The NYT’s fashion director decries cultural appropriation

February 15, 2023 • 10:15 am

Vanessa Friedman is the fashion director and chief fashion critic of the New York Times, and she also will answer your “burning style questions” at

In today’s paper, she answers a question about whether it’s bad to culturally appropriate clothing, with a special focus on Asian clothing. All I can say is that I’m in trouble if that appropriation is bad, because when I’m in India, and sometimes in the U.S., I wear Indian clothing. In India it’s simply far more comfortable than “Western” clothing like heavy blue jeans, and it’s also a lot easier to get light cotton kurtas (shirts) and drawstring pants washed by the local dhobi (washer); they are cheap to clean and they dry fast. And I like the look of kurtas, too, and have several silk ones—including some given to me by Indian friends.

I have never been called out or criticized for wearing Indian clothes. Indeed, in India I think the locals appreciate my “appropriation.”

That said, I’m clearly DOING IT RONG, at least according to Vanessa Friedman, because I haven’t deeply educated myself on the clothes. I wear them because I like them and they’re comfortable. (I also have two New Zealand All Blacks rugby shirts in case a Kiwi wants to go after me.)

But I think Vanessa is deeply misguided, and sets herself up as a Pecksniffian arbiter of what’s proper.

Let me say first that yes, in some circumstances I wouldn’t wear clothes from other cultures. I wouldn’t dress up as a Mexican bandit at Halloween (though it shouldn’t be banned), nor as a Japanese samurai. This is mainly because there is no circumstance in which that would be necessary. The only time when I think it would be actually offensive to wear clothes of another culture is when you’re doing it to mock other cultures.  Dressing up as a samurai would be deeply weird, and hardly “appropriate” in any circumstance, but it’s not a mockery of Japanese culture. And I have no problem with Western women wearing Indian clothes like saris—which I consider the world’s most beautiful women’s apparel—or the two-piece salwar kameez. It’s nearly always done out of respect and admiration for the garment, so why is that wrong?

According to Pecksniff Vanessa, it’s wrong unless you wear it exactly as it’s meant to be worn (hard with a sari) and if you have educated yourself on the “specific meaning” of the item.

Click the headline to read her misguided advice, and I see the article is archived here as well:

Here’s the question from an Inquisitive Reader:

I lived in Bangkok for a few years and traveled the region extensively. I love Asian-inspired fashion, but I now feel self-conscious wearing some of my Asian pieces as I am not Asian and don’t want to be disrespectful in any way. What do I do with my ao dai, Chinese jacket, Shanghai Tang items and more? — Mary, La Jolla, Calif.

My answer would be, “You go, Mary”, but Ms. Friedman finds this “problematic”:

The question of cultural appropriation is a highly complicated, fraught issue with no simple answers. You may remember that a few years ago a white high school senior wore a cheongsam to her prom, and it set off a firestorm of criticism in the United States — though in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, many social media users saw it as a cultural victory.

Note that the Chinese weren’t offended: it was Americans (including Chinese-Americans) who wailed. That tells you already that it’s the local Pecksniffs, people looking to be offended, that make people who wear clothes from other cultures feel bad.

And remember when, in 2015, the Met Gala celebrated the exhibition “China: Through the Looking Glass,” and though some guests understood the theme, others got their traditions and countries mixed up in a pretty egregious way?

There is a difference between wearing a garment as a homage and sign of cultural appreciation and wearing it as a costume or because you think it looks cute. And when it comes to Asian sartorial tradition, the stakes have only increased since the pandemic began, with its wave of despicable anti-Asian violence.

This can be especially tricky when it comes to fashion, which has long loved to dabble in what used to be termed the “exotic,” often without any regard for point of origin or meaning. See, for example, Gucci’s use of turbans that evoked Sikh dress as a runway accessory in 2019, not to mention the continued widespread use of the generic and derogatory term “Oriental” in reference to style and prints.

