Don't Take Our Racist Culture Away

The NYT paid  Bari Weiss to write the latest centrist hippie-punching op-ed on "cultural appropriation." Weiss duly checks all the boxes, as many a self-righteous time-server has before her. Melting pots, sharing culture, fusion restaurants, yay. America is one big glorious celebration of interethnic amity, and the left is going to take away your videos and burn your yoga pants. Everyone loves Elvis, right? If you don't like Elvis, what's wrong with you, you dirty Commie?

These takes depend on two ritual gestures: strawmanning and gaslighting. Weiss pretends that we're actually in imminent danger of subjugation by dour totalitarian leftists who hate joy and yoga and rap artists sampling Steely Dan. (Spoiler: we're not.) Then she studiously ignores the ways in which "cultural borrowing" can perpetuate racism.

These examples are legion. The Washington football team still uses an invidious Native American stereotype as a mascot. That's not zesty cultural mixing: it's racist mockery. Similarly, the issue with Taylor Swift lifting iconography from Beyoncé isn't that cultural mixing is evil. The issue is that Beyoncé was using imagery associated with black freedom struggles to show solidarity and make a political statement. Picking that up to look cool and make money while robbing it of its political content is disrespectful and ugly and yes, kind of racist.

People don't criticize cultural mixing because they think culture should remain pure and no one but Indian people can enjoy Bollywood music. They criticize systems of power in which artists like the Rolling Stones get celebrated as awesome cultural mixers when they play basic blues, while Jimi Hendrix got called a "super spade" and sneered at for lack of authenticity when he played classic rock associated with white people (even though black musicians were central to inventing rock in the first place.) They criticize the use of Asian trappings which present Asia as exotic, sexy and mysterious, because presenting Asia as exotic, sexy and mysterious plays into racist tropes which are used to fetishize and denigrate actual Asian people. 

"I will inevitably get called a racist for cheering cultural miscegenation,," Weiss says, getting a head start on the self-pity. But she's not a racist because she's eclectic. She's abetting racist because she's kicking anti-racists while obfuscating to cover up the racism they're criticizing. 

If people are criticizing racism, and you decide they're trying to take away your culture, that means you've decided your culture is racism. Lots of Americans have in fact decided that, to one degree or another. Bari Weiss defends them with smug obsequiousness, like many a white person before her.