Thought of the Day: Cultural Appropriation

Basketball bores the shit out of me. But I have to tip my hat, assuming that is something distinct to my own culture and not some vile act of appropriation which will garner me condemnation from some other culture who has laid claim to hat tipping, to Jeremy Lin. Lin is a basketball player from California whose parents immigrated from Taiwan. And this season he took to the courts sporting some fairly ridiculous-looking dreadlocks.

Kenyon Martin, a retired basketball player who was born in Michigan and raised in Dallas, made headlines when he called out Lin for his new hairstyle, accusing him of “cultural appropriation.” Apparently, adopting styles that one group of people has claimed as its own is a bad thing. Which seems odd to me, because I’d think a group of people who have endured a history of abuse and oppression would actually take some comfort and perhaps even a little pride in what Martin claims is Lin’s desire to be a part of that group. I would think that Martin would celebrate the fact that Lin and others are openly embracing what they feel are traits distinct to his culture.

Lin certainly touched on this point in his initial response, noting that both players are members of racial minorities and suggesting that “…the more we appreciate each other’s cultures, the more we influence mainstream society.” He also astutely called out Martin’s hypocrisy, pointing out that Martin has Chinese tattoo’s. Clearly Martin had no problem appropriating Lin’s culture, yet was quite upset when Lin apparently appropriated his.

As the debate played out publicly, few have acknowledged the racist undertones in Martin’s remarks. For example, he referred to Lin as “this boy” and “these people.” Imagine the outcry if Lin had referred to Martin in such terms? It makes me wonder if David Duke should be angry with Martin for his cultural appropriation of terms deeply rooted in white Southern racist culture?

It’s also important to note that Lin is not a racist, and therefore his adoption of a hairstyle that’s widely considered to be a “black hairstyle” is not meant to mock or offend. This is not a case of a Klansman who is spending $50 a month in tanning salon so his skin can look less white. Lin plays in the National Basketball Association, where 74 percent of his colleagues are black. He has been surrounded by blacks and black culture for most of his life. And getting dreadlocks is evidence of how much he has positively embraced that culture.

For his part, Lin penned an insightful piece about his journey to dreads. Clearly his intent was to sport a hairstyle that was popular among his teammates and friends. Which reinforces my belief that anyone who supports black culture should celebrate Lin’s decision to get dreads as a positive affirmation of that culture (if indeed that’s what dreads represent, but more on that in a moment).

First, let’s acknowledge that hair is more than just hair in black culture. The afro has been seen as a black-positive hairstyle, much like dreadlocks, because it’s seen as more “natural.” Conversely, straight and smooth hair, often artificially created through a nasty-ass process known as “relaxing” it, has been seen as Uncle Tomish, trying to emulate white culture. And if you are unfamiliar with all of this, I highly recommend watching Chris Rock’s documentary on the subject.

But back to dreadlocks, their origins, and what they may or may not represent. This hairstyle was made popular by Jamaicans, specifically the Rastafarians, which leaves me wondering if Martin’s family comes from Jamaica. If not, then shouldn’t he be apologizing to Jamaicans – or at least the Rastafarians – for cultural appropriation? And to that end, why hasn’t Martin called-out other basketball players who are guilty of cultural appropriation, being non-Jamaicans who have appropriated the dreadlock hairstyle from Jamaican culture, such as Chris Bosh, Marquis Daniels, Kenneth Faried, Brain Grant, Latrell Sprewell, and Etan Thomas? Has he held his tongue because they are black? And, if so, does that make Martin a racist?

Of course, I have no way of knowing whether or not any of those aforementioned basketball players are third- or fourth-generation descendants from Jamaica, or perhaps Rastafarians, in which case the hairstyle would indeed be a part of their cultural heritage. Which raises the question of how much of a connection does one need to a particular culture to justify their alleged appropriation? And since science tells us we are all descendants from Africa, doesn’t that make this whole discussion kind of silly?

I don’t understand cultural appropriation. For starters, what specifically defines a culture? And what about distinctions within what’s presumed to be a distinct culture? Are there not cultural distinctions between black Americans, black Africans, and black Caribbeans? And, if so, are they allowed to borrow freely from one another simply because of the level a melanin in their skin?

