The online harassment of Keziah Daum for ‘cultural appropriation’ of a Chinese dress underscores the escalating cultural segregation of society.
Dr Christine Louis-Dit-Sully & Courtney Hamilton
‘I hope the concept of cultural appropriation is a passing fad’ – some wishful thinking from the author Lionel Shriver, at the Brisbane Writers Festival two years ago. For Shriver, the ‘bramble of thorny issues’ surrounding identity politics could be like a bad dream, soon to be forgotten. Alas, far from withering away, criticism of cultural appropriation appears to grow at an exponential rate. Not only is this ‘bramble’ spreading, but it’s also becoming ever more aggressive and bullying.
Witness the latest target for the growing critics of ‘cultural appropriation’. This time, it’s not the usual high profile celebrities, with their mass following of Twitter supporters. This time, the target is a high school student, Keziah Daum, from Utah. That’s right, a teenager. Her crime? She bought a Chinese style dress from a vintage shop to wear to her high school prom. Worse, she had the nerve to post photos of her dress, with friends, at the Utah State Capitol Building on Twitter.
Of course, Daum is guilty of nothing. But, for critics of ‘cultural appropriation’, no one can defy the generally accepted orthodoxy laid down by cultural segregationists. It appears no one can appreciate, or appropriate objects, words, or ideas from another culture, without the segregationists’ permission. So, when Daum defied the rules of this new cultural apartheid, she was fair game for the segregationists. This explains why over 160,000 people thought it was perfectly fine to harass a high school teenager online, just because she wore a second-hand Chinese dress, in America. The fact that so many people could happily go gunning for the scalp of one teenager, basically says all you need to know about the politics of the cultural segregationists. They’ve become the most backward and unenlightened people on the planet.
As the professor of sociology, Frank Furedi recently noted: ‘Throughout most of history the act of cultural appropriation was associated with enlightenment and progress.’ Or in other words, humans seem to have an intrinsic ability to adapt and exchange different ideas from differing cultures. ‘My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress’, cried the cultural segregationist Jeremy Lam, whose tweet triggered this latest round of mass online bullying and harassment. Of course, in a pluralistic and civilised society, people should be free to argue, or discuss and debate the merits, or not, of human culture. Except, what we appear to be witnessing has nothing to do with such civility – it’s become self-evidently uncivilised bullying of people along racial lines. It’s the harassing of people, even children, while masquerading as anti-racist activism.
Who exactly are these new cultural segregationists? Who gave them the right to tell us what culture can be shared, and how to share it? Who appointed them gatekeepers of culture? The whole concept of ‘cultural appropriation’ has now become a mere tool for these self-appointed cultural segregationists, to gain more power within society. Now, it is they who decide what is the acceptable way of using any specific knowledge or culture. It is they who police the new cultural stratification, by forcing us to conform to their definitions. None of this has anything to do with challenging racism. It’s about individuals cultivating social power as self-appointed racial and cultural leaders.
“The whole concept of ‘cultural appropriation’ has now become a mere tool for these self-appointed cultural segregationists, to gain more power within society”
More importantly, those who argue that ‘cultural appropriation’ is a problem, are incapable of truly challenging racism, because at the very core of their critique is the same racial thinking that is advocated by traditional racists. Cultural segregationists end up promoting the idea that humanity can be divided into distinct groups and categories, and each of these groups can be described by their very specific culture and ethnicity. They encourage the idea that aspects of particular cultures are so valuable, and superior, other people are simply not good enough, or free to experience them.
In the past, biological determinism was used to define specific groups by traditional racists. It took the slaughter and barbarism of WW2 and the Holocaust to discredit this ‘scientific’ method – temporarily. Unfortunately, with the rise of cultural segregationists, biological and psychological factors such as IQ, and biological ancestry, appear to be coming back into fashion – ‘anti-racism’ seems to be cultivating and imitating the racial thinking of the past.
The crusade by cultural segregationists, who think nothing of hounding people, even kids, for wearing the wrong dress, sporting the wrong hairstyle, eating the wrong food, enjoying the wrong music, or for even using the wrong coloured emoji, are resurrecting racial thinking. This can only lead to more racial divisions and more antagonism between different ethnic groups. Is that really what we want? It’s time to take a stand against the self-appointed culture police telling people to stay in their racial and cultural lane. Every time the cultural segregationists demand we conform and behave according to their rules and standards – we should say ‘No’ – and demand more freedom and progress instead.