“Cute” is deliberately demeaning: people wear foreign clothes because they think they look good. I don’t wear kurtas because I think they’re “cute.”

People do not wear foreign clothes as a deliberate sign of homage or cultural appreciation unless they’re going to a special cultural event. They wear them because they like the way they look. If Ms. Friedman thinks that wearing Asian clothes somehow buys into anti-Asian violence or bigotry, she has no idea what she’s talking about. As for turbans, well, they’ve been worn by women for decades, and don’t especially conjure up Sikhs. But even if they did, so what? Gucci is not making fun of Sikhs, but adopting a garment out of admiration.

As for “Oriental,” well, yes, I wouldn’t use that term, but we’re talking about clothing here, not words.

Further, according to Friedman, you have to think deeply and do some sartorial study before you don your garment. Just to be sure, she asked an Asian American

I asked Jodie Chan, a fashion professional and the producer of the short film “Invisible Seams,” which tells the stories of New York’s Asian garment workers, what she would advise. First, she said, intention and understanding matters, so educate yourself as to the meaning and history of a garment to ensure you are wearing it as it is meant to be worn.

“While clothing is universal, some pieces can carry specific meaning and should be researched and treated as such,” Ms. Chan said in an email. “If you want to wear a kimono/yukata or robe piece suggestive of a kimono, for example, it is very important to consider how you wear it — always the left side over the right side, as the other way is for the deceased in Japanese culture.”

Well, yes, if you want to be accurate, but really, if it’s on the wrong side, are you mocking or making fun of Asians?  Jodie Chan, by the way, is a Vice President of Marketing at Carolina Herrera, which purveys Western clothes, and if you want to see lots of photos of Ms. Chan appropriating Western dress, go here. Apparently she has the right to culturally appropriate clothes (more on that below):

Another expert finds some stuff problematic:

Susie Lau, a fashion editor and influencer better known as Susie Bubble, said that context was also important, noting that if she saw a qipao dress worn as a sort of sexy waitress look with exaggerated cat-eye makeup, “that is immediately problematic.”

But, she added, “I believe culture should be shared, exchanged and disseminated with the most positive of intentions,” and sometimes that is done through clothing.

Does she not know that wearing foreign clothes is almost invariably done with positive intentions? Does she not know how the world works?

I have to say that qipao dresses, form-fitting and often slit way up the side, are intentionally sexy, and what’s the issue with pairing them with “cat-eye makeup”? I don’t know what Lau is talking about with the “sexy waitress look”, but quipao dresses aren’t exactly modest clothing.

Oh, and there’s one more thing that’s problematic:

Finally, consider who made the piece, and thus who is benefiting. Is it an Asian designer or a Western name profiting from another country’s culture?

Can we ditch the idea of “who’s profiting from another country’s culture”? For crying out loud, all over Asia, including Japan, people wear Western clothing, usually made locally, not in America. Japanese salarymen wear suits and ties, many women get their fashion from the West, and blue jeans (Levis), invented in America, are worldwide.  Do Friedman, Chan, and Lau decry the widespread cultural appropriation of Western clothes by Asians: indeed, by people throughout the world? No, of course not, because it’s okay when they do the appropriation.

It cannot be wrong for an American to wear a qipao if it’s not wrong for a Japanese woman to wear blue jeans, or a Japanese businessman a suit.  That’s all ye need to know.

What we have here are cowed Americans worried sick about whether they’re offending people from other cultures, and they’re made to feel that way as a power play by people who are pretending to “protect” their culture. But this is not offensive because in the case of “cultural appropriation,” as with language, intent does matter.  And I’ve never seen a case (except perhaps at Halloween, and I can’t think of an example) where the intent was mocking or malicious.

Every country is involved in cultural appropriation—of food, of dress, of hairstyles, or machinery—and so on. This is, I think, all to the good. But there are those Pecksniffs who want to put a barrier around their culture and check the Purity Passport of every person who wants entry. Frankly, I’m sick to death of those people who, in their fervent desire—indeed, sometimes a vocation—to be offended, call out things that are good or well meant. If you want to see the apogee of the Deliberately Offended, read about “Kimono Wednesdays” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts a few years back.

