VICE: Why veganism is racist

August 18, 2020 • 12:30 pm

I found this article, from VICE, mentioned in a public tweet from activist and atheist Ali Rizvi, who was aping the “first they came from the bird names. . ” craziness. This time, though, it’s not bird names, but veganism.

I suppose that anything these days can be found racist, like knitting and young adult fiction, not to mention bird names, but the idea that veganism was inherently white was alien to me. Perhaps that’s because I live in Chicago, which has a fair number of vegan restaurants run by African-Americans (many Black Muslims are either vegan or vegetarians). And a well known vegan retaurant run by blacks,  B’Gabs, is just a few blocks from me. The fact that veganism is seen as “white people’s culture”, then, surprised me. But Anya Zoledziowski, who is of Polish Armenian descent, and identifies as a privileged European, has seen fit to chide all vegans for racially “appropriating food” (click on the screenshot below).

What’s her beef? (Is that an appropriate question to ask about such an article?) It appears to be that veganism is racist because black people see it as a “white person’s habit”. And, says the author, it seems that black vegans have been ignored, though I’m not sure how. Finally, vegans are guilty of “appropriating” cuisine from other cultures, though why that’s a sin still eludes me. (Throughout the article, Zoledziowski confuses veganism with vegetarianism: for example, much of southern Indian cuisine is vegetarian but not vegan.) But somehow, says the author, since the murder of George Floyd, veganism is going through a “racial reckoning”. A few quotes:

When Afia Amoako became a vegan five years ago, she said she didn’t see herself reflected in the community, which was dominated by wealthy white women.

They often touted recipes—”African peanut stew” or “Asian stir fry”—that rely on racial stereotypes, said Amoako.

“One, they don’t look like you, and, two, they are appropriating your food. Those are ways to turn racialized people away.”

First of all, African peanut stew and Asian stir fry (which I often make) do not rely on racial stereotypes. They are foreign dishes, and that’s all. They are not “appropriated” but appreciated.  And if you’re turned off of veganism because some white people cook vegan or vegetarian food, you’re not a victim of racism but perhaps an exponent of racism.  Why do vegans have to “look like you”? And what are “racialized” people, anyway? That term is new to me.

Not only that, but black vegans are wary of white ones:

 “These white women, they are the gatekeepers of the vegan movement,” Amoako said. “We Black creators have been here this whole time.”

White women are starting to acknowledge Black and racialized vegans now, following a string of racial reckonings happening in several sectors and communities, Amoako said, but “I’m not gonna lie to you, some of us are still skeptical.”

Skeptical of what? That the “acknowledgment of Black and racialized vegans” (what’s the difference between “Black” and “racialized”?) is real?

The connection between racism and veganism grows ever more tenuous as the article goes on, as Zoledziowski must drag in vegetarianism to make her case. And “privilege” of course, makes its inevitable appearance:

In this post-Floyd world of racial reckonings, many vegans are starting to look inwards at their own privilege. White vegan influencers are urging people to follow BIPOC accounts as part of the #AmplifyMelanatedVoices campaign, while racialized vegans who have amassed large followings continue to post about Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Stories are surfacing in the vegan corners of the internet, highlighting vegan Black Instagram accounts and vegan Black-owned businesses.

The article then goes on to note that many “racialized” communities are “plant based”, but of course “plant based” is not vegan but vegetarian, at least in these examples:

In fact, several communities globally, most of which are racialized, are either plant-based or largely so. According to the latest counts, Brazil and India have the largest vegetarian populations in the world: about a third of Indians—375 million people—and 14 percent of Brazilians, or 29 million people, are vegetarian. TaiwanJamaicaMexico, and Vietnam also have sizable vegetarian or vegan populations. And while that’s not to discount the growing popularity of plant-based diets in predominantly white countries like Switzerland, New Zealand, Germany, and Australia, mainstream portrayals of vegetarianism and veganism are largely white.

