Cultural Appropriation

Us Silly Right-Wingers and Our #Problematic Sombreros!

The New Republic unwittingly praises Reason and Lionel Shriver with faint damning.

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Raaaaaaaa-cist! ||| Reason
Reason

How exhausted is the genre of #hottake outrage at allegedly transgressive white-people activity? This exhausted: Last week, The New Republic wrapped an entire piece around the impropriety of Reason throwing a party for Lionel Shriver featuring paper dolls of the author and various cultural costumes.

The headline, subhed, and opening sentence of this Josephine Livingstone article should not be read without first swallowing your coffee:

Does the Right Really Think a Sombrero is just a "Straw Hat"?

At a recent party for the libertarian magazine "Reason," guests were given a paper doll of Lionel Shriver to dress up in outfits from different cultures.

If the right believes that cultural appropriation is not offensive, why are they making paper dolls that ridicule other cultures?

It's kind of hard to know where to begin. Is Reason or Lionel Shriver a stand-in for "the right"? In Shriver's own words, "my views…qualify as left-wing or right-wing only on the basis of 'eeny meeny miny moe'"—a description very familiar to libertarians (and to the writers for this magazine). Is it really a puzzle to understand why someone who rejects the notion of cultural appropriation would cheerfully engage in symbolic cultural appropriation as a way of making that particular point? And are those scare-quotes around our name? (Drink!)

There is no joy in this attempted shaming exercise, just an overwhelming atmosphere of fatigue:

There's a difference between sharing in another culture and making use of it in a condescending way. The paper outfits, which are in some cases strongly marked ethnically, reduce identity down to costuming. The figures are headless. The illustration is lighthearted, but this gesture of reduction—of complex peoples and histories to empty and headless outfits, interchangeable and undifferentiated—makes the joke feel clumsy and shallow. A culture is not something that you can shrug on and off like a jacket. People are not dresses. People are not hats.

Raaaaaaa-cist! ||| Matt Welch
Matt Welch

Thankfully, Shriver herself shows up at the end of the article, injecting some spirit into the final paragraph:

As for the paper doll illustration, Shriver told the New Republic: "I thought it was utterly charming—inventive, playful, and funny. The event on Monday night was a hoot, and it was a relief for me to find that there are other people out there who still have a sense of humor, do not want to impose their version of righteousness on others, and have some feeling for a 'free country' as something more palpable than an empty slogan. The term 'libertarian' has been much tarnished by association with some rather strange people, but these folks were sensible and sane (if by the end a little tipsy)."

Read Katherine Mangu-Ward's interview with Shriver here.

For those actually interested in the complex cultural significance of the sombrero, I highly recommend a Southern Foodways Alliance piece by Gustavo Arellano of "Ask a Mexican" fame, titled "Sombreros Over The South." Here's a taste:

In los Estados Unidos, Americans have warped them into something quite different. Here, sombreros are exclusively happy hats: permission for the wearer to transform into a one-person party. Fans of Mexico's soccer team flaunt them during international matches. Costume stores can barely keep them in stock during Halloween or Cinco de Mayo. Late-night hosts wear sombreros for comedy sketches, tipping their you-know-what to the buffoonery to come.

Here's the funny thing, though: Stateside, I rarely see a Mexican wear one. Outside of folkloric dance performances, soccer stadiums, or mariachi shows, we favor tejanas (Stetsons) for everyday wear. We give the sombrero the respect it deserves. It's headgear for a certain place and time—like revolutions, for instance, or to serenade a señorita in the moonlight.

Raaaaaaa-cist! ||| Reason
Reason

Arellano, as fate would have it, is author of a 2012 Reason cover story, adapted from his book of the same title, called "Taco USA: How Mexican food became more American than apple pie." It's a master class in exploring and celebrating how cultures collide, mix, and mutate into glorious new creations of their own. "Food is a natural conduit of change, evolution, and innovation," he writes. "Wishing for a foodstuff to remain static, uncorrupted by outside influence—especially in these United States—is as ludicrous an idea as barring new immigrants from entering the country. Yet for more than a century, both sides of the political spectrum have fought to keep Mexican food in a ghetto."

If the accompanying whimsical cover art looks similar to the allegedly offensive Shriver dolls, that's no accident—both were designed by Reason's current art director, Joanna Andreasson, herself a hopelessly bastardized mix of influences and cultures. (She's a Swede raised in Ireland who lives in Brooklyn and likes taxidermied squirrels, for starters.) The thing uniting these various mutts who participate unhesitatingly in the glorious flotsam of global culture is that, quite unlike their critics, they're having fun.

