have our naysayers, one being Eric McAdams from Paste, who’s already attacked Weiss’s article in an essay called “NYT opinion writer supports cultural appropriation, doesn’t know what cultural appropriation is.” He calls Weiss’s article “the act of a troll”, with an argument “dumb as dog shit.” Never mind that the referenced examples Weiss gives really have been called out for cultural appropriation. More important, I looked in vain for McAdams’s own definition of what cultural appropriation really is, and at the end it seems that his arguments come down to “borrowing up”, which is not okay. That borrowing up, says McAdams, must be accompanied by “consequences” that the borrower must face—presumably some sort of abject apology or additional homage to the appropriated culture.


You’ll notice that Weiss makes sure to consistently highlight people of color “appropriating” other cultures—people of color that she thinks should get more backlash because she doesn’t understand cultural appropriation. She never comes out and says this, but this focus is because she clearly thinks that white people get undue backlash for their appropriation, and that white people should be allowed to borrow from culture as much as she thinks minorities do. She ignores the struggles people of color have to go through to put out this art and this culture, as though people of all cultures have a perfectly level playing field when that’s obviously not true.

Don’t read this article. It’s just yet another writer whining because they can’t steal whatever idea they want and face zero consequences, another writer who thinks white people deserve accolades when they take an idea from a marginalized culture and abuse it like it’s an accessory they own, another writer who thinks these marginalized cultures should just shut up and be happy that white people are paying them any attention at all.

I’m not sure how “level playing fields” are any more relevant here than they are in arguments for abridging freedom of speech (see yesterday’s post on ACLU director David Cole). This is the same argument for why only white people can be racists, for, in the new definition, “racism = power + privilege.” Anyone who isn’t white therefore can discriminate on the basis of ethnicity or race, and it’s not racism. In the same way, it’s okay to borrow down but not up. When you borrow down you don’t have to apologize.

h/t: Merilee


  1. Merilee
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 9:22 am | Permalink


  2. Posted August 31, 2017 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    ‘Cultural appropriation’ is an attempt by the Left to build ravines, not bridges.

  3. darrelle
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:00 am | Permalink


    You’ll notice that Weiss makes sure to consistently highlight people of color “appropriating” other cultures—people of color that she thinks should get more backlash because she doesn’t understand cultural appropriation.

    McAdams is lying about this. All of the examples that Weiss used were of people, some of color some white, being publicly accused of CA by McAdams own co-ideologues. There is virtually nothing in his article that isn’t either inaccurate or a lie. It is simply McAdams having a temper tantrum. He should be ashamed of himself but I know that that isn’t likely. He seems to be one of those people that gets off on indignation. It’s an addiction.

  4. sang1ee
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Few things surprise me these days but when I heard earlier in the year that this “cultural appropriation” was actually a thing, a thing to be discussed and offended about, I was genuinely surprised.

  5. yazikus
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    She must have snuck into the regressive Times

    This sounds a hair too close to ‘fake news’ for my taste, the Times is hardly Mother Jones or some other far-left outlet.

    The rule on cultural appropriation should be this: Don’t be an asshole. Are you dressing up in a warbonnet for Halloween? Probably don’t. Are you a white lady wearing a sari and a bindi to sell overpriced imports? Probably don’t. Are you a restaurateur who writes that you got your tortilla recipe by sneaking peeks in the window of other restaurants in Mexico to watch the little ladies who have been doing it forever? Don’t write that shit.
    I say all of that as a person who identifies as a ‘third culture kid’ (though a kid no longer). I don’t have any kind of cultural ownership of the traditions from the places I was raised, regardless of the fact that I spent significant portions of my youth there.

  6. Historian
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I find it quite amusing that McAdams tells people not to read the Weiss article while simultaneously providing a link to it. I’m sure that at least 10 people will take his advice. I get very ticked off when people try to shame me into reading or not reading a particular piece.

  7. Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    This is the same argument for why only white people can be racists, for, in the new definition, “racism = power + privilege.” Anyone who isn’t white therefore can discriminate on the basis of ethnicity or race, and it’s not racism.

    This is entirely explicit amongst many in the .

    At my wife’s school, one parent walked through the school shouting at the top of her lungs, “I hate all white people!” and many defended this as not racist since she was “punching up”. What a load of sh!t.

    • yazikus
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

      A parent did what? That is just absurd. I hope she was escorted out. I don’t know if I would call it ‘racist’, but it is certainly stupid.

      • Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        She was being gently escorted out of the building (with the background knowledge that the police would be called next if she didn’t leave).