Is there a white culture? And if so, are there things that non-whites are not allowed to appropriate from it? For example, should black women be allowed to straighten their hair, dye it blond, or wear wigs that achieve the same affect, given that those hairstyles are more traditionally associated with white culture? Should there be an outcry against blacks who wear Timberland boots and North Face jackets, both of which were initially popularized by whites?

Making these kinds of distinctions can get very confusing for those who complain about cultural appropriation. For example, is a white person not allowed to use a touch-tone phone, caller I.D. and call waiting because they were invented by a black woman? And is a black person then not allowed to use any phone because it was invented by a bunch of white guys, one of whom went on to create the lab in which the aforementioned black woman made her inventions? And would the latter fact negate her inventions because they were made in a lab created by white culture?

Given the world we live in, where cultures have been living together for ages, what makes something truly unique to a given culture? Koreans are believed to have invented pants, so does that mean the rest of us are appropriating Korean culture when we wear them? Should we apologize for our pants?

What makes such things distinct to one culture and not another? Is it because someone from that culture created them, or because someone from that culture borrowed it from another and then popularized it through their own culture? And who do you need to ask permission from before you “appropriate” something? Is it simply a question of acknowledging its origins and respecting them? If so, what exactly constitutes acknowledgement and respect?

Finally, is this really about culture, or is it about race? Are these claims of cultural appropriation nothing more than a backlash against years of deep-seated racism, or a way to reinforce racial stereotypes? Are they intended to be a form of cultural racism, or is that just an unpleasant byproduct of trying to hold onto cultural identity on an increasingly assimilating world?

As you can see, I have a lot of questions about cultural appropriation. And there don’t seem to be a lot of clear answers to any of them. But perhaps the most poignant question of all is whether or not we want to be drawing more lines between one another.

I, for one, have seen far too much racism, hatred, and bigotry in my lifetime – based on everything from race, religion, culture, and nationality. And it mystifies me why anyone, particularly someone who has likely endured a lifetime of overt and institutional oppression, would want to foster more of that in our society by trying to use something as simple as a hairstyle to build even more boundaries between us.

 

Dear Donny: An Open Letter to El Trumpo

Dear Donny:

Remember how you said you wanted to make America great again? Well, that’s exactly what these kneeling athletes are doing. Like you, they are trying to make America great again. They are calling attention to what they feel are some of the shortcomings of our nation, areas in which can and should improve. Specifically, they are understandably alarmed by the seemingly endless string of police shooting of unarmed black men across America, and the incredible absence of justice on the behalf of these victims, as well as the overall racial injustice and inequity that has plagued our society for far too long.

Now is that disrespectful to our nation and its symbols? Is it any more disrespectful then you saying that America is no longer great, a claim on which you based your entire campaign?

Is it any more disrespectful than when you falsely claimed that the President of the United States – your predecessor, a man who won the popular vote, twice (the first to do so since FDR) – wasn’t even born in America (like two of your three wives), despite indisputable evidence that proved he was indeed born here?

Is it anymore disrespectful than claiming that neo-Nazis and the KKK, people who proudly denounce most of the ideals our nation holds sacred, are on equal footing with those Americans who showed the courage to defend those ideals?

Is it anymore disrespectful than claiming that a decorated war hero, who was tortured after his plane was shot down during battle, defending America’s freedoms in a war that you dodged, claiming that (despite being active in sports) you suddenly had “bone spurs” (a condition which, miraculously, “heeled” itself as soon as the war ended)?

And what about disrespecting the Presidency by spouting endless lies, especially the really sad ones that everyone knows aren’t true? Isn’t that disrespecting America in a far more intentional and impactful way than a handful of protesters silently taking a knee in a league you claim doesn’t have much viewership anyway?

I never understood the blind loyalty that people like you have to our nation and its symbols, until I realized that it’s neither loyalty nor blind. You are the first to bitch, moan, and protest whenever there’s something about America you don’t like. You know, like that time you tweeted that the President shouldn’t be talking about football when “our country has far bigger problems!” But when someone questions the things about America that you happen to like, then you immediately hide behind the flag and pretend that they don’t love our country, that they are disrespecting it, because they happen to be raising a concern you don’t share. That’s how cowards like you operate. You act like everything that comes out of your mouth is the only thing that matters, and whenever anyone questions you or dares to disagree with you, you cry out that they are either espousing fake news or claim that they don’t really love America.