Speaking of which, we had a bit of fun at The New Republic's expense on last week's episode of The Fifth Column. There is a semi-regular segment there called "Some Idiot Wrote This," and though the candidate was obvious, Michael Moynihan's dramatic reading and finely splattered bile is worth your attention. Starts at around the 1:24 mark:

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  1. Does the Right Really Think a Sombrero is just a “Straw Hat”?

    I have no idea what “the Right” thinks, but yes, it is.

    1. The nice ones are felt.

      1. There are times when a sombrero felt appropriate, to be sure.

        1. Grab ’em right by the panocha.

      2. What you do with a sombrero is your own business.

    2. Actually, sombrero means ‘hat’, straw or otherwise…

      1. Cat, hat, in French, chat, chapeau. In Spanish, el gato in a sombrero.

      2. A wide brimmed hat, specifically.

    3. It’s not necessarily a straw hat. It could also be made from reed or palm fibers or any number of materials.

  2. The headline, subhed, and opening sentence of this Josephine Livingstone article should not be read without first swallowing your coffee:

    FTFY

    1. breaking my own rule, i am confounded by the first sentence

      If the right believes that cultural appropriation is not offensive, why are they making paper dolls that ridicule other cultures?

      Ruling on the field: question begging?

      “if the right believes cult.appro. is NOT offensive…” …. well, if that’s the case they they can’t be intentionally RIDICULING anything in the first place, can they?

      1. I think you could even take it a step further and say that the assumption is “when the right does something, the purpose is to be culturally offensive, so why would they be making paper dolls in the first place if they didn’t think it was culturally offensive? QED”

      2. How do these people reach the conclusion that ridicule has anything to do with it?

        1. as i said – by assuming it is de facto “offensive” (its not), any ‘appropriation’ (it isn’t) can only possibly have a singular intent: “to offend”. calling it ‘ridicule’ is just ‘intentionally offending people’.

          Because everyone knows that’s what St Patricks Day is: non-Irish Americans donning green garb to purposely demean and insult the sons and daughters of Erin.

          1. That’s why I do it. Drunken bastards need to know how stupid they are.

            1. “I’ll show those stupid micks!!!” (chugs green beer, blows stupid horn, dances macarena on bar)

  3. There’s a difference between sharing in another culture and making use of it in a condescending way.

    Uhhhh…. wait a moment….

    Uhhhh… hang on….

    Uhhhhh….. Ok, I’m confused….

    Isn’t the entire point of the label “cultural appropriation” that you can’t share in another culture, at least not if you are of “mainstream” orientation? I don’t recall anyone saying “this version of writing an African character by a white American author is OK because it is sharing in the culture in a non-condescending way”. I think the entire point was whitey can’t do that.

    1. The lesson to be learned is that white folks should never learn anything from another culture ever, for any reason.

      1. Except for the Urban Sombrero

    2. “Isn’t the entire point of the label “cultural appropriation” that you can’t share in another culture, at least not if you are of “mainstream” orientation?”

      Apparently not. Pasta is freely and openly consumed by white americans despite its origins in dubiously non-white cultures like Italy and China. If you’re white and felt yourself unable to enjoy a spaghetti dish because of this, you’re probably just anxious to paint yourself the victim.

      1. And tomatoes and potatoes come from South America. UH OH!

        1. Tomatoes are from North America, originally. Which Cyto perversely seems to think means that it’s OK for white people tomatoes but not potatoes.

          1. Genetic evidence indicates that tomatoes originated and were first domesticated in Peru, though they were never used as widely there as they were in Mesoamerica.

      2. When did it become the case that Italians aren’t white people? Does this mean it’s okay to start celebrating Christopher Columbus again?

        1. “When did it become the case that Italians aren’t white people?”

          Like Jews, Irish and others, Italians have been accepted into the white community by most normal Americans. It wasn’t always the case. The biggest lynching in American history was perpetrated against Italians. This happened, of course, before they were embraced by the white community.

    3. There isn’t a coherent point. It’s just an excuse for people to be assholes and complain.

      1. Bingo. There are basically two kinds of people in the world: Assholes and non assholes. Non assholes pretty much mind their own business and think in terms of practicality, as when something is actually offensive vs. could possibly be offensive to certain persons of a protected class and therefore you shouldn’t ever do it. Assholes just like to get in your shit.

  4. People are not dresses. People are not hats.

    No. But do you know what are? Dresses. And hats.

