As my own human being with a soul and a brain, I aspire to redefine the conversation about appropriation in a way that will help us solve problems, and will not hurt the innocent. Please hear me out.
An important note: I am merely human, and I am not in the position to judge anybody or speak for anybody. I only speak for myself, always. It is a tragic fucking mess. On both sides of everything, some people are trying their best to spread the love, some are assholes, some are seeking solutions, some are seeking followers, some are hurting so much they don’t care, some have enough strength to be kind, some don’t, and everybody feels something important and wants to be heard and understood.
I am not coming from the place of useless theory or wishful thinking, and I don’t have an ivory tower to sit in. I have personally experienced violence, abuse, profiling, ethnicity-based mockery, and other ugly things that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. From all that, I learnt kindness, understanding, and respecting any emotion that is happening – because if the emotion is there, there is something that caused it to happen, and it is not going to go away until that something is addressed – internally, externally, or both. What’s wishful thinking is pretending that it’s just going to be tucked in or tamed. It won’t. It is our nature to resist any threats to our identity. We all do it. We defend our soul the best way we know.
Fist off, let me start with a harsh statement: American culture of today, as seen though my eyes of a foreigner, is a culture of bullying and loud slogans. It is very difficult to remain even-headed amid all the yelling. It feels like the rule of the game is, attack or be attacked. We are all under a lot of pressure.
Today, from what my eyes see, many people born into identities that have been historically disrespected and oppressed in America and, more broadly, in the Judeo-Christian cultures, have found that the fastest way to stop the very real pain, generational and individual, is to bully back the people born into identities that historically have been the oppressor. It’s like Yin and Yang. “My pain is so much and I had it for so long that I don’t mind it if their kin feel it, too… I don’t have the energy to separate the good ones from the bad ones over there… it hurts, so let them all burn in one fire.” It is an emotion. It exists (and then there are individual assholes who use other people’s pain opportunistically which is a separate conversation for another time). It is a vicious circle that can only be stopped by the willingness to see every participant of this mess as a fellow human being with a family history, with feelings, with a soul. Black, white, purple, straight, gay, trans, male, female… an individual human being with a history and with a soul. Unique, personally responsible for personal actions, with individual feelings.
Oh fuck, fuck, fuck. So not easy. It requires work, wisdom, courage, and a sense of responsibility that does not deliver much immediate gratification. But it is the only way to solve it. I wish it were easier. I wish there were a pill or a hashtag. But we have to connect to our spirit to figure this out. We all have a spirit, and while our family history is of tremendous significance, it doesn’t care about the color of our skin or the language we pray in. We are of one love!
Another important note: Speaking of assholes, I am convinced that the divisive narrative that we see every day in the media and on Facebook has been conceived in a high-end political room by very bad people who know too well that if they throw us a single bone of anger and mutual contempt and mistrust, we are likely to get busy fighting for the bone, and forget about the humanity that connects us all.
A third important note: Before anybody with love of slogans claims that I am appropriating the topic of appropriation because my skin is delicately pale, I would like to remind everybody that A. I am an immigrant and I have dealt with a ton of cruelty in America; plus, the history of my own people was not a walk in the garden of Eden, and B, Whoa, are you saying that people with pale skin don’t have a soul and are divorced from human experience? Or that a billion (??) of people whose skin is some shade of pale are all one person and should be scooped with one shovel? SO. AMERICAN (I am being facetious, yes). “Oh, you are from Moscow? I have a friend who is from Moscow. Her name is Katya. Do you know her?” Sure I do, we are all the same over there, and we all know each other! And yes, I really wanted to hear you mutilate the Russian language as you attempt to pronounce what you believe to be a Russian toast even though it’s not… yes, hearing that makes me less home sick… God. Anyway.
Carrying on, therapy out of the way.
For a second, let’s forget ethnicity, race and gender. Say, you and I are friends. One day, I tell you my mom’s special pie recipe, and then you take it and open a restaurant, without asking me, without telling me even. Whether we are of the same ethnicity or not, you are still an asshole.
In the case of the burrito restaurant, I believe the discussion is misguided big time, from every angle imaginable, and I don’t know whether it’s deliberate or not. Everybody wants to scream, and nobody wants to acknowledge that every participant of this controversy has a soul. I feel that in order to arrive at justice, it is crucial to recognize a soul in everybody, and it is crucial to have a conversation about honesty, respect, privacy, and intellectual property, regardless of ethnicity and citizenship. To my senses, the conversation is misguided because what’s on people’s minds is, attack or be attacked. Because, clicks. Because, in the age of social media, it’s better to be the bully than the loser. Because, we live under pressure and nobody respects anybody. We are not crazy fearing disrespect, disrespect is real.
