Poverty and the Appropriation Thereof

I was pointed to this article entitledThe Troubling Trendiness Of Poverty Appropriation,” in which the author, July Westhale, notes her discomfort with what she sees as the hipsterization of things that she considers to be poverty markers, such as modular housing (now upsold as “tiny houses”) and cheap foods. She notes:

In writing this, and making note of these circumstances, I’m not trying to penalize or call out radical communities of people who are looking for alternative means to capitalism—capitalism is oppressive as hell, and I am all about alternative means.

But I do think it’s time to start having conversations about how alternative means aren’t a choice for those who come from poverty. We must acknowledge what it means to make space for people who actually need free food or things out of dumpsters, who participate in capitalism because they’ve got a kid at home and they are the only provider. Additionally, we need to shed light on the fact that many people who grew up wanting for more space and access to foods that weren’t available to them don’t understand the glossy pamphlets offering a simpler life.

Because, let me tell you, there is nothing simple about being poor.

This piece has naturally spawned some responses which pretty much boil down to “Jesus, stop being an oversensitive whiner,” which is of course a super-helpful response, so well done on Ben Cohen, the writer of that particular linked response, for so very bravely standing up to the original piece (also well-done on him for taking a piece that was clearly a personal perspective and using it to slag liberals in general; it really speaks to his ability to be on point and incisive).

And what do I, as a former poor person, think about the issues raised in these pieces? Well.

1. Speaking as someone who lived in a trailer park for a portion of his life (while attending one of the most expensive high schools in the country on a scholarship! How’s that for economic intersectionality!), I have to say I never really saw the “tiny house” movement as an upsold appropriation of the circumstances of poverty. I think there’s a difference between the desire for “simplicity” and a desire to hipsterize the circumstances of the poor, although I don’t think it has to be either/or. Someone could be doing both, I suppose.

Personally speaking I’m fascinated by tiny houses, most of which are more expensive, and seem to intentionally have less living space, than actual mobile homes (as an example, you can get a one bedroom mobile home for $20,900, which comes with 532 feet of living space, whereas here’s a tiny home with about 200 square feet of space plus sleeping loft, for $50k). In one sense I think tiny houses are generally clever attempts to maximize space and to make a point that one doesn’t need a lot of space to live reasonably well. In another sense, I think this Portlandia skit about microhouses is painfully on point. I love these tiny little houses as a concept, and occasionally think about how neat it would be to get one and make it a home office. The idea of living in one on a permanent basis, with partner and pets, makes me shudder. I don’t doubt some people can do it. I wish them joy. I’m not one of them.

I don’t generally see tiny houses as an appropriation of poverty living, in part because I often see them as ostentatious signalling of wealth in a different way: Look at me, I could afford to live larger but I’m making a political point, admire me for doing so. This is the part where the Westhale’s comment of “It’s nice you have a choice” is directly on point, since there are a lot of people living “small and simple” because that’s the only thing available to them. But I’m not sure it’s appropriation of poverty any more than having a pied-à-terre is an appropriation of poverty. Small doesn’t implicitly equate to poor in this particular case. Specifically, “simplicity” as a conscious lifestyle concept is kind of a high-end thing. It does seem to me a lot of “simplicity” ends up being about very expensive things, artfully but sparingly deployed. Those things never really had an antecedent in poverty or are intended as commentary on it, hipster or otherwise.

2. I’m likewise largely philosophically untroubled by the appropriation of poverty food/drink/lifestyle by hipsters because in a very general way, that’s what culture is: things invented or serving one group, often disadvantaged or marginalized relative to the dominant cultural group, making their way into larger contexts. Most of the awesome things about American culture came up through marginalized/poor/immigrant groups (and note those categories have a very high overlap). We can (and should!) have a long conversation about what are responsible and irresponsible ways for advantaged people to access and incorporate those awesome things. I’m not seeing it as a net advantage to demand a specific place for everything, and everything only in that place, as it were.

Appropriation is also tricky thing when it comes to discussing poverty specifically (that is, independent of other cultural factors). It’s on point for Westhale to call out the Butter Bar on the subject of what it’s doing when it’s fetishizing poverty. But poverty, while always with us, does not affect the same people in the same way all the time. When Westhale criticizes the hipsters visiting the bar, she appears to be making the assumption that they all come from the same socioeconomic stratum, and that they are all slumming. She may have an argument that they’re all of the same (or similar) socioeconomic stratum now; it’s less obvious that they were always on that stratum. The national Gini coefficient notwithstanding, people do move up (and down) the economic ladder here in the US; I can speak to that personally. Those hipsters at the Butter Bar may be slumming, or maybe they’re not, based on their own history. You can’t always tell just by looking.

This is interesting to me in part because it’s a question I ask myself, in terms of how much I can personally engage in issues relating to poverty. I’ve run the economic gamut here in the US, from living part of my childhood in the lowest decile of the economy to now being an adult on some of the highest rungs on the ladder. At what point, if ever, does my experience and voice on poverty become inauthentic? How much is my experience of poverty mitigated by other external aspects of who I am as a person? When I now, as a well-off person, use my own experience of poverty as part of my creative and/or professional and/or public life, how should that be approached? They’re all things to consider.

(My answer to these, for what it’s worth: I don’t think my experience or voice on poverty will ever be inauthentic, because the fact is I was poor by US standards, and that’s going to stick with me. At the same time I’m not so foolish as to suggest that my thoughts represent anyone else but me and my own lived experience. I got a lot of breaks despite being poor at times, and I don’t pretend otherwise. As for what it means for my creative/professional output, well, you tell me. I will say that as a public person it makes me less than 100% patient with people who evidently opine about poverty straight out of their ass, and I’m not shy about saying so.)

3. I’m pretty sure Westhale and I disagree largely about whether poverty appropriation is taking place (in the case of tiny houses) or is entirely problematic (with the other stuff). I don’t think she’s wrong that it’s worth it to engage on the point that for millions of people in the United States, small and cheap living isn’t a choice or option, it’s just a fact of their lives, and it sucks. For a lot of the folks who don’t have a choice, the fetishization or valorization of things that closely resemble what they have no choice but to live through can be, at the very least, exasperating. It’s not wrong to ask about what’s really going on there, nor is there any harm in acknowledging that it can look and feel different for people who have experience with poverty, than those who don’t.

This is why I think Cohen’s response is pretty shitty. Leaving aside the fact that he’s using a single person’s point of view to thump on an entire class of folks (damn liberals! Harumph! Harumph!), he’s telling Westhale and all the liberals he’s appointed her to represent to shut up, already (“If liberalism wants to survive in the 21st century, this type of nonsense really needs to stop.” Harumph! Harumph!).

And well, you know. Fuck that dude. Westhale doesn’t need to shut up, already. She’s in a space that welcomed her, on her own time, standing up on her own soapbox. She can say whatever the hell she wants. In any event someone who is suggesting that people should shut up about the things he deems inessential to discuss isn’t anyone whose proclamations about what liberalism should do to survive in the 21st century should be responded to with anything other than pointing and laughing. Are we having a moment where people who previously felt restrained about their opinions are now exercising a privilege they (not unreasonably) felt has been denied to them? Why, yes! We are. Are those opinions and hypotheses going to be something that everyone agrees with? Why, no! They aren’t. And that’s fine.

I don’t have to agree with Westhale on the particulars of her argument to say that that her making the argument can have value. It interrogates an issue from a direction I wouldn’t have considered, despite having an experience at least superficially similar to hers. Among other things, it makes me ask why I do have a different opinion about it. From that answer comes useful self-knowledge as well as other benefits. Which is another reason why Cohen and everyone else blithering in one way or another about the uselessness of opinions they don’t want to engage with can cram it up their asses. I accept they’re useless to them, or at least that they fervently want to believe they’re useless to them. They don’t get to make that call for everyone else.

100 Comments on “Poverty and the Appropriation Thereof”

  1. on cultural appropriation of foods: if you pay attention, you’ll find that many foods that were originally eaten by marginalized groups because that was all the could get, have become, in many cases, staples of the american diet, if not “haute cuisine”

  2. Anyone who thinks that a tiny house would be cool should first rent or borrow a small camping trailer and live in it for a week or three.

    A lot of ‘hipsters’ and others are simply coming to terms with economic reality – eating simply can be a budgetary smart thing to do. It’s not ‘appropriating poverty’ to make sensible choices, shop at Walmart etc.

  3. live and let live. They will probably soon grow tired of their tree house. What I like best is this “there is nothing simple about being poor.” Wow, that’s on spot!

  4. Given that I’ve been “poor” by the standards of the US (which is relative) pretty much my entire life so far, here’s my two cents:

    I don’t really care about whether or not other people choose to “appropriate” aspects of poverty into their lives. I’m far too busy trying to live my life to care. If Ms. Westhale chooses to notice such behavior and question the appropriateness of such “appropriation, that’s fine. It’s no skin off my back-or anyone else’s. She can express discomfort if she likes.

    I spent a number of years living in an apartment that was 350 sq. ft. It was cramped and inconvenient. But if someone wants to live someplace even smaller than that, good for them. Knock yourself out.

    When you think about it, there’s really not much in LIFE, period, which is truly “simple”. “Poverty” in the US is one thing. Poverty in Mexico is something else entirely. Being disabled causes me far more difficulty than my “poverty” ever has or will.

    As to Mr. Cohen and his “contribution” to the discussion, he is as entitled to his opinion as anyone else is. I decide whether or not to take him (or anyone else) seriously.

  5. The “tiny houses” movement predates even Thoreau and goes at least as far back as Diogones of Sinope, living in a storage jar in the marketplace of Athens.

  6. A good piece, JS, for offering more questions instead of answers most of the time. But the snarky answer to your question “At what point, if ever, does my experience and voice on poverty become inauthentic?” (which complements your serious answer) is: Your experience and voice “become authentic” whenever you disagree with someone else who sets up their position and agenda as spokesperson for that group. As a writer, for example, you become inauthentic when someone else claims to speak about “what writers want” (or do, or think) and you disagree, speaking as a writer.

    One of my favorite examples of this would be the reaction of war-lovers in the runup to Bush’s invasion of Iraq. They loved to generalize about what soldiers thought about war, having appointed themselves spokespeople for Our Boys. If any soldier disagreed with their position, they would either ignore him/her if possible, and if that wasn’t possible they’d demonize the soldier. The mediating position would be to say that just being a soldier doesn’t give you any authority to speak about war — and then hope that no one noticed that this correct statement undermined what the war-lover had assumed about soldiers at the outset, for flag-waving purposes.

    In the end, nobody speaks for all members of any group. Any member of that group has “authenticity,” but authenticity will only take the conversation so far. This relates to what a lot of people think about freedom of speech and the question of opinion: they assume that freedom of speech means their freedom to speak their minds, and no one can disagree with them. That’s true, but it’s only the beginning: from there they have to figure out to do when someone else speaks their mind in a way that disagrees with them. That’s the hard part, but it’s the important part too.

