Cultural appropriation

In general, I have never been the most fashion-conscious person. Occasionally I make exceptions, albeit usually very late. One of those exceptions is the keffiyeh. Keffiyehs are fucking awesome. They are extremely useful in a variety of ways and they go with all sorts of clothes whether its camouflage on the airsoft field, casual day-to-day wear, or even with a semi-formal overcoat.  So recently I was looking for different ways to wear keffiyehs and I ran across this crock of shit. Apparently a keffiyeh is an article of clothing “white people” shouldn’t wear.

Now I was a bit shocked by this, if only because unlike most ignorant Americans, I am aware that many Arabs fit the phenotypical description which typically identifies one as “white” in America, and it is America and perhaps Canada who get to label and classify the world according to their own socially constructed views.  In fact in the US, the census classification for “non-Hispanic white” includes people whose origins are in North Africa or the Middle East. Having been to Morocco once, I can confirm that there are indigenous people there who could realistically pull off European descent. Personally I think the idea of Arabs as “brown people” actually comes from decades of negative Hollywood stereotypes, which often portray the Arab as bearded and dark.

I was also a bit confused because the article is about “cultural appropriation” but it only says that white people shouldn’t wear keffiyehs. It doesn’t say who “white people” are, which is also problematic since the keffiyeh fashion is popular all over the world. Is it a problem when Chinese people “appropriate” it?  Is it a problem when the Japanese or Koreans appropriate it?  Perhaps I’m getting bent out of shape for no reason. Maybe I should let the authors explain exactly why “white people” shouldn’t wear keffiyehs.

What you think it says: My style icon is Kanye West.

I literally have no idea what the fuck you are talking about.
What it really says: My style icon is Rachael Ray and all of my social activism is done via Twitter hashtags.

Yes, I’m sure Rachael Ray is the reason the keffiyeh became fashionable all over the world. As for social activism, I’m pretty damned sure I’ve seen plenty of activists in places like Greece, Spain, and Italy, to name a few countries, duking it out with riot police if not tossing rocks or even Molotov cocktails. You can question their revolutionary strategy all you want, but it sure beats writing ignorant listicles.

Only the tip of the iceberg though. Get ready for pure, concentrated ignorance infused with massive stupidity.

You wore this a lot in the mid-2000s because you thought it made you look rebellious and channeled that “college student with a cause vibe.” What you didn’t know is that the keffiyeh has long been a symbol of Palestinian nationalism, which opens up a whole can of worms when it comes to international politics and Zionists who see it as a symbol of oppression.

Holy fuck! That paragraph was so ignorant I don’t even know where to begin. I guess we ought to begin with the keffiyeh as a symbol of Palestinian resistance. Keffiyehs are not exclusive to Arabs, let alone Palestinians specifically. In fact, Palestinian Jews wore a similar headdress, supposedly dating back to ancient times, known as a sudra. Keffiyehs or things like keffiyehs have been traditionally used not only by Arabs, but also Turks and Kurds. Ottoman Turks stationed in Arab territories often wore them as well. Keffiyehs are often white with no pattern whatsoever. Let’s have a look at the photo from this shitty article, depicting an evil culture appropriator in action.



How dare he appropriate a symbol of Palestinian nationalism! How dare he…Wait a second…


These are photos of Yasser Arafat and Leila Khaled, the latter being someone I doubt the ignorant authors ever heard of, wearing that pattern of keffiyeh which has become synonymous with Palestinian liberation. Note that it isn’t the pattern that the evil Rachael Ray lemming is wearing.  Yes, folks, not all keffiyehs are associated with Palestinian nationalism. Some, such as the red-and-white pattern, have some association with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but then again red keffiyehs are commonly worn from Jordan to Iraq. Jordan in particular makes use of the red keffiyeh, which was the famous symbol of their army’s Arab Legion.  Again, more facts our ignorant authors most likely do not know.  But let me backtrack a bit so as to cover ever inch of the ignorance and stupidity of this paragraph.

“What you didn’t know is that the keffiyeh has long been a symbol of Palestinian nationalism”

Dipshit assumes we don’t know. Well, only white people don’t know. White people are incapable of being informed about the Palestinian cause. That includes the thousands, if not tens of thousands of “white people” who have been involved in the Palestinian cause for literally decades, incidentally far more involved than these two dipshit authors.