    1. Also, if people are more than the clothes they wear then what’s the big deal in the first place?

    2. *looks around panicked and starts stuffing skin-dresses and skin-hats back into closet*

  5. Last week, The New Republic wrapped an entire piece around the impropriety of Reason throwing a party for Lionel Shriver

    And now you’ve wrapped an entire piece around that piece. I’ll bet you feel soooooo superior now, don’t you grape juice?

    1. COCKTAIL PARTIES!!!

  6. Outside of folkloric dance performances, soccer stadiums, or mariachi shows, we favor tejanas (Stetsons) for everyday wear.

    I don’t think Americans (and Mexicans!) wearing them at parties is any indication that we think Mexicans wear them every day. Nor is it any sign of “disrespect”. People need to grow the f–k up.

    1. Hell, other races would be amazed to learn how little whites even think about them. Honestly, if I wear a sombrero, the last thing I think about is what a Mexican is doing.

      1. Mostly, white folks in sombreros just stew about how hipsters have ruined the fedora and how we now need to reach out for our brimmed-hat needs…

    2. People need to grow the f–k up.

      But then what would they complain about? How would they make themselves feel morally superior? We’ve already solved all the real problems in the world. People like this need to create new ones because otherwise they’d have to do something boring and productive.

      1. Precisely. Which is not to say there aren’t problems worth addressing in the world [like an actual genocide, several of which we’ve seen in just the past couple of decades] but their world is pretty small and problems have become very very nuanced. It just progresses that way. Yesterday’s liberals are today’s heartless Nazis.

  7. There’s a difference between sharing in another culture and making use of it in a condescending way.

    Yeah, the first one is bad and the second thing is what elite white liberals do to make up for their racism

  8. As Freud once said: Sometimes a Sombrero is just a hat….

  9. She’s a Swede raised in Ireland who lives in Brooklyn

    When you said “hopelessly bastardized mix of influences and cultures” I was expecting something like “half Nigerian, half-Korean, raised in Tehran, college at Oxford, Peace Corps in Latvia, currently living in Manitoba with half-Peruvian, half-Mongolian same-sex partner.

    But yours works, too.

    1. She’s a generically white person raised in generically white societies who now lives near a bodega?

      1. I’ll bet she knows more than one way to cook a potato!

        1. Stew it in water or stew it in broth?

    2. I bet a half-Peruvaian half-Mongolian makes some mean ass chicken.

      1. Be careful with your cultural stereotypes. My wife and i had a Peruvian houseguest once who somehow managed to set a pot of noodles on fire, which shouldn’t even be possible.

        1. You let her go eventually, right?

          1. “House guest.” Right. And she couldn’t even boil noodles without burning them.

  10. Canta y no llores!

  11. If the right believes that cultural appropriation is not offensive

    I still don’t understand their beef with “appropriation”. Do they think that no one is ever allowed to experience, embrace, and adapt other cultures ever?

    1. Clearly no.

      …well, for certain cultures.

      I don’t see a lot of concerns about appropriating “white” culture.

      1. A white man invented rap

        And of all the things that Social Justice Warriors have culturally appropriated from White Men, the one thing I demand full recognition of is Rap.

        Merry Margaret,
        As midsummer flower,
        Gentle as falcon
        Or hawk of the tower:
        With solace and gladness,
        Much mirth and no madness,
        All good and no badness;
        So joyously,
        So maidenly,
        So womanly
        Her demeaning
        In every thing,
        Far, far passing
        That I can indite,
        Or suffice to write

        Hip-Hop rhyming is called Skeltonic verse, and it was invented by the man who wrote those lines: White Male John Skelton, who was born in England in1463.

        1. I can just hear Slim Shady….

        2. Ancient ancestor of Red Skelton no doubt.

          Rap traces back to school-yard rhymes in black communities, which traces back to African songs and such though. What we’re noting here is that things get repeatedly discovered all over and nothing is particularly original.

      2. That’s because white stuff is boring and not authentic.

      3. ‘I don’t see a lot of concerns about appropriating “white” culture.’
        Which then leads to defining “white” culture. Are people of Spanish or Portuguese decent white or not? Sometimes it appears yes; sometimes it’s no. I ask because I hear the phrase “white Hispanic” sometimes; but its use seems to depend on the situation and political motivation of the speaker/writer. So when the Spanish or Portuguese settled in central and South America, parts of Africa, parts of India and small areas of Asia and the local indigenous populations appropriated aspects of the Spanish or Portuguese culture were these natives guilty of cultural appropriation? If yes, then Indians in Goa, the Japanese in Nagasaki and the Natives of Equatorial Guinea, for example, were engaging in cultural appropriation when they adopted aspects of cuisine and other cultural practices of Spain or Portugal into their own. Also, are the Japanese guilty of cultural appropriation when they adopted German military outfits for use as uniforms for high school students? If yes, then shouldn’t we, if against cultural appropriation, denounce things like Vindaloo, Tempura, and the Gakuran uniform of Japanese studends?