. . . Almost one-third of Delhi, India residents identify as vegetarian today. A rich variety of lentil dishes—yellow lentil, brown lentil, and split chickpea dals, and mung beans cooked in different curries marked Siddharth Seth’s upbringing in New Delhi. Seth was raised vegetarian because his family identifies as Hindu and follows an interpretation of the religion that preaches nonviolence— Ahimsa—including towards animals. For Seth, who is now 40, vegetarianism was never a fad; it was just part of daily life.

Remember, the article isn’t about vegetarianism (which incorporates dairy food), but veganism (which spurns dairy). They have to drag Indian vegetarians into the mix to buttress their case. And most Indian vegetarians, as far as I’ve observed, are not vegans: they eat paneer (Indian cheese), yogurt, and milk-based sweets.  As for American vegans, why is their diet not “part of daily life” as well?

I really can’t go on with this article. . . it’s just silly, but I’m highlighting to show how virtually everything on the planet can be seen as a racist act if white people participate in it. The most bizarre quote in the piece, and I’ll end with it, is this, which was uttered by Emani Corcran, who runs a black vegan Instagram site:

“Showing that many dishes from around the world are already plant-based is a huge step for people of colour who are maybe intimidated by veganism,” Corcran said. “That’s what influencers are supposed to do: show what you like to eat. I’m a woman of colour, so I like to eat what women of colour like to eat, and that’s what I’m going to show.”

Putting aside the silliness of people getting intimidated by veganism because it’s seen as white, I find the notion that one should eat what those with similar skin pigmentation eat as crazy.  The fact is that most women of colour are not vegans, so why is she eating a vegan diet?

While the murder of George Floyd brought important focus on the persistence of racism in American society, it’s had the unfortunate side effect of allowing people to get away with racializing nearly everything. And that dilutes the message of movements like Black Lives Matter. My response to this article is to satirize its title: “Dear White Savior Zoledziowski: Get a grip.”

 

Cultural appropriation: can minorities appropriate the culture of other minorities?

October 14, 2019 • 1:15 pm

This is the kind of question that arises when you adopt full-blown intersectionalism. It’s apparently been decided that it’s okay to culturally “appropriate up“, i.e., Chinese people can wear jeans, and Africans suits, but it’s not okay to “appropriate down“, so that white people can’t wear cornrows or play jazz—at least not without explicitly acknowledging the borrowing and, as this article by Bianca Lambert, a freelance beauty writer, maintains, studying all the nuances of that borrowing.

The article at hand is, of course, at PuffHo, and the answer to the question in the title is a clear “yes: it’s appropriation for minorities to adopt black culture.” But it’s apparently not wrong for blacks to adopt Hispanic or Hindu culture. Click on the screenshot to read:

 

Most of the article is the usual culture-protection and calling-out of appropriators, and not worth commenting on again; but the thesis of the article, why other minorities can’t adopt black styles, is in just two sentences below. First, though, here are some members of minority groups who have been excoriated for wearing cornrows. Indented bits are from PuffHo:

Lilly Singh, host of “A Little Late with Lilly Singh,” has been called out throughout her career for “modern-day blackface,” wearing baggy clothing, cornrows and dashiki on her YouTube channel. The Canadian-born comedian, who embraces her Indian heritage, has dismissed the criticism on Twitter.

Then there’s actor Shay Mitchell, who’s of Filipino and Scottish-Irish descent. She received backlash on Instagram after wearing cornrows multiple times.

Most recently, YouTuber Nikita Dragun, who is Vietnamese and Mexican, made headlines for wearing gray box braids to show her “love and appreciation for all the gorgeous black women in my life and also to those that follow me,” she wrote on Instagram.

Lambert’s verdict?

So is this appropriation? Absolutely.

“The thing that’s interesting about an Indian or Japanese or Mexican person wearing American Blackness is that they’ve had the privilege of continuity in their own cultural traditions,” Day said. “They are playing dress-up in something that we’ve fought to regenerate after having centuries of cultural disruption and suppression.”

Dress-up? I don’t think so. People who wear cornrows or dreadlocks wear them because they think they look good, not because they’re donning part of a black Halloween costume. And what, exactly, is the “privilege of continuity”? The reasons for cultural appropriation, as usually enunciated, are that you are stealing aspects of another (and more oppressed) culture, and not giving them credit for it or being explicit about the sufferings of those from that culture (see below). What continuity has to do with it is obscure.