“which opens up a whole can of worms when it comes to international politics”

Ummm…How does wearing a keffiyeh open up a whole can of worms when it comes to international politics? Are we talking about wearing it to some kind of international summit?  Yes, I totally understand that wearing a Palestinian-pattern keffiyeh to a Jewish wedding might be a bad idea, if only because it will raise uncomfortable discussions. But in reality, the keffiyeh is a utilitarian garment that doesn’t have an inherent political connotation. Wearing a red and white checked scarf in a Cambodian community might start some fireworks as well, and for reasons these two ignorant dipshits would probably never understand without the help of Google.  Am I being too hard on them? Well look at the last line.

and Zionists who see it as a symbol of oppression.”

“Zionists who see it as a symbol of oppression.”

“Zionists who see it as a symbol of oppression.”

Are you shitting me? Did you really, truly, seriously intend to suggest that Zionists see the Palestinian keffiyeh as a symbol of oppression? The people who forced thousands of people out of their land and place all kinds of restrictions on their movement and access to resources when they aren’t actively bombing them see a non-Palestinian wearing a keffiyeh as a symbol of oppression? Is that what really happened here? Or is it equally possible that the stupid, Wikipedia-educated morons who wrote this article got confused as to who Zionists are? I’d hope it’s the latter. Besides, Zionists who tend to revile Palestinians the most have historically been European descended, either from Europe itself, the US, or that bastion of social justice, apartheid South Africa. In other words, they are, by most people’s opinion- white. So the author is saying white people shouldn’t wear these because they might offend white people. Great!

At this point, the Tumblr social justice warrior is probably seething with rage, wishing he or she could tell me to check my privilege. Who am I to decide whether or not white people wearing keffiyehs is cultural appropriation or not? Good point. Let’s see what some Palestinians think of the practice, starting with this article about the last keffiyeh factory in Palestine.  First of all, the factory is using social media to reach out to the world and save its business, i.e. the business of selling keffiyehs to people who aren’t Palestinians or Arabs. Next let’s look at a few choice quotes.

We’ve got people all over the world from Australia to India to South Africa,” says Kassem.

“All over the Middle East, Arabs and non-Arabs alike, interested in the message and exactly what the keffiyeh stands for.

“A lot of people associate it with a fashion accessory, but they were interested to find out what the history of it is and that this is the last factory and it came from Palestine.”

Well, looks like the owner isn’t too concerned with his culture being appropriated.  In fact he wants people to appropriate it, because that’s how he stays in business.

Am I just “using” one guy to prove my point? Nope.  Let’s look at a video from this very talented teacher of Arabic, Hebrew, and Italian.

Oh…my…GOD! Doesn’t she realize that she’s actually teaching that Italian guy how to culturally appropriate? Quick, we need to book a flight to Rome so we can deploy an American trained in the arts of intersectionality to go lecture this Palestinian woman on what behaviors are acceptable!  Now speaking frankly for a second, it makes sense to question whether someone, anyone, should go walking around the streets of say, New York, wearing a keffiyeh like that in Bedouin style. That would rightly be called costume-like. On the other hand, if you plan to be hiking out in the desert in the summer, you bet your ass you ought to be wearing something like that. Once again, the keffiyeh is a utilitarian garment. Personally I’d rather wear a keffiyeh with an agal(the rings that secure it on your head) than smear myself with greasy sun screen. This garment was specifically designed for that function.

Is Maha from the video qualified to decide what is cultural appropriation or not? Well I suppose we can’t say for sure, except that I think she’s a hell of a lot more qualified than the two non-Arabs who wrote this article. In fact, one of the authors has what appears to be a very “white-sounding” name, which if I remember my advanced privilege theory/intersectionality 4th edition rules properly, means his opinion counts for absolutely dick. Negative dick, even.

Speaking of unqualified people giving their opinions and the hypocrisy of social justice warriors, the stupidity of this article actually continues into the comments. Check this one out.

“I wear the Keffiyeh because the Palestinian cause is that of my own as a Chicano.”

Oh that’s cool, bro. You’re allowed to culturally appropriate because you’re not considered “white” and you get to decide that the Palestinian cause is equal to your own. How many guided missiles landed in your fucking neighborhood a few months ago? Do you have a passport, or a right to have a passport? How many countries have you been expelled from en masse?