Are you a racist if you like big butts?

January 8, 2023 • 1:15 pm

How can you not like Kat Rosenfield when she’s named “Kat,” is Jewish, and has the ability to write a trenchant but also funny review of a book on how white people are not allowed to either like big butts or (if a woman) have one, for it’s a form of racist cultural appropriation. Twerking is out too.

The book under consideration is called Butts: A Backstory, and you can click on the cover to go to the Amazon link (yes, the title and graphics are clever):


You can read Kat’s Unherd review by clicking on the screenshot:

Kat gives the book a mixed review. The bit about the documented racialization of oversized derrieres, particularly in the 18th and 19th century, is pretty horrifying, especially the story of the South African black woman Sarah Baartman, who was exhibited as an inferior specimen of human for her rear pulchritude. But if big butts were racially denigrated then, author Heather Radke says that they’re welcome now among some white people, and gives examples like Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, and so on. “Twerking,” too, has been taken up by whites. And it’s the white appropriation of the butt fetish that is, well, problematic:


To be fair, it surely is not Radke’s intention to inculcate racial anxiety in her reader: Butts feels like a passion project, deeply researched and fun to read, offering a deep dive into the history and culture of the human rear end, from the Venus Callipyge (from whose name the word “callipygian” is derived) to Buns of Steel to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s seminal rap celebrating all things gluteal. It is a topic ripe for well-rounded analysis, so to speak. But having been written in the very particular milieu of 2020s America, Butts unfortunately falls victim to the contemporary vogue for viewing all matters of culture through a racial lens. The result is a work that not only flattens the butt, figuratively, but makes the book feel ultimately less like an anthropological study and more like an entry into the crowded genre of works which serve to stoke the white liberal guilt of the NPR tote bag set.

At this point I was starting to fall in love with Rosenfield, but she kept on stoking the ardor with her insistent anti-wokeness:

The concept of cultural appropriation has always struck me as both fundamentally misguided and historically illiterate, arising from a studied incuriosity about both the inherent contagiousness of culture and the mimetic nature of human beings. But when it comes to the remixing of thing such as textiles, hairdos or fashion trends across cultures, the appropriation complaints seem at least understandable, if not persuasive: there’s a conscious element there, a choice to take what looked interesting on someone else and adorn your own body in the same way. Here, though, the appropriated item is literally a body part — the size and shape of which we rather notoriously have no control over. And yet Radke employs more or less the same argument to stigmatise the appropriation of butts as is often made about dreadlocks or bindis.

The book is insistent on this front: butts are a black thing, and liking them is a black male thing, and the appreciation of butts by non-black folks represents a moral error: cultural theft or stolen valour or some potent mix of the two. Among the scholars and experts quoted by Radke on this front is one who asserts that the contemporary appreciation of butts by the wider male population is “coming from Black male desire. Straight-up, point-blank. It’s only through Black males and their gaze that white men are starting to take notice”. To paraphrase a popular meme: “Fellas, is it racist to like butts?”

But if it’s racist to like big butts, why are so many white people either getting butt implants or taking pride in their derrieres? It seems that Radtke is conflating racism with cultural approprition. Both are “moral errors”, but really it’s only the first.

First of all, buttophilia is not a new thing; there have always been a subset of men who like an ample bottom, and there’s nothing wrong with that, for there’s a subset of men who favor any given female body part. (Rosenfield notes the theory that the bustles of earlier times were designed as a superliminal stimulus to appeal to those who favor large rears.)

But there’s also no doubt that there’s recent cultural appropriation, as in white rapper Iggy Azalea’s astounding increase in bum girth, one suspects through surgery. If a love of big butts is racist, there’s an awful lot of white people who favor them!  Again, things that are really considered racist are not culturally appropriated, no matter who appropriates them.  I suppose that Radtke’s thesis, although she mentions cultural appropriation, is that women who strive for big butts are, à la Rachel Dolezal, trying to be black, and that is somehow a form of racism. But that doesn’t explain why some white men like big butts.