And continuity seems irrelevant, for you’re also called out for “appropriating” aspects of culture that have been continuous, like the jazz or hip-hop of black America or the kimonos of the Japanese. No, this is just another way to make one culture seem even more oppressed than others by confecting some specious and irrelevant “discontinuity.”

As I’ve said before, theoretically there are forms of cultural appropriation that are harmful to the appropriated groups. The example I often use, and dismiss, is Paul Simon’s use of the music of the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo in his “Graceland” album. Had he taken all the credit, given the group a minor credit, and not paid them well, that would have been invidious and unjustifiable cultural appropriation. But Simon didn’t do that: he acknowledged his debt to that group and in fact made them famous and well off. I’m hard pressed to think of any kind of cultural appropriation that is harmful at all, though I’m sure readers can come up with some examples. But in general, I think cultural appropriation is not only a sign of appreciation of another culture, be it “up” or “down”, but also enriches all cultures. It’s just in today’s “I’m offended” climate, it gives people a reason to parade themselves as victims and denigrate others.

And it’s not enough for a cornrow-wearer to simply say, “Yes, I’ve adopted a black hairstyle because I like it.” No, you have to do what they call the “emotional labor”. As Lambert argues, using the words of Keisha Brown, associate professor of history at Tennessee State University

“While acknowledging the origin of the style or influence is a good start, that is just the first step in moving from appropriation to appreciation,” Brown said. “Beyond mere acknowledgment of the influence or inspiration [and one’s privilege and platform], an individual should also strive to understand the origin, impact and function of said cultural practices.”

Sorry, but my response to that is, “You’re asking too much.” If you have to study the origin, impact, and function of cornrows or dreadlocks—which of course were worn in ancient Greece—before you wear them, and need to be quizzed or chastised if you didn’t, then we’ve come to a pretty pass. Imagine if you applied that to all of the many forms of music, food, clothing, and other things that have been adopted by one culture from another!

I maintain that it harms nobody for a Hispanic woman to wear cornrows simply because she likes them. The “damage”, as it is so often in these things, is merely the offense in the Pecksniffian beholder.

 

Justin Trudeau admits to wearing both blackface and brownface. Is he toast?

September 19, 2019 • 8:00 am

There are several reports, the most prominent in Time magazine, that Justin Trudeau wore brownface as a school teacher, which he admits and for which he’s apologized (there are photos).

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, wore brownface makeup to a party at the private school where he was teaching in the spring of 2001. TIME has obtained a photograph of the incident.

The photograph has not been previously reported. The picture was taken at an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala. It shows Trudeau, then the 29-year-old son of the late former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, wearing a turban and robes with his face, neck and hands completely darkened. The photograph appears in the 2000-2001 yearbook of West Point Grey Academy, a private day school where Trudeau was a teacher.

. . . On Wednesday, Zita Astravas, the media relations lead of the Liberal Party of Canada, which Trudeau is the leader of, confirmed that the prime minister was in the photo. “It was a photo taken while he was teaching in Vancouver, at the school’s annual dinner which had a costume theme of ‘Arabian Nights.’ He attended with friends and colleagues dressed as a character from Aladdin,” said Astravas. Trudeau is planning on addressing the photograph to the media later this evening, according to the Astravas. The prime minister’s official director of communications did not return multiple calls.

The photos:

This photo, posted by CanadaAndShow.com, is regarded as “arguably worse” because the Prime Minister is flanked by two men dressed as Sikhs. Canadian Sikhs have objected, as have many others:

It gets worse: Time also reports that Trudeau admits to wearing blackface in high school:

In a new revelation, Trudeau also admitted that he wore blackface “makeup” in high school to sing “Day-O,” a Jamaican folk song famously performed by African-American singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte.

“When I was in high school I dressed up at a talent show and sang ‘Day O.’ With makeup on,” he said.

The publication of the photo embroiled his campaign in scandal, with Canadian reporters asking why he had not been forthcoming about the image if he knew it existed.

