The absolute truth is that none of us can get through a day without a little cultural appropriation. Humans are creatures of infinite adaptation and co-optation. The folks who are most scary believe in racial and cultural purity. Yea, I am taking to you Aryan Brotherhood. Yet, given the Darwinian absolute of genetic and cultural blending, there are a committed collection of liberals who live to “call out” cultural appropriation. Being Portland, the cultural warriors are now taking on tortillas and spring rolls.
“This week in white nonsense, two white women—Kali Wilgus and Liz “LC” Connely—decided it would be cute to open a food truck after a fateful excursion to Mexico. There’s really nothing special about opening a Mexican restaurant—it’s probably something that happens everyday. But the owners of Kooks Burritos all but admitted in an interview with Willamette Week that they colonized this style of food….”
Oh, it didn’t stop with poor Kooks which has been shut down by the backlash. There is now “don’t buy” list of restaurants in Portland who committed the sin of falling in love with a cuisine and adapting it in ways that resulted in, heaven forbid, success. Pok Pok…Por Que No… sinners all.
I totally get being proud of one’s culture. I come from deep Scots-Irish roots. My people were tossed out of both Scotland and Ireland by religious persecution. We ended up in Appalachia and the Ozarks. I did the genetics test and discovered my genes are the result of cultural inbreeding. My people didn’t get far from the hills until my Grandfather lit out for California after the second world war. Turns out my stubbornness, loyalty, insularity and “don’t fuck with me” chip on my shoulder are all defining cultural traits.
However, at this very moment, my gene pool has a wonderful new feature. My family now has an African-American niece and a mixed-race great nephew. (And yes, if someone messed with that little I guy, in good Scots-Irish tradition, I would fuck them up.) The millennial vanguard of the cultural appropriation police may be missing the point. As a generation, they are also coupling up without regard to race and cultural lines. The inevitable result will be a world where the label “white” will mostly be a confused reference to pigment having no cultural meaning.
Love your roots, don’t fetishize them. Appropriation is good. Imagine a world where field calls didn’t become the Blues that didn’t become Rock and Roll. What of the cultural streams that became Jazz in all its incarnations. White punk kids in England understood that their music would not have a soul without its Reggae backbeat. And food? Look in your kitchen, subtract all the cultural appropriation and you have one really crappy dinner.
Last Summer, at the last Pickles game I shared the closing innings with two Latinos while we downed hot dogs and microbrewery beers. We discovered that we all came here from Southern California, they escaped poverty in Mexico, my people the same story in the Ozarks. Still, we easily recognized each other at a ballgame, laughed and told stories with the pop of the catcher’s mitt as our timekeeper. The cultural cross currents in that little moment are dizzying.
Cultures, entire civilizations, come and go. Revel in your roots while they exist but don’t for a moment think you can stop appropriation any more than you can stop evolution. We live in a place made strong by its blending, borrowing and adapting. Thinking you can change that natural process will just leave you frustrated and ultimately irrelevant.