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.

I’ll wait in line for Bernie Sanders (San Diego Rally, March 2016)

bernie-car-2016-crate

We had less than 48 hours to gather for the Bernie Sanders rally at the San Diego Convention Center, the same venue that hosts SD Comic-Con.

I knew the event opened at 5pm, and Bernie spoke at 8. I suspected if I got to the center by 5pm, I might make it inside to see my presidential hopeful. Knowing the time commitment that already represented, I opted to take a leisurely early dinner with another Bernie supporter, munching on fried duck skins and seafood salad (at barleymash — delicious). Another friend of ours dropped a pin so we could meet him in line.

We followed the dotted line on my phone, past people lined up outside the front of the convention center, through the stairway in the middle, and out to the back lawn and wharf. Miles of supporters formed a snake that reached both ends of the embarcadero and doubled (tripled?) in its center. This exceeded my expectations, to put it lightly.

I have never been so happy to wait in a line, and it’s not just because I was buzzed off the two IPAs I had with lunch. Not only was the joy surrounding me contagious, but also people were courteous, never over-eager about their place in the queue, never territorial.  That Nintendo DS I mentioned to entertain myself? Didn’t open it once. Above all, I was just thrilled to be there, to be another body on the ground, showing my support. Being a part the 10,000 or 15,000 or 20,000 headcount (numbers seem to vary depending if news sources count who actually made it in, who stood in line, and who showed up in total).

I texted a picture of (just a portion of) the line to my dad, and he said, “That is a beautiful image.”

bernie sandiers line san diego 2016 convention center

The sun had set by the time we neared the front of the Convention Center building. Out from the dark road came blaring red lights, and cheers roared at the realization that this was Bernie’s motorcade.

By then the line was moving in a brisk march. To my happy surprise, I made it into the overflow room.

bernie-sanders-rally-SD-overflow-room-2016

Before the end of his speech, my hands were sore from clapping, my throat dry from hollering, and my feet tired from standing. My face hurt from smiling. Then, I was hit with this sudden, poignant feeling. I realized, if he doesn’t win, I will be genuinely sad. I have never agreed so much with a candidate, never felt so much hope, and never cared so much about the outcome of a race. This feeling nested in my heart for the rest of the night.

You’ve got to win this, Bernie. You have just got to win.

I love tourists

I love tourists. (And transplants.) Granted, sometimes it’s a “kids say the darnedest things” kind of affection. I used to work at SeaWorld, and I won’t repeat his words here, but let’s just say a man from a small town in Oregon who was overwhelmed by the “diversity” taught me there are racist words that I didn’t know about.

He’s not the kind of tourist I love. Nor the ones who unknowingly starred in my daily comedy show: I watched seagulls dive-bomb trays of french fries as soon as the hungry guests emerged from Mama Stella’s. No, I value the people who remind me what’s good about this place. I mean, besides the weather. This weekend I met a woman from Chicago who awed at the mountains, and yes they were very effective at blocking my cell reception but I stopped cursing T-mobile and also spun in a slow circle. Ok, yes, I’m looking at them. Wow.

And every place has its own brand of localism, but ours is particularly bullheaded. Families sit behind property taxes like they earned the right to live here, passing down houses for generations. What they don’t know is that the transplants are saving this town. Because while we’re the last idiotic stand against all that is good and liberal in California, we have an ironic patience for tourists. Newcomers are weirdos. But we’re oblivious, too complacent and courteous to offer anything but smiles and averted gazes.

It is when I’m at a writing night, or in a art group, that people are surprised that I’m a local, like I’m some kind of rarity. Locals might create these spaces, but the transplants flock to them. They are still hungry for controversy, they still remember what it’s like to wear galoshes because you need them, not because they are covered in zebra stripes and match your fuzzy animal print coat…. Waterproof shoes are rad, why did no one tell me this? I stood in a creek! And my feet didn’t get wet!

The kind of tourist I love shakes his head at me, asks me how I can be okay with this, reminds me there is a larger world out there. The kind of tourist I love tells me I can retire here but I need to get out at some point. The kind of tourist I love, though, has to admit the chaparral here could inspire Dr. Seuss and this place is pretty great, underneath it all. And it’s getting greater.

  1. Beer. Obviously.
  2. The food trucks are multiplying.
  3. So Say We All
  4. A new haunted house
  5. …and more of course!

P.S. yes, I know I missed my post last week. I was preparing for a large camping festival, and yes it was lovely, and no I won’t write about it in my public-facing blog. I love you tourists, but that one isn’t for you.

Help Me Party Harder

Sign this petition to allow a 4AM last call.

sign-petition

Only 980 signatures needed at the time of this writing.  Thanks!

Reasons to sign:

Robert Dippell SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Bars closing later will allow people to leave at a staggered pace rather than all pour out at 2am on the dot. This is safer for bar patrons and less obnoxious for local residents.

Barry Synoground SAN FRANCISCO, CA
I want San Francisco and California to be international destinations with thriving late night culture.

Max Lion VACAVILLE, CA
I am a promoter for night life events, I really think that having a 4 am last call would put us on par with the rest of the world, attracting not only more local business, but more international interests in moving night life business into California.

John Peter SAN FRANCISCO, CA
2:00 closing is embarrassing for world-class cities like LA and SF. It reduces the amount of night-life fun people can have, and wastes a ton of potential business revenue.