Trudeau is about to be in a close election, with his Liberal Party tied in the polls with the Conservative Party. Given that this was so long ago, and because Trudeau has since shown great sensitivity to Canadian minorities and women by producing the most diverse Ministry ever, I consider him “reformed” of whatever racism was behind his costumes. I therefore can’t be arsed to damn the man or call for him to resign.

It is ironic, though, that during his tenure as PM he’s acted uber-woke, even wearing Indian clothes on a visit to India and making Indian hand gestures. (For that he was called out for cultural appropriation.)

But others may feel differently, and I respect those feelings though I don’t agree with them. Do you think he should resign, or do you think that, if he doesn’t, he will be defeated because of his acts? Weigh in below, especially if you’re a Canadian.

A vegan claims that eating tofu is cultural appropriation

August 24, 2019 • 9:30 am

I’ve written a fair bit about accusations of cultural appropriation, and I do so for several reasons. First, these accusations are almost always totally misguided, mistaking admiring imitation for bigotry and theft. Second, they clearly show the folly of the Authoritarian Left, both its virtue-flaunting and its adoption of “actions” that are completely useless in changing society. Really, how much “inclusiveness” is promoted by picketing a show of kimonos at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts? Or the demonizing of white women who wear hoop earrings?

Finally, the claims often blend Wokeness with unintended humor, showing that many claims of cultural appropriation are almost indistinguishable from satire. The claim at hand is one of these near-satirical arguments, but I’m pretty sure it’s real. Or at least Yahoo UK thinks so (click on screenshot):

According to the article, this exchange appeared on a reddit site:

There we have it, ladies, gentlemen, and comrades: a termite boring deep into the wood. He/she/they cannot allow a meat-eater the pleasure of enjoying torfurkey (mock turkey made from tofu), which could in fact turn a meat-eater towards vegetarianism. Instead, the miscreant has to claim that eating tofu is reserved for vegans and vegetarians. (Ask a billion Chinese about that!)

This shows all three aspects of the cultural appropriation trope, including its unintended humor as well as its inevitable descent into name-calling and obscenity. Now it’s possible that this is a joke, for it would be easy to confect accusations like this, but Yahoo, at least, took it seriously. So shall I, for the nonce.

The article goes on; here’s a bit of it:

Unsurprisingly, a number of vegans took to the post to defend their community.

“This person is giving vegans a terrible reputation,” one commented. “I’m vegan, I would never act like this, and I don’t think the majority of vegans would. And they should be thrilled they are choosing tofu over meat!”

“This person isn’t a true vegan because most would concede that the less meat someone eats the better,” another added. “I know so many meat-eaters who love vegan/vegetarian food.”

A third agreed, highlighting that an increase in demand for tofu would actually ensure there is more available on the supermarket shelves.

“If anything more people eating tofu would probably increase production and more brands would emerge and there would be more variety to choose from,” they pointed out.

Another highlighted the vegan’s contradictory views, sarcastically writing: “I love animals so much, that I want you to eat meat instead of cutting down on your animal consumption! Makes sense.”

Ah, I love the smell of internecine squabbles in the morning!

But I wish those who so quickly accuse others of cultural appropriation would themselves be called out by members of their own community. (In fact, this happened in Boston, where some kimono-wearing Japanese ladies turned out in support of the kimono celebration.) Those who want real social justice should roll up their sleeves and get to work, registering voters, accompanying women to abortion clinics, giving money to good causes, and so on. Pounding a keyboard in rage doesn’t accomplish jack.

 

h/t: Gregory

Misguided accusations of cultural appropriation: The Big Nightcap Kerfuffle

July 30, 2019 • 10:00 am

I’lll be out of the office much of today, so posting will be light. In fact, this may be the only piece of the day. So it goes.

We’ve seen many bogus accusations of cultural appropriation, all meant to lay claim to some item or food or behavior supposedly the property of one “culture” or “ethnic group.” Many of these, like dreadlocks or hoop earrings, are supposedly damaging to the “appropriated” group, but aren’t really. After all, as I’ve said repeatedly, the cross-fertilizations of cultures, whether the appropriation be “up” or “down”, is almost always salubrious. In fact, I can’t think of any examples where it’s been damaging, though I can think of hypothetical examples.