You are the worst kind of hypocrite, Donny. Whenever an American says something about our country that you don’t like, you say shit like, “America, love it or leave it.” Yet you think it’s perfectly acceptable to criticize the country when there’s something about America that you personally don’t like, such as same-sex marriage, reasonably affordable healthcare, or high-placed government officials who use private emails while in office. Oh, wait, strike that last one.

Rather than say “love it or leave it,” why not simply try to change it, try to improve it? That’s all that these protesters are trying to do. And I’m guessing that’s what drove you to run for president, as opposed to your child-like need for attention. After all, if you didn’t like the things that were happening in this country, like these athletes who took a knee, you could have packed up trophy wife #3 along with the rest of your mildly retarded clan and fled to Nambia. You know, love it or leave it, eh?

Where would our nation be if we Americans didn’t protest against the injustices of the world, including right here at home? That’s what has made this country so great. Not a cheap cap with a slogan that did well with focus groups in rural Alabama. Speaking out against injustice is more American than apple pie. In fact, it’s our patriotic duty as Americans to tackle society’s wrongs.

And why are you so upset at people taking a knee during the national anthem? After all, that song, and our flag, are merely symbols of who we are, and how we conduct ourselves. Both were adopted long after ideals like liberty and justice for all. And isn’t that what our flag and anthem represent, things like the right to free speech and equal justice regardless of the color of one’s skin?

Since you are always quick to threaten to sue or imprison those who disagree with you, I assume you agree that our flag stands for the the rule of law. If so, then why are you disrespecting it by suggesting that these protesters be punished for taking a knee? After all, a smart guy like you must know that the United States Supreme Court ruled that Americans do not have to stand and salute the flag (West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette). Does this mean you don’t believe in the rule of law either?

Ask yourself this: what’s more important, the national anthem or the right to free speech? If you say that national anthem, not only would you make a better North Korean (where worship of national symbols is compulsory) than an American (where, as previously noted, worship of national symbols has been deemed voluntary by the Supreme Court), but you are also betraying your ignorance. The anthem represents free speech, so clearly what the symbol represents is more sacred than the symbol itself.

If you could be honest with yourself for a moment (I know it’s scary, after seven decades of incessant lies, but try to be brave for once in your life), do you think that the real reason you are upset with these people is because they have different views than you? Views that are hard to address, even for a competent leader, let alone someone like you? Or maybe it’s because you are still sore about the NFL giving you the cold shoulder all those years ago?

The truth is that America was founded on protests. Historically, we have always been a people who have rebelled against loudmouth leaders telling us what we can and cannot do. Hell, you can trace it all the way back to the Pilgrims and the Boston Tea Party. Though, I suppose if you were around then (come on, buddy, you’re not quite that old), you would surely have told the King to lock them sons of bitches up.

But let me stop right here, though. I’m sure you haven’t made it this far through the letter – not even if it was burrito night in the West Wing, leaving you with plenty of time on the toilet and little else to do. After all, I know you aren’t a big reader (all those words, and so few boobies!) and have the attention span of a 4 year-old meth head.

The bottom line is that you aren’t going to listen to a word I have said. Just like you won’t listen to the protesters (well, except for those “fine people” marching alongside the local Hitler Youth in West Virginia). I’m sure that by the time you wandered into the second paragraph of this letter, you had already dismissed me as an enemy of the state.

However, on the off chance that you did make it this far (perhaps you have run out of toilet paper and even the Secret Service are pretending they can’t hear you), let me leave you with this thought. If you really are so concerned with whether or not people respect our flag and anthem, then maybe you should focus on giving them more reasons to respect these symbols…and our nation as a whole.

You may stand during the national anthem and salute our flag, but if you do not honor and support the principles and ideals they represent, then you are disrespecting those symbols – and this country – far more than any of these protesters. And it has become painfully clear that you do not, in fact, support the principles and ideals our flag and anthem represent, including the freedom of speech, the rule of law, and justice for all. In fact, you seem to be more interested in the symbols of America than the principles and ideals they represent, which makes you the worst kind of American – a false patriot.