  7. I bet a lot of the really tiny houses are used more as hobby sheds or home offices: a heated, comfortable space away from the main house, which looks nicer than a repurposed Home Depot garden shed.

  8. SMC: “‘capitalism is oppressive as hell’… I wonder what form of economics is not oppressive.” 1) Capitalism isn’t a “form of economics.” 2) Capitalism is oppressive structurally — oppression isn’t a byproduct, it’s built in, a bug not a feature. 3) The comparison would not be either/or, it’s a matter of degree. Possibly no economic system would be completely un-oppressive, but some might be less oppressive than others. 4) Under capitalism, man exploits man; under socialism, it’s the other way around.

  9. Seems like people of means have been shopping at thrift stores since forever. That could be taken as “slumming”, or appropriating the shopping habits of the poor, or it could simply be that thrift stores have stuff that is otherwise hard to find.

  10. As the granddaughter of coal miners, and as someone who spent the first years of her life on a hill farm without running water, it used to drive me freaking nuts to listen to my theater/artsy/academic friends romanticize poverty. While I shared many of their values and perspectives, any time one of them would go off on the things we’ve lost through affluence, I’d go just a little nuts. The things they thought we lost were things like extended families, clan closeness, home cooked meals, hand-made crafts, and so on. In my own family, a lot of that translated to “we can’t afford to buy new clothes so I had to patch this up for you” and “I came home from working ten hours and then made biscuits because I can’t afford sliced bread” to “I can’t afford to leave the abusive son-of-a-bitch.” Any hipster who wants to live the “simple life” is more than welcome to try living like my mother, aunts, and grandmothers. I’ll take the much more complicated life they fought to give me, thank you.

  11. I think that the appropriation of poverty as a lifestyle choice becomes problematic less in an aesthetic sense (okay, you shop at thrift stores and have a tiny house. Cute?) and more in the invasion of spaces/techniques that impoverished people rely on to survive. If there are enough middle-classed people dumpster diving behind the grocery store to stick it to the Man, does that mean that the homeless or poor people who RELIED on that space as a food source are going to go shopping? No, because that was never an option for them. Does “going freegan” actually deprive people of food and/or resources that they just can’t get any other way? I don’t know, maybe.

  12. Dionne:

    More than a decade back I wrote a piece about a woman who was employed and who was taking food out of food banks not because she needed it but because it was keeping her own costs down. I was pretty incensed about it at the time because in my view it was literally taking food from others who needed it. It still annoys me, although these days I also recognize there are people who are working full-time who also need food banks, which sucks. If memory serves she was not one of them.

  13. I mean, I don’t judge on an individual basis/without the facts. For all I know that person bought that fancy car and paid it off BEFORE they lost everything and it’s not my place to decide if they’re worthy of whatever help they’re seeking (I learned this in part by being raised by a disabled mother who NEEDS things like handicapped parking but visually can pass for able bodied). But when people are availing themselves of poverty services as a lark or a “lifestyle” choice when they don’t need it (and bragging about it)… yeah, that leaves me with a pretty foul taste.

  14. Reading Westhale’s article, and other similar ones, and thinking about the issues raised, I see 2 or 3 different strands that have gotten jumbled up. Any conversations arising from these article are likely to be similarly jumbled up unless the strands are separated. Here are the strands I see:

    1) Actual touristing of poverty, a la Butter Bar. To me, this is highly objectionable, right up there with Victorians going to ogle the inmates at insane asylums.

    2) People who are not poor, doing things that people who are poor also do. For Westhale this includes eating rice and living in small homes. I don’t see how this is objectionable. The non-poor people eating rice aren’t necessarily making a commentary on poor people or poverty, it may be as simple as liking rice or coming from Asia. I would be appreciative if there are Whatever readers who find this objectionable, if they would explain it to me – maybe differently than Westhale did, or using small words, or something… because right now I don’t get it.

    One subset of this strand is cultural sharing. Westhale is not the only one from the culture-being-shared, who is uncomfortable with it. There was an article in the Washington by an Asian, who was mocked for zir Asian habits as a kid and is now uncomfortable that so many now do Asian things (such as eat dim sum). I don’t get this either. To me, that means your culture *wins.* It is being followed, by choice, by people who didn’t before. Again, maybe if someone explains in small words I’ll be able to appreciate this point of view.

    3) Westhale didn’t cover this but it should be part of conversation: when rich people do thing that poor people also do, in a way that means poor people can’t do it. For example, doing so much dumpster diving that there is no dumpster food for the poor people; or like the well-suited people in this videod experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_nuPlE2KU8. I don’t think that rich people should save/conserve in ways that make it impossible for poor people to do that same thing.

    There’s another aspect of this: what about if rich people start buying something that poor people make and consume, such that the poor people get more money but can’t consume the thing? For example, quinoa in South America. It used to be a subsistence crop, grown and eaten by the locals. Now it’s a cash crop; the locals can sell it and use the money to buy other foods, but most of them can’t afford the opportunity cost to eat the quinoa. Is this good, bad, or some of each?

    4) People going on welfare so they don’t ~have to~ participate in capitalism? 100% hypocritical jerks, who either don’t know what a capitalism is, or who are ignoring that knowledge so they don’t have to work. If they really don’t want to participate in capitalism, they should live in a subsistence farm or move to a non-capitalist economy. North Korea and Cuba are the two that spring to mind, I’m honestly having trouble thinking of a third.

    (Except for #4, this is me honestly trying to understand a point of view that, right now, I don’t grok. I hope you respond in kind.)

  15. If liberalism wants to survive in the 21st century,

    Conservatism, represented by Donald Trump seems to be surviving well, and he’s such a raging ass that conservatives are going to war over him. But liberalism’s problems is people wanting nuanced conversations about intersectionalism and poverty?


  16. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and had not heard of Butter Bar. Given the socioeconomic disruption that the current wave of the postindustrial economy is causing in our area, the concept is obnoxious.

    We do have ‘freegans’ here who Dumpster dive and furnish their homes with abandoned furniture; it seems to be more motivated by ideology than fashion (to the extent that they can be distinguished from each other). The willful appropriation of a culture not your own is certainly an expression of privilege, and doing it in the name of esthetics doesn’t make it any less troublesome.

  17. I’m one of those young hipsters who isn’t living in poverty, but I’m pretty far below the median income in an expensive area. Most of my friends shop at thrift stores or wear clothes with no visible brand, meet up at cheap dive bars, and throw potlucks instead of going to restaurants for special occasions. I know that some of my friends are much wealthier than me; I also know that many of them are poorer. Some would appear to be making plenty of money on paper, but have debts or expenses that take away most of their spending money. Choosing the cheaper option for clothing or entertainment means that no one in my friend group will feel left out, even if some of us could spend more. As far as I know no one’s deliberately trying to be “trashy,” although some people definitely do get way too into status symbols like only wearing authentic vintage clothes from X era or proving they can DIY more things than anyone else.

    I spent a lot of time looking into the tiny house movement, because a tiny house seemed like something I might be able to afford. It turns out that a lot of urban areas won’t allow houses under a certain square footage, or won’t allow you to divide up a lot of a certain minimum size or put multiple free-standing houses on the same lot. So a tiny house wouldn’t actually save much money–either you plop one down on an expensive plot of land in the middle of the city that could be used much more effectively for a multi-unit complex, or you buy land far away from the city and then you’re stuck in an area with less regulation but fewer cheap options for transit and groceries (and you’re going to have to visit the grocery store *a lot* if you’re living in a tiny space with very little storage). It feels like it should be a cheaper housing option but it’s actually not once you start adding up the costs beyond the price of the structure itself, and I think most people who are initially excited about tiny houses are just enjoying the fantasy of being able to afford a house-shaped object.

    I worry that articles like Westhale’s are well-intentioned, but are trying to read some kind of overarching generational trend in the actions of very small subset of people.

  18. @ Duncan
    From Wikipedia:
    Capitalism is an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and the creation of goods and services for profit.

    Also, your point, 4) Under capitalism, man exploits man; under socialism, it’s the other way around

    So instead of man exploits man under capitalism, under socialism man exploits man? That doesn’t make seem to be any better.

  19. When I first heard about the pushback to the tiny house movement I was more than a little irritated – would these critics prefer that the tiny house folks give in to capitalism and buy the McMansions and the big honkin’ SUVs? It’s not like they’re taking anything from anyone, like the woman in your example above who was taking food from food banks even though she probably could have afforded to buy food at a grocery store (side-eye at people who buy at Wal-mart, which is publicly subsidized in so many ways, including by having their employees on food stamps). Not to say that appropriation isn’t a real thing (lookin’ at these folks) but sometimes “appropriation” really is about more than following a fad.

  20. She may be painting with an over-broad brush, but she’s not wrong. There IS romanticization of aspects of poverty, and there are trendy hipsters taking on the aspects of it that they find fun. I live in the San Francisco area, so… yeah… I see ’em all the time. They LITERALLY whine and sneer on Yelp that our Goodwill store only has boring clothes and is sooo not worth it; I like it because I can buy plain t-shirts and jeans, and clothes suitable for job interviews at prices I can afford. I’m not shopping there because it’s hip, I’m doing it b/c it’s where we can afford clothes!

    I don’t cook to show how trendy I am. It’s just cheaper to eat that way. And I don’t shop in “ethnic” markets because it’s hip, I do it because they’re cheaper too.

    I met a nice 20-something non-white woman at Thanksgiving who works in retail, and she’s thinking of leaving Oakland. Not because of the crime and poverty. Nope, her neighborhood has been infested with hipsters/techbros who think they’re “daring” for moving out of SF and living somewhere that has a lot of black people. It’s all artisanal this and giant beards that. She says she really liked the area better when it was scary and dodgy after dark. And the hipsters/techbros are pricing people like her out. I wonder if she knows this author? I think they’d get on.

    People who are making do because they have huge student loans, or deadbeat dads, or outsourced jobs, that’s cool. But the poseurs with their curated Tiny Houses that cost 3x more than they ought to, and their hand-crafted minimalist stuff… F*CK them.

    (The Butter Bar owners are the sort who would be maybe third up against the wall, come the revolution.)

    And if anyone should STFU, it’s Cohen. Not helping anyone, dude, including himself.

    @Mark Gordon: Must have been a pretty big storage jar, even if all Diogenes did was sleep in it! And Thoreau was getting his laundry and meals still done by his mother.

