I Will Not Support the Erasure of Other Cultures
First Thing's First: It's Okay to be Wrong
So, the other day I made the following post on one of my social media accounts:
"Seems like every time I walk into (said Asian restaurant), more and more white people are working here. The owner is legit about to hear from me."
A couple of people didn't seem to understand my outrage about the matter, initially claiming that I was spreading racism and hate, and advocating for segregation. One individual became so unraveled by it, he commented with his misinformed opinion, and then deleted and blocked me instantly.
The thing is, it wasn't within their personal ability to understand just yet. It's okay to be misinformed or even uninformed. What's not okay is continuing to shelter yourself in that ignorance.
I didn't immediately understand what "cultural appropriation" meant when it was first brought to my attention. I still don't fully understand it, and I probably never will completely grasp the concept when applied to aspects of race and ethnicity because I am a white American. What I can relate it to pertaining to my own experience is LGBTQ+ culture, and honestly only with emphasis on the "L", because I can not speak for other members within my community.
What I did understand at the time, was that my first instinct or feeling was a defensive one. But I didn't act on my first reaction. I chose to sit down, shut up, and listen. I chose to challenge myself through openness and learning. I am still learning.
This is important because our thoughts don't define us, our actions do. When we think a bad thought, we have the ability to acknowledge it as a bad thought and to act in a way that is inconsistent with that thought. When we do this, we are stripping away our conditioning. It's at this point we open ourselves up to questioning what we have been taught throughout our entire lives. It's here we start the process of un-learning.
Give Yourself the Opportunity for Growth
Let's take a quick step back before we move on. I previously stated, "I probably never will completely grasp the concept when applied to aspects of race and ethnicity because I am a white American."
I know this is hard for many white people to understand, but you will never know what it means to be a person of color in America, because you are not one. Beyond situations where racial and ethnic cultural attributes are applied, you will never know what it means to belong to a culture or group in which you do not belong. This is not hard. You are not expected to completely understand these things because your experience will never fully align with the experiences of those who are different from you.
Seeing as straight white men find themselves the majority, let's break it down into more relatable terms. I identify as a female. For that reason, I don't know what it is to be anything but female. I am not expected to fully understand what it means to be a male or gender neutral person, because my experience as a female differs from their experience. Are you following?
However, I am expected to understand and respect the experiences, struggles, and oppression of others. It is our duty as human beings within a diverse nation to listen to each other and have compassion.
We can not continue to go through life crapping on each other because we lack understanding.
So my point is this:
When someone talks about cultural appropriation, try listening instead of casting it off as hateful or ridiculous, simply because you don't understand it. Life is about constant learning and growth.
So Let's Talk About Cultural Appropriation
"Cultural appropriation is the adoption of the elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation, often framed as cultural misappropriation, is sometimes portrayed as harmful and is claimed to be a violation of the collective intellectual property rights of the originating culture." - Wikipedia
My outrage over seeing more and more white people be employed at that Asian restaurant doesn't mean I am advocating for segregation in the workplace. My heated social media based response to the accusation that I was went as follows:
"I don’t go to an Asian restaurant to continue to put money in the pockets of white men. I go there to support them for the cultural elements they brought to America. I also do so to support a family or small business who may be struggling, as they are (often) competing with large, majority white corporations.
White people taking over that restaurant means they are taking those elements, using them to profit themselves, and therefore whitewashing them, as they basically have done with everything they have gotten their hands on since Columbus brought his people here and slaughtered millions of native people."
The summary of my point here, is that the whitewashing of America is a real thing, and is the main cause of my disgust for the situation at the restaurant.
Their response yet again, consisted of the claim that I was promoting segregation, as well as a claim that I was "part of the problem."
So I went on, continuing the attempt to make my point. I did get a little of topic, but I find that certain issues sometimes seem to play into others:
"Not understanding that white people have a tendency to dictate everything and continue to leave minorities as oppressed groups is part of the problem. Not trying to uplift them, support their business, and fight against the erasure of their culture.
Sally can get a job anywhere. Why does Sally have to work in an Asian restaurant, while Chien-Shiung struggles to find employment because she is casted off by a great many employers? Legit studies have been done about the fact that it is harder to find a job while having a non-white sounding name. Jose can't seem to get a call back until he drops the "S" in his name and becomes Joe. Then BAM! Phone calls!