        It was her daughter’s first day of school. When she brought her daughter in to meet her new teacher, the teacher shook the child’s hand (the child was young, grade 1, 2, or 3) and said, “Welcome to school, honey, great to have to you in class!”

        The parent responded (in snarling tone): “Don’t you touch my child! And her name isn’t honey!” and then proceeded to verbally berate the teacher and did not stop. The child tried to stop the parent from doing this and eventually said to her parent: Let’s just go!

        Mom wasn’t having it; and the administrators had to be called and had to threaten calling the police.

        This long outburst was clearly audible far and wide in the school.

        But she’s not racist. Right.

        • yazikus
          Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:32 am | Permalink

          She was clearly a thoughtless, belligerent asshole, at least. Poor kid.

        • Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:23 am | Permalink

          She sounds mentally ill.

        • Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          Life must be hard, having to carry a chip that size around on her shoulder all day.

    • Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      Several html fails.

      … many in the ctrl-left

      And this was to be underlined: “anyone who isn’t white therefore can discriminate on the basis of ethnicity or race, and it’s not racism.”

  8. eric
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Science is the process of knowledge appropriation. I guess these folks would like to change Newton’s phrase (itself appropriated from earlier paraphrasings) to “Nobody should be allowed to see further because standing on the shoulders of giants is unfair.”

    • Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      The idea of science is not just knowledge appropriation, but *epistemic communism*, as Bunge puts it.

    • Bruce Gorton
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      They’re generally not fans of science, it has a nasty habit of undermining their bullshit.

  9. Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Remember if you don’t eat ‘that filthy foreign muck’, you are a racist.

    But if you cook it yourself, you are a racist.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Says a lot that McAdams tells his readers not to read Weiss’s article. Judge it, he’s saying, by my characterization alone, rather than read what she’s actually written. Doesn’t say much for McAdams’s respect for the free flow of ideas or honest discourse.

    • Sastra
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Maybe it was a trigger warning.

  11. Sastra
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    I wonder if some racist groups, like neonazis and kkk, would agree that cultural appropriation from ‘lower groups ‘ is wrong? Some of the “us vs. Them” rhetoric sounds like a deep concern with purity.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      They wouldn’t have been able to use those tiki torches.

      • BJ
        Posted August 31, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

        Well, they were Wal-Mart tiki torches, and there’s nothing whiter than that 🙂

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted August 31, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink


    • Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      It’s all about racial purity. ‘Cultural appropriation’ is just the modern term for ‘mongrelisation of the races’.

  12. Ken Phelps
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    So if someone had a restaurant in Portland that served eclectic cuisine, I can see a potential ad campaign based on the “you won’t be surrounded by those snowflake a**holes everyone hates” theme.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Glad to hear you’re cool with us goys tossing off some Yiddish and knocking back the kosher noms, Jerry. Given the penance done by Irving Berlin with “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade,” it’s probably time we forgave you guys for the thing with Jesus, too. 🙂

    • Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      I’m from an Irish Catholic (recovered) family. My dad once told me that for his epitaph he wanted; “If I had my life to live over again, I’d live over a Jewish delicatessen”.

      We didn’t put that on his grave, though. So we avoided the appropriation.

      • BJ
        Posted August 31, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

        It sounds like I would’ve liked your dad! I’ll share a Reuben with anyone.

        Well, I won’t share it. We can get two.

    • revelator60
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      As the old Jewish joke says, “Why are they so mad at us for killing Christ? He got better.”

      • busterggi
        Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

        (drum roll)

      • Posted August 31, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

        Oh, that’s GOOD!

  14. Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    The definitions for the terms ‘borrowing up’ and ‘borrowing down’ feel reversed to me. To me, ‘borrowing down’ should mean a dominant culture taking from a non-dominant culture, for example.

    Very clear descriptions of where cultural appropriation is clearly wrong. I appreciated that especially.

    • Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      I felt the same way. The terms are obviously meant to be analogous to “punching up” and “punching down,” but with borrowing it feels backwards. It’s all very confusing.

    • Diane G.
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 3:22 am | Permalink

      I also felt the same way.

  15. Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    An example of genuine (and bad) cultural appropriation — or maybe *mis*appropriation — is what the US scammer Marlo Morgan perpetrated on the Australian Aborigines in the 1990s, in her bestseller “Mutant Message Down Under”.

    She claimed to have met a hitherto unknown tribe of Aborigines in the desert, who had psychically chosen her to be the guardian of their culture and spokesman to the world. These were the last “true” Aborigines, and had realized that their “mission on earth” was now complete, and they had elected to die out through celibacy.