    @nicoleandmaggie: YES. THIS. SO MUCH. I live in a one-story abode. “Ew, a ranch house in the suburbs” say the hipsters and techbros. But I love it because I could (almost, barely, so far) afford it. It doesn’t have stairs or ladders or tiny spaces. I have various mild-to-moderate physical disabilities that make climbing steps and ladders not a good idea. I look at Tiny House bathrooms and think that the entire space would be filled with only mine and my husband’s prescription bottles, never mind towels and shampoo. On (thankfully) rare occasions, I have used a wheelchair, and sometimes I need to put a seat in the bathtub and have my husband use the hand-held shower to wash my hair. That ain’t happening in Twee World. And I am OVER lugging all my clothes to the laundromat as in my younger days. And I need my books, and a freezer to store things when there’s a big bulk sale.

    Huh. Apparently I have Feelings about this.

  21. My thoughts:

    1. Westhale is maybe half right. Romanticizing poverty by talking about how much better “old-fashioned living” is than modern life, like talking about how Native Americans are “close to the land” or whatever, is ignorant bullshit. But living cheaply to save money? Living in a tiny house to conserve space? Nothing wrong with that. This is where I disagree; Westthale seems to be assuming that anybody who lives in a ridiculously small house must be somehow appropriating poverty (which I have to admit seems a little extreme if you put it that way), whereas I see it as just a harmless fad, probably tied up with environmentalism (using less space, and all) and maybe just being thrifty.

    2. Cohen’s an asshole. He’s peddling the exact same sort of “waah, waah, liberals are the cause of all of society’s ills” claptrap that sanctimonious right-wing hypocrites always peddle, and what’s more, he’s not even very good at it.

    So…flawed and debatable opinion piece, but the response is just plain dickish, thereby assuring all that no rational debate can be had on the Internet. Just like Tumblr and the ****ing MRAs.

  22. Anyone wanting to live in a ‘tiny house’ only need to spend a couple of weeks aboard a 35-foot sailboat – everything built in – storage space in/around/under – minimal hanging space – all activities centered around the deck and cockpit.
    Plus the chance of becoming VERY seasick.

  23. Well, John, I had a post all ready to go and your site burped and it vanished. So briefly recapping:

    If you don’t like small spaces, tiny houses aren’t for you. The builders say upfront and often – it’s not for everyone. Sheesh.

    But it’s not a bad idea to stop, look around your living quarters and ask yourself how much space you really need and use. Are you buying tables and lamps just to fill up empty space in the many corners or do you use them? Are you like my parents and their siblings who felt that a house had to contain formal, unused dining and living rooms as well as family rooms and eat-in kitchens that the family actually lived in? How much stuff do we really need?

  24. I can’t see why anybody would romanticize poverty. Poverty is damn hard work. Being that close to the edge of failure is emotionally taxing also. Maybe somebody who has never been poor or rubbed elbows with people struggling financially to live?

    I don’t see “small houses” as pretend poverty. It’s a fun concept and I like some of the ingenuity put into them. But you could go nuts in a really short time and resent your choice. When I built my 120 sq. ft. garden shed, I thought, “pioneers actually lived a winter in something this size.” It can be done. That doesn’t make it fun.

    I like mac and cheese (with peas) and Ramon noodles with some veg. I didn’t realize I was appropriating anything. I was pretty poor during college so eating cheep food was a necessity. I’m glad I’m not forced to eat these things any more.

    My daughter lived in pretty deep poverty for a while rather than move home. Dumpster diving was a high point in the day. Especially when the pizza guys were kind enough to put the leftovers in a box. She is a writer these days. Go figure. ;>)

    Cultural appropriation seems to be the latest hot button.

  25. As others have stated, my only objection is to people with resources (i.e. a job, money, etc.) appropriate lower cost commodities and reduce the pool of lower cost commodities available to lower income people who really need the lower cost commodities to survive. Example 1: An area of older, simpler, lower cost housing, where some residents have lived most of their lives, is suddenly determined to be the new “hip” place to live and shop (ref. “SoDoSoPa” in recent “Southpark” episodes). Real estate values skyrocket, followed by property taxes, new housing projects tend toward the very expensive, and longtime residents can no longer afford to live in the house they have lived in for many years. Example 2: Someone decides that to “stick it to the man”, or in this case the large supermarket chains, it is “hip” to acquire one’s food at the Food Bank, which has limited resources that need to be reserved for needy families and individuals. It may be “hip”, but it denies that resource to someone who desperately needs it. As long as a needy family or person doesn’t lose out on a needed resource, this is America, and the hipsters can do what they want. I’ll just ignore them.

  26. I think a point that many folks miss in the “simple” living discussion is that there’s a huge difference between living inna small space with few possessions and a huge bank account vs. living that way paycheck-to-paycheck.

    Whether intended or not, there’s an implicit poverty-shaming element of the “simplicity” narrative, in the sense of “If I can live comfortably this way, why are poor people complaining so much?” But if one of tiny-house-dweller’s minimalist possessions breaks, they can pay someone to fix it or just get a new one. If a truly poor person’s possession breaks, they’re screwed. So their tiny space may be cluttered with spare parts, random bits of string, mis-matched screws and the like because that could be the difference between survival and starvation. 99% of those things will never be needed but you don’t know which are the 1%. True “simplicity” is not an option. As I type this, I’m sitting inna replica designer chair looking out over one of my three balconies inna property bought with two very nice IT wages. But this property still has drawers full of elastic bands and plastic bags and broken tools, because I grew up poor and it is thus almost physically painful to throw out “useful” items, even at age 41.

    Also, re food appropriation, the problem isn’t so much “Oh, you eat Kraft mac’n’cheese, you’re an insensitive poseur” as it is food gentrification. Take kale, a staple food for poor people (mostly PoC) for centuries. Kale becomes hip, every hipster cafe is serving kale-scrambled eggs or the like, it migrates to the Gourmet Organic section of the supermarket and the price goes up a significant amount. Suddenly the folks who’ve relied on kale all their lives have one fewer food option, and need to spend part of their survival energy on finding alternative ingredients, learning how to use them etc. Or buying mac’n’cheese, which feeds into the “people too stupid to eat healthy” narrative.

    It’s not just about poverty tourism (although that does contribute to the “how hard can it be” narrative). The ways that we engage with “poverty culture” can have real and damaging effects on folk who have no choice but to live that way.

  27. My take on this, as a person currently experiencing poverty[1], is that I tend to get annoyed with the “voluntary simplicity” and “alternative lifestyles” people when they talk about their choices as being somehow either available, or worse yet, highly applicable for poor people to make. I’ve said before about this sort of thing that I’d appreciate the chance to accumulate the start-up capital a lot of these people had before they decided to start “living simply” – because that capital makes a very real difference to your experience.

    There’s a very real difference between “living simply” in a place you’ve purchased and specifically set up to be sustainable on a low income (solar panels on the roof for power, battery array for power storage, windmills for further power generation, rainwater tank to catch run-off from the roof, productive garden to supply fruit, veges and maybe even some eggs and meat from chooks etc) in an area where you’re close to a lot of existing infrastructure, and attempting to stretch a low income to cover the necessary costs of living in whatever rental accommodation you’re able to afford at present, no matter where it happens to be, how sparse the infrastructure is, or how infrequently the buses run.

    In the same way, I’d love to be able to afford some of the “simple dishes” which are so popular these days (and which have now been effectively priced out of my range by trendy demand). Used to be I could get a couple of lamb shanks for myself and my partner, and that would feed us a couple of meals without costing more than about $10 all up. These days, I can’t afford the lamb shanks unless they’re being heavily discounted because they’re running up against their “purchase by” time. The same goes for cuts like chuck steak, gravy beef, pork spare ribs – they used to be affordable (just) because they were cheap, fatty cuts. Now they’re considered gourmet food, and cost about three times the price they used to. So my partner and I are basically relying on (cheap) sausages and (three-star) mince for our meat ration most days. Those are affordable at the moment…

    At that, I know I’m fortunate, because my mother taught me how to cook as a child, and I’ve been cooking all my life. Cooking dinner is basically a given for me – having take-away food is a treat. This year the Christmas presents I’m making for everyone in the family are going to be various types of biscuits (cookies), because it’s actually cheaper (and a bit more socially prestigious) for me to spend the money on ingredients and make those by hand than it is to try and put time and money I don’t have into sourcing commercially made gifts.

    A lot of the preachy side does tend to come down, in my opinion, to people forgetting where they started from in comparison to others, and recommending their specific remedies to certain problems as generic ones.

    [1] I’m on welfare in Australia, and while this isn’t as bad as, for example, being on welfare somewhere which isn’t Australia, or living somewhere which doesn’t have a welfare system at all, the social and financial climate is definitely getting worse every year.

  28. Much of what other people said.

    I wholeheartedly support forms of minimalism that are about seriously considering how much you personally will use (which as far as houses go is less for me, a small woman in her thirties with no kids or mobility issues, but I also just moved to a larger apartment, in part because I like having people over and offering crash space to out-of-town friends) versus how much is about status or expectations or whatever. Trends we will always have with us, so better that the trend be toward tiny houses than McMansions.

    (Though seriously, fuck going to the laundromat. Three years I did that, and never again while I can manage otherwise.)

    On the other hand, treating poverty as a tourist thing or a way to display your counterculture status is obnoxious. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuTMWgOduFM). And doing so in a way that takes resources from people who actually need them makes you an asshole. (Relatedly: the RENT kids are awful people. Let folks use their damn VR machines, and stop stiffing your waiter. Do not even get me fucking started on “Reality Bites.”)

    Practically, I’m not sure how tiny houses stack up against mobile homes financially if you factor in park fees, and also I’m given to understand that mobile home parks are pretty vulnerable to exploitation. (Which is something we should change, but while it exists, I can understand someone looking for slightly more security if they can manage it.) And living in New England and paying my own heating bills, I can totally understand the desire for less actual space in a house.

    That said, I myself don’t ever want to own a house–renting, my only home repair plan is “call the super, maybe put a bucket under it meanwhile”–so I haven’t exactly researched it.

  29. Dionne, Harry, and RickInOKC on appropriating resources for the poor:
    One of my friends dumpster dives. She is a retired woman with a house that is worth at least $400,000 on paper. Because she is dumpster diving in her own neighborhood of houses that are all worth $350K+ she is the only one doing and the turns around to donate the stuff she cannot use to various causes like Habitat for Humanity, ARC Thrift, schools, etc. For her it is about being frustrated that more of her wealthy neighbors do not take the time to recycle perfectly usable items and stuff full of copper, aluminum, etc.

    I tell this anecdote to illustrate my impression that well off people who do things like dumpster dive probably have a lower impact on the poor trying to do the same thing because they are the only ones doing it in their neighborhoods. In contrast, until the city removed dumpsters, it seemed like half of everyone dumpster dived in my neighborhood because my neighborhood is mixed to gentrifying. I never saw any of my hipster(ish) neighbors grabbing thrown out items. It was always guys in trucks and working class people looking for scrap to sell or grabbing something useful that was discarded. When the computer was in my enclosed porch it was like having on a very slow soap opera. Ah, there is Mr-3-Day-Deard pushing is shopping cart with the meth twitches, there is Retired-Auto-Shop-Guy pushing his cart looking for scrap, there goes the brown and black truck with the wooden frame.