You can say it’s just a stupid comment, but this actually highlights how stupid intersectionality, privilege theory, and the related concept of cultural appropriation is. What every social justice warrior continually forgets, is their own first-world or more often than not, American privilege. This is what enables them to make such ignorant judgments about people all over the world, and more importantly this is what causes them to assume that the world divides up according to American concepts of “race.”  We’re told that white people can’t speak for “people of color,” yet at least one of the authors of this piece is white. Apparently he gets an exception. The other author doesn’t appear to be Arab. The Chicano identifies himself as non-Arab. The idea that “people of color” get to speak for all other “people of color,” is simply absurd, given the fact that many of these Americans seem so happy to speak about cultures they know literally nothing about beyond the fact that they are not traditionally considered “white” and therefore they must be “people of color.”  This is also amusing because social justice warriors often revile being treated as spokespeople for their identity group, and yet many of them have no problem being spokespeople for groups they’ve never even encountered face-to-face in their life. They’re “people of color aren’t they?” What difference is there?
Well I’m sorry, Sally Social Justice Warrior, but the real world is full of diverse groups of people who view themselves and their identity in equally diverse ways. America doesn’t get to classify the world according to its own bullshit, outdated social constructs. And that cuts right to the heart of the matter about “cultural appropriation.”

Put simply, cultural appropriation is bullshit. If you actually think this has serious application, you are wholly ignorant about human culture and history. Remember earlier when I touched on the history of the keffiyeh? Who exactly invented it? This will probably never be known. What is known is that humans adapt, and people living in hot or desert climates found it to be a good idea to cover themselves for protection from the sun. Not to mention many of those same people had very light skin, which can burn.  In Southeast Asia, it was the Cambodian Kramah or the Vietnamese Khan ran. What about the red fez? A Turkish invention? Nope. It was most likely first worn by Christians, probably Armenians. The idea of pure culture with specific attributes and traditions is largely bullshit, as human societies not only appropriated all sorts of things from other cultures, but they encouraged other cultures to appropriate from them. The Chinese famously exported their culture as a defense against steppe nomads to the North. The Arabs exported their culture via Islam, so that a Muslim in Indonesia, Siberia, or Morocco can theoretically read the exact same text that was standardized around 1400 years ago. Arabic words and expressions found their way into languages such as Persian, Russian, Turkish, and even Spanish.  Spreading your culture and appropriating good ideas from other peoples was a strategy for success, and still is. It brings people together.  Rather than discourage cultural appropriation, we ought to take a good examination of what we consider to be “our” culture and realize how much of it comes from other sources.

The reason why Americans have problems with this concept is because advanced capitalist societies like America are obsessed with individuality and “authenticity.” See, when you wear the keffiyeh, it’s not authentic because you’re not Palestinian, or at least not Chicano, which apparently is the same thing according to at least one guy. Most of the world does not give a shit about being authentic. The people running that keffiyeh factory in the West Bank need to stay in business. I think it’s good that they enable their customers to learn more about what they are buying, but if you think that’s their primary concern you’re obviously not paying attention to their words.  Authenticity is a mental disease suffered by middle-class, mostly white Americans and other Westerners who enjoy the privilege of living in advanced capitalist societies. Again, they have a form of privilege, and it’s a pretty important one which trumps a lot of others.

Now there’s one thing I must make clear before wrapping this piece up. If you actually read the rest of the article, you’ll notice some things that nobody, not only white people, should wear. Yeah, no shit you shouldn’t wear black face. Wearing coolie hats, assuming you’re not actually working in a Southeast Asian rice paddy, is a bad idea.  I’m also in agreement with the Native Americans, who have a right to be angry that they live in a country where they are treated like a foreign culture and there’s still a fucking football team called the “Redskins.”

The reason this article set me off is because of its idiotic American privilege, its hypocrisy, and the sheer ignorance when it comes to the keffiyeh. Yes, it’s about the keffiyeh. You do not fuck with my keffiyeh.


3 thoughts on “Cultural appropriation

  1. Doug

    I really love this article. I am so bewildered by this cultural appropriation bullshit. I’m currently in Jordan planning a trip to Petra. I looked up keffiyeh and ran into the shitastic artlce you referenced here.

  2. Pingback: Cultural Appropriation: A Feminist Myth | itsbosh

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