It’s all a mystery, but Rosenfield still writes well about it:

By the time Butts comes around to analysing the contemporary derriere discourse, its conclusions are all but foregone: the political is not just personal, but anatomical. The book calls multiple women, including Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, and Miley Cyrus, to account for their appropriation of butts, which are understood to belong metaphorically if not literally to black women. The most scathing critique is directed at the then-21-year-old Cyrus, whose twerking at the VMAs is described as “adopting and exploiting a form of dance that had long been popular in poor and working-class Black communities and simultaneously playing into the stereotype of the hypersexual Black woman”. The mainstreaming of butts as a thing to be admired, then, is the ultimate act of Columbusing: “The butt had always been there, even if white people failed to notice for decades.”

There is also the curious wrinkle in Radke’s section on the history of twerking, which credits its popularisation to a male drag queen named Big Freedia. The implicit suggestion is that this movement style is less offensive when performed by a man dressed as a woman than by a white woman with a tiny butt.

On the other hand, now that the fad is “healthy at any size,” how can there be an ideological stigma against large bottoms?

. . . Ironically, the author of this book is herself a white woman with a large backside, a fact of which she periodically reminds the reader. And yet, Butts thoroughly subsumes its subject matter into the cultural appropriation discourse in a way that implicitly impugns all the non-black women who look — at least from behind — a hell of a lot more like Nicki Minaj than Kate Moss, women who perhaps hoped that their own big butts might be counted among those Sir Mix-a-Lot cannot lie about liking. It is worth noting, too, that the women hung out to dry by this argument are the same ones who other progressive identitarian rhetoric almost invariably fails to account for: the more it indulges in the archetype of the assless willowy white woman, the more Butts excludes from its imagination the poor and working class — whose butts, along with everything else, tend to be bigger. It fails to account, too, for those from ethnic backgrounds where a bigger butt — or, as one of my Jewish great-grandmothers might have said, a nice round tuchus — is the norm.

And the last paragraph is great:

All told, Butts offers an interesting if somewhat monomaniacal look back at the cultural history of the derriere. But as for how to view our backsides moving forward — especially if you happen to be a woman in possession of a big butt yourself — the book finds itself at something of a loss. Those in search of body positivity will not find it here; Radke is firm on this front, that white women who embrace their big butts are guilty of what Toni Morrison called “playing in the dark”, dabbling thoughtlessly with a culture, an aesthetic, a physique that doesn’t really belong to them. The best these women can hope for, it seems, is to look at their bodies the way Radke does in the final pages, with a sort of resigned acceptance: her butt, she says, is “just a fact”. On the one hand, this is better than explicitly instructing women to feel ashamed of their bodies (although implicitly, one gets the sense that shame is preferable to the confident, twerking alternative). But after some 200 pages of narrative about the political, sexual, cultural, historical baggage with which the butt is laden, it feels a bit empty, a bit like a cop-out. It could even be said — not by me, but by someone — that Butts has a hole in it.* [see below]

In the end, it seems as if Radke’s message is that it’s not really racist to like big butts if you’re white, but you better not get one or engage in twerking.  That’s reserved for ethnicities whose women naturally have large rumps; in other words, whites of a callipygean bent are engaging in cultural appreciation, and that’s wrong. But I’ve never seen a form of cultural appropriation that I’d criticize, and this one is no exception. Let a thousand butts twerk!