    This was not just cultural theft in the most literal form possible, but also cultural assassination. She claimed urbanized Aborigines were not proper Aborigines anymore as they had lost their psychic powers.

    Of course, Oprah had Morgan on her show and she is still giving public lectures on “aboriginal culture”. Her stupid book has been translated into 26 languages, and people all over the world think there are no more real Aborigines left in Australia. (I still hear that quite often here in Germany.)

    Aborigines are quite pissed off with her.

    I think it’s where the identity is stolen or misrepresented, or an imitation is passed off as the real thing, that it’s bad.

    • Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Claiming a group is extinct when they aren’t seems to be something we can all agree on is jerkish, at best. I hope.

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    One nice thing about cultural appropriation is producing a unique blend of styles.

    Occasionally, cultural appropriation produces bad art, but that’s different issue from the morality of it.
    (Stravinsky’s “Ebony Concerto” is fairly bad, due to his having written it when he had only seen jazz sheet music, but never actually heard jazz performed. But it is not unethical appropriation.)

    Does McAdams really think white artists don’t struggle with their art, or are treating other cultures like an accessory?

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    As long as you’re mentioning “Old Man River,” let’s give a shout-out to “Strange Fruit,” too, the Billie Holiday anti-lynching anthem written by Abel Meeropol, the Jew who adopted the Rosenberg orphans.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s even a better example, and the perfect riposte to the PC crown on the Emmett Till bust-up.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted August 31, 2017 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

        crowd not crown

  18. DrBrydon
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    As Oscar Wilde said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink


      This is an excellent article, and hopefully its place in the NYT will mean it’s widely read.

      Borrowing from other people is how we learn and grow. It’s a big part of how and why we’ve progressed as a species.

      Those opposed to so-called cultural appropriation are proponents of segregation.

      The only time cultural appropriation should be a problem is when you’re being an a$$ho£€ in some way, or there’s a direct correlation with plagiarism.

      • darrelle
        Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        “The only time cultural appropriation should be a problem is when you’re being an a$$ho£€ in some way, or there’s a direct correlation with plagiarism.”

        Exactly my take on it. Since I first started hearing about CA issues my first thought was why do we need a special term for this? In cases where CA is actually a bad thing it is bad for more fundamental reasons. Like someone being an asshole. Or a fraud. Or clueless. We already have perfectly good terms for such things that don’t confuse the actual issue with whether or not a white French trained chef from New England can serve duck confit burritos en mole at his restaurant.

  19. Dean Reimer
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    I scanned the comments at the NYT piece and was pleased to see near-universal support for Weiss’ piece. It’s worth remembering that the regressive left is a noisy, but still small, group of people.

  20. busterggi
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Don’t mind me, I thought it was Barry Weiss from Storage Wars.

  21. Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I also say that it is a “soft requirement” to learn where one gets things and appreciate where they came from. This is what Raven does with the soft ridicule about feathers. (Feathers to many Native Americans are for accomplishments, so to give a headdress to a 6 year old is like giving him a wall of diplomas and trophies.)

    Alas, some things are lost as to origin – apparently. Chomsky was asked once as someone interested in Judaica and in languages what the origin of “bagel” was. He didn’t know. A shame, because I’ve wondered about it too, as I’ve been “culturally appropriating them for almost as long as I can remember: some of *better* memories of Sundays when I was very small was stopping in what we then called “the bagel shop” for such …

    • Adam M.
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      A very soft requirement in most cases, I think. If you’re making a living off of it, then I’d agree that you should learn about your antecedents and contemporaries, but mostly for your own sake. If you’re just enjoying something, though, then I don’t agree. No reason to have to learn about bagels before you can enjoy a bagel! Even wearing a headdress, I think you can be mocked for your ignorance, but there’s nothing wrong with it, if you’re wearing one for your own enjoyment. Perhaps that’s what you mean by a “soft” requirement, but I’d only apply it to things that are revered in the original culture. Not like cornrows.

    • Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Raven’s education is good, but there’s no need to do it in a discouraging manner.

      Who amongst us would even think to be upset by a kid dressed up for Halloween as a five-star general with a coat dripping with medals? Or even brothers, one as an American general and the other a North Korean general?

      And, in such a situation, yes, you could play a great game with the kids asking them what they earned the various medals for.

      If Raven plays a similar game with kids wearing feathers, that’s perfect. Bonus points if the game gets played side-by-side with another kid wearing a military uniform that includes medals, especially if the kid with feathers “outranks” the kid with medals.



