Been a minute. The Cod has been following the unfolding conversation about cultural appropriation. Here are some disjointed thoughts:
It's crappy that those two white folks* in Portland framed the narrative of their Mexican restaurant in terms of sneaking around and spying on Mexican cooks during their vacation.
But it's also kind of crappy that they had to close their restaurant because of the backlash occasioned by the Wilamette Week story.
I am a fan of Gustavo Arellano, but kind of uncomfortable with the "everyone steals, so it's all good" of his OC piece.
I am also uncomfortable with the spreadsheet that lists Portland restaurants by the ethnicity of their owners, identifying several as "Appropriative businesses." It's hard to see how this list could work without a lot of ethnic essentialism, and reifying racial categories. The idea that anyone selling food that is not the native cuisine of their parents is doing something wrong relies on a kind of nativist logic that is unsettling, especially in 2017.
At the same time, I am also uncomfortable pretending that race does not exist. Because it does.
Authenticity is part of this conversation. Here is one place to start thinking about that part.
In my day job 'Fessering, I spend a fair amount of time thinking and teaching about cultural appropriation. A few observations:
1) I wish there were language that allowed more people to think about cultural appropriation more deeply. The current conversation encourages many (white) people into a posture of just wanting to know what the rules are. This posture comes from a shortage of empathy, for sure, but also from a sense that there are actual rules. (Un)fortunately, the only rules are to listen, to think, and to empathize. (These rules, maybe, might nip the "but Mexicans celebrate St. Paddy's" fuckery in the bud.)
2) An unheralded but important part of this conversation is that it treats culture as a fungible thing, rather than a set of relations and practices. I would suggest this idea of culture as property owes something to a prevailing neoliberal ethos, maybe.
3) More generally, and stealing some of this from SFB, the discourse of cultural appropriation seems like a kind of unwieldy way to come at larger questions of racism and economic inequality.
*Folks in this case being women. I can't help notice that these restaurateurs, who happen to be women, got blasted for something male restaurateurs do all the time. Is cultural appropriation okayer for dudes?