    On How Gentrifying Helps and Hurts
    About 40% of my neighbors owned their homes before gentrification starting and for them it is like winning on a scratch ticket. Not change your life money, but pretty nice to have the equity in retirement. Or for their kids. Or at least having a mortgage that is half the price of renting.

    The other 60%, the renters, are getting screwed because rents in the city have gone out of sight or the owner has decided to cash out by selling to techies or hipsters. My impression is that the renters were actually less Hispanic than the owners prior to the neighborhood becoming the next thing. Half the people complaining to me about rents have been working class or poor whites, but that could be ethnic sorting because I am as white as Parmesan cheese.

    Right now it seems to me that the people moving in to remodel houses are not winners in gentrification. In my view they are mildly to substantially overpaying for houses and unless the music keeps playing they will end up making no money or losing their home when the music stops.

    The gentrification makes me a bit happy. My home value has increased 50% (on paper) over the last 4 years. On the other hand it means that a guy like me cannot buy here anymore, which does not hurt me personally, but is sad. This was one of the last of the $96,000 houses inside the city purchased out of saving and on an income stream of about $25K/year. I was just looking for a place to live rather than an investment, but it is comforting to know that I could sell my little Levittown house so easily if I really had to do so. Am I being selfish by having 700 sqft all to myself instead of renting out a bedroom? I am sure that at least some people looking at me think “gentrification” because I am white and the neighborhood was about 65% Hispanic when I moved in, but it was not my intention to change the neighborhood. Just to find a place in my income bracket to live in, but regardless of it being my intention or not I have become part of the small wave of people moving in here.

  30. Interesting “debate”, if you will. I grew up poor, but went ahead with life because one does. Life has been good to us; not outrageous financially – but darned OK. I’ve worked toward the “better job” because my old dad drummed that into me. We give away as much as we can, because we owe that much and more to humanity – and our belief system sways us that way. I appreciate the silliness and seriousness this blog generates.

  31. “I’ve been rich, and I’ve been poor,
    and I’ve been in love a couple of times before.
    If I had to choose between the two,
    I’d take both ‘rich’ and ‘in love’; I ain’t no fool.”
    –Little Feat

  32. I went and read the article to make sure I understood what she was trying to say.
    That said, I feel like she over-thought the whole thing or maybe merged too many ideas/concepts into it.
    trying to live a simpler life by down-sizing, etc. is not the same as ‘romantizing poverty”. And I’m not sure the whole ‘life used to be simpler’ is, either.
    I’d never heard of Butter Bar and I live 4-5 blocks away. But when I looked it up, no wonder. It’s in the heart of 20-something club-land, so I have no reason to have been there or heard of it; those days are past for me. And it’s not all hipsters there. (Although, funnily enough, in my 20-something days, that area was jam-packed with gay clubs). Nice website, though.
    But cultural appropriation? Get a grip and quit clutching the pearls.

  33. There are those who would condemn us for ‘cultural appropriation’ every time we grab a meal at Taco Bell. If you need to walk around with a chip on your shoulder, go for it.

  34. There’s always been some romanticization of poverty — bohemian artists starving in garrets in the 19th century, rich kids pretending to be poor in Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s — so I don’t see where anything new is happening now. What intrigues me about the “tiny homes” movement is just where people think they’re going to park their miniature dream homes. Traditional trailer parks? RV parks? Their parents’ back yards? Zoning laws are going to prevent them from just pulling on to a vacant lot in most urban areas. Do they plan to boondock in Walmart parking lots?

    I’ve watched the shows on DIY and HGTV that focus on tiny homes and most buyers fall into a category that is best described as “more money than brains.” Lots of wishful thinking and talking about simplifying and living more cheaply, but not quite smart enough to realize they didn’t have to invest $40K or $50K in a custom-made tiny house when they could pick up a used travel trailer with an equally efficient layout for $2K or $3K. Of course, it’s not nearly as hip to live in an old trailer as it is in a brand new dollhouse. I also figure the thrill must wear off pretty quickly after the buyers smash their heads on the close-to-zero clearance ceiling in their tiny loft bedrooms a few times.

    As for appropriation of poverty, my personal areas of annoyance are decorating trends like “shabby chic” or upcycling trash into decorative items. If you’re financially comfortable and you turn old pallets into a coffee table or some bookcases, you’re being ecologically responsible and helping to save the planet. If you’re poor and you do the same thing, it’s “why do you have trash in your living room?”

  35. I don’t know if I agree with it being appropriation, but the whole rich-people-doing-poor-people-stuff thing is , i see as, a means of alleviating guilt. Its a lazy way to say “I oppose this oppressive capitalism” and then do nothing to help the poor because in actuality most of these ‘hipsters’ are benefiting from the same oppressive system they shun.

  36. In re: to tiny houses, there is a show on TLC (I believe) called “Tiny Nation”, which explores the issue of tiny houses. I’ve even read a book written by someone who did/does the tiny house as a part time job.

    In re: to appropriating what is “poor people’s” food, I’ve tried to eat economically when I can and where I can. I shop at off brand stores like Aldi’s/Price Rite/Ocean State, simply because the food staples are 50% cheaper than if you bought it in a commercial grocery store. Just because something costs less doesn’t mean its crap. For those who can afford to drop $150 a week at a grocery story, more power to you. For me, I can drop $75 for the exact same food items, and still eat healthy and nutritious food.

    Oh, and I lived in a trailer park for 10 years. Not something I would recommend for everyone, but it was relatively cheap on the wallet: rent was under $300 a month, electric under $60 and the only major expense was propane and oil. Taxes were dirt cheap because where I lived, they only taxed the value of the structure, which meant that my taxes were under $120 a year.

  37. I don’t think the people Westhale describes romanticize poverty as much as the conservatives (David Brooks for example) who assert poverty is character building—none of that self-indulgence and indiscriminate pleasure, the financial crisis is forcing the poor to live in a way that makes them strong and moral!

  38. Cohen is using a standard right-wing script: They’re all whiners, but look how tough we are! We are strong, and so manly, we would never whine about anything. Any criticism we don’t want to hear, we will simply dismiss as the weak whining about how weakly weak weak they are. I am sure there were people who called MLK Jr. a “whiner” back in the day, calling him weak for daring to complain.

    America still has a strong “shut up and suck it up” mentality, so plugging into that still gets traction.

    As for cultural appropriation of poor people, meh. I grew up fairly poor. You want to live in a Tiny House, knock yourself out. I think the Tiny House movement is motivated more by anti-consumerism and small-carbon-footprint ideology more than “look at me living like the po folk!” But honestly, if you are a billionaire living in a TIny House to feel better about yourself for how you acquired your billions, meh.

  39. Well, I read a lot of comments here. My take on the whole thing:
    Too many people still confuse socialism and democratic socialism with communism. Communism is but one form of socialism. Y’all need to go study economics.

    To avoid the annoyance at seeing rich people taking what should belong to poor people (dumpster diving? this should belong to poor people? What kind of thinking is that?) we should institute a UBI (look that up). This should avoid programs aimed at poor people, destigmatizing them, and would create a universal feeling of more fairness in the system. You can still have capitalism, and a UBI removes the onerous nature of the appropriation of the fruits of one’s labor by the capitalist, because we would tax it out of their hides.

    Artists are not inherently capitalists, by the way, regardless of how much money they make.

    Oh, that was a wonderfully fun rant!

  40. The dangerous thing about these trends amongst people who like tiny house, maximum freecycle, lifestyles is the ammo it gives to those who treat poverty and oppression like olympic sports. They say, I’ve already seen, that if the people that actively enjoy five cats and kid (or is it the other way around) in a house the size of Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs can live like that, then people in poverty ought to be held to that standard. You can’t be poor, they claim, if you aspire to more or manage to have more than the bare minimum and people who enjoy this lifestyle are making the minimum ever more bare by the day.

  41. When I was teaching college writing, I’d have a day when I had my students write about their favorite weird foods, and then we’d talk about it. Almost every example of a much-loved weird food came from poor people just doing what they could to survive, and the students still identified with these foods even after they were removed from the poverty that made them necessary.

    Because, come on. Nobody who isn’t forced by circumstance is going to be the one to suggest eating lutefisk or chitlins or balut. Or squirrel (the work-to-sustenance ratio on a squirrel is ridiculous–worse than chicken wings).

  42. There’s an important difference between a $20k trailer and a $50k mini/micro house; the micro house is built deliberately small by someone that wants (or at least thinks they want) a small residence but wants good quality. Things like actual insulation (not many trailers have anything better than an inch of it) and pleasing design and well made fittings. Personally, a micro house strikes me as silly for most purposes but then $50k for a really nice building is less painful than $200k for a large floppy box.
    From the other direction there is another obvious difference that really matters to (far too many) people – they simply can’t afford that much. The fact that this is possible in a country as rich as the US should be a matter of considerable shame.

    As with so many things that become ‘things’ there are people that will fetishise the idea and get all snooty about a 500q.ft small house not being ‘a proper micro house, like, y’know’. The smart thing is to make houses sensible sizes for the use they are put to; not many 5000sqft. houses would count as sensible and nor would many 300sqft. ones. Good design can produce a house much smaller than many people would choose, with much nicer facilities and much better energy performance, and still be a good bit cheaper than the typical 3000sqft matchstick box. (median size of new construction in 2014)

  43. I see that this is going to be a variation on posts already posted, but I hate to waste the typing, so–

    Some of this living-small stuff* sounds like a city-mouse variation on back-to-the-land hippiedom** of forty-plus years back, when the university campus had a fair number of suburban kids in bib overalls looking for old farmhouses to rent. (I grew up in rural central New York and had no romantic attachment to country life. Up yours, Wendell Barry.) Before that, the hip thing to emulate was urban-bohemian-artists, AKA the Beats–cold-water flats, fifth-floor walkups, etc. From some angles (and to import a contemporary descriptor), it looks like cosplay without the SF/F element. (I also think of the scavenger hunt sequence of My Man Godfrey, though that’s slumming, to, um appropriate John’s term re: the Butter Bar.) From another angle, some of it looks like the perpetual poor-student/starving-artist scenario, as described by Manders upthread: perfectly reasonable adaptation to marginal circumstances.

    * “Ooh–Diogenes had a *storage jar*. I would have given anything for a storage jar! All I had was this stone column in the desert.” –Simeon Stylites

    ** Don’t look at me–I’m not even a hepcat. Damn that bebop anyway.

  44. I’ll worry about “poor appropriation” when Ramen noodles start going for $10 a bag to capture the wallet of the hipster crowd.