Disrespectfully Yours,

A Kneeling Patriot

How Dumb Is Donny Trump?

Donald Trump stood before representatives of the entire world at the United Nations last week and confirmed what everyone had already suspected…that the man is a complete moron.

Trump tried to make four main points in his speech before the UN General Assembly: 1) The United States is strong and successful; 2) America cares about America first and foremost; 3) Therefore we no longer care what form of government other countries have because ultimately we respect the sovereignty of each and every nation; and 4) The United Nations and all the “good” countries around the world need to help the United States to change or at least control the governments in charge of the “bad” countries around the world…namely Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.

Let me address each of these individually. First of all, regarding the power and status of the United States, there is no news here. America has been the richest and most dominant nation on the planet since before Donald Trump was even born…with a silver spoon embedded deep in his quivering rectum. Of course, the reason he led off with this is because he would like to take credit for all of it. But one thing Donny never learned over the years is that no one respects or admires the rich and powerful who constantly remind everyone else how rich and powerful they are. That’s just dickish.

As for this America first stuff, that’s also a bit silly. Yes, the people who lead countries tend to act in the best interest of their country. Or at least what they think is in the best interest of their country (or, in Trump’s case, simply in their own personal interest). Like America’s affluence, this also goes without saying. Yet, coming out and saying it – and doing so before the UN General Assembly, a body created to protect the interests of all people, regardless of their nationality – was tantamount to telling the rest of the world that it’s now every nation for itself. And telling the rest of the world that they’re now on their own not only encourages nations like China to try and fill the void in global leadership ceded by Trump on behalf of the United States, but it also encourages the rest of the world to turn to nations like China for leadership and support now that they no longer can count on the United States.

It’s particularly interesting that Trump has opted to go this America first route so forcefully. Sure, it plays well with his base, but he may be the first President of the United States who doesn’t actually believe it…or at least practice it. Since he took office, the man has continually placed his own personal interests ahead of our nation’s, just as he has throughout his entire career. His biography should have been called Trump First, because that’s how he’s lived his life. And it should be obvious by now that he only became President to enhance his own personal brand and endless ego, not the welfare and interests of his fellow Americans.

But the real news is Trump’s claim that America now respects the sovereignty of other nations, regardless of what type of government they have. That’s in stark contrast to American foreign policy going all the way back to the end of the 19th century, with the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars and the Boxer Rebellion. Rightly or wrongly, we have always taken an active interest in what form of government other nations have, often ignoring matters of sovereignty simply to ensure that the nation and its resources are available to serve our interests. In fact, we didn’t care if some of them shunned democratic values or neglected human rights, as long as they served our interests (just ask Manuel Noriega, Ferdinand Marcos, or the Shah of Iran). And this stance also contradicts the doctrine that led us into the Cold War, with the domino theory that one nation embracing a communist or socialist government anywhere in the world posed a direct threat to the safety and security of the United States.

Of course, this all flies in direct opposition to the final point Trump tried to make. If we now respect the sovereignty, the right to self-government, of all nations, then how can we oppose the sovereignty and right to self-government of certain nations, such as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela? Like so much of what comes out of Trump’s mouth, it makes no sense.

Furthermore, after telling everyone at the United Nations that America’s priority is America, and basically saying that every other nation is on its own, to look after their own interests first and foremost, Trump then called for the leaders of other nations to join him in a cooperative effort to make the world a safer, better place. Specifically, he asked other nations to help the United States and its allies deal with potential threats from nations like Iran and North Korea. If China takes Trump’s advice and thinks of China’s interests above all else, then they certainly aren’t going to help reign in North Korea. Which must have left the Chinese delegation wondering not only what the hell Trump was talking about, but what exactly the United States wants from them.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just about Trump making an ass of himself on the global stage, and thereby making America look uncharacteristically stupid. His ignorance and ineptitude could very likely have real and painful consequences for our nation, and the world as a whole.

Looking at the big picture, many of the problems we currently face are global in nature, such as climate change, energy, overpopulation, terrorism, the need for new antibiotics, etc. If every nation were to listen to Trump and focus on the needs of their own nation, then that weakens the opportunity for humanity to collectively work together to solve the myriad of challenges we face now and in the future.

