One big world of culture and appropriation

As if we don’t have enough to worry about, now we have to fret about something called “cultural appropriation,” or in the alternative, “cultural misappropriation.”

In case you don’t know exactly what it is you’re supposed to fret about, here is a definition from Wikipedia:

“Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture.”

Got it?

I don’t know about you, but I fret about these things. Recently, I read about a food truck in Oregon that was forced to shut down because its owners were being harassed by members of the culture represented by the food one could buy at the truck. The owner was not a member of that culture; ergo, according to some of those who protested their temerity, they had no right to sell that food.

Let’s all say it at once:


But here is the obverse:

Suppose we were to agree that only people of, say, Thai background should be allowed to sell Thai food. Isn’t that stereotyping? And would we forbid people of Thai background from selling hot dogs? The good old American hot dog? And who would be allowed to sell hot dogs? Could I? Am I American? I’m of Irish, English and German background. How can we determine if I’m American? Because I was born in America?

OK, suppose my Irish-English father and my German-Irish mother had gone to, say, Mexico City on vacation when she was pregnant with me and she gave birth there. Would it be OK, then, for me to sell Mexican food from a food truck? I was born in Mexico, so doesn’t that give me a pass?

Or can I only sell soda bread, fish and chips, and sauerbraten?

I worry about this on the off chance that I decide to open a food truck. And if I’m not American enough to sell hot dogs, who is? Native Americans? But they never made hot dogs on an open fire on the Great Plains. Sitting Bull with a hot dog? I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone can be allowed to sell American food, then. So, no hot dogs, no hamburgers, no greasy fries.

That might not be a bad thing, but that’s another story.

And then I worry about this:

What if someone of, say, Indian background finds out that I do a lot of cooking with curry? Will someone picket my house?

And just because I had an Irish grandmother and an Irish great-grandmother, is it OK for me to make soda bread in March? Is it OK to drink Guinness?

Oh, my God: I drink tequila. Am I in trouble? Who’s that outside my house carrying signs?

I am not a cultural appropriator. I just like soda bread and tequila. No, not at the same time.

You might not be the type of person to worry about such things, which only means that I am obviously more culturally sensitive than you and that I desperately fear to offend anyone of any culture to which I don’t belong, which means I shouldn’t even be allowed to GO to Montreal because my French is severely limited. But I LIKE Montreal. Sorry, you Irish-English-German guy, you can’t go.

This is making me very nervous. I’m afraid to cook, afraid to drink. Am I American enough to drink Yuengling? Despite the name, it’s American, isn’t it?

I need help here, people. I don’t want to be a cultural appropriator. I insist upon kowtowing to any group, big or small, that demands that I don’t do what they don’t want me to do. I think we all should.

Hmmm? We already are? Oh, whew, that’s a relief.

Wait a minute, there’s an English bar in Portsmouth that I’m pretty sure isn’t staffed entirely by English expats. And isn’t there a pizza place around here owned by some guy named … no, I’m not gonna tell you, but his name doesn’t end in a vowel.


Down with cultural appropriators.


Mike Cleveland is former editor of The Cabinet.