  45. I was thinking the other day, as I found a dollar in the pocket of an item of clothing, that that’s the way I’ve been able to chart my personal wealth. When I was broke (I would not describe myself as poor, in the meaning of this discussion), I knew to the dollar how much money I had, in cash and in the bank, and i was able to calculate my bill at the grocery store as I went, to within a dollar or two. Rummaging in my couch cushions would only get you some lint and cracker crumbs. As my fortunes have improved over the years (with setbacks along the way as well; it hasn’t been a smooth upward trajectory or anything), I am much more likely to forget a dollar here, $5 there, and find the bills in my pocket the next time I put on that piece of clothing. I sometimes wonder if I am unconsciously leaving the money in my pockets on purpose.

    But the real thing I think about is finding balance when balance is an option, i.e., when I am not poor. Can I “afford” that food/piece of clothing/experience? Well, yes, some of them–but not ALL of them, especially if I want some savings for a rainy day, which my experience teaches me is likely to happen. Or, more to the point, on what array of things do I want to spend my money? There aren’t obvious guides; it’s a kind of sorting that we have to do, and that’s where it gets challenging (and interesting, as the above discussion shows). That’s also where crypticmirror’s comment comes to life–extrapolating from people who do something by choice, who choose an option–to insist that people who DON’T have a choice should do the same thing. The thing that gets elided in that insistence is the choice part.

  46. I am trying to think of an example of cultural appropriation of something associated with a white culture that was appropriated by some group of color, and cant think of any. Can a minority group appropriate something from a majority group? Or is it not appropriation when that happens?

    Trying to think of something that I lived with that was appropriated by some other group and am coming up blank.

  47. By the strict definition of cultural appropriation it only goes one way. It is when a dominate culture takes from an oppressed one. Elvis Presley singing Hound Dog is appropriation, but a black singer covering a song created by a white artist is not.

    The concept may be valid/useful or it may not, but it only goes one way the way it is used in cultural studies.

    A far as examples go I am aware of some examples of stories being borrowed or reworked by peoples of the Amur region of Russia. Some of them seemed to be traditional Baba Yaga or Magic Pony tales with only a change of details. They would probably be called cultural appropriation if the native peoples of the Amur region had conquered the Russians rather than the other way around.

  48. Greg–I recall seeing footage of African kids in tee-shirts and gimme caps. Of course, they’re not American POC and not a minority in their own countries, so maybe some other social-dynamic term applies.

  49. Hm. I never quite groked appropriation. But maybe its because I am straight, white, male, so I havent had anything “appropriated” from me. Or maybe its years of contributing to open source projects so that I dont feel like my culture is “mine”, so I dont feel offended when someone “appropriates” it. Hm…

  50. Am in agreement with you. Opinions are, well, opinions. Why would one deny someone that in either case (Westhale and Cohen)? I can make any judgement I want in response. No harm there. And so I will

    I come away feeling Westhale’s making too much out of it and Cohen is acting like an opinionated(doh!) ass in reply.

  51. Greg – I can think of several. Two off the top of my head, both from the US:

    1) Christianity as adopted by (and/or forced upon) slaves from their masters. Whatever the first step, the slave and then free black community took their Christianity very seriously. I

    2) Anytime up till the hippie movement, clothing and hair styles were more likely to go from dominant group to minority than the other way around.

  52. @Greg
    I also do not really understand or entirely agree with the concept of cultural appropriation as it has been explained to me, but it would be rather like building a personal website for your own purposes, not giving it away, and then learning that the Book of Face grabbed the code with no/little modification to make giant piles of money and probably not even giving you no credit so you won’t even get fame or celebration from it. Or they implement it in a bad way and do give you credit so you are left with infamy and no money.

    A more narrow definition of the concept might termed “cultural plagiarism” for all the times when people pass off something as their own when they are just copying other peoples’ work.

  53. I heard it as both, as Mishalak says, not giving proper credit, but also as presenting a distorted or cartoonish version of a culture or practice. The easiest example for me to think of is that many Irish people I’ve heard from are Not Thrilled about the way Boston or NYC celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Or this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9p43hyyfQNU

  54. I don’t really buy the appropriation thing, e.g. rock n’ roll. However, tap was adapted directly from Irish folk dancing. I don’t consider that appropriation, but if you believe in that sort of thing, then it was.

  55. @megpie71,
    I had similar thoughts. One way “poverty foods” becoming trendy can harm is when that trendiness (and/or limited supply) drives prices up.
    It’s happened with quinoa, though increased production is beginning to dampen prices.

    Where we are, lamb shanks used to be cheap but some years ago, a local celebrity chef sparked a trend. Lamb shanks are cheap no more. We tend to eat more secondary cuts of meat, they have the double advantage of being cheaper & more flavourful (and we’re lucky we have that choice). But as these cheaper cuts get more trendy, demand goes up & has the effect of driving prices up too. I was surprised the other day at a supermarket when I saw that spare ribs actually cost more than rump steaks, which seems wrong given that ribs are at least half bone. That’s the issue I have with hipster/trendiness driving prices up: it reduces the already limited options of those on a tight budget.

  56. Moving from poverty and appropriation to “having a culture” in general:

    I’m not Greek and I don’t wear a Greek fisherman’s hat, but I must admit I wear a yankee baseball cap (showing a Japanese cartoon character, Totoro) even though I’m Canadian, and baseball is supposedly not my culture.

    To me, “my culture” is like my “age”: (from memory) When some reporter (trying, I presume, to separate her from her age) told Gloria S. she looked good for her age, she said her truth: “This is what 40 looks like.”

    As a nerd, I can get away with a lot, but I think of Gloria’s line when I dress non-straight, non-male, or non-middle age.

  57. @Susan Montgomery: You haven’t seen all the hipster ramen joints that have opened up lately? There are a lot of them. They pride themselves on being hipster and trendy and such. It’s already happening.

    @soonleenz: Ribs costing more than actual slabs of meat? Madness! Lamb’s never been cheap where I live, but it shouldn’t be expensive where you do. I can get mutton cheap-ish from the halal butchers if I want it, or goat from the Mexican ones, but I … don’t.

    I’ve learned rather a lot of things to do with cheap cuts of pork this past year. Which is also a privilege, since many of my neighbors fear for their immortal souls (or at least community disapproval) upon even touching piggies. Also darn the hipsters for fetishizing bacon.

  58. Cultural appropriation is inherently a hard concept to explain; people can sort of guess that physical appropriation is bad i.e… you wake up a find that a total stranger has moved into your house and is eating your cornflakes. I think people vicariously feel it when something happens like someone like ISIS burns a library or destroys a temple. You probably never heard of the texts, the library, or the temple but it feels like a vicarious theft to humanity. In general, I have found that the cases of cultural appropriation involve two things: the denigration of the people who created the bit of culture and the the take-over of the cultural item. Using my analogy, the members of ISIS not only destroy the temple, they sell anything that the looted on the black market, and denounce the culture of the people who created the temple and any scholars as satantic.

  59. Mishalak: “but it would be rather like building a personal website for your own purposes, not giving it away, and then learning that the Book of Face grabbed the code with no/little modification to make giant piles of money and probably not even giving you no credit so you won’t even get fame or celebration from it.”

    I have written software under open source licenses, which effectively gives it away. If you use it, even if you make money from it, I dont care. And the only “credit” I might get is my name is buried in a file somewhere where the copyright notice is located. No one is going to see that.

    I grew up fairly poor, but I dont think I would care if people who could afford to live better chose to live in poorer conditions. Even if they were doing it for egoboo or whatever, it doesnt strike me as something that would bother me. You want to live in a tiny house and eat gourmet Raman noodles? Go for it.

    I grew up on a farm, and find urban people who know nothing about cattle or horses yet dressing up as cowboys to be entertaining, but it doesnt bother, offend, or anger me.

    Isabelcooper: ” presenting a distorted or cartoonish version of a culture”

    That, I could see as potentially problematic. Something that reinforces a racist (etc) stereotype isnt good. But I see that as more an issue of racism (etc). A rich person living in a tiny house isnt reinforcing a negative stereotyoe about being poor. Maybe they’re thinking they’re special because they forgo their wealth. But I am not looking to police their thoughts. Sure, if they think “this isnt so bad, therefore being poor isnt so bad, therefore poor people dont need help” is a couple of leaps of logic with bad data to support it, but thats a problem of bad data and bad logic used to reinforce bigotry, not cultural *appropriation*.

  60. That isn’t cultural appropriation. The fact that you said that fundamentally means that you don’t even understand what the word “appropriation” means, or you do but you’re deliberately twisting the meaning for whatever reason you’ve got.

    When ISIS destroys an ancient Sumerian temple, that’s cultural *destruction*. It’s also destroying bits of the history of the world and civilization, which hurts all of humanity in lasting ways.

    Cultural appropriation is when I get out my guitar and play some delta-blues tunes because I think they sound good, even though I’m not a downtrodden black man in the southern river Delta area in the 1920s. I have every right to do that, because it’s my guitar, and I like the music. Nothing has been destroyed, no ancient wisdom or irreplaceable artifacts of people who lived long ago are being burned or smashed.

    So no, cultural appropriation isn’t bad. It’s how culture works. That’s how it has always worked. Culture spreads, it mutates, it borrows things from other cultures. You cannot stop it, either, because it’s intrinsic to humanity and human communication. Unless you decide to go live on a mountain alone for the rest of your life, cultural appropriation will continue, and you will *participate in it* whether you realize it or not, probably every day of your life.

    Also, for the record: no, I don’t get pissed when I see white people dressed as Mariachis or wearing sugar-skull makeup, even though I guess I “should” according to that silly logic that says I ought to somehow jealously guard my culture. I think it’s awesome and kind of hilarious when people do it.

    Nobody owns a culture and nobody can stop it from spreading, because culture is part of human communication and cannot be divorced from it.

  61. I had never thought of the price comparison between trailers and tiny houses. I grew up Appalachian. We didn’t live in a trailer, but many friends and relatives did. Some were dumps, some were quite nice. So no complaints for me about trailers (though some trailer parks I recall were kind of a pain).

    I did hear a recent DC-area public radio piece on tiny houses to solve homelessness. The proposal was to create tiny houses selling for $50K to address lower income housing, the architect on the show said you couldn’t build them (to code, permitted, with land, etc.) for less than twice that.

    I wonder how many hipsters have seen “La Boheme”- amazing opera, but not exactly a happy ending.

  62. You would think that dealing with actual poverty would be the important part of any discussion on poverty.

    Also, I’m reminded of Fiddler on the Roof
    Perchik: Money is the world’s curse.
    Tevye: May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover.

  63. The second part would be directed toward the people about whom Westhale is writing.

    (I really wish there was an edit button.)

  64. This is starting to feel less like a discussion of cultural appropriation, and more like a dispensation of indulgences to guilty white hipsters. “No, go ahead and copy a cultural tradition you know very little about because it looks cool! Some minority group members are okay with it.”