“There are leaders, and there are followers I would rather be a dick than a swallower…”
And yes, it is a fact of history that people of European descent have disrespected and drained many cultures over the past few centuries. Europeans are not the only ones who’ve raped and pillaged each other and others (my people, for example, have been under Mongolians among others) but in the past few centuries Europeans have created most havoc, and it’s the descendants of Europeans who have childishly proclaimed their recent culture to be superior – even though many indigenous cultures allowed people to understand life much easier than modern systems, and blended science with meaning of life in a way that we still collectively mourn the loss of, as we pop antidepressants and try to distract ourselves with iPhones and other nonsense.
Without doubt, grief and havoc caused by the colonial expansion are real. People whose cultures have been drained and mocked have every reason to be pissed, and each person who has been looked down upon or stereotyped has every right to fight back and defend his or her dignity. My words may sound theoretical but I feel like everybody else. My people, too, have been deprived of traditional indigenous culture, many centuries ago. My people, too, are still paying the price.
Without doubt, respect and fundamental decency need to be reinstated, and all good people have the responsibility to fight that fight in this way or another. In every day life, in art, in interaction with people, politically, culturally, emotionally. Future and sanity of everybody who isn’t soul-dead depend on respecting everybody’s unique story and individual spark. It is crucial to know real history, and stop trying to arrogantly assimilate everybody into modern European schools of thought / equal opportunity cheerful soullessness. Each of us has something at stake in that battle – and yes, sometimes people are just assholes and need to be treated accordingly.
But decisions about how to fight for respect are individual, often complex, and made in a context. They are not a matter of hashtags and broad sweeps. I can see why broad sweeps are happening, and my heart bleeds as much about that as about the reason why they are happening. We all of one love, of one species. Damaging one’s soul is a tragedy regardless of whether the person is brown, white, black, male, female, gay, straight, Chinese, or African. We are of one love.
Before I came to America, I never in my life even thought of myself as “white.” Surely, I didn’t think of myself as “white” when my ex set me up to go to jail on most ridiculous slander after telling me, “Oh, they won’t believe you. You are an immigrant” (and he was right; they treated me like a non-person; it cost me a ton of money and effort to clear the nonsense, and I learnt a lot about life in the process). And here, the only time I personally identify with “all white people” is when some idiot says that all white people are assholes, and I am forced to defend the color of my skin, something I was born into. At all other times, I identify with the people who have a soul and try to make the world a better place. With the people who treasure own history and respect the history of others. With the people who see others individually. As a fairly strong person, I can say that even though it is a major pain in the ass, the stronger you are, the bigger the responsibility to be kind. Not stupid, not vulnerable, kind. People and situations need to be treated individually because everybody has one’s own soul.
Would it be any better if the women who took the burrito recipe and ran with it had brown skin? According to political correctness, yes. According to how each of us would want to be treated if the stolen recipes belonged to our family, not at all.
If they did it to me, or if somebody secretly watched me cook Russian (or any other) food in ways unique to me, and then opened a restaurant off my recipes, I would not be thrilled at all. I would think it’s treacherous, and I would be mad (I would also think that the person clearly lacks imagination and creativity – but that’s an aside). I would be mad at them. Not at the color of their eyes, hands or hair. I would bring my “what the fuck” to them personally. Not to all people who look the same way. And why would I be mad? Because I am not a piece of background information for some motherfucker. I am me. Just like the women whose recipes were stolen, are them. People. Not a nameless resource. Respect is not just a word. It is a way of life. On my end, I get similarly mad when some entitled dude in the street takes my picture without asking. What the fuck, who the fuck are you, and why are you taking my picture without asking? Didn’t your mother tell you to respect the privacy of other people? It’s all about dignity and free will.
The problem is that in our culture, observation equals ownership, and it is only getting worse. It is the same damn culture that allows us to say that Europeans “discovered” America. It is the same culture that makes music “free” as if using a product of somebody’s else’s labor is some kind of an intrinsic human right. I observe, therefore I own. Entitled fucking kids, everybody. Entitled kids who none the less bleed like everybody else and who also should be treated with love.
Nothing about the burrito shop story is good. It sucks that the women didn’t ask those they allegedly stole the recipes from, if it would be okay to use those recipes. It sucks that it has been interpreted as a story about race as opposed to a story about individual human dishonesty or misunderstanding, or whatever it was.
We are a shallow culture. There is no fame outside of hashtags and loud yelling… and we are all paying for it.