      • Posted September 1, 2017 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        (Woops, philosopher-animal is the other name I use sometimes.)

        The “mock gently to provoke understanding or change in behaviour” is an Inuit thing, as it happens.

        I personally have no problem with your proposals, and I suspect what she’d do is let the parents know what was up to.

  22. Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    We have no right to criticise North Korea for firing nukes over Japan while Westerners are dancing in ninja costumes or eating sushi with a fork.

    That’s literally worse than what we did to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  23. Adam M.
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    And of course “stealing” and “appropriation” are not the right words to use since nothing is stolen or appropriated. Nothing is taken away from anyone when you copy. There’s just more of it.

    • yazikus
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Nothing is taken away from anyone when you copy. There’s just more of it

      And that is why there is no such thing as plagiarism.

      • Adam M.
        Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

        There is, but plagiarism isn’t stealing. It’s copying.

        I know sometimes people use the word in an exaggerated manner as in “you stole my idea!”, but it’s just hyperbole and when making a philosophical argument about cultural “appropriation” (or copyright or plagiarism) we should be careful not to accept an inaccurate framing. “Stealing” leads to analogies about property and theft (e.g. intellectual “property”) that only serve to confuse the issue and misrepresent the actual actions (or laws, etc).

        • Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

          Plagiarism is stealing – it is taking someone else’s ideas or words and claiming them as your own. That is theft. It is, of course, also copying.

          If one copies but fails to attribute it may not be theft per se (an editing oversight, a dropped reference number, simple confusion about where an idea or phrase originated) but usually one would need pretty convincing evidence that the copy wasn’t a deliberate attempt at theft.

          • Adam M.
            Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

            Not really. Nobody has been deprived of their ideas or words, so they haven’t been stolen. Theft requires deprivation, certainly in the law and I think also colloquially.

            Even credit hasn’t been stolen, since the plagiarist can’t take away credit the original author already has with his audience, since the author and his followers can easily detect and (usually) prove the plagiarism. The hope of a plagiarist is that the original author and his audience will never see the plagiarism, so he can gain a little undeserved credit for himself. He usually has no tools with which to deprive the author of anything.

            I suppose there are some special cases, however, like somebody who secretly gets a copy of an unpublished original idea and rushes to rephrase it in his own words and get the credit first. That sounds like a real theft.

      • Maroon1990
        Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        Yazikus, not sure that’s apt. Plagiarists do their dirty work in secret, hoping to get credit for someone else’s work, hoping not to be caught. It’s not like white women starting a Mexican food business using Mexican recipes/techniques are hoping to fool anyone into thinking they invented Mexican food.

        Please note that in this comment I’m not expressing any opinion whatsoever on this cultural appropriation dispute, I’m just saying I don’t think your analogy succeeds.

        • yazikus
          Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          Indeed. My comment was more a response to the notion that copying is always benign.

      • Taz
        Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        A lot of these cultural appropriation charges are the equivalent of saying that reading a book is plagiarism.

        • yazikus
          Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

          I think the issue is more, ‘reading one book and declaring oneself as the ultimate expert, truest interpreter and arbiter off all things on said topic’.

          • Taz
            Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

            Well reading books is a good way to become an expert on a topic, but I don’t think most of the people being charged with cultural appropriation are doing the equivalent of declaring themselves “the ultimate expert”. Certainly the ones in Weiss’ examples aren’t.

      • Diane G.
        Posted September 1, 2017 at 3:31 am | Permalink

        Individual intellectual property =/= culture.

  24. Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    This one sentence from McAdams’s rant summarizes his racist bigotry perfectly:

    To Weiss, there is no difference between interacting with another culture (i.e. eating a banh mi) and appropriating it (i.e. making your own banh mi shop and saying it’s authentic).

    On Dad’s side, I’m a Polish / Ukrainian Jew. On Mom’s side, I’m an nth-generation WASP with some branches going back to colony ships that chased the Mayflower and even a captain of a slave ship. I look like a typical long-haired white California guy.

    My wife is a Tokyo girl.

    For obvious reasons, I’ve been cooking lots of Japanese foods…and she loves it. The first time I made miso soup for her, she said it was better than anything her mom ever made. Some of the dishes I’ve mastered are arguably better than any you’ll get outside of the sorts of restaurants that have months-long waiting lists…or an home with a grandmother who grew up helping great-grandma in the kitchen.

    To be sure, lots of Japanese housewives (there’s still very strong gender role stereotyping there) will do even better than me; I’m just getting my recipes from a recent immigrant.

    But I do believe I have every right to label my Japanese cooking as “authentic.”