  65. I don’t really see cultural appropriation in this discussion as I would define it. Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s (yeah, I’m old) some people I knew decided to live with the Indians. They were gonna go down to the Navajo Rez and live in hogans, wear velvet skirts, plaid flannel shirts, wear silver concho belts and score some peyote. They didn’t last 5 months. When you were raised in the northern Utah mountains, you’re not really ready to live in the red sandstone desert at 110 degrees in July. They tried to live as Indians and failed. That, I see as an attempt at cultural appropriation.
    Living in little houses? Meh. When I see well-paid, upper middle class folks buying out trailer parks–then maybe we have a little cultural appropriation.
    Here in Spokane, we had something I think fits the issue. The president of the local chapter of the NAACP was outed as white. Rachael Dolezal Howard University graduate, professor of African studies, was revealed by her parents as being a white girl from Montana. Now THAT is cultural appropriation.
    As regards the butter bar. It is just another goofy theme bar. Was Judy Westhale offended by Disney’s cultural appropriations of Bavarian castles, French Quarter architecture, and Main Street USA? Butter bar is just as phony. When hipsters invade real working class bars, then there might be a problem.
    Ben Cohen’s response? From the tone of it, he seems as big a whiner as those he disagrees with. His blanket indictment of “liberals” was surprising in that he failed to use the term “Social Justice Warriors.”
    I’d be more concerned by the gentrificaton of some of the poorer neighborhoods, where suddenly the long term residents can no longer afford to live in their homes. In Washington, DC, the public housing bureaucrats are apparently forcing out their own tenants because there is profit to be made in flipping ghetto housing.

  66. I agree with a lot of what MrManny said.

    Mythago: do you really care who “appropriated” babka from whom or do you enjoy the fact that so many people have done interesting things with the basic concept?

    In general I think exploiting artists or other people is a bad thing and the relationships of exploitation are often racially, sexually, etc. inflected. But the cultural products or concepts themselves are and ought to be free for adoption and adaptation. We should not conflate the two. If you steal a song and don’t pay for it, that’s bad. If you borrow some of the style of a song you liked and create something similar, absolutely nothing bad or abnormal has just happened.

    The Butter Bar sounds rude, infantile and mean spirited in the extreme, but the reasons it’s wrong are not because it’s “appropriation.”

    The Japanese don’t owe Henry Ford an apology. The African American promoter who created tap does not owe poor Irish laborers an apology. White people can compose psychedelic rock even though it was half created by Arthur Lee, an African American. They don’t have to make sure that their songs hew as close to the “authentically white” Birds style as possible and not to Love’s “black” style.

    This is how culture works and you cannot stop it, thank the Tao.

  67. mythago: “dispensation of indulgences to guilty white hipsters. “No, go ahead and copy a cultural tradition you know very little about because it looks cool!”

    I love the Yoshida Brothers. That link is a song of theirs that is a fusion of the old school traditional Japanese instrument called the shamisen” (I had to look up the name just now) and modern synthesizers and drums.

    I’ve played guitar for years. After discovering the Yoshida Brothers’ music, I knew very little about traditional Japanese music culture but I thought it was amazingly cool and thought about buying a shamisen myself and learning to play one.

    Am I a “guilty white hipster” for that? And if so, exactly what harm did I cause?

    I spent years learning to play guitar. And I confess I do find entertainment value in watching someone buy a guitar because they just discovered some band, try to play, only to discover just how hard it is. But they’re not harming anyone. How many people could be condemned for taking on something they know very little about? everyone? And when did that become a crime?

    I practiced Aikido for a while. When I started, I knew nothing about the culture from which it came other than it was Japanese and it was a defensive martial art of some kind. It sounded like a cool concept. How is that an “indulgence”? how does that make me “guilty”? And if I’m guilty, then guilty of what?

    One reason I started Aikido was because I had been reading quite a lot about Zen, Buddhism, and Taoism. My religious upbringing wasn’t giving me much in the way of spiritual peace. So, I read, and read, and searched, and talked to people, and eventually found my way to Taoism and Zen and found a home. It wasn’t the home I grew up in. But it was the home that brought me peace. So I adopted it and it adopted me. Was I a guilty hipster for appropriating someone else’s culture that was not my own?

    Actually, Zen may be what is making it so hard for me to grok why you’re upset about people copying a culture they know very little about. Zen has an idea called “beginner’s mind” and it has been quite helpful for me in general. The saying goes “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” It seems like the more someone is angry at cultural appropriation, the fewer and fewer possibilities they have, with the extreme being there is only one possibility, and you have to be a master at it, fully understand it, before you can start learning it.

  68. I think we need a bit of clarification here on what cultural appropriation is and what it is not. Cultural cross-pollination is a many-way street, and it’s what happens when cultures come into contact with each other. This can be sharing cultural traditions and artifacts or inspiration and creating new traditions and things from a mix of cultures. But exchange and sharing take place in the context of respect and trying to understand.

    Appropriation is much more specific, and more particular to a situation where imperialism plays a part. It’s a one-way street, where people from the more powerful culture denigrate a culture and people while taking stuff from it/them, particularly in a way that disrespects or violates sacred traditions, or particularly when the people that the tradition originates from suffer from discrimination for it. The classic example is wearing a mimicry of a sacred war bonnet to a rock festival because you think it looks cool. Or selling factory-made dreamcatchers that undercut and take business away from native artists. Or wearing a bindi because it’s a pretty decoration while ignoring both that it has a specific meaning and the fact that Desi people in your culture are discriminated against for keeping their cultural traditions. A white person wearing traditional black braided hairstyles with no social consequences while black people wearing those hairstyles are held back from jobs for wearing the same hairstyle becomes appropriation because of that discrimination. (In contrast, learning Aikido because of an interest in the philosophical traditions . . . I’d say that’s a wonderful example of respectful cultural exchange.)

    I don’t think “appropriation” fits particularly well in describing the what’s happening here with hipster fetishization of the trappings of poverty. Poverty isn’t just far from simple, it also would be a lot more difficult to determine what is cultural to poverty, since it’s going to vary so much with situation. However, romanticizing or fetishizing aspects of poverty while not trying to understand why people do things that way, not bothering to try to understand the context, and/or while exploiting the poor and making their situation more difficult . . . is both pretty darn crappy and close to “appropriation” that I can see the use of the word (although I think being more precise would help the argument). Understanding choice vs. necessity IS really important here.

    I do wonder if there’s a bit of a link between the tiny houses and previous much more clear appropriation of bourgeois bohos deciding to live in “gypsy caravans” . . . again taking the trappings of a marginalized culture, while even keeping the slur as well as the stereotypes without bothering to understand culture or context. But tiny houses themselves aren’t anyone’s sacred traditions, just not necessarily practical solutions for very many people at all.

  69. I’m fascinated by the tiny house movement.

    I was born in a trailer & my family was sometimes homeless despite my father being in the military and entitled to subsidized on-base housing. Sometimes the paperwork got mixed up, and we’d be camping for a while, or sleeping in the car if it was winter. With four kids on an enlisted salary, meals were often gov’t cheese, reconstituted milk and potato flakes, beans with fatback. We always lived small and cheaply, and my mother skipped meals because she was “dieting” when there wasn’t enough food for everyone.

    I “bootstrapped” my way to comfortably middle class and bought a house as soon as I could. Within two years I realized I’d bought too much house. I could live in 1/4 of my house (and effectively do), but I would be most comfortable in about 1/2 my current footage. Fortunately, I bought smartly, so I didn’t go under water even when unemployed during the recession; unfortunately, I’m still recovering from that period, so I can’t afford to downsize to something more appropriate to my needs and wants. I’m basically trapped for another 5ish years, assuming that the economy doesn’t tank, again.

    I’m not comfortable with the assumptions that Westhale makes in her article: I think she’s conflating several different issues. Also, the argument itself dates back as far as we have records, although I’m more familiar with Voltaire castigating Rousseau for romanticizing the peasants (i.e. then-contemporary poverty), and Jonathan Swift’s razor pen, than Diogenes’ arguments with his peers. Ms Westhale may have a point, but she could have made it better. Her messy, inconsistent, and unclear premises and arguments undermine whatever she was going after, imo.

  70. Kee: “The classic example is wearing a mimicry of a sacred war bonnet to a rock festival because you think it looks cool. Or selling factory-made dreamcatchers that undercut and take business away from native artists. Or wearing a bindi because it’s a pretty decoration while ignoring both that it has a specific meaning”

    These seem to fall into the group “Doing someone else’s religion wrongly”. Since I dont have a religion that I strongly identify with, maybe thats why I dont see it as offensive.

    My understanding of zen is that it has at its core the notion to not take itself too seriously and that in the end, all you get out of zen is “nothing”, so not a lot of things to get attached to. I also believe that everyone has to figure out their own personal relationship with god, the eternal, eternity, their place in life, the universe, everything, and if that means you roll your own religion, your own meaning, and thats what helps you get through life, why should it bother me? If 42 is a sacred number to you, fine. It doesnt do anything for me but help me do my taxes. Maybe I just dont see things as sacred, rather things are things but maybe they help you find god.

    “white person wearing traditional black braided hairstyles with no social consequences while black people wearing those hairstyles are held back from jobs for wearing the same hairstyle becomes appropriation because of that discrimination”

    Not hiring someone because of their race is wrong. But adopting their hairstyle? I dont see it.

    At that level, it just sounds silly.

    I could see how the British taking all the ancient relics out of Egypt could be called cultural appropriation, but I would simply call it stealing.

    Indiana Jones might say it belongs in a museum, but more importantly, it belongs to the heirs of the people who made it in tbe first place.

    But again, that’s a thing. A sarcophagus. An obelisk. Whatever. Property is a zero sum game. If the British take it, the Egyptians lose it.

    But an idea? There are copyright and trademark laws in place, but at least in the United States, they exist only because the constitution allows them for the purpose of “encouraging the arts and sciences”. Other than that, its public domain. And maybe this is the years of open source work I have done, but I dont think anyone or any culture should get permanent ownership of an idea.

    When you look at the long version of history, the free exchange of ideas is what generally brings progress. Its why free speech is protected in the bill of rights. To get a patent, you have to give away the description of how the device works to get a 20 year monopoly.

    If someone wants to borrow from someone else’s religion, even my own, who am I to stop them? Its not like my beliefs were birthed out of the minds eye of the creator himself, a perfect first version. Every culture borrows from others, learns from others, adapts from others. And we are all the better for it.

    And its not like you taking my ideas, my culture, and modifying them to fit your own hurts me in any way.

    Yes, walmart selling cheap dream catchers made in china means that hand crafted native american made dream catchers have competition from nonbelievers. But thats a problem of industrialization in general, not something specific about dream catchers.

    When it comes to physical property, i can see appropriation. But the more I think about it, I dont see it the same way when it comes to ideas.

