Cultural Appropriation is Like Crashing a Party?

Before I begin… This metaphor might be too lighthearted for a serious subject matter. It is my privilege* to be able to talk “lightly” of cultural appropriation. I intend to leverage my privilege (for justice, I hope!) in this instance; I have the emotional energy to write on this subject without deep personal distress and I can offer a blog post that is easy enough to read and a might be place to get the conversation started with newbies, etc.

Still, since I’m always thinking about partying and I also “sometimes” think about important social issues, I thought to myself: Cultural Appropriation Is Like Crashing A Party…!

This birb of Australian descent appropriates "Christian" culture which originally appropriated pagan culture..?

This birb of Australian descent appropriates “Christian” culture which originally appropriated pagan culture..?

Maybe this makes sense to me because of the almost holy respect I have for crashing parties the right way. It is an honor to be a stranger at someone else’s party (and an honor I certainly don’t want to fuck up by being an asshole). Some party crashers choose the “nothing to lose” mentality and swoop on all the drinks and food with no consideration for their hosts, and to them I say, you are ungrateful and terrible. Let’s pretend we don’t want to be ungrateful and terrible, and move on to being appreciative and thoughtful…

How do you know you are crashing a party? Easy, you were not invited. How do you know you’re crashing a culture? Same answer. Is it always bad to crash parties? No, there’s some situations where it’s acceptable, or even welcome. Is it always bad to borrow from other cultures? Refer to previous.

Imagine I’ve crashed a party. My senses are heightened. I observe the local party customs. Do people freely reach into the cooler, or do they ask around before opening a beer that might not be theirs? Where are cigarettes smoked? Who’s allowed to change the music? Since I’m not invited, what extra etiquette precautions must I take to demonstrate I am willing to be a respectful and easygoing guest?

This ordinary keffiyeh is worn for comfort and fashion and (as far as I can tell) is fine to borrow, as opposed to the Palestinian keffiyeh which holds significant political meaning and should probably be researched before choosing to wear.

This ordinary keffiyeh is worn for comfort and fashion and (as far as I can tell) is fine to borrow, as opposed to the Palestinian keffiyeh which holds significant political meaning and should probably be researched before choosing to wear.

Sometimes party etiquette is not about what you don’t do, but how you do participate. If I’m the only one not dancing, I might be making the dancers feel vulnerable, judged. Being a respectful party crasher means trying to defer to the way others do the party thing. You must find the appropriate spot on the spectrum between hot mess and party pooper. You can’t be the only drunken disaster, because you’re stepping all over someone else’s party (and being oppressive), but you also can’t be a total wallflower in a room full of rockstars because you’re going to come across as lazy or stifling or a cop or worse.

And you know what you do when you really don’t fit in at a party you’re crashing and you might be making others uncomfortable? You leave.

Here’s where I’m reaching, but I think cultural appropriation suffers from the same inappropriate levels of participation. People will put on a war bonnet (or a “feather headdress”) because they think it looks cool, but they won’t bother to learn about the meaning of the bonnet (low participation = disrespectful). Or, in the other direction, you might be invited to partake in a customary food, but then you go too far and put on all the makeup and try to lead the sermon (overbearing participation = oppressive).

I think borrowing from other cultures primarily begs one to ask, “Am I invited?” Or, more deeply, “In what ways am I invited (or not)?”

If you choose to ignore your lack of invitation, then how far are you willing to crash? To what consequences? Now, if the cultural item is religious, to what extent am I willing to apply my personal ideology that nothing is sacred? If I’m rebelling against an institution? What if my actions hurt someone’s feelings? What if I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about? Is it really that important to me to wear a white keffiyeh with a black fishnet pattern, or could I choose a more neutral gray one because I really have no personal connection to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

So, at the end of the day, I would ask my friends and others to remember that they might be culture crashers. Being actively aware that you’re crashing a party you weren’t invited to is the first step to being a better guest.

*As a white person & as a person comprised mostly of cultures that tend to do the appropriating rather than be appropriated from, I acknowledge my privilege and my lack of personal insight. My heritage is a bit Swedish, for example, of the Viking variety. Vikings pillaged and stole (and raped) so much that they are actually known for it. That’s pretty shitty, and it’s shitty that assumption tends to raise a hand to the mouth to stifle a yawn rather than red flags or even a single eyebrow.

I do subscribe to some aspects of “gay culture,” so I guess I have felt some stings of appropriation in that regard (Macklemore = pls stop). It’s an intersectional issue, for sure.

RSVP Etiquette in the Age of Facebook

From the Desk of Miss Sammanners.