    And McAdams’s insistence that it’s not is not only as dumb as dog shit, it’s racist bigotry every bit as offensive as a Nazi salute at a Pride march.



    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      I agree. I get my Japanese recipes from my Japanese sister-in-law. To me, that makes them authentic.

      • Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        You’ll likely get a kick out of Just One Cookbook. I can’t sing Nami’s praises high enough.

        …but it won’t take long on that site to realize that even “authentic” Japanese food is, itself, significantly appropriated from all over the world. That shouldn’t be surprising for an island nation and therefore a people of immigrants, even if their history includes long periods of isolation.

        But Japanese curry is distinctly Japanese, even as curry itself is obviously Indian. A favorite Japanese dish is Mabo Dofu, originally Szechuanese, but typically much less spicy in Japan and often including miso paste in the sauce. Or there’s Wafu Hambagu, essentially meatloaf patties glazed with a Japanese sauce finished in the pan served with rice; tracing backwards, you probably start with American Midwestern meatloaf fused with American burgers, eventually to, of course, chopped steak from Hamburg, Germany. Or what of Tokyo Hamburg, a Korean restaurant in Los Angeles that serves up what you’d get in a Japanese restaurant in Korea? It’s great food, but definitely more Korean than Japanese. For that matter, there’s a lovely little Japanese sushi restaurant a stone’s throw from the Senate wing of the Capitol in D.C. run by an elderly Korean couple; many sushi places in the States have Korean owner-chefs, including one just down the road from me. (And, note: Korea has its own sushi-like food that’s of course excellent but easily distinguishable from Japanese sushi.)

        I, myself, have dreams of playing around with a Mexican / Japanese sushi-ish fusion. Lots of seafood in both cultures. Lots of rice. Both are home to some of the finest haut cuisine traditions on Earth. Gotta be a good combination to be found.

        Considering the amazing variety of artistic expression and creative and cultural exchange represented by food…I hereby suggest that anybody who dares condemn “cultural appropriation” of food be sentenced to a minimum of six months of eating nothing but a Big Mac with fries and a Coke for every meal, no exceptions nor substitutions.




        • Merilee
          Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

          I made some delicious beef fajitas recently using Korean gochujang pepper paste ( very flavorful but not super hot). Really great combo!

          • Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

            Not surprised…Korean barbecue is superlative. At least on a par with Chicago and Texas….



            • Merilee
              Posted August 31, 2017 at 4:21 pm | Permalink


        • Heather Hastie
          Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

          Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

          I think I’ve heard about someone who ate nothing but a big mac and fries for an extended period. Iirc he got scurvy because there wasn’t enough variety in his diet.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

            While I deplore the proliferation of MacDonalds over the globe, I do have to admit that being able to walk into one anywhere from Le Puy to Vladivostok, see the offerings illustrated along with names and prices, and order accordingly, is extremely convenient, especially in a country where you don’t speak the language. (In Russia it’s МАКДОНАЛДС, I applaud the attempt to fit in. Is that cultural appropriation of Cyrillic or not?)


        • yazikus
          Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

          I could talk all day about the cuisine of Macau. But we shouldn’t confuse actual acts of (harmful) appropriation with fusion or appreciation. I don’t understand why people seem so eager to pretend to be confused about this.

          • Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

            Can you give a concrete example of harmful appropriation? Especially one that isn’t better captured by phrases like, “actively deceitful fraud,” or, “dickishly inciting outrage”?

            Because, from where I’m sitting, it’s never the “appropriation” itself that’s problematic, only the fraud and / or deliberate provocation.

            …of course, there’s a third variation, whereby those too eager to be offended take offense when not only none was intended, but no reasonable grounds for offense can be discerned. And, at least in my experience, such is inevitably the case with cries of, “appropriation!”




            • Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

              Ben, as usual, you’ve nailed it; “…it’s never the “appropriation” itself that’s problematic, only the fraud and / or deliberate provocation.”

              I suspect yazikus means the same thing.

              • yazikus
                Posted August 31, 2017 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

                Yes, thanks. Had to step away for life stuff.

        • Gareth
          Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

          Japanese curry (Golden Curry) actually takes a more roundabout route via then British Hong Kong. And they turned it into one of the best instant curry products ever.

          I’m pretty much a third culture kid, and my cooking preferences are a weird mish-mash from all over (curry with Yorkshire pudding, yes please), its very much me and its staying that way.

          • Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

            Once again I will promote the book The Language of Food by Dan Jurafsky. It’s a great read and it explains things like why an entree is a first course in France, but a main course in America. Or why Portuguese Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula are responsible for Fish and Chips being so popular in England (and non-Jewish Portuguese sailors brought the same idea to Japan, where it became tempura). Or how ketchup began as a Cantonese fish sauce (and why “ketchup” is beating out “catsup” as the proper spelling). I highly recommend it.

            • Gareth
              Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

              The first successful domestically produced ketchup in the UK was mushroom ketchup, go figure.
              Geo Watkins still makes it, would imagine most Brits have never even tried it.

            • Posted August 31, 2017 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

              Super book. I think I got on your recommendation early, so: Thanks!

            • Merilee
              Posted August 31, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

              Just what I need, another book:-). Just ordered from amazon.
              Making Asian black cod ( from Jean-Georges, French-American chef who’s great with Asian seafood) with ginger and sesame oil, Mexican corn soup with chile-lime seasoning, and my Asianish broccoli/spinach combo.
              Scanihoovian/English/Italian-Swiss/Californian/Canuck Appropriator of Asian and Mexican delights🐸

              • Posted August 31, 2017 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

                Sounds good!

                If you like the way black cod is treated in Asia, you simply must do the Japanese version with Kyoto-style sweet miso:


                Very simple, and simply amazing. You have to pay very, very good money to get it in a restaurant, but homemade is actually better….

                Dinner tonight is chicken tacos (with the meat from homemade Japanese chuka dashi, chicken broth made with garlic, ginger, and green onions). Tomorrow is miso ramen with the chuka dashi. Saturday will probably be chicken curry, depending on how much chicken is left over after tonight. Sunday is shiojake, Japanese salted salmon. Once you’ve made shiojake, you likely won’t want to cook salmon any other way again.


                It’s another one of those (like miso cod) that even many in Japan don’t think to make at home from scratch, although it’s so simple and easy it’d be a good recipe for a children’s introduction to cooking class. The only catch is that it needs to sit in the ‘fridge for at least a few days, but that’s no big deal.




              • Merilee
                Posted August 31, 2017 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

                Thanks, Ben! Will try these.
                Just invested, somewhat reluctantly, in an InstaPot, in which one can sauté the onions, brown the ribs, pressure cook the suckers, and then throw them on the barbie. Also great for black beans from scratch, stock, etc. etc. Since it’s electric and has a timer you don’t have to worry about the pressure building up too high and the little rocker thingie hitting the ceiling. Also useful as a slow cooker.

              • Posted August 31, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

                Funny you should mention the InstaPot…in less than a minute, I’m going to grab it from under the counter and dump the beans in it. After which I will promptly forget the whole thing until just before it’s time to sit down at the table….

                It actually turns out that, more than anything else, I use the InstaPot to make yogurt. It’s trivial, really…dump 1/2 gallon whole un-homogeonized milk, a pint of similarly un-transmogrificated cream, and a tablespoon of gelatin powder into the pot. Stir well. Run the “boil” yogurt program. When done, let it sit until it cools to 45°C or thereabouts; no rush, no point in checking incessantly. Add 1/4 cup yogurt with live cultures — either from your last batch, or your favorite commercial unflavored brand. Stir well. Run the “less” yogurt program. 24 hours later, you’ve got yogurt — and, again, no urgent rush to get it out of the pot.




              • Merilee
                Posted August 31, 2017 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

                Might try that. Years ago I made yoghurt using an electric blanket wrapped around it.
                I sent you the corn soup recipe to your trumpet email. Is it still valid?

              • Posted September 1, 2017 at 7:31 am | Permalink

                Very cool on the yogurt, Ben! I might go back to making my own again!

          • Posted August 31, 2017 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

            Indeed, we usually have a box of that brand of curry on hand, and odds are better than even that it’ll become Saturday night’s dinner. But, given the time, I _do_ prefer to go old school with curry powder, garam masala, butter, and flour. Doesn’t take all that much time and the results are divine…but the boxed curry is _very_ quick and easy and quite tasty. Especially if you use homemade chicken stock instead of water….



        • Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

          When I was in Gradual School I lived in a large house with several other students, including a nice young fella from Jamaica. He taught us all how to make Jerked Chicken or Pork. There are many wrong ways to Jerk but there is no right way.

          Based on his and his brother’s (who came to visit) careful instructions and with their encouragements, we all made our own versions of the Jerk seasoning. We had (sort of) monthly BBQs where we would try out our Jerks and voted for the best that day. Being a house full of young Gradual Students, of course we called theses “Jerk-offs”. Lots of fun. Anyway, I am proud to say I won more than one Jerk-off and I still, all these years later, make a kick-ass Jamaican-style Jerk.

