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Monday, May 29, 2017

Sometimes, It's Hard To Understand The Rules

There's a kerfuffle of complaints because a reporter for a Denver paper tweeted that he was "uncomfortable" with the winner of the Indy 500 race being Japanese.  The tweet was immediately denounced as racially insensitive or even racist.  The reporter apologized.  If things go the usual way, the reporter will be fired soon or at least suspended for a while.  I understand all this.  Anyone who enters the race and wins should be the winner.  The national background, etc. of the winner doesn't matter.

But here's the question:  The Indy 500 is something that is clearly part of American culture.  If the winner is Japanese, is he guilty of cultural appropriation?  Is this any different than the two white American women who were crushed out of business when they opened a taco truck in Portland, Oregon.  How dare Anglos sell Mexican food!  It's cultural appropriation.  So why aren't the same people now shouting about a Japanese man who is taking a victory lap in a quintessentially American race?

The answer, of course, is that the idea of opposing cultural appropriation is complete nonsense.  The entire existence of humans on earth has been one of growth through cultural appropriation.  Think about it.  We can start almost anywhere.  When the Greeks developed their civilization, they thrived for a while until the Romans conquered them.  Rome took large chunks of Greek culture, however; it was a massive cultural appropriation.  It also spread Greek culture throughout much of the world.  Roman culture was also spread through the empire.  When Rome was overrun by various tribes hundreds of years later, those same tribes adopted some of the Roman culture.  The best example is that nearly all of them became Christians.  Until Rome fell, essentially all Christians lived in the Roman empire.  During the Middle Ages, culture brought from China was adopted in Europe.  Trade sprang up in that time and ideas moved from one area to another as cultural appropriation continued.  The ideas that formed the basis for the American Revolution were not just those of British colonials; some had been appropriated from French or other European cultures.  The USA, of course, is the world's best example of ongoing cultural appropriation.  Waves of immigrants brought their own cultures to this country and big chunks of those cultures were adopted by other Americans.  Americans gloried in the "melting pot" that was American culture. 

In the recent past, the only group which took seriously the idea that culture was static were the Nazis and their Aryan culture (which they proclaimed superior to all others.)  They famously derided the USA because of its mix of peoples and cultures.  They also destroyed those whose cultures were too different in their view from their own.  The truth is that cultural appropriation is just another word for enforced tribalism.  It emphasizes differences, something that is particularly offensive and dangerous especially in a country built on bringing people of different races, religions and ethnicity together.  If Mexicans want to make Chinese food, that's great and vice versa.  If Japanese want to play baseball or basketball which are the product of American culture, that's great.  Why would anyone care?  There is no valid reason to fight this. 

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