  71. It would be nice if living simply and the green movement could combine to bring better public transportation to cities where it’s lousy. Everyone would win then.

  72. [quote]steve davidson says:
    [up near the very beginning of this thread]
    on cultural appropriation of foods: if you pay attention, you’ll find that many foods that were originally eaten by marginalized groups because that was all the could get, have become, in many cases, staples of the american diet, if not “haute cuisine”[/quote]
    What became known as soul food, probably during the black-power movement in the ’60s, is a classic example of that haute-cuisine thing. I grew up in NYC in a lower-middle-class environment, quite a change from my late mom’s childhood in a sharecropper family in the Ozarks (western Arkansas). Her cooking style was learned back then … what later became soul food, typically served at outrageous prices at ethnic-oriented restaurants that were “in”, to us was what we ate when we couldn’t afford anything better.

  73. I asked Scalzi’s permission to post this here, before the official Charities thread, because there’s a deadline on a matching grant. He kindly agreed.

    I volunteer at a food pantry. The Elmhurst Yorkfield Food Pantry is currently building a new, purpose-built food pantry to replace the terrible, tiny, not-very-accessible but better-than-nothing old cottage basement we used to operate out of. The new building is mostly built (hurray for getting rid of the Terrifying Stairs that shattered a volunteer’s leg!), but can still use money for fittings (like freezers so we can give out frozen meat donated from local grocery stores), operating costs, and being able to buy food for pennies on the dollar from the Northern Illinois Food Bank.

    If you have any available money in your charity budget, on-line contributions given at http:/eyfp.org/how-to-donate/ on #GivingTuesday, December 1, (Central US time, so starting 9.5 hours from when this is posted) will provide individuals a one-day opportunity to receive a match of $1 for each $2 of donation. The match is made possible by Thing 1-2-3 Foundation which is sponsoring EYFP’s #GivingTuesday campaign.

    Thank you.

  74. I have been broke at several points of life, but never, I think, truly poor. My family did live in a mobile home for a long time. The big distinction is that we owned it, and we moved it out of the trailer park to land my father bought in the country within a couple of years. The chief argument against “mobile homes” as well as “tiny homes” is that many cities won’t let you put one on a lot zoned for a single-family residence. Neither, then, is an option for the urban poor – *or* the urban middle-class.

    I shopped at Goodwill recently, because I needed a pair of jeans to do outdoor work, did not own any, do not like new jeans and especially not the way they are currently made for women – men’s jeans fit me better, and old ones don’t need to be broken in. I don’t think I was taking anything away from truly poor people by buying those jeans. It was certainly not a matter of financial necessity to shop there, but neither was it “playing poor.” Not a fan of all Goodwill’s statements or policies, but they can probably do more good with the $43 I spent than Macy’s or the Lucky brand outlet would.

    Tiny houses are the equivalent of a juice fast. They are a trend-minded person’s fanciful solution to a perceived problem, in this case too much stuff. Which seems, anecdotally, to be completely pointless given that people harping about their tiny house also often have a storage locker or tolerant relatives who are storing all their stuff.

    Must confess I think labeling certain trends as “cultural appropriation” does approach the pearl-clutching end of the usefulness spectrum. Poverty is a serious issue, though, so if even part of the blogosphere takes the point that playing poor to earn hipster cred is (dare I say it) offensive, that’s a good thing.

  75. Voluntary simplicity has been a religious and philosophical motif for a long time; Diogenes, Old Testament prophets to name a couple of instances. Unless you are doing something weirder than what has been mentioned, I don’t see it as cultural appropriation.
    My church runs a pantry and I have regularly talked to people, we don’t means test for several reasons. Many people need temporary help. re the nice car, I’ve talked to a couple of people who became suddenly unemployed and kept the car that had the cheapest insurance, or was paid off.
    One of the primary people involved in starting the pantry up was surprised when a neighbor in a nice neighborhood asked for a ride to a local pawnshop because they didn’t have food in the house.
    By all means donate to your local pantry!

  76. When I was a boy penguin paperbacks were not allowed in the U.S. for copyright reasons, and I suspect children’s annuals, such as the Dr. Who and Rupert annuals, suffered the same fate. Luckily I was in Canada.

    I remember a story in a British “girl’s annual,” the sort of volume children would get at Christmas. One of the stories was about two affluent girls excitedly going mushroom hunting in the fields, to make a little money, just as the poorer folks do. These girls were nice and enthusiastic, just the sort young readers could identify with. They take their suitcases to the fields.

    At the end when they take their mushrooms to sell, they note they have ruined the velvet lining of the suitcases, and the man at the counter they sell their mushrooms to advises them that next time they should leave mushroom-ing to the poor people.

    The man was not a university thinker, nor did he have a special vocabulary for political correctness or appropriation. Rather, he had common sense advice that everyone in his culture, both rich and poor, shared.

    If something, like non-appropriation or vegetarianism, is not widespread common sense, even though it “should” be, then maybe I should be respectful of my neighbours in our culture, and use common sense when I preach.

  77. One of the things about cultural appropriation that I think (maybe?) has been overlooked here is the way it crosses with the privileging of invention/originality: Elvis Presley singing in a style he learned by listening to African American singers is hailed as the genius “originator” of the style, with no allowance for the fact that he was at the very least inspired by a subculture that was being discriminated against. The point is not just appropriation; it is appropriation that tends to erase the original cultural source.

    I suspect that that’s what some of you mean by “appropriating the culture while continuing to denigrate the marginalized group that originated it,” but I also think that that’s worth spelling out: such appropriation can denigrate–sometimes intentionally, sometimes even unintentionally–by erasure . . .

  78. Elvis Presley singing in a style he learned by listening to African American singers is hailed as the genius “originator” of the style

    If Elvis billed himself that way, that would be wrong of him, but if someone *else* describes Elvis that way, then it’s wrong of *them* (factually wrong if they really don’t know, morally wrong if they deceive on purpose), but I don’t see how Elvis is doing anything wrong in that scenario.

  79. Greg:

    It’s a bit more than just “doing religion wrongly” . . . for one thing, wearing a war bonnet to Coachella isn’t “doing religion” at all. It’s a lot more “my life, my culture and my traditions are not a fucking trend!” particularly when deeply meaningful things get taken, stripped of context, and replicated badly for money while disrespecting the people whose traditions are “inspiration”. It’s much less about ownership than it is about respect, although in cases like this there is blatant and insulting plagiarism going on, and no legal recourse: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/ktz-apology-inuit-robe-bittersweet-1.3339820. But from the reaction of the people involved, it’s much less the copying that is hurtful than lack of respecting the artist and the culture, not asking, and completely ignoring why what has been ‘appropriated’ is so meaningful.

    Copyright laws aren’t really the issue here though. It’s not a question of whether it’s legal or not, it’s a question of whether you’re being an asshole or not. Blithely wearing a hairstyle that other people get fired or just not hired for because according to racist bias your “natural” hairstyle looks “professional” and their “natural” hairstyle developed to protect their hair gets labeled “unprofessional” . . . is kinda insensitive at least. And if black people say they find that kind of blatant reminder of the bias they face every day hurtful, it’s no skin off my nose to . . . not do my hair like that instead of thumbing that nose and essentially going “I get to do this and you don’t neener neener”.

    When it comes to stealing ancient relics, again I think when you talk to the people asking for ancient Egyptian relics or the Elgin marbles, they’ll often point out that the insult added to injury is that these artworks are not just stolen, but that they’re held in museums as examples of inspirational fine art at the same time that Egyptians, Greeks, etc are stereotyped in damaging ways that erase or deny their culture. It’s not just the physical theft that hurts.

    When it comes to the idea of borrowing ideas or ways of doing things from poor people, it’s again the asshole quotient that matters. It’s not the downsizing or trying to live more simply that is getting people’s backs up.

    Mary Frances: Agreed, that’s a very important point to be sure is clear.

    Basically: Borrowing and sharing and adapting are great and part of cultural change and growth, and they can be done in ways that further people understanding each other and their differences . . . when done with respect; but not when you’re an asshole about it.

  80. @Cally, thank you for posting that.

    @PrivateIron – what Kee said, multiple times. Cultural appropriation is a complicated issue, and it’s not synonymous with cultural cross-pollination and cultural blending (though of course there aren’t bright lines, either). Which is why it’s so tiresome to read belligerent responses that refuse to think about the issue much more beyond a belligerent cry of how flattering and respectful it is, no matter how unthinking or disrespectful aping some else’s culture is. So yes, to the extent someone’s willingness to consider the issue is a reactionary “but whyyyyyy can’t I like quesadillas too?!” or “this one guy from that culture says it’s totes cool and doesn’t bother him so CHECKMATE SJWs”, I’m going to eye-roll.

  81. Mythago: It seems that you would still need very specific examples of those particular kinds of appropriation and not just blanket statements that some cultural adoption/adaptation is “appropriation.” As long as hipster people say Led Zeppelin are “thieves,” I am going to eye-roll.

    (Elvis is an interesting example. I can sort of see the people who make Elvis a cult object as appropriating black culture as Kee defines appropriation. The problem is people who conflate Elvis with all white rock musicians or with rock in general and use that as their CHECKMATE, ‘CHA move. Ironically, after decades, Elvis cultists have a sort of authenticity of their own, just like the place that eventually was designated an historical land mark for being a significant example of a kitschy tourist trap.)

    Most of the examples used that make a compelling case for appropriation are either basically using another person’s religious symbols/practices disrespectfully or outright theft and exploitation in the context of colonial empires. I would tend to call this “exploitation” or the intellectual side of colonialism rather than “appropriation” as most people in modern America seem to use the term. Some of this may just be choice of language as opposed to substantive disagreement. I do agree that all the things Kee discussed are “bad” and should not be encouraged. However, your putative reactionary is more of an annoying dickweed than a cultural pirate.

    Here’s an anecdote:
    Babka is just basically a staple of holiday traditions for Polish American families. I never thought about it as something that we owned. It was more like fish breathing water. It was just there. And it was big deal that someone would commit to making it each year.
    Interlocutor: Have some babka.
    Me: Sure. (picks up and examines object) What’s this?
    I: Babka
    M: It’s not like any babka I’ve ever had before.
    I: That’s because you’ve never had real babka before. I bought this at Zingerman’s.
    M: (nods head and smiles encouragingly, waiting for funny lady to change topic)

    By your standards, Inerlocutor is pushing the boundaries of appropriation because she’s denigrating all other forms in favor of a fetish object produced commercially for people who want to feel authentic. She does not quite cross the line because American deli babka is old enough now to be “authentic” on its own, but she is being kind of air-headedly rude. (This is not a Jewish/Christian thing so much as it would be a commercial versus family/cultural practice. If Interlocutor had told me this was how her nanna always made this, the situation would not have been anywhere near as rude or annoying. It would not have been my babka, but it would have been her babka.)