        1. My definition is anything made in the USA. We’re “racist” and all and “always have been”, so anything from the USA is “white culture”, no?

          I bet nobody uses anything created here…

        2. “Are people of Spanish or Portuguese decent white or not? ”

          No, Too close to Africa. One drop of African blood is all it takes to strip you of the privileges whiteness brings with it.

          ” were these natives guilty of cultural appropriation?”

          No. In many cases the whites did all they could to encourage these natives to adopt Western ways. Think of the missionaries who forced Pacific Islanders to show some more modesty covering their breasts, or take up Christianity. To blame these natives for that is wrong-headed.

        3. Hispanic is such a weird one, as even its official definition basically means descended from Spain or Portugal. What’s great about it is it’s a very clear example of a recent construct to give a uniting identity to a group of people, in this case Latin America in general. It is very much a constructed thing that we can divide up and ration however we want to fit which political cause we want at a given time.

          1. “What’s great about it is it’s a very clear example of a recent construct to give a uniting identity to a group of people”

            It’s part of the Enlightenment. It gave us nationalism, communism, capitalism, romanticism and so on. Before that it was religion or allegiance to a sovereign that united people.

            ” It is very much a constructed thing that we can divide up and ration however we want to fit which political cause we want at a given time.”

            Hey, there’s a Twitterstorm over sombreros. This is not the time to go all Derridaisme on us.

    2. And yet the Left is opposed to building a wall between Mexicans and Yanks?

  12. If the right believes that cultural appropriation is not offensive, why are they making paper dolls that ridicule other cultures?

    I wonder if they’ve never seen “actual” paper dolls actually ridiculing other cultures?

  13. She’s a Swede raised in Ireland who lives in Brooklyn and likes taxidermied squirrels

    Oh my God.

    1. She sounds like a hideous monster, except for that last part.

  14. Re Moynihan:

    My guess: he is speaking to Ms. Shriver about the German American Bund in his Jesse Jack-scent.

  15. In case anybody missed it, this is perhaps the greatest takedown of that type of mentality. Basically a little girl was having a Japanese-themed tea party and some idiotic SJW posted “Teach children that this is not ok.” This followed:

    I am japanese, in japan at this very moment. The only people who think culture shouldnt be shared are racists like you.
    A vast majority of Japanese people actually enjoy other people making an effort to spread and enjoy japanese culture, and encourage it. Many make businesses in deliberately taking pictures of people in kimono. A common omiage (gift) for foreigners from japanese people is traditional japanese things such as kimonos, tea seats, shisa dog statues, ect.

    And to top it off, basically 80 percent of japanese customs, traditions, and food, came from other countries. Japanese is an integration of different cultures, like america. Japan takes influences from places like korea, china, russia, and europe. If japan stuck to itself, there would be no tempura, japanese tea, tea ceremonies, kabuki, japanese bread, japanese curry, j- pop, anime, cars, or modern fishing techniques. The picture is not “yellow face” they are not making fun of asians. In fact, it looks like they put extra care and research into their work.

    The only reason that you have a problem with this is because that little girl is white and you know that it is acceptable on tumblr to crap all over white people. The only racist here is you.

    1. You got a link for that fine takedown, Bobby Clown?

      1. Here you go:

        http://en.rocketnews24.com/201…..as-racist/

      2. I’m going to say it because I know he’s too much of a pussy to speak up. Your nickname for him really hurts his faggy feelings and you should stop.

        1. Did you just assume my gender?!? Not cool, man, not cool.

          1. I used the plural he, as you asked.

    2. I generally respond “fuck off.” Says pretty much the same thing in two words, and at least you can be reasonably certain they will read it,

    3. “A common omiage (gift) for foreigners from japanese people is traditional japanese things such as kimonos, tea seats, shisa dog statues, ect.”

      What about the maneki neko? Is that chopped liver?

  16. The New Republic wrapped an entire piece around the impropriety of Reason throwing a party

    The Reason staff hosted a party in a leftist enclave of a city? Color me not surprised.

    1. The Reason staff hosted a party in a leftist enclave of a city? Color me not surprised.

      I’ve practically given up hope on the Reason staff hosting a county fair, mud bog, or demolition derby.

