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.”

More on “cultural appropriation” of the Chinese dress

May 2, 2018 • 11:18 am

Yesterday I reported on the fracas about a Caucasian woman from Utah, Keziah Daum, who wore a qipao (also called a “cheongsam”), a form-fitting Chinese-style dress, to her senior prom. She found the dress in a vintage clothing store and admired it. For this gross breach of propriety, she was called out by many people for “cultural appropriation.” First, here’s the dress on Ms. Daum:

The qipao is a special dress, one invented in Shanghai in the 1920s and worn by socialites of the upper class. Further, I didn’t think of the possibility that its form-fitting nature may actually have been influenced by Western styles, which becomes more plausible if you read about its origins and alterations (from Wikipedia):

The original qipao was wide and loose. It covered most of the woman’s body, revealing only the head, hands, and the tips of the toes. The baggy nature of the clothing also served to conceal the figure of the wearer regardless of age. With time, though, the qipao were tailored to become more form fitting and revealing.

The modern version, which is now recognized popularly in China as the “standard” qipao, was first developed in Shanghai in the 1920s, partly under the influence of Beijing styles. The streamlined and body-hugging cut of the modern cheongsam was popularized by the socialite and one-time First Lady of China Madame Wellington Koo. Voted several times by Vogue into its lists of the world’s best-dressed women, Madame Wellington Koo was much admired for her adaptations of the traditional Manchu fashion, which she wore with lace trousers and jade necklaces. Cheongsam dresses at the time had been decorously slit a few inches up the sides, but Madame Koo slashed hers to the knee, ‘with lace pantelettes just visible to the ankle’. Unlike other Asian socialites, Madame Koo also insisted on local Chinese silks, which she thought were of superior quality.

People eagerly sought a more modernized style of dress and transformed the old qipao to suit their tastes. Slender and form fitting with a high cut, it had great differences from the traditional qipao. It was high-class courtesans and celebrities in the city that would make these redesigned tight fitting qipao popular at that time. In Shanghai it was first known as zansae or “long dress” (長衫—Mandarin Chinese: chángshān; Shanghainese: zansae; Cantonese: chèuhngsāam), and it is this name that survives in English as the “cheongsam”.

If you click the link on Madame Wellington Koo above, you’ll learn that she served as China’s nominal first lady for a year, but was also an international socialite, living in Paris and New York.  (Her Chinese name was Oei Hui-lan, 黃蕙蘭.) She also frequently wore Western clothes (see photo below), but I suppose nobody accused her of cultural appropriation. Well, that wasn’t in vogue back then (though Ms. Koo was in Vogue as a “style icon”), but my point is that it’s certainly plausible that Koo changed the baggier dress to a form-fitting style because she was influenced by Western dresses. In that case the qipao is itself a form of cultural appropriation that’s been “reverse appropriated.”

US ambassador Averell Harriman (C) greeting people with Mrs. Wellington Koo (L) during a party at the US Embassy in London. January 01, 1946

As for Chinese people wearing jeans, having Western names, and wearing Western suits, a new piece in the Independent explains why that’s okay (click on screenshot):

The author is Eliza Anyangwe, described on YouTube a “Cameroon-born, London-based freelance journalist and founder of The Nzinga, a platform to celebrate African women’s stories. She naturalised in Britain but her parents are South African residents, living and working here. She is an example of a phenomena that is called the third culture children, who can’t lay claim to one culture because they are constantly on the move. Eliza joins us in the studio to tell us more about the Third culture Movement.” (my emphasis).  In the video she says that the “third culture” people float between several different cultures, which means they can appropriate elements of any culture. Isn’t that convenient? If I have genes from Ireland, as I might, is it okay if I wear green on St. Patrick’s Day?

As you can tell from Anyangwe’s title, she takes an extreme position—so extreme that she sees wearing a qipao as an element of systemic oppression practiced by whites. But Chinese people wearing suits aren’t oppressing Westerners.  Why? Anywangwe tells us (my emphasis):

Daum does not deserve online abuse, no one does, but the debate her prom pictures have prompted is justified. Cultural appropriation is about power, and to many she’s the embodiment of a system that empowers white people to take whatever they want, go wherever they want and be able to fall back on: “Well, I didn’t mean any harm.”

Yes, the qipao can probably be acquired fairly cheaply anywhere in the world where there’s a Chinese store, and in the same way that jeans are part of US cultural imperialism, there are certainly some in China who would see Daum’s sartorial choice as an extension of Chinese soft power – but whichever way you look at it, it wasn’t “just a dress”.

