It seems that every few months, a new incident occurs where the fiery debate over cultural appropriation is sparked again. What exactly is at the heart of this very emotional issue? Is it a fear of being replaced? Is it a fear of losing ownership of culture? Is it resentment at having feelings ignored? Is there a profit motive involved? Is there a gendered response, especially when beauty is involved? Eliza, Chris, and Christina examine these questions in recent flare-ups about qipaos, music, food, and more.
The following are edited excerpts from “Why Do People Get So Angry About Cultural Appropriation?”, the 26th episode of Plan A’s podcast, Escape From Plan A.
My take on this is that this is really about a fear of replacement. I think the fear for a lot of minorities is they essentially don’t trust this assimilationist system because they think that the only way they’re welcome into this is if they bring something to the table. Usually it’s food or their bodies or cultural festivities, etc. Their only value to inclusion is if they bring this. Now, if you separate those things from the actual people themselves, and white people can take whatever they want, whenever they want, then why would they want the people?
I think [cultural appropriation] is about this insecurity of ownership in general because especially with Asian Americans, we’re characterized by this lack of ownership. We don’t really have a legacy in this country. We don’t have generational wealth. We don’t have culture. We don’t have history. So what do we really own? I think a lot of the time when you see a white girl getting celebrated for wearing a qipao, we don’t even own something we should own.
I don’t think we’re appropriating by wearing Western clothing. I think we were forced to. For example, the Philippines was colonized was Spain. So suddenly Filipino men had to cute their hair short to be more of a European style. Instead of their traditional clothing and tattoos, all of that had to go away. Our names went away. And when you come to America, there is a certain way of dressing in order to just make it.