      1. Some of them go to Porcfest, which is held…outdoors. Ugh.

      2. Can they even call themselves libertarians if they don’t argue with each other and than shoot guns?

  17. So this lady’s so damn clueless she doesn’t realize the paper doll costumes aren’t mocking ethnic stereotypes, they’re mocking *her* and her silly obsession with shit like paper doll costumes? This is like complaining about all the stupid Reason commenters and having Tulpa agree with you that they’re a pain in the ass.

  18. “both sides of the political spectrum have fought to keep Mexican food in a ghetto”

    Mexican food? It’s a big country. Food differs greatly from region to region. The burrito for example is ‘texmex’ rather than Mexican, typical of northern food, and hardly seen in the south. Similar idea for hats.

    1. The only kind that matters is Sonoran style Mexican food.

  19. I like wearing my sombrero because it’s a cool European hat.

    European. Europe. Where Spain is. Spanish ranchers wore them while herding animals in Spain. They wore them when herding animals in all the territory they conquered in the New World. While riding the horses(also brought from Europe) they used to herd livestock with.

    In fact, that’s how they work best–keeping a man on horseback on the plains in a bit of shade.

    They’re really not suited to the jungles around Tenochitlan. They’re not really suited to walking around jungles at all.

    And then there’s this idiocy–

    Here’s the funny thing, though: Stateside, I rarely see a Mexican wear one. Outside of folkloric dance performances, soccer stadiums, or mariachi shows,

    So Mexicans wear them as celebration garb–just like gringos. So why try to pretend there’s some difference? “Mexicans wear sombreros at fiestas–but those stupid gringos only wear them at festivals“.

    Idiot.

    we favor tejanas (Stetsons) for everyday wear.

    And you’ve appropriated cowboy hats! But it’s okay–we don’t care. Appropriate away….gooble, gobble.

  20. It’s kind of hard to know where to begin. Is Reason or Lionel Shriver a stand-in for “the right”?

    Are you a card carrying communist? No? Then yes, you’re a stand in for the ‘right’

    The only reason the leftier libertarians so fear being tarred with the brush of ‘the right’ (well, other than the fact that they’re leftists) is that they’ve bought into this notion that there’s some huge collectivist, totalitarian, racist, genocidal monster that absolutely loathes ever single precept that anyone who’s even slightly right of center has ever espoused lurking on the ‘far’ right.

    There isn’t. That thing is the raw, exposed truth of all the left wants to do. It gets exposed every time the left ‘succeeds’ anywhere and, in the inevitable horror at the devastation the left always wreaks, the whole thing gets blamed on a ‘right’ by the useful leftist idiots in media and academia.

    They’re already busily working Chavez and Maduro around to the right.

    So, since everything to the right of them is the ‘far right’, you might as well sit back and enjoy the ride. You can’t convince them that you’re not “one of us”

    1. This is correct. You must understand that, when you hear a communist call something fascist, they are not using the same definition as you or me. To them, fascism is anything that undermines their effort to elevate the oppressed classes into equality, which includes defending the capitalist status quo. They have faith in the idea of zero-sum power struggles, where any benefit to one group must come at the expense of the other. So if capitalism benefits white people, they conclude that it harms people of color. Any any attempt you make to explain that no, that’s not the case, they brush aside as a motivated deception whose purpose is maintaining your class’s dominant position. Hence, private property must go out the window because it gets in the way of revolutionary collectivist justice; police upholding the laws that protect property make them fascist footsoldiers of the white supremacist patriarchy.

      It’s important to understand communist ideology so that you don’t fall victim to it, and understand why apologizing and groveling for their approval will never work to your benefit. If you oppose this cult and its genocidal ends, you are on “the right”.

      1. “So if capitalism benefits white people, they conclude that it harms people of color. Any any attempt you make to explain that no, that’s not the case,”

        How is this not the case? For decades in South Africa, the wealth of the nation was concentrated into white hands and blacks were forced to live in slums. How do you attempt to explain this was not the case?

        I’m not sure you have as good a grasp on communism as I do. It’s about Internationalism and class struggle. Workers of the world unite is written in the manifesto. That’s also is its failure. Internationalism and class solidarity aren’t enough to unite men. That’s what WW1 showed us.

  21. There’s a difference between sharing in another culture and making use of it in a condescending way.

    Hey Josephine, we’re not mocking other cultures. We’re mocking you!

  22. The New Republic used to be serious. Of course, that used to mean being serious about promoting progressivism and communism. Then there was their sometimes-intelligent-commentary phase in the 80s.

    But now they’re just being silly.

  23. Josephine, you are a humorless, joyless twit. Go away.

  24. I’m still waiting for the left to demand that Muslims stop culturally appropriating Abraham.

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