Appropriate Appropriation

Image of yoga bint doing downward dog I've grown exceedingly tired of the incessant whining from pedants and their polemic against the politically correct flavour of the decade: cultural appropriation. It seems every time I turn on the radio, I hear the bleats from another self-proclaimed victim railing against the dominant society asserting that their culture has been appropriated. Christ it's growing tiresome.

As I search for an operational definition for what passes muster as fashionable these days in this brave new world of victimization, I discover that cultural appropriation "is when a culture that's seen as an oppressor borrows or steals elements of a culture they're oppressing." Of course that begs the question, is it permissible for those who feel they're being oppressed to borrow or steal elements from the culture that is oppressing them? Or, for that matter, from another culture?

Back in 2015, a free yoga class which had been given at the University of Ottawa for more than seven years was suddenly shit-canned because some toadie got their knickers in a knot, raising concerns over cultural appropriation. Jen Scharf, who had taught the free class, was informed the class would not continue because volunteers and students were not comfortable with the "cultural issues" involved. A subsequent CBC investigation which interviewed Student Federation President Romeo Ahimakin, revealed that there were no direct complaints about the class at all; only general questions about the issues and ideas around it. Apparently, the fear of soiling one's trousers is greater than the smell of actually shitting oneself.

This issue is not a first for Ottawa's press. Back in 2013, several disgruntled objectors went on the warpath when a local businessman announced the launch of a new basketball team: the Ottawa Tomahawks. Call me a cynic, but I can't help but think (a point I raised at the time) that Takkale's move was nothing more than a shrewd strategic manoeuvre to garner lots of free advertising for the new team. You do remember New Coke, don't you?

But what happens if no one complains when elements are being stolen or borrowed from one culture by another culture? Is that still cultural appropriation? Or is it just appropriate appropriation?

Image of Taco Bell logo I am referring, of course, to a story I heard recently on CBC Radio. The story included an interview with an Indigenous restauranteur in British Columbia. The restaurant featured Bannock Burritos on the menu. Burritos? Does this mean Taco Bell is guilty of appropriating the burrito from our First Nations peoples? Why aren't the same folks who complained about the use of the word Tomahawk not complaining about the use of the word burrito? Apparently, Taco Bell have done something far more sinister... they've even appropriated the word taco from our Indigenous people. As I peruse the menu of the Salmon 'n Bannock Bistro in Vancouver, I can't help but notice what surely must be a native dietary staple: Bannock Tacos.

Now to be perfectly honest, I don't give a rat's arse whether an Ottawa sports team call themselves the Ottawa Tomahawk and I'm not going to burst a blood vessel when a restaurant, purporting to serve Indigenous food, sells Bannock Tacos. What does trouble me, however, is the double standard which operates, seemingly unchallenged, in the shadows. In this regard, cultural appropriation only seems to apply to dominant cultures borrowing from a culture which views itself as an oppressed culture. When a culture borrows or steals from a culture which does not see itself as oppressed, the appropriation, it would appear, is appropriate. In other words, not just anyone can wield a tomahawk, but some folks can have their tacos and eat them too.

A cautionary word of advice... if you're in British Columbia and happen to dine at an Indigenous restaurant, for Crissakes, don't order fish from the menu. If you happen to choke on a fish bone, you'll likely be accused of cultural appropriation for imitating an Inuit throat singer. The two sounds are, after all, virtually indistinguishable from one another.

Submitted by "Big Banana" Bob Loblaw, 30 September 2017