I think I speak for a number of people who have been aghast by the all the realizations we’ve finally had in the last few months. Whether willful or unknowing and living safely in a White bubble, our black and brown brothers and sisters have continued to suffer. Our ignorance has not only perpetuated that suffering but in many places has exacerbated it. I fully and embarrassingly admit to texting Black loved ones asking about their welfare and what I can do to ease their suffering. I didn’t know.
Through my vow to educate myself and do better, I came across several prominent figures in the Black community who have vilified this response. Don’t put your white guilt bullshit on me; I tell you I’m fine because that’s the only way I can be. I’ve come to see that my White response is treating an ongoing systemic problem with the triteness of a message after a bad storm. You doing okay, friend? Yeah, just a few trees down and 300 years of oppression to clean up; but we’re fine here, thanks for checking.
As I continue to educate myself on how to be a better ally, the subject of cultural appropriation has come up time and again. I recognize that my diction changes depending on whom I am speaking to. A former colleague told me that is a sign of empathy, something to be extolled. Now, I’m not so sure.
A British friend will get a smattered cockney. A knock-off Irish lilt comes out when speaking to a pal from Dublin. My Southern family get treated to the most fucked up Yankee drawl you ever heard. What do my Black friends hear from me? I now wonder if they seethe inside listening to phrases borrowed from their lips coming out of my mouth.
Is my borrowing actually stealing? This circle extends out to more overt acts: like White women donning kimonos or saris (possibly in inappropriate ways) or bastardizing the comfort foods of other cultures. My love affair with Mexican food has gone on decades; the first time I went to a Chi-Chis Restaurant outside of Pittsburgh as a high schooler. And yes, I was also in high school when a foreign exchange student from Mexico laughed her ass off when we were comparing which restaurants were in both countries and I asked if they had Chi-Chis in Mexico. Of course, we have Chi-Chis! It was only then that I learned this was slang for boobs. Well played, creator of this food chain from days of yore, well played on estupidos americanos.
But when I stumble through rusty Spanish to order my food or try to make my own at home… is it stealing from that culture, too?