. . . Of course, it’s not just white people who are capable of appropriation (black people wearing bindis to music festivals has always irked me) – but it is unfair, enraging and a reflection of more deeply rooted inequalities when young people from various ethnic minorities are ridiculed for wearing their traditional dress; when they fight their afro hair into submission or dream of surgery on their eyelids, all so that they fit a white ideal.

Well, there you have it. The adoption of Western clothes by Chinese is the U.S.’s fault—cultural imperialism! But how does that work? Did Levi Strauss force the Chinese to wear their gear? I doubt it. Rather, the Chinese like jeans, either for their comfort or as an appropriation of Western style. Whatever the reason, it’s cultural appropriation—but not to Anyangwe. As the saying goes, “When WE do it, it’s okay!”  Either that or “We were forced to do it by those Western imperialists.”  Her last sentence is simply window-dressing, for the kinds of “black cultural appropriation” she mentions can be imputed to white imperialism.

How ludicrous this is! Are Asians oppressed in the U.S.? And is the qipao an item of clothing ever worn by oppressed Chinese? The answer to both questions is “no.” Anyangwe’s rationale is the same as the rationale for saying that blacks and Hispanics can’t be racist, because racism supposedly equals oppression plus power. To Anyangwe, cultural appropriation equals borrowing plus power. In both cases the “power” part has been added to excuse one group from what they impute to other groups as bigoted behavior. But wearing a qipao is not bigotry—it’s an expression of admiration for a dress style. As Seth Andrews has said, Anyangwe and the other critics of Daum’s dress are practicing “recreational outrage” (something I’ve called “leisure fascism”, but I like Seth’s term better). While some forms of cultural appropriation are worthy of being called out, this isn’t one of them.

For a palliative to the rant of Ms. Anyangwe, read the article below, also in The Independent, by Kassie Draven (click screenshot), who identifies herself as “Samoan, and part German, Dutch and British.”

An excerpt:

The qipao itself was culturally appropriated from Western figure-hugging dress designs as early as the 1920s, and was intended to be a luxurious evening gown. Did Keziah not wear it for its intended purpose? If so, how was she being in any way, shape or form disrespectful?

Personally, I think it’s deeply conservative to tell people what to wear, let alone what they can and can’t enjoy, based on their race or outward appearance. As someone who wants equality for all and for racism to end, I find it worrying to hear people discouraging the mixing and appreciation of other cultures. That mixing is actually the driving force towards acceptance and positive anti-racist change.

No culture is ‘pure’, as in completely removed from influences of other cultures around it. Humans have culturally appropriated ideas from each other since time immemorial. We in the West scoff our Pop Tarts (surely descended from the Cornish pasty? Don’t quote me on that!), use maths (which Arabs developed from the ideas of the ancient Greeks and Indians) and enjoy the comfort of electricity (which many different people from all backgrounds contributed towards harnessing) as we tap away on Twitter, quick to forget that what makes us great isn’t necessarily what makes us different; it’s the things we learn and share among each other despite being different.

In other words, what makes us great is cultural appropriation. To oppose it would be madness.

Indeed! Although, as I’ve said, some acts of “cultural borrowing” are unsavory, in general it’s not only harmless but salubrious. Opposing things like eating ethnic food or wearing ethnic garb is madness, and Anyangwe is truly mad—in both senses of the term. Those senses, of course, tend to go together.



The history of urbanization

January 2, 2017 • 1:30 pm

From Metrocosm, and now on YouTube, we have a cool animation of the growth of the world’s cities starting with Eridu, which had attained “city” status by about 3000 BC.

For each city, this map shows the date of the earliest recorded population figure, which is not necessarily the date when the city was founded. The size of each dot corresponds to its population at that time.

By 2030, 75 percent of the world’s population is expected to be living in cities. Today, about 54 percent of us do. In 1960, only 34 percent of the world lived in cities.

Urbanization didn’t begin in the 1960’s. But until recently, tracking its history much further back than that was a challenging task. The most comprehensive collection of urban population data available, U.N. World Urbanization Prospects, goes back only to 1950. But thanks to a report released last week by a Yale-led team of researchers, it’s now possible to analyze the history of cities over a much longer time frame.

The researchers compiled the data by digitizing, geocoding, and standardizing information from past research published about historical urban populations. The result is a clean, accessible dataset of cities, their locations, and their populations over time, going as far back as 3700 B.C.