Some of you may say that I have already written on this topic, to which I say, thank you dear readers for your precious attention. My previous post, however, may have taken an unfriendly tone in the name of levity. I might go so far as to accuse myself of hypocrisy for decrying rudeness while committing the very same. I thought I might redress the issue with more compassion and decorum (and absolutely no humor)!

this is your party host

The Ideal RSVP

Let me posit the idealized behavior before supporting it with historical context and arguments.

When a friend invites you to a party using not traditional letter-post, but the machine called, “Facebook,” and you are unable to go — stop, careful! Pause before the bold box imploring you to submit your regrets. Do click, “no” to inform the host of your lack of attendance (and your friend can know to labor over one less macaroon). Then, wait until after the event has passed* and send a private message to your host letting them know you much regretted missing their delightful soiree, that you are thinking of them and your friendship, and you would not have neglected their invitation for quite anything, save your prior engagement or sudden emergency.

*In cases for a much planned in advance event, for when you haven’t seen the host in a long time, or for a more intimate gathering where your presence will indubitably missed (as you are quite popular), it might be useful to offer your regrets (in private message, still!) before the event so that your friend can either attempt to convince you to change your mind, or gossip with, I mean inform, the other attendees about the reason for your absence.

blab on the entire event page for all to see that you have something more important to do NO

Some “Historical” Context

Now, manners are really only a means of fostering the most amount of comfort for the most possible people. They work especially well when they are commonly understood and can be performed like a choreographed dance, and thus we oft memorize them. Our kindly parental units raised us to have the good manners to RSVP, since traditionally, an RSVP is a boon to the host who needs to know how large of an event to expect.

send private message letting host know you still love them even though you couldn't go YESRSVP served another function: reminding a host that their friendship is valued with the supposed invitee. (Also, that the absent attendee still very much exists — don’t forget me!) Now, as shown in the idealized example above, both the qualities of headcount and social acknowledgment can be met without publicly announcing your regrets on the event page.

Unintended Insults

If this neat solution isn’t enough to persuade you, let me offer the stick rather than the carrot. Manners should not be superseded by common sense. Not to call anyone dense, but failure to heed my advice leads to many a consequence…

Example: “Sorry I can’t make it.”

Beware leaving this seemingly innocent note for the masses to read on the Facebook event page. You of course are modest about your social influence, but your host may become nervous that your absence will dissuade others from attending. Too many similar sentiments in a row, and the event can appear unpopular. Better to not draw attention to the fact that your delightful presence will be missing and only privately inform your host.

“Sorry, I have to take my cat Cynthia to the veterinarian that evening.”

This may be helpful information to include in your private message, as it implies to your friend that you are unfortunately stuck but would otherwise love to go. This amount of detail can backfire, however, when it causes your host to imagine a myriad of other arrangements that would allow for you to both heed your responsibility AND attend their event. It may leave your friend wondering why you didn’t care to expend the effort to imagine the same arrangements.

this is your friend trying to host a party SAD

“Sorry, I’m going to this other party / event!

Forgive me, but I feel this one is quite obviously rude. Someone posting this message implies that they have more important and/or exciting things to do than spend time with the host, and they are doing this where everyone can see it. Does this not seem like a bit of a social snub?

“But this is the same weekend as a much larger event!”

What might someone posting this information hope to achieve? Do they think the host is not well informed enough on social engagements to already know this? Did they not pause to consider that the host already chose the best date possible for the event, and after weighing many factors, decided to accept the drop in attendance that competing with another event may cause? Perhaps the entire event should be rescheduled. Perhaps the host is clueless and daft. Perhaps the host forgot they must magically meet the needs of every attending guest, regardless of the usual scheduling trouble and their own chores.

i knew that I don't live under a rock

A Conspiracy…?

Finally, perhaps a sort of conspiracy might cause this matter to stay in your mind. Facebook, dear friends, cares not about manners (except when profitable). Their only effort is to increase your interaction with their web domicile in any way, such that you spend more time on the site, such that they can ply you with advertisements. Facebook quite insistently presents you with a box to post your regrets, because eliciting such a response causes a cascade of notifications. The host is notified. People following the event page for updates may be notified. The event page is busier and busier and more enticing. The opportunities multiply to comment, like, love, wow, angry, sad, burp, fart, heave a sigh of existential dread…

Let not thine eye follow the conventional crook, and leap Facebook’s fences by refusing to keep to the box. Send a private message instead, and be free to graze greener pastures (of friendship and compassion). Yay manners!