But sometimes the accusations aren’t just misguided, but incorrect. Such is the case of the “nightcap” kerfuffle roiling certain segments of the Internet.  You can read about it at this Today show website (click on screenshot below ), or many other places (e.g., NBC News, CNN, etc.)

The trouble started when Sarah Marantz Lindenberg (a marketing director) had an interview in Fashion magazine touting her new company’s product, “NiteCap”, a silk head wrap that she designed (and sold for $75) to protect her hair at night. (You can see one above.) Here’s the piece that got Lindenberg in trouble:

When asked about the product’s genesis, Marantz Lindenberg said this (note that the editors added a coda after publication; I’ve put it in bold).

How did you get the idea for NiteCap?

My concept came out of a problem that needed solving. I was preparing for my wedding and, like a lot of brides, wanted everything to be perfect. My skin was breaking out and I have quite long hair. I like the way it looks the second or third day after washing, so I don’t wash it every day. A dermatologist recommended that I sleep with my hair pulled back. Another physician recommended I try silk scarves, and I had fun playing around with them but they didn’t stay on. I did notice, though, that my skin cleared up from not having my hair on my face. I also noticed that my hair was shinier, thicker, and my blowouts lasted longer. There were products on the market but none of them had a functional and fashionable solution for me—synthetic fabrics that I felt did more damage, or horrible colours that I felt silly going to sleep in. It inspired me to create something of my own. Many people have told me that their grandmothers wrapped their hair, and my aunt recently told me that my great-grandmother wrapped her rollers in toilet paper after it was all styled and set. That was a lot less glamorous than my product, but the practice has been around a long time. (Editor’s note: Though not strictly used just for sleeping, the item has a long history in black hair culture.)

Well, the item has a long history, period—a history preceding the use of “sleep bonnets” by blacks (see below). But somehow her marketing of the silk headwrap got people ticked off, who then claimed that it was either a cultural appropriation of night bonnets (or day bonnets) worn by African-Americans, or perhaps that Marantz Lindenberg failed to acknowledge the African-American history. And so she got, as they say, “dragged” on Twitter. And then the media, hungry for stories, simply put the Twitter pushback together into an article, like the one at the top. Here’s some of that pushback.

From Today:

Howard University communications and culture professor Tia Tyree told NBC News that the African American community has touted the benefits of hair wraps for quite some time.

https://twitter.com/Moni_n_da_middl/status/1152994535271751682?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1152994535271751682&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.today.com%2Fstyle%2Fnitecap-founder-responds-cultural-appropriation-backlash-75-hair-wraps-t159639

It didn’t matter that Marantz Lindenberg runs a small company that tries to employ women, guarantees good employment conditions, and tries to use sustainable methods of production. Those are good, but apparently not enough:

In a statement to TODAY Style, Marantz Lindenberg said the following: “Hair wrapping and sleep bonnets have been used for centuries and I have never once claimed to have invented or come up with the concept, despite many stories and posts misquoting me. I introduced my version because I was unable to find a product on the market that worked for me — made locally and sustainably and from natural materials.”

She also addressed concerns over the price: “The actual price of a NiteCap is $75 USD (the website is listed in Canadian dollars). The price point is such because it is made from 2 yards of 100% natural silk and creates minimal waste through a sustainable production process locally in Canada. We are also committed to supporting fair pay, worker safety and employ a female-owned and operated manufacturing facility.”

There are two problems here. First, the nightcap wasn’t designed or popularized by African-Americans: it has a long history in Europe, as noted by Wikipedia.  Perhaps in modern times it’s worn largely by African-Americans, or Africans, but I can’t speak to that. All I know is that Marantz Lindenberg doesn’t seem to have committed conscious theft of a design, and is fully aware that “the practice has been around long before her time.” Not good enough!!!!  She apparently has to acknowledge that the practice was adopted by African-American women—although before that it was used by European women.