          I don’t care a tinker’s fart what anyone thinks about the appropriation.

        • Posted August 31, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

          Love it, Ben. Can I eat at your house?! 🙂

          • Posted August 31, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

            Sure! It’s a small table, but I’m sure we can squeeze in another chair.



            • Posted September 1, 2017 at 7:33 am | Permalink

              Next time I’m down that way … 🙂

        • Posted September 1, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

          “But Japanese curry is distinctly Japanese, even as curry itself is obviously Indian.”

          Which is to say, South American, via Portuguese. I recently read a history of curry – most of the spices (except for black and white pepper) used in most Indian curry are not “from there” if one goes a little further back.

  25. Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    you’re only allowed to “borrow down”, that is, you can borrow elements from a “dominant culture”

    That’s only going to make the dominant culture more dominant.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      I suppose it also depends what country you live in!

  26. kevin7alexander
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I’ve always thought of the whole ‘cultural appropriation’ thing as a sneaky way to enforce segregation.
    btw, bahn mi is a funny example to use since it’s a fusion of Vietnamese and French elements.

  27. Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    In social justice utopia, white people only write about and include their own white culture. After that, they are being called out for lack of diversity. “Fair enough”, say the writers, and add different cultures, people and perspectives back in, only to be called out for cultural appropriation. “Okay then, let’s throw it out”, they say, and a new cycle in social justice utopia begins.

    As the generator keeps spinning, the social justice warriors feel the power over others flow through their body, and how superior they are once again.

    The Irony Supernova, the cherry on top of the cherrycake, is that they are themselves cultural imperialists of the highest order, who assume human “race” and racial cultures from a decidedly American point of view, where this is ingrained in everything; including form of “whiteness” which simply doesn’t exist anywhere else.

    • Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      You are right about the American point of view. ‘Cultural appropriation’ scare is something which has been imported directly into the U.K. without any attempt to localise it. Why else would wearing sombreros be such a taboo? How often are Mexicans the victims of racial prejudice in the U.K.? How did they become the second most ‘vulnerable’ group?

  28. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got no time or patience for this cultural Marcus Garvey-ism — anymore than I would’ve had for the Daughters of the American Revolution refusing to let Marian Anderson sing opera before an integrated audience at Constitution Hall.

    To take from another culture as mere stylistic affectation is tasteless, and to denigrate another culture through mocking mimicry — as with a Frito-bandito accent or donning blackface — is wrong. But to lump these things in with respectful imitation or the assimilation of cultures is ridiculous.

  29. Paul S
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    I disagree that “Muslim terrorist Halloween costume” is inappropriate, someone wearing a bomb vest is the essence of Halloween.
    If any appropriation is wrong, it’s the people who’ve appropriated and sanitized Halloween to make it kind, friendly and scare free.
    Not all Muslims are terrorists, so what. Not all Germans are Hitler wannabes, but you’d never know that from movies or TV.
    /rant off

  30. danstarfish
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    A while ago I read a story about a cultural appropriation protest over letting people try on kimonos. Some Japanese grandmothers that were first generation immigrants were sharing their culture and were happy when people took interest in the kimonos. They were protested by college-age 3rd generation Asian-Americans (so culturally more American than Asian). It was an interesting juxtaposition because the people who actually grew up in the culture being ‘appropriated’ were not offended and even felt appreciated that others were interested in their culture. The young Americans arrived and rained on their parade.

    Is appropriating the outrage that belongs to someone else a thing? I think an irony of cultural appropriation is that most of the accusations are not from people who live in or grew up in the appropriated culture.

    • Gareth
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      That would be the one at an art gallery, I heard a more interesting angle, that a Japanese maker and seller of kimonos was behind it too (provided the kimonos perhaps?). I mean if the people who traditionally wear and make the stuff don’t ‘own’ it, then who does?

  31. ladyatheist
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    I really don’t understand how cultural ghettoization is supposed to be a good thing. Why should a New Yorker have to go to China Town for lo mein when a perfectly acceptable lo mein can be found in Harlem or Brooklyn?

    Or is it wrong to even eat lo mein? In which case, China Town should be reserved for just Chinese people. Should there be a one-way gate that lets them out but doesn’t let “others” in?

    This is one concept that truly is regressive. You can’t say that all cultural traditions are valid, beautiful or interesting on the one hand but then say “you can’t have them, just admire them at a distance” on the other.

  32. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    “Weiss gives some examples of the kind of cultural appropriation that’s not only harmless but valuable: […] and the widespread aping of American culture by other countries.”

