The impossibly fickle, selective, and whimsical rules of cultural appropriation are hard to keep straight.
(Oops! I said “straight.” Apologies to whomever. Oops, can I say “whomever”? Zimever? Verselves? Gah.)
According to the white people who run the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center, eating tacos, drinking tequila, and wearing sombreros on Cinco de Mayo “are textbook examples of cultural appropriation.” Euro-privileged people at Gonzaga University similarly warned “non-Mexican individuals” on campus not to wear costumes insensitive to the “Latinx culture.” No-nos included “serapes” and “fake mustaches.”
An African-American writer at The Root, a website for “Black news, opinions, politics, and culture,” counseled non-Mexican people on behalf of Mexican people to “cut it out with being a culturally appropriating jackass and leave the sombreros home.”
According to the politically correct powers that be on Twitter, a white girl cannot wear a Chinese qipao dress to prom because Asian-Americans might be offended—even though actual Chinese people are not. The cultural contretemps was set off by a Chinese-American man, Jeremy Lam, who fumed, “My culture is NOT your goddamned prom dress”—while littering his own social media feed with ghetto slang (“N—- dayuum!”) appropriated from rappers.
And a Korean-American restaurant owner came under fire recently for cheekily naming her business “Yellow Fever” (used to describe the condition of non-Asian males enamored of Asian females) to “embrace the term & reinterpret it positively.”
To review the misappropriation mandates so far: Teenage white girls in Utah can’t wear Chinese dresses to prom. Non-Mexicans can’t wear sombreros on Cinco de Mayo. Wearing other groups’ attire as costumes is insensitive. Re-appropriating phrases deemed inappropriate is inappropriate, even if done by a member of the aggrieved minority victimized by inappropriate appropriation. History shall not be trivialized. Identity must be respected.
So it is with extreme befuddlement and bewilderment that I sifted through pages and pages of photos from this week’s Met Gala, whose theme was “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.”
Pop diva Rihanna came dressed as a stiletto-heeled pope in pearls, crystals, and sky-high medieval headgear. (Will The Root writer scold her to cut it out with being a Catholic appropriating jackass and leave the bedazzled mitre at home?)
Nickelodeon alum Ariana Grande, draped in Vera Wang’s cherub-adorned silk organza, chirped that she represented “the back wall of the Sistine Chapel” and felt “fairly important in this outfit, I have to say.”
Entertainer Katy Perry, donning massive white feathered wings on her back that seem to have been borrowed from last year’s Victoria’s Secret runway, pronounced herself “angelic, celestial, ethereal.”
Lana Del Rey, sprouting angel wings on top of her head, paired with Jared Leto decked out as Jesus in a gilt crown of thorns and powder blue Gucci suit.
Rosy-cheeked, mantilla-clad Kate Bosworth mimicked the Virgin Mary. Former Disney star Zendaya strutted the red carpet in Versace chain mail and Joan of Arc bangs. Nicki Minaj, last seen appropriating the Chinese martial arts video game cartoon character Chun Li (because that’s OK), channeled the devil. And assorted supermodels and their arm candy escorts sported rosaries, halos, and veils like haute couture cosplay.
Now, this is the point at which I might cry out indignantly: My religion is not your costume! But the Vatican actually collaborated with the Met Gala on the event, donating prized vestments, cassocks, and other relics. No, I’m not offended. I’m just queasy and exhausted from trying to keep track of what we’re supposed to wear and not wear, say and not say, eat or drink and not eat or drink, and who all is allowed to dictate what to whom and when.
“Piss Christ” is art. Muhammad cartoons are fatal blasphemy. Suburban girls in qipaos are human rights violators, but black female rappers and their fans in Chinese ox horn buns are cutting-edge. College kids in sombreros must be re-programmed, but Kim Kardashian parading like an oversized, gold-sequined chalice with crucifix stick-ons is high style.
The dizzying diktats of offense avoidance need to be burned like palm branches and tossed into an ash heap with campus offense-avoidance guidebooks. Can I get an amen on that? I say: Let me eat taco meat drenched in soy sauce with my chopsticks, drink a mango lassi while cooking latkes in my kimono, and be merry while making Spam musubi with my Catholic-Jewish-Ukrainian-Filipino-Chinese-Spanish kids.
Isn’t that what celebrating diversity is all about?