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Its…Just a Dress, People. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/05/01/shaming-teen-for-wearing-racist-dress-to-prom-is-crazy-where-does-nonsense-cultural-appropriation-end.html

 

As readers of this blog will know, I often try to connect the topic of football to current events; indeed, if football shirts can in any way be involved, it is all to the good. Given that the modern world often throws out absurdities on a daily basis, there is no shortage of odd current events topics to respond to. Recently, in the U.S. state of Utah, a young high schooler was slammed for wearing a prom dress. Indeed, you read that correctly. A prom dress has now become grounds for slamming in the modern world. Apparently, the issue was that “On April 23, 18-year-old Twitter user Keziah, who is not Chinese, posted pictures of herself wearing a cheongsam, or qipao – a traditional Chinese dress – for her prom”. Whilst prom dresses are certainly not my specialty—nor are they anywhere near my area of interest at all—this issue demonstrates a real problem in the modern world. While I will not go into the idiocy—and rage—which was elicited by a high schooler’s dress choice (some of the rage and vitriol can be viewed here), there are some interesting points of discussion raised by this incident (although you wont find them in the main (lame)stream media).

What is “cultural appropriation”? What does it even mean? As a marginal sociologist, I have—indeed—heard the term, and one recent news story cites the term as originating in, sadly, the discipline of sociology. Michael Levin explains that:

 

The term cultural appropriation is borrowed from sociology – itself a dubious academic discipline to begin with. The term means that people from a majority culture are borrowing aspects of minority culture without the permission of those minority members.

 

Indeed, absurd terms like this are—sadly—making Sociology as a discipline more and more dubious. It is not a definition of Sociology that I want to agree with, since I believe Sociology can make real contributions in the modern world, but—like Hannah Arendt—I must admit that I take issue with the discipline of Sociology for this very same reason. The job of Sociologists should not be to divide people or spread hatred; rather it should be to spread light on the human condition and—in a humanist manner—attempt to seek understanding (Indeed, Max Weber’s concept of Verstehen is in line with this position). Yet, modern sociologists prefer to descend deeper and deeper into an oddly anti-intellectual cesspool.

When I first heard of the “cultural appropriation” debate surrounding the dress controversy, my mind went back to an odd experience I had in a Sociology seminar a few weeks back. At that point the topic of discussion was not “cultural appropriation”; rather we discussed a similarly dubious (in my mind) “sociological” term: “colorblind racism”. I really do not know what the term means; I look at people as people, and am more concerned with an individual’s moral character, qualities like loyalty, courage, trustworthiness, bravery, and intelligence, rather than something as banal as their skin color. So I asked a student what the term “colorblind racism” meant. With the typical attitude that only a social justice warrior could have, I got the response “Well . . . the minute you actually believe black and white people are equal . . . that is color blind racism”. To this I just stared blankly; there was no response I could have short of laughing (and that would have been disrespectful to my colleague).

My family brought me up to believe that people are equal regardless of the color of their skin (or any other identity they might have), and no claims about “structural racism” can change what I, as a person, believe to be true in my heart. Indeed, the Sociologists seem to forget that structural racism is quite meaningless when people—in their day to day interactions—believe people are equal since, after all, it is we as individuals who create the social structure through our interactions (numerous sociologists, from Merton to Goffman to Berger and Luckman have said the same, I am hardly the first). But this small interaction showed me just how absurd the state of modern sociology—and indeed the world—has become. The structure has become so internalized that there is no longer room for human agency.

And this is where I return to the topic of the “hated” dress in question. Why are we hating a young girl for wearing what she found to be beautiful? Who are we to attribute meaning and intent to the clothes she wears? Is it bad that this young girl showed respect for Chinese culture while wearing the dress? We—as Americans—should not forget that so much of “America” (indeed what makes it great, despite its flaws) is that we have been open to different cultures for more than three centuries. Even some of the things we recognize as the most quintessentially “American”—like a hot dog and a beer at a baseball game—came from another culture; as Andrei Markovits and Steven Hellerman point out in their book, it was German immigrants in Midwestern America who brought this custom to American sports (Markovits and Hellerman, 2001: 62). If, in 1870s America, we had shamed Americans for “culturally appropriating” German tastes at baseball games we might not even have a country to call home today! And that is absurd.

As someone who is an ardent collector of football shirts—and who values the experiences I have had in every country I have visited in search of a football shirt—I take special offense(!) to the term “cultural appropriation”. While I have two citizenships, that of the United States of America and that of Turkey—it does not mean that I cannot proudly wear a football shirt from any other country in the world. Indeed, it is my pleasure to wear the shirts of the countries I come from; there is no shame in being proud of your country. But this does not mean that you cannot be proud of other countries (and their cultures) and show it, even if you might not belong to those cultures. This is because “culture” itself is very real; it is not imagined (as postmodernists might claim). Indeed, to resist the ongoing global homogenization of globalism, we must all stand up for our cultures together. To attribute to this a negative connotation—or even intent—is problematic at best and downright malicious at worst. If it is a problem for me to wear a Swedish jersey, a Greek Jersey, a Costa Rican Jersey, or any other jersey, then that represents the true regressive nature of progressive politics. And the same goes for a simple dress. If we could just stop looking at the actions of individuals—and their human agency (to speak in sociological terms)—in a negative light, the world would be a much better place indeed.

 

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This is Not Cultural Appropriation…Rather, It Brings Us Together. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

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Stand Up For Your Culture!

 

Bonus:

A small shout out to an internet user who designed jerseys for all 50 U.S. States. Perhaps, indeed, football shirts can—in some way—bring us together.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://imgur.com/a/W1Les
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