Why Cultural Appropriation is Awesome


On March 17, Netflix premiered its latest Marvel TV show: Iron Fist. Based on the comic book of the same name, the show follows Danny Rand, the son of New York billionaires who was orphaned when his family’s private jet crashed somewhere in Asia. The sole survivor of the crash, Danny was taken in by a group of warrior monks in the mystical land of Kunlun, where he trained relentlessly in kung fu. He became a great fighter and was eventually chosen as the next Iron Fist, granting him the ability to channel his chi, causing his fist to glow and giving him superhuman strength.

Since it was released, the show has been called “terrible,” “boring,” “just fine,” and “the single worst thing the superhero television factory has ever created.” I call it ok, not as good as Daredevil, and necessary viewing to set up The Defenders. But some on the left are calling it something different: problematic.

The story of a white man immersing himself in and adopting Asian culture is described as cultural appropriation, an interesting term of art used to imply there is something wrong with dressing or acting in a way other than your race might suggest you would. The notion of cultural appropriation has also been used to tell white girls not to wear hoop earrings, or white men not to wear dreadlocks, or why some people protested an event at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston in which visitors could try on a replica of a kimono worn by Monet’s wife in one of his paintings.

What is truly amazing about the cultural appropriation argument is how narrow it has to be to receive any credence. Some on the left accept it when a Latina tells a white girl not to wear hoop earrings because it is not her culture, or a black woman tells a white man not to wear dreadlocks because it is not his culture, or Asians tell white people not to wear kimonos because it is not their culture. But imagine for a moment the same words were uttered by a white man in a tank top and trucker cap. Did telling people to act or not act a certain way based on race and stereotypes suddenly become racist? So why is the reverse different?

If we peer behind the logic of cultural appropriation, we see two possible end results. The first possible result is that if white people are banned from adopting the culture of minority groups, the only change in  culture will be minorities abandoning their heritage in favor of whatever is deemed to be white culture. If culture is divided up by ethnicity and the largest racial group is forbidden from changing, then minority groups slowly change to be more like the majority. But considering rebukes for cultural appropriation are usually phrased as a means of preserving the minority group’s culture, it is doubtful this is what they have in mind.

The second, and far more likely result, is the Balkanization of the United States, in which every American adopts a culture based purely on their ethnic heritage and rejects all others. Let’s ignore that so many Americans are of mixed ethnicity and the difficulty of deciding which parent’s culture they should accept and which they would reject; or that whatever is decided to be white culture is already a mix of various cultures. This is a world in which separate but equal is no longer a disgraceful term but instead the best possible outcome. This version of cultural appropriation logic would build walls between Americans who look different, and turn neighbors into strangers. For people who constantly talk of being “otherized,” they seem determined to remain separate and apart from the larger American community of all races.

What is now called cultural appropriation used to be called the melting pot. One of the great things about America is that we take both people and ideas from all over the world and mesh them into a unified whole. What is referred to as American culture contains bits and pieces from across the globe. We should embrace and rejoice in that.

After centuries of pervasive racism, we have finally reached a point where people want to try things historically associated with a different ethnicity. How is this not something to celebrate? We should not look at ourselves as white, black, Hispanic, Asian, or any other ethnic group. We should all see ourselves and our countrymen as one nation, and be happy if our fellow Americans adopt a style, tradition, or idea that we like. 

Our goal should be to take many different peoples and turn them into one. Someone should translate that into Latin and write it down somewhere.