Trump and his supporters clearly aren’t big picture thinkers, though. Yet his stupidity will also likely have some direct consequences that even they, despite their inability to see the big picture, should be able to comprehend. For example, with Trump openly denouncing the deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program during his UN speech, why would North Korea trust America in any sort of agreement regarding its own nuclear ambitions? In fact, Trump has sent a clear signal to the North Koreans that a diplomatic agreement with the United States is no longer worth the paper it is printed on. And not only may that keep the North Koreans away from the bargaining table and busy building a nuclear arsenal, but – if Trump does indeed welsh on the Iran deal – then it wouldn’t take much imagination to envision the North Koreans selling their nuclear secrets to the Iranians. After all, if Trump destroys that deal, Iran will be free to pursue a nuclear arsenal, and North Korea certainly could use the money given the stranglehold we’ve placed on them with this latest round of sanctions. Besides, as Trump said, it’s every nation for itself these days. Including Nambia.

Life In The Big City

So I was in the express checkout line at the Whole Foods on Manhattan’s Upper East Side this past Monday, Sept. 11th. At the time, there were two female cashiers working that line. The lady handling my checkout was explaining to the other cashier that she was relocating to another Whole Foods that was closer to her home in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

The other cashier seemed surprised that my cashier lived in Brooklyn, and told her that a pregnant woman had just been shot in Brownsville. My cashier paused for a moment, as she was ringing up my bananas, and quietly said that she knows about it. And then, after another pause, calmly said that it was her boyfriend who had shot the woman.

Pauses aside, she said this so matter-of-factly that I assumed she was joking, in that dark sense of humor that New Yorkers know so well. The other cashier appeared to be shocked, though, and unsure how to respond. I looked back at my cashier, who seemed dead serious as she collected my cash before turning to the other cashier and adding: “that’s why I’m careful not to make him mad.”

Needless to say, I walked out of there a bit shocked myself. In fact, I was so disturbed that, when I got home, I checked the news to see if a pregnant woman had indeed been shot in Brownsville. Sure enough, a pregnant 19-year-old had been shot there on Sunday, twice in the head. Fortunately, after a long surgery, she and her baby appear to be doing fine.

However, the article said that the police were still looking for the shooter. I thought that if I could help them at least identify the shooter’s girlfriend, that might help the cops identify the shooter and get him off the street before he shoots someone else in the head.

With that in mind, I tried using the New York Police Department’s online tip form, but it worked about as well as you’d expect an online government form to work. So I called their tip line (1-800-577-TIPS), which worked surprisingly well. The officer who answered my call listened to this entire story before thanking me and explaining that they have already identified the shooter but have yet to apprehend him.

I felt better, for at least trying to do my civic duty. Still, I remained a little unnerved, knowing that I just conducted business with someone who showed little concern about dating the kind of person who shoots a pregnant 19-year-old stranger in the head…twice. In a city of 8 million, though, I know that statistically this sort of thing must happen far more than any of us would like to realize. But then I started thinking about what kind of world one must live in where dating someone like that seems perfectly acceptable – as long as you are “careful not to make him mad.”

And then I ate one of my bananas, which was delicious.

Thought of the Day: Sheeple

I love to hear people say the word “sheeple.” It reveals a lot about the type of people they are. These are the kind of folks who would eagerly pay $29.99 for Alex Jones’ Blu-ray on how to make an aluminum foil hat (for a good laugh, and quite possibly a good cry, watch John Oliver’s take on this blowhard, in which he mockingly uses the term “sheeple”).

Sheeple is a fake word, a made-up term used to describe people who blindly follow a false truth…something that is made up. It’s a hybrid of the words “sheep” and “people.” Yes, that’s how clever these people are.

And what’s really funny about it is that they are using a made-up word, which in and of itself is a false truth, to describe people who they believe are blindly following a false truth. The word is meant to mock others, but by definition it also mocks those who use it.

I think there ought to be a word to mock the people who blindly accuse others of doing the same stupid shit they themselves are doing, so I followed their example and made one up for it: “hypocridiot.” It’s a hybrid of the words “hypocrite,” for someone who criticizes others for that which they are guilty of, and “idiot,” which basically sums up the type of people who listen to these lunatics and blindly follow their nonsensical theories, clueless to the fact that they are the ones who have actually been duped.