The evolution of Iggy Azelea’s rear, from an article in (of course) The Sun:

Rosenfield’s last line reminds me of a semi-salacious joke that my father used to tell me when, as a young lad, I was tucked in (he always had a witticism at bedtime):

“Jerry, there’s a good movie on. The ad says “Mein Tuchus in two parts. Come tomorrow and see the whole!”

h/t: Luana

A new New York Times opinion columnist

April 27, 2022 • 10:00 am

by Greg Mayer

Jerry and I have lamented here at WEIT the decline of The New York Times, including its descent into woke ideology and pseudoscience. But we have noted some encouraging shifts in the position of the editorial board, even if they are sometimes confused, and the odious Dean Baquet is stepping down as executive editor. A new opinion columnist, Pamela Paul, has just been added, and her first column is encouraging, as it suggests that the Times may be diversifying its opinion writers beyond its stock conservatives. In the column, she takes on the notion of “lived experience”.

The accompanying illustration is quite clever. If “lived experience” limits our art, then all an artist can do is reproduce a precise image of himself. (The artist looks rather more like a physician from a 1950s cigarette ad than a sculptor, though.)

The central tenet of identity politics is that an individual’s “identity”, primarily “race” and “gender”, defines and constrains an individual’s position in society, both in what that individual will suffer from in an unjust society, and in what that individual may do in a just society. A frequent rhetorical flourish in the assertion of this central tenet is that “lived experience” is the sine qua non of non-problematic expression– unless an individual has the same identity, that individual may not write about, depict, study, evaluate, or otherwise comment on someone who is of that identity, or the identity in general.

Paul disagrees. She begins by questioning her own competency to write about anything outside her experience:

Am I, as a new columnist for The Times, allowed to weigh in on anything other than a narrow sliver of Gen X white woman concerns?

and notes that to the “establishment gatekeepers in Hollywood, book publishing and the arts” the answer is, increasingly, ‘no’:

It’s the ultimate litmus test: Only those whose “lived experience” matches the story are qualified to tell the tale.

She explains what this means:

So what is this vaunted “lived experience”? You may recognize it by its longstanding name, “personal experience,” or less excitingly, “experience.” But “lived experience,” with its earthy suggestion of authority, says to other people: Unless you have walked in my shoes, you have no business telling my story.

It’s essentially a turf war. Only Latino authors can write novels about Latinos. Only Holocaust survivors can convey the truth of the Holocaust. Only disabled people can portray disabled people. Everyone else is out.

But she does not accept this constriction of creativity and commentary:

This is one point of view, and as with most points of view, some of it is valid. Clearly those who have lived through something — whether it’s a tsunami or a lifetime of racial discrimination — have a story to tell. Their perspective is distinct and it’s valuable.

But it is, crucially, only one perspective. And to suggest that only those whose identities match those of the people in a story — whether it’s the race of a showrunner or the sex of the author of a book under review — is a miserly take on the human experience.

Think about the great art that would be lost if we loyally carried out this rigid identitarian mandate.

There is in her piece one thing that I originally took to be a false step. Early in the piece, she wonders whether Jews are entitled to update “West Side Story”, since it is “fundamentally about Puerto Rican lives”. This statement, taken at face value, displays a shocking ignorance of the play on which it purports to comment. (A sort of ignorance which is, unfortunately, increasingly evident in the pages of the Times.) “West Side Story” is not “fundamentally about Puerto Rican lives”, anymore than it is about “Polish lives” or even “Veronese lives”– it is about human lives. As everyone knows, “West Side Story” is a musical retelling of “Romeo and Juliet”, set in New York in the 1950s. In “Romeo and Juliet”, Shakespeare, an early modern Englishman, mined “Italian” sources for a story set in the Renaissance based on tales that go back to Classical antiquity in Greece and Rome. To locate the heart of this story in any particularity of “Puerto Rican lives” is a profound misinterpretation.

Upon reflection, however, I believe she is merely parroting and parodying the complaints of the woke, and I read this passage as mockery rather than error.

Do read her whole piece, with its salutary thesis that “lived experience” is a “miserly take on the human experience.”