Here’s a day bonnet, protecting the hair, from 1665. You’ve seen this, of course:

And there’s this (click on screenshot):

An excerpt:

Nightcaps or sleeping caps were worn while sleeping to keep the hair tangle-free and – especially silk nightcaps – to make the hair glossy. Nightcaps have a long history and even today silk caps are recommended for long or curly hair. Read on to find out why and how Edwardian and WW1 women wore nightcaps and how to make a vintage silk sleeping cap for yourself!

Some examples from that piece:

Were these appropriated from African-Americans, or Africans? I doubt it.

But who cares who invented it In fact, it was probably “invented” several times over as women discovered that wrapping your hair helped keep it neat and tidy.

The main question, though, is this: was damage done to the African-American community by Mantz Lindenberg’s silk headwrap?  And, as usual with these things, the answer is “no”. The only “damage” done was to the feelings of people who thought that the head bonnet was theirs, and that nobody can use it without acknowledging one group who uses it, and probably discuss the history of oppression of blacks in America. This is the same story we hear over and over again: with the kimono at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, with General Tso’s chicken at Oberlin, with whites wearing dreadlocks or hoop earrings, and so on. In no case was palpable harm done to the minority groups.

Nevertheless, Marantz Lindenberg issued the obligatory apology on Instagram, and Fashion Magazine also added it to the head of their interview with the note: “Editor’s note: we wanted to update this story with the Instagram post from Sarah Marantz Lindenberg from NiteCap.” 

So the Woke humiliate those who have violated their canons of purity. It would be interesting to analyze the psychology behind this kind of outrage, but I must pass on to other matters.

The daily chuckle: Kim Kardashian accused of cultural appropriation for naming her underwear line “kimono”

June 26, 2019 • 3:30 pm

Yes, even Kim Kardashian is guilty of appropriation, at least according to this article in The Daily Fail (click on screenshot):

Once again we see people looking for an outlet for their outrage, and taking it out on garments that don’t even resemble Japanese kimonos, but simply bear their name. (It may be that the “kim” in “kimono” refers to Kardashian.)

Forgive me for reproducting this picture of Kardashian and some models showing the kimono “shapewear”, which I guess is like full-body Spanx, but you need to see what’s causing the outrage:

And the backlash:

The 38-year-old entrepreneur said the brand ‘celebrates and enhances the shape and curves of women’, as she made the announcement on social media.

She shared three images from her Kimono Solutionwear shoot while posing alongside models, adding a lengthy caption to talk about her new venture that she said was ‘coming soon’.

But Japanese people say the trademarked brand disrespects the traditional 15th century kimono clothing.

. . .One social media user wrote: ‘I feel very sad that the name ”Kimono” is being used to something completely different from what we Japanese know about it. Kimono is Japanese traditional clothes and we are very proud of its history and culture. I’m sorry but I feel this name choice is simply ignorant. #KimOhNo.’

Professor Sheila Cliffe from the Jumonji Women’s University in Niiza, Japan, said the kimono was actually the opposite of figure-hugging shapewear.

. . .’She’s been to Japan many times. I’m shocked. She has no respect,’ tweeted one social media user in Japanese.

‘I like Kim Kardashian, but please pick a name other than kimono if it’s underwear,’ wrote another.

‘The Japanese government should file a protest against Kardashian,’ wrote a third.

This is also reported by the BBC, which reproduces some tweets (I’ve added a few from #kimohno):

https://twitter.com/ortistkira/status/1143938623890436096

Yet Japanese salarymen wear Western suits, complete with tie. Are we supposed to call them out by tweeting “My culture’s not your neckwear”?

I think some people need to do something constructive rather that sit before their keyboards looking for cases of cultural appropriation (in this case only a name). Really, what does all this outrage accomplish?

I have yet to see a single instance of inappropriate cultural appropriation. I’ve given some hypothetical cases in which cultural appropriation could be harmful, but I’ve never seen any. And certainly this is not one of them.

 

h/t: Randy

Blatant appropriation of Hispanic culture by the Japanese

June 12, 2019 • 10:45 am

Reader Jane called my attention to this New York Times video about the appropriation of Hispanic “low rider” culture by Japanese enthusiasts. It’s not just the “bouncy” lowrider cars they’ve adopted, but also the clothes, the music, and the art.