    If I subscribed to the idea that babka symbolizes the risen Christ, then I might find it to be appropriation, But I don’t believe that and I never heard anyone else say that before I fact checked on wikipedia. Quite frankly, if I knew people who believed that, I still wouldn’t care as long as people did not do something conspicuously disrespectful with babka as opposed to just eating it. Even then it would not be appropriation, so much as asshats being rude.

    As MrManny said:
    “Also, for the record: no, I don’t get pissed when I see white people dressed as Mariachis or wearing sugar-skull makeup, even though I guess I “should” according to that silly logic that says I ought to somehow jealously guard my culture.” Plus who gets to decide this? And do “progressives” have the right to do the guarding on MrManny’s behalf?

  82. So the main thing I got from here is – I just don’t get how much money you make in US compared to my country (Czech republic).
    You can get by (pretty easily as a single) making 7200 – 7500 dollars a year. And I am counting energy costs and rent into that. And as we are in global economy, it means that any electronics or anything you can buy in US you can buy here for the same cost.
    And here are prices for eating in restaurants today in my town, just divide every price by 25 (conversion rate USD to CZK)
    And folks cooking at home using ingredients that are cheaper are taking those from poor? Isn’t that common sense? But we are considered stingy or miserly as a nation by expats, cause we try to save up on everything. But at least we are not neck high in debt.
    So if anyone of you can make more money (something around 20k USD) doing your job from “home” or just be on the net to make them, move here, you can live easily here with the ridiculous amount of money you’d make, you can save up and go back to US with some nest money to start new life. Or just stay here.

    On topic of cultural appropriation, I don’t think I really (and I mean really, really) understand that. Not on some basic level. There are I think only two thing my culture exported to US are word robot (basically it means “peasant-who-does-what-amounts-to-slave-labor-for-his-feudal-master”) and kolache. I don’t remember seeing any cultural appropriation from us, maybe some rappers, cause we are mainly white, so that’s the only case I think of.

  83. Thin young John Scalzi stands outside trailer (he can’t fit inside despite scrawniness) shakes fist at sky and shouts:-
    “So help me (insert deity of choice), I don’t care if I’m ever hungry again, but I WILL one day have the BIGGEST LAWN IN THE WORLD!”

  84. I notice no one’s mentioned Mr Money Mustache, Go Curry Cracker or Financial Samurai…probably because they do not romanticize or “appropriate” poverty. As far as I know, these writers do not advise that their readers dumpster-dive or live in tiny houses.

    They do promote early financial independence through frugal living, however. If anyone has seen an engineer or doctor riding a bike to work or practicing Poorcraft, it could be something other than “hipster” fashion. It could be a Mustachian dreaming of financial independence.

  85. Kee: “It’s much less about ownership than it is about respect,”

    But if that were true, it should be called cultural disrespect, or cultural dismissal, not cultural *appropriation*. Appropriation means taking something, usually without the owners permission. It is a word that specifically invokes property, thievery, and ownership.

    So, again, I have no problem with disrespect towards a culture being bad, or stealing artifacts being bad. But I dont see making use of public domain ideas as inherently evil, which is specifically what “cultural appropriation” as a term is trying to say is also wrong. Disrespecting those idea? Sure, not nice. Dismissing those ideas? Also not nice. Using those ideas for your own goals? I see nothing inherently bad about that.

    Calling it “Cultural appropriation” absolutely tries to use language to frame the topic a certain way. Just like calling fair use of copyright a form of “piracy” also tries to frame the debate a certain way.

    There are authors who believe they should have infinite copyright to their works and anything less is theft. There are authors who believe fair use of their works is also theft. Culture isnt property, and borrowing from someones culture isnt “theft”. If the core issue is disrespect or dismissal or some form of bigotry, then the problem boils down to the teminology being used “cultural appropriation” ignores that and emphasizes the theft of property when none occurred.

  86. So this is kind of a head-scratcher for me. I certainly have never been poor. Even in my college days and lean years to follow, I knew had backups. I have been friends with truly poor people all my life. I hope that I have never been thoughtless towards them. But I find some elements of cultural appropriation or the intimation of such as tangled.

    My wife and I have dreams of downsizing to a ‘tiny’ house…though not the ridiculously small houses of some of the shows I see on HGTV and DIY. We have spent time on vacations living in one and found it adequate in many ways. It isn’t about ‘living bohemian’ so much as removing clutter and unnecessary fixtures from our lives. Will it happen? I don’t know. I love my things, but many of my things can go on a hard drive or in the cloud, now. How many more times in my life will I watch my box set of Brisco County Jr., really? How many Funco Pop figures do I actually need to have? There is no pretense of ‘moving off the grid’ or ‘returning to simplicity’. Hell, No. I want my conveniences, my Xbox-One or PS4, my Hulu or Netflix. I have no desire to live a ramen lifestyle or dumpster dive, no wish to aspire to a shower stall that doubles as a toilet. I just want an uncluttered space that’s efficient when the kids are gone. People sell and move from houses all the time; my wife’s parents are like most retirees and have moved into a smaller, flatter house. Her grandmother lives in the same flat double-wide trailer she’s been in for over 40 years, now.

    The idea that Tiny Houses are some hipster statement seems overly simplistic to me. Of course, the continual damning everywhere of those awful monstrous hipsters seems like a lot of righteous indignation to me. Yes, there are folks who are culturally insensitive or out-of-touch. A lot of them are just kids. I mean, kids are stupid. I was a stupid kid, once. i remember saying a lot of things that I now hear on forums and news posts that are head-slappingly dumb. Things like weeabos are not new, as has been pointed out. But hipster seems like a broad category of ‘people I don’t like’ whenever I hear it lately. I’m just not sure what qualifies one to be one, honestly. It feels like a ‘people who shop at Walmart’ kind of damnation, just that they theoretically are poseurs with more money.

  87. Having no space to keep anything works better if you have the money to just buy whatever you want at the moment. It also works better if your wants are current / trendy and mainstream. (Or if your wants are very much non-material.)

    As for “appropriation” of mainstream American culture, lots of that stuff is actively marketed to other cultures both nationally and internationally. Whatever “appropriation” may be, I’m pretty sure it’s not buying something from the actual owners. And that’s one reason lots of people in my demographic (old white guy) don’t get the idea of appropriation; one can miss the issue of power differential, and concomitant issues of *choice*, and only see the symmetry.

  88. There is certainly plenty of hipster/sheltered rich kid cluelessness going around, but I’m under the impression that at least some portion of the “tiny house movement” is the result of the current younger generation facing a hard job market, inflated housing prices, piles of student debt (and if you don’t finish your degree, this can be utterly crippling), etc. In light of their inability to successfully leave the nest in a traditional manner, and afford a traditional house, building your own “tiny house” gives you a respectable/principled veneer of hipster bespoke simplicity to lay over the socially undesirable truth of your situation. At least, that’s how it has appeared to me.

  89. Re: women who are not African-American appropriating hairstyles. It occurs to me that this would provide yet another opportunity for people to police women’s choices and bodies, with the added fun of feeling progressive while you do it.

    Michael K Williams stumbled into a poor white neighborhood in Baltimore where everybody acted and spoke exactly like people in a similar African American neighborhood. Is this appropriation? Is it small scale hegemony? Is it just evidence that most of the time reality is too complicated for simple categories of analysis?

    I just don’t see appropriation adding much value. It’s superfluous and faint damnation in a context where colonialism is exploiting people on every level and it’s usually too harsh or over inclusive on small scales. Plus you can usually find another criticism which fits the situation more appropriately. So the concept just doesn’t have much applicability.

  90. @Privatelron

    You can view cultural appropriation as micro-expression of colonial mindsets–for instance lets take my peoples war bonnet. In my nation war bonnet’s are given out to individuals of great bravery (warriors, usually), or great important (Chiefs, shamans, wise men and women), and are inheritable if those received it wishes it so.

    The bases of a colonial mindset is a lack of respect from the settler to the settled–this can manifest in numerous way that scale of severity but essentially all come the same well of lack of respect of the settled person humanity. When drunk white girls wear war bonnets are shitty music festivals that’s apart of the colonial mindset: they are either completely and utterly ignorant of the history of the war bonnet (and First Nation dress in general–my ancestors were beaten, murdered, and raped in residential schools so they would no longer act like First Nations, our clothes, sacred or not, were hard won), or doesn’t care. Both a manifestation of colonial ideology. The first is a failure of society, and the second a failure of the individual–both coming from the relatively same place, a lack of respect for First Nations.

    Cultural appropriation is a mild part of colonial ideology but it is still apart of it. It’s very applicable to mild situations of colonial-indigenous tensions–its not genocide, but it comes from the same place. It’s not slavery, its white rock artists becoming national icons when the originators of the art form can play in white venues. Like you said colonialism is exploiting (and eliminating, and destroying, and stealing, and so on–invasion is not an event its a structure) people on every level, even the micro and ‘superficial’.

    Most critiques of cultural appropriation often ignore the wider cultural and historical context these things happen in. I am not mad because a drunk white girl is having a good time in a sacred object, I mad because my people were literally killed for wearing the same thing, and she get’s to wear without that knowledge or that consequence. Its ignorant and arrogant.

    By all means, if you want to exchange cultural ideals, lets do so, but first undo the damage you’ve done to my people, stop treating us like trash, and stop pretending you’re innocence. Only then do you get to pick and choose parts of my cultural you find cute, or fashionable.

  91. BDG: I agree with a lot of what you are saying. However, you are using the strongest possible example of “appropriation,” in the American context. I still think the term is overused when being applied to other situations. I also think that “progressive” white people tend to use it to one up each other in the salon and to feel good about themselves rather than as some spur to change. It also lets people who exploit, but don’t act like crass morons in public, deflect criticism.

    If one achieves power and influence, people tend to stop appropriating from one and/or one tends to not care as much. If I though these discussions actually aided much in the accumulation of power and influence, I might feel differently about them. As it is, I think “appropriation” is an issue that is resolved by solving the bigger issues, but almost never the other way around. (By “resolved” I mean prospectively; nothing restores the prior loss.)

  92. I’m wondering, though … how many of these hipsters are concealing financial drivers behind the “trendiness” of it all. I’ve traveled in affluent circles in the past, and I’ve learned the sad necessity of sometimes having to seem to have more than you do. White Affluence is a brutal club, and you walk a razor’s edge every second.

    So, I’m wondering how much of this appropriation, which to be sure is going on, and is an insult to the truly poor, is a way of sugar-coating a pretty bitter pill for some, as a way of making denial of excess, which is necessary for our culture to survive, socially acceptable.

    That said, there is a lot of appropriation, and downright stupidity, as a lot of people who embrace these tiny houses are going to find themselves looking for a 1,200 foot ranch in two years, with a Tiny Home they can’t offload.

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