It's really not that hard. If white people owned and infiltrated every aspect of American life, there would be nothing left for anyone else. Standing up for oppressed people is definitely not the problem. Living in a world where you choose not to acknowledge the real issues in this country is."
The White-Washing of America
Again, the white-washing of America is a real thing. The end result of cultural appropriation is the absolute erasure of those other cultures. This is one of the many things people are fighting against when they call out cultural appropriation.
It's not about racism, hate, or segregation. It is about finding ways to appreciate and uplift cultures in ways that will not end in erasing them. It is about not only preserving those cultures, but helping to create an environment in which they can thrive.
"What Would America be Like if We Loved Black People as Much as We Love Black Culture?"
Why Do We Have to Paint it White?
That restaurant didn't start out as a white business. It didn't start out serving American eats, or any other eats for that matter. It started out as an Asian business. It started out furnished with decor celebrating the Asian culture; the culture in which the owners took so much pride in that they wanted to share it with other people. It started out hiring people from the same culture who also shared the same love and appreciation for it.
It started out as an Asian restaurant, serving up Asian food, in an environment that reminds other Americans who moved here from Asia of the time they spent there. Why can't we just support that? Why do we have to paint it white?
This restaurant, throughout the course of time, has been one my roommate and I have visited regularly. The entire atmosphere reminds her of her childhood in Taiwan; sparking up memories about the times she spent with her family and friends there before she came to America.
She talks about how her mother used to cook some of the same dishes. She recalls eating those dishes in the house they used to live, and has a moment of mournful reflection as the memory of what that house looked like is fading. She tells me about the stray cat that showed up on their doorstep that one time, and how she cried to her mother because she wanted to keep it. She shares stories of her upbringing and how she was always encouraged to play the piano or read books, instead of sitting in front of the tv. She takes a moment to appreciate her mother for pushing for such things, even though she thought she was a little too strict at times. She tells me of the community that surrounded her in Taiwan. Talks of her neighbors and what they were like.
She speaks and a picture illuminates in front of me. An "inner-city" covered in tents, crowded with people selling their food and merchandise. A series of fishing docks in one direction, and a road that leads to the country-side in the other. The beautiful landscape upon arriving there in the country-side. A town coated in Asian design after dark, when everything is radiating with light.
Fighting Against Appropriation is Fighting Against Erasure
So my point is NO, I absolutely DO NOT want to go into an Asian restaurant to have a white person cook my food. I DO NOT want to walk into an Asian restaurant and see a vast majority of white servers and hostesses waiting on customers.
I don't want to support this because I do not want to contribute to the erasure of that culture.
Seriously, think about it. What happens when we reach a point where every single worker in that restaurant is white? In what world would it still be considered an Asian restaurant? It would be a white-washed establishment, filled with white people serving up recipes they took from another culture, and profiting from it. This is NOT okay.
I don't want my roommate to ever stop reminiscing on old times. I don't want the memory of where she came from or the aspects of that culture she holds dear to her to fade away any more than they already have. I don't want her to live in a world where everything is painted white. I want her to have places to go that celebrate her culture and bring her back in touch with it.
There is enough of everything in this country to be shared with all people from all walks of life. In that, I am a small part of a bigger whole. Where I put my money matters. I refuse to put it in the pockets of white men who, intentional or not, are obliterating other cultures.
I am outraged because this is where the wiping out of other cultures begins. I will do everything in my power NOT to take part in that process. I will do everything in my power, and with what little understanding I have, to fight against it.
Making the personal decision to NOT pay a white person cooking up Asian eats is a small act that can have significant outcome. There's another Asian place about 15-20 minutes from the one I speak of, which I also visit often. I don't know all the details, but the family that owns it came to America over 20 years ago to escape great struggles. It was life or death for them. When they arrived, they worked incredibly hard and started their business, and have worked very hard to maintain it ever since. I'd much rather take my business there.
A Side Note:
I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff I still don’t get. I’m sure there may even be things within this post I have gotten wrong. If that is the case and I have gotten something wrong, please talk to me so I can correct it and become better informed.
© 2017 Robin Zielinski