As the authors of acknowledge, the data has a number of limitations and is “far from comprehensive.” Certain parts of world are better represented than others, and some well known cities do not appear until centuries after they were founded. That said, for such an ambitious project (the historical populations of every city ever built anywhere in the world), I think they managed to piece together an impressive amount of data.

Note the huge explosion of urbanization around 1900 AD:

h/t: Matthew Cobb

Gentiles must cease their relentless cultural appropriation of bagels

April 4, 2016 • 11:00 am

There is much talk about cultural appropriation these days, as oppressed groups are waking up to the great harm that has been done to them by PoPs (persons of power) who simply steal aspects of minority culture. This shameless theft has involved everything from mis-prepared General Tso’s chicken in college cafeterias to Americans being allowed to try on kimonos for fun—and even to dreadlocks being worn by white people.

It’s distressing that this rampant borrowing of foods, clothing, hairstyles, and behaviors from their proper cultures isn’t merely done, but done without acknowledging the oppression that historically weighed on the offended groups. The fact that General Tso’s chicken, for instance, is not a real Chinese dish should not distract us from the fact that it’s regularly enjoyed by Westerners wholly ignorant of the atrocities committed by the Japanese on the Chinese during World War II.

But one oppressed group has been the victim of rampant cultural appropriation without the slightest acknowledgement, recognition, or opprobrium. I am referring, of course, to the Jews.

Although cultural theft from Jews is rampant (look at the Yiddish words and phrases like “oy vey,” “nosh”, and “schmuck” that regularly litter the language of oppressive Christians), I want to mention perhaps its clearest instantiation in America—the pervasive consumption of bagels.

I’ll be brief, but I need to establish three things: Jews are an oppressed minority, bagels are a Jewish food, and borrowing foodstuffs from Jews is clearly cultural appropriation. That appropriation is, by the way, defined in its most Sophisticated Form as follows:

. . . a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.

And let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about Jews not being oppressed, regardless of your take on Israel. Historically, Jews are probably the most oppressed religious group, driven from land to land—and pogrom to pogrom—by Christians who viewed them as killers of Christ. Jews were, of course, nearly exterminated in Europe by the Germans, and still experience discrimination everywhere, including the U.S. Remember that only 0.2% of the world’s population is Jewish (in contrast, 22% is Muslim and 5% is Buddhist), and even in America Jews make up only 2% of the population. (I estimate that at least 94.7% of Americans have eaten a bagel.)

Therefore, any element of Jewish culture taken over by non-Jews is cultural appropriation, pure and simple. One might call it Gentile Entitlement.

I thought of this a few weeks ago when I was in a campus coffee shop and observed several students noshing on bagels with cream cheese—students who were clearly not Jewish. And as they shoveled the snack into their maws, they were just as clearly ignorant of the history behind that donut-shaped bread. How dare they be?

Bagels are an Eastern European Jewish food, and combining them with cream cheese and lox, while a later invention, is clearly a Jewish comestible as well. In an article in the Independent on the offense commited by white people who wear dreadlocks, author Wedaeli Chibelushi notes that the real problem is not just cultural theft, but ignorance of the oppression experienced by the co-opted group:

As the black actress Amandla Stenberg says, “appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture that they are partaking in”. By wearing dreadlocks without acknowledging their symbolic resistance, Goldstein reduces cultural power to a “cool” trend.  As part of the oppressive culture, he emulates minority tradition while bypassing the discriminations that comes with it.

But as far as that criticism goes for dreadlocks, it goes ten times farther for bagels. After all, not many white people wear dreadlocks, but nearly every goy eats bagels. Not only that, but even the concept of bagels as Jewish food has been stolen by Gentiles. Take, for example, the offensively named “Einstein Bros. Bagel” chain, a name conjuring up Jews (after all, it brings to mind the world’s most famous Jew after Jesus). But it’s a name that’s wholly confected. There are no Einstein Brothers: the name was made up by the Boston Market corporation to sell bagels.

It’s time to bring this to a halt. If you find yourself craving or ordering bagels, at least be mindful of the two millennia of oppression and bigotry weighing on the people who lovingly shaped each ring of bread. And think about how the genuine article, a small chewy circle, has been completely transformed by goyim into a large circular and tasteless pillow of dough. (The use of steamed rather than fried meat in General Tso’s Chicken pales before such corruption.) If these thoughts don’t occur to you as you have your bagel, you don’t deserve to eat it.

As genuine bagel eaters might say, “Hent avek aundzunder beygelekh.” (“Hands off our bagels.”)

This is Jewish.