Thought of the Day: Bicycle Licenses

I love bicycles. And I think we should do more to turn our urban centers into bike-friendly places. In fact, I’m all for restricting access for private passenger vehicles and offering incentives to companies that cater to cycling commuters, including places to safely store one’s bike and on-site locker rooms so employees can shower and change into appropriate work attire after riding their bikes in on a sweltering August morning.

But I also think bike riders need to be licensed, at least in urban environments. Now I know what you are thinking…it’s a bike, for Christ’s sake. True, but one only needs to casually observe the behavior of cyclists in an urban environment like New York City to see the wisdom of this.

On one hand, New York is awash with professional cyclists who deliver food and other items on bikes. Many of these cyclists seem to either not understand or refuse to follow the laws concerning riding a bike in this city. They regularly ignore traffic signals, ride against traffic, and even ride on the sidewalks. And to compound that, a lot of them have what can best be described as a serious attitude problem, as if the rest of us are just obstacles in their way – even when we legally have the right of way.

On the other hand, with the expansion of the Citi Bike program, we also have many more casual riders, including tourists. And not only are these cyclists more likely to be less-skilled riders than those who own their own bike, but they are also less likely to be aware of the rules and regulations for safely riding a bike in this city.

This combination of aggressive and indifferent veteran cyclists along with the influx of inexperienced and ignorant new riders is a recipe for serious problems. And while the cycling community is the first to cry foul whenever one of their own is killed or injured by a negligent motorist, and rightly so, they tend to scoff at the idea that any of their kind are guilty of bad behavior – let alone the need to be licensed and regulated. It’s like dog owners, who always insist that they clean up after their pets, yet there is still dog poop everywhere you look. It’s never their fault…someone else is always to blame.

Licensing may seem harsh, but if you are a safe cyclist, then I imagine you would welcome such a measure for your own safety, to protect you from the reckless riders who pose just as much of a threat to you as they do to everyone else. Cyclist can easily reach speeds of 20-30 miles an hour, which are sufficient enough to injure a fellow cyclist in a collision, let alone a little old lady crossing the street. And now many of the delivery riders in New York City are using electric bikes, which can reach those same speeds without the need to even pedal. Plus, they ride these under-powered motor scooters as indiscriminately as some do conventional bikes, except now they can have a smoke or check their smartphones while they’re riding because they no longer have the need to even focus on pedaling.

Cyclists have demanded bike lanes. They deserve them – and more. And the city has complied, adding more than 1,000 miles of bike lanes to date, with at least 50 new miles being added each year – all at the taxpayers’ expense. The problem is that many cyclists use these bike lanes at their convenience. Imagine if motorists used the roads at their convenience, driving along sidewalks, through bike lanes, and across any pavement whenever they felt like it?

Despite the addition of all these bike lanes, you will still see some cyclists riding in other lanes of traffic, and even on the sidewalks. And those who do use the bike lanes we’ve set aside for them, at their demand, often use them inappropriately. Some travel in the wrong direction, riding against traffic, which is a hazard to both pedestrians and other cyclists (not to mention a risk for motorists), simply because they are too lazy to ride a block over and use the proper bike lane (again, imagine if motorists were just as lazy).

It seems like some of these bike riders only care about themselves. They want to be protected from everyone else, and insist that motorists and pedestrians both adhere to the laws and regulations, yet they totally ignore the laws and regulations regarding their own behavior. For example, most cyclists, though few will admit it, completely ignore traffic signals, preferring to weave through pedestrians and motor vehicles at intersections – even though the people and cars have the right of way. Be honest…if you are a cyclist in New York City, do you always stop at red lights and wait until they turn green? No, cyclists in this city do whatever the fuck they want. They want everyone else to have to obey the rules except for themselves.

We have made rules for motorists, to protect cyclists, pedestrians, and other motorists. As a result, more people feel comfortable riding bikes around the city (ridership has increased by 150 percent). Now it’s time to make – or at least start to vigorously enforce – rules for cyclists as well, to protect pedestrians, motorists, and other cyclists.