It’s clear that the Japanese entrepreneurs do profit from this appropriation, but it’s equally clear that they respect the culture, downplaying things like gangs and drugs and “stealing” the appealing bits.

And what’s wrong with that? Not much, as far as I can see. This is clearly “appropriating down”, given the positions of the cultures in the American hierarchy of oppression, but it’s also a question of liking a culture and adopting what you like. This is the way the world works, and all the pushback by the offense crowd will not stop it.

The reporter summarized what is going on here: “It wasn’t a question of ‘either/or’ but of ‘more so and’.  That is, enrichment rather than theft. As one commenter said, “it’s culture appreciation, not appropriation.”

If the Japanese did this in the U.S., many Hispanics would have a fit.

Don’t appropriate my New Year!

February 9, 2019 • 10:15 am

This tweet is from Kassy Cho, a reporter for BuzzFeed News:

https://twitter.com/kassy/status/1093235338686984192

Comments:

1.)  This reminder isn’t “friendly” at all. That word is just a smiley-face equivalent meant to take the sting out of the authoritarian diktat that she provides. Here’s lawyer Ken White’s response:

2.) Nobody in India, China or Japan gets to celebrate Christmas unless Christians give them permission

3.) BuzzFeed News (as opposed to BuzzFeed itself) was just touted as a great and respected journalistic venue by Jill Lepore writing in The New Yorker.  When BuzzFeed News got rid of some writers as part of an industry-wide move to downsize, I’m not sure they fired the right people.

4.) There is pushback on Twitter (that is, people are clapping back at Cho and throwing shade on her). A few examples:

Now Cho may be trolling here, but I don’t think so. And if you say she is, give evidence for that.  As for me, I may get a mooncake in Chinatown today (and yes, I know it’s the wrong moon festival).

Another Rachel Dolezal affair? Hawaii congressman claims he’s “an Asian trapped in a white’s body”.

January 17, 2019 • 12:00 pm

Rachel Dolezal was a white woman who felt she was black, and, using various cosmetics and hairstyles, successfully passed for black.  She in fact became head of the NAACP in Spokane, Washington before in 2015 she was outed as white by her white parents. She was summarily fired not only by the NAACP, but by the university in Washington where she was teaching and by the Spokane City Council, where she was a police ombudsman. And she was vilified and demonized.

I don’t understand why, if race is a social construct (Native Americans have claimed that Elizabeth Warren’s DNA test was irrelevant to her claim to be Cherokee, which supposedly has nothing to do with genes), and if gender is a social construct, one can justifiably claim to be a male in a woman’s body (or vice versa) but not to be a black person in a white person’s body.

In fact, when feminist philosopher Rebecca Tuvel published an article in the journal Hypatia that asked this very question about “transracialism”, she was demonized and exorcised, with some of the journal’s editors apologizing for the article, and many academics calling Tuvel a racist and a transphobe, demanding that the article be retracted (it wasn’t).

The question still remains, at least to me, a valid one. I really think that Dolezal felt she was black with the same honesty and intensity that some transgender people feel that their gender identity doesn’t match their bodies. And, as of a year ago, the Delaware school board was weighing a policy that let students self identify as to not just gender, but to “race”.

Now the controversy has bubbled up again. Congressman Ed Case, who represents the Honolulu area in Congress (a district with an Asian-American majority), declared at an event feting Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters and members of Congress that he is “an Asian trapped in a white body.” You can read about it at HuffPo, which clearly finds his statement horrific. (Their article, by Asian Voices editor Kimberley Yam, begins with the words “Oh… oh, no.”)  There are many other articles about Case’s supposed gaffee (e.g. here, here, and here).

Now Representative Case may not be trying to look Asian or pass for Asian, but his statement was meant to say that he feels as if he were Asian. From the article (there are a lot of articles about this):

Case spokesman Nestor Garcia said the congressman had been commenting “on what his Japanese-American wife sometimes says about him.” The Democrat, whose state boasts the largest percentage of Asian-Americans in the U.S., told HuffPost in a statement that he has “absorbed and lives the values of our many cultures.”