    Ironic that the Left’s presumed condemnation of ‘cultural appropriation’ of American culture would be exactly matched by overseas traditionalists (usually of the right) who deplore the ‘Americanisation’ of their culture.

    Actually, I think Weiss went one example too far. All old cultures get modified by new circumstances and contact with others, of which American is just one instance. It is not noticeably worse than any other. On the other hand, it would be difficult to demonstrate that Americanisation is ‘valuable’.

    I do think that ‘cultural appropriation’ is usually bunk, though, and frequently an attempt by opportunist [ethnic persons] who wouldn’t normally give a toss about all that quaint old-fashioned nonsense to cash in on the fact that someone else has noticed it.


    • Gareth
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Appropriation of American culture is American Cultural Imperialism, a whole new kind of bad 😉

      • Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        People have to decide *for themselves* what they want to adopt. The problem with cultural imperialism is to the extent it occurs, it prevents that choice.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 1, 2017 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

          I agree with that, if by ‘cultural imperialism’ one means the deliberate export of ones values.

          Not always bad, a bit of western cultural imperialism would be a good thing in Afghanistan, if it stuck. (A big ‘if’).

          I think most Americanisation is not deliberate political policy so much as driven by commercial reasons (US brands want to sell stuff), the American TV/entertainment industry that produces lots of slick cheap programming, and the consequent feeling in lesser-developed countries that ‘American’ is trendy.


  33. Dale Franzwa
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    You want cultural appropriation? Just look at the great operas: Madame Butterfly, The Magic Flute, Porgy and Bess, Elektra, the entire Ring Cycle of operas. . . I could go on and on. It’s hard to find an opera not set in some other land or even mystical place. Cultural appropriation is an important part of what makes opera great.

    • Posted September 1, 2017 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      And, many, many novels too, of course.

  34. Robert
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Cases of cultural appropriation that could be considered theft have been practiced by pharmaceutical companies interviewing indigenous people, largely in the tropics, to obtain information on the use of local medicinal plants. This is local accumulation and distillation of knowledge over centuries given with little or no compensation to the native people. I do agree that most supposed cases of cultural appropriation are simply absurd, but not in the situation sited above.


    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 1, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      I would dispute that, or at least suggest it’s not that clear-cut.

      The local informants should be rewarded for their time. However, the knowledge isn’t their property, they inherited it from their forebears. And the drug company can’t just market the stuff straight off (unless it’s one of those dodgy ‘alternative’/’holistic’/’supplements’ outfits that avoid proper regulation). The information they get is only a starting point, or a clue. To use the compounds in a drug they have to put it through exhaustive tests and trials.

      Meanwhile, the local informants are benefiting from all the other modern drugs that already exist. It’s not just a one-way street.

      The issue of excessive drug prices is a separate matter.


  35. amyt
    Posted September 1, 2017 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    So am I (Hispanic) not allowed to order Chinese food in a mostly white central Ohio city? Certainly without non-Chinese ordering their food they would go out of business.

  36. Katkinkate
    Posted September 2, 2017 at 2:51 am | Permalink

    From a historical perspective the whole subject is a bit silly. For thousands of years different groups/cultures have traded with each other; each swapping art, technology, foods, knowledge, genes, ideologies along the way. It’s just natural to be inspired by new things you see/hear. The problem is that it’s happening faster now with the high population and greater connectivity across the internet. What used to take generations and centuries is happening in decades and years, which is scaring people. Of course, using cultural identifiers to put people down or discriminate is just bigotry. Oh and I am of the opinion that all humans are bigoted to some degree. We all come from a background of giving preference to our own group and holding everyone else off. These days the ‘in’ groups are getting bigger and I guess the aim of the UN is to make all of humanity the ‘in’ group so no-one is outside. But I think individuals find it hard to be so inclusive. Some more than others.

  37. Posted September 4, 2017 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Some of my ancestors were North American Indians, about 20% is my best estimate, based on genealogy and physical features.

    These Amerinds were guilty of appropriating European culture, which is why my generation new nothing about them until my sister and I did the research.

    Throughout Mexico and Central America, and in parts of South America, Amerinds have appropriated European culture and created entire populations of mixed races and cultures.

    It gets worse. I listened to my colleague today speaking in Indonesian on his cellphone, a technology appropriated from other cultures. Instead of using an Indonesian word, he said “OK”, a clear appropriation of American culture.

  38. Posted October 13, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    can anyone show me any LEGIT cases of C.A? because all of their examples are more racist than cultural. so does anyone have any?

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