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.

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How to Crash Parties in PB

Katelyn does whatever the fuck she wants. So I really shouldn’t have been surprised when, after we’d spent most of the night at a friend’s house party, instead of letting me make a beeline for Jack in the Box and Disneyland Bed* she told me to turn North on Ingraham: “We’re going to crash parties in PB.”

We drove around the neighborhoods slowly, windows down, listening for the sounds of revelry.

Anyone who attempts this should definitely work in pairs. For optimum crashing teamwork, one person should be hopped-up on energy drinks but otherwise sober (me), and the other should be teetering between well-buzzed and fully drunk (Katelyn). Sober teammate can keep us out of the danger zone, and drunk teammate can manage the brazen introductions that are necessary.

I have to acknowledge the fact that what we’re doing isn’t possible for everyone. It probably helps that we’re two attractive (white? that might help) girls. I think it could be done by guys but they’d face more rejection.

But, my god, getting to wander around the streets at night as a woman is exhilarating. I don’t need to be afraid — the world isn’t always full of predators, I can fend for myself, I can be the intruder for once.

Technically, of course, we made sure to get permission before entering a person’s home. They may or may not have assumed we were invited anyway, but we let them open the front door for us. At party #1 we hovered near the neighbor’s door until they motioned for us to hop on over the back wall. “You’re the neighbors, right?” And that’s the story we stuck to when a new housemate came home from a night on the town and asked us, “Who are you?”

girlfriend-in-party-hat

Party #2. She found this hat and had to wear it. Every time she went outside to smoke a cigarette they made her take it off. They were on to us.

I met an incoherent philosopher. He made us give him really long hugs, but they were more drunken than amorous so I was fine with that. Maybe because he shared so many gooey-ooey thoughts about humanity I stole one of Katelyn’s cigarettes and traded it with a stranger who wandered up to the back wall for a high five. I met shitshow-dancing-guy who stood up on a chair and fell ass-first onto an iPad on a glass table. He knocked a taco plate on the ground but miraculously didn’t break anything. I also helped a girl roll a joint because even though I don’t smoke I really wanted to feel skilled at rolling joints for a minute.

Nearly everyone went home or to bed, and we were left with incoherent philosopher and girl with a joint and no desire to help them smoke it. So we exited the same way we came and followed our ears across the street. We found The Jungle.

This group of people all live in close proximity to each other in the same condo complex and share a courtyard. They’ve named the sluttiest guy in the group, “King of the Jungle.” Fucking romantic. I plopped myself in a lawn chair like I belonged there and peered at the attractive strangers through palm fronds. I mostly had to introduce myself, and when they asked how I knew everyone: “Neighbors.”

Later Katelyn and I went into the house. A cluster of people sat on a large L-shape couch around an ottoman and two women sat on the opposite wall on bar-stools like cross-armed sentries. Next to them: a huge In-N-Out wall hanging. I felt very welcomed because Cindy or Cynthia or Kathy or whatever put me in a barstool in the middle of the room and told me I look like a mermaid (my hair was down and I had on green tights).

Katelyn and I had to have a pow-wow in the bathroom because “holy fuck we are crashing a party.” We heard a sharp knock on the door, “Hello, I’m the owner of this house. Do you need help in there? Because I would really like to help you.” That was the only tense moment of the night. After we came out of the bathroom all was forgiven.

I want to say we made new friends, but we really didn’t. I think that’s the side-affect of joining a group of people at the bitter drunken end of their night. I did make the mistake of giving my number to a guy I shouldn’t have given my number. He is in love with me and sang me a song and wants to 3-way kiss with my girlfriend and me. I really want to text him back and say his messages are improving (fewer Ys in his heyyyys, yay!) but I don’t want to give him false hope.

heyyyy-hey-desparate-text-message


*We have a new bed & new pillows. It is perfect. It is like sleeping in the Disneyland hotel. We’ve spent the last 2 years on a 7-year-old full size mattress so this is a big deal.