Is this a big deal, then? Words like Case’s would in past times have been accepted as saying something informative about the man—something not pejorative.

No longer. You cannot make the claim—even in a state where the majority is Asian and that majority wields much of the political power, and Asians aren’t an oppressed minority—that you’re a white person who feels Asian. Somehow that claim is ideologically unacceptable, and seems to many to verge on racism. But why?

(One could argue that it’s political and patronizing, but Case said the claim comes from his Asian-American wife.) And so the dogpiling began on social media and in the public eye:

And so on. . .

As the Washington Post reported:

It didn’t take long for Case’s comment to reach an audience online, as well, where the reception was a collective head shake.

“I just oof’d so hard I blacked out for a sec,” one Twitter user wrote.

“As a haole who lived in Japan for 7 years and now lives in Hawai’i, I couldn’t imagine saying something like this,” another said, using a Hawaiian term for someone who is a foreigner. “Check your privilege Ed Case.”

A CollegeHumor writer wondered whether Tilda Swinton or Scarlett Johansson would play the Asian trapped in Case’s body, a reference to the whitewashing scandals that ensued after the actresses were cast in the roles of Asian characters.

And Case apologized:

[Case] continued: “I regret if my specific remarks to the national API community on my full absorption of their concerns caused any offense.”

In the same email, Case spokesman Nestor Garcia clarified that the congressman was commenting “on what his Japanese-American wife sometimes says about him.” Garcia also noted that Case is a returning executive committee member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

His full apology is here.

Truly, I don’t understand all the rancor about this. Is it racist to say something like this? Is he guilty of emotional cultural appropriation? Perhaps Asian readers can explain why this is offensive.

Now Case may not feel that he’s an ethnic Asian but rather a cultural one, but does that matter? (And indeed, there may be the white/Asian equivalent of Rachel Dolezal out there.)

Making a big stink about this, to my mind, accomplishes very little save allowing Asian-Americans to say that they have a 100% monopoly on “feeling Asian.” Does that eliminate bias against Asians, which is not that pervasive in America? What, exactly, does it accomplish?

And that is my problem with much of identity politics. It’s not that identifiable groups have no justifiable complaints about bigotry and oppression, or shouldn’t try to rectify this and obtain equal treatment and opportunity. No, what bothers me is that the way groups often go about this accomplishes nothing. (Remember the kimono fracas in Boston?) It’s a claim of ideological purity and not a way to achieve social progress. It is divisive rather than unifying.

Finally, Case made his statement in a spirit of goodwill and unity: what good does it to do hound and demonize the man? Does intent count for nothing?

Further, if you claim that ethnicity and gender are social constructs having nothing to do with biological reality but with personal feelngs, then you must be consistent, and you can have no valid reason to criticize what Case said—unless you think he was lying.

Feel free to correct me or explain this further in the comments, but, as always, please be civil.

___________

UPDATE:

Here’s an explanation from The Mary Sue. After reading it, I wasn’t sympathetic to their views: they’re hectoring a man for no good reason, flaunting their own ideological virtue, ignoring Case’s good intentions as well as the fact that Japanese people, especially in Hawaii, are not subject to “systematic racism and oppression”. This is language policing, pure and simple:

Here’s the thing: Case is not pulling a Rachel Dolezal here. He knows he is white, and he clearly has enthusiasm for Asian culture. But he’s going about it in a wildly insensitive and wrongheaded way. When a white person proclaims themselves to be a nonwhite race/ethnicity trapped inside a white body, they are discounting and dismissing the systemic racism and oppression that is inescapable for folks of that race or ethnicity.

It is peak white privilege, and it shares the same cultural voyeurism of straight women saying that they are “gay men on the inside.” These are marginalized communities that have suffered under discrimination and mistreatment since time immemorial, not a fashionable token to brag about how woke you are.

Race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender: these are not accessories to fit your mood: they are lived experiences and identities. If Ed Case really feels an affinity for Asian culture, he should know better than to insult it in this way. Fellow white people, it’s only January. Let’s be better than this, yes?