Helen Mirren attacked for portraying Golda Meir because Mirren’s not Jewish

January 7, 2022 • 11:15 am

OY VEY!  DOUBLE OY VEY! Helen Mirren has been cast as Golda Meir in an upcoming film on the late Israeli Prime Minister, and people are beefing about it. About ten years ago this wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, but now the Pecksniffs are tut-tutting about the choice because Mirren isn’t Jewish. I vehemently disagree.

Now sometimes there is a need for authenticity—and authenticity without insult. While Mirren required extensive makeup to look like Golda, I would not sanction a white man playing, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr. The history of blackface is too pernicious and racist to allow that.

But can a black woman play Golda Meir? I don’t think so, for it would affect the “suspension of disbelief” essential in watching any such movie. There has to be a degree of versimilitude to make the reader immerse himself in the movie’s reality. Could the Robert Redford of old play Truman Capote in the movie “Capote”? I don’t think so, for we know what Capote looked and acted like. Those images are burned too deeply into our neurons to make a Redford performance credible. Could a black man play Richard III? I’m not opposed to that simply because, although we know the King wasn’t black, we wouldn’t be preoccupied with the trope of “blacface” during the movie.

Can Helen Mirren play Golda Meir, even if she’s not Jewish? OF COURSE! So long as she looks sort of like Meir, and tries to adopt a sort-of Israeli accent, why should we beef? She is, after all, a wonderful actress.  Does knowing that Helen Mirren isn’t Jewish (she may be an atheist, for all I know) really detract from the movie? Only to the Pecksniffs. Yet they are here infesting the Guardian: click the screenshot to read:

Here they go:

Maureen Lipman has criticised the casting of Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in a forthcoming film about the former Israeli prime minister, saying that the character’s Jewishness is “integral”.

In comments reported by the Jewish Chronicle, Lipman said she “disagreed” with Mirren’s casting. She added: “I’m sure [Mirren] will be marvellous, but it would never be allowed for Ben Kingsley to play Nelson Mandela. You just couldn’t even go there.”

But there are good reasons not to go there, and it involves external appearance, not internal religious beliefs. Richard Burton, after all, played Thomas Becket in the eponymous 1964 movie, and Burton wasn’t a Catholic or an Anglican, but an atheist. So what? It was a good movie.

Here’s why the Pecksniffs object, but with the inervention of sanity:

The Jewish Chronicle’s piece cited a number of controversial instances of “Jewface”, including Tamsin Greig’s recent suggestion that she ‘probably’ should not have been cast in the sitcom Friday Night Dinner and the row over a stage production of the musical Falsettos in 2019, which contained no Jewish cast or crew members. It also quoted actor and comic Sarah Silverman’s comments on the mooted casting of Kathryn Hahn as Joan Rivers in a TV series: “Right now, representation fucking matters. It has to also finally matter for Jews as well. Especially Jewish women.”

In contrast, the playwright and director Patrick Marber was quoted in the Jewish Chronicle article as objecting to the primacy of “lived experienced” in casting decisions, saying: “I fucking hate that expression. Because ‘lived experience’ is sort of a denial of what creativity is and denies the actor the fundamental challenge and right to become someone else to impersonate another human being from another time, from another culture from another religion and another sexuality and other gender.”

Marber added: “I think a Gentile can play a Jew and a Jew can play a Gentile. I don’t like it when someone plays a Jew and gets it wrong. [But] I don’t like quotas.”

How can you “get it wrong” when you play a Jew? There are so many Jews on the world, many of them atheists, that I don’t see how someone can “get it wrong.” But kudos for Marber. His statement about “lived experience” is precisely right.

And Sarah Silverman objects! Seriously? It’s not as if Jews have been underrepresented in the movie industry! And remember, Dame Sarah, both Paul Newman and Sal Mineo, neither of them Jews, both played Jews in the 1960 movie Exodus I remember this scene well:


I’m a secular Jew, and I don’t think that “lived experience” is necessarily for great actors like Mirren. All that’s important is that they convince us they were the character. Here’s Mirren made up as Meir, unrecognizable as the actress.

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, 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.

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):

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