One current buzzword in academia is “cultural appropriation,” which has been defined as “taking an element from a disenfranchised group and turning it into a commodity or entertainment.” Think, the Washington Redskins’ name and mascot. Being sensitive to others in an increasingly inclusive society is generally a commendable thing.
The laboratory for this social change is the college campus, and in that lab the test tubes will sometimes bubble over. We saw it happen last month at the University of Missouri, where students and faculty tried to block a student journalist from reporting in a public space. And we’ve seen it again at the University of Ottawa, where a volunteer yoga teacher’s free sessions at the university’s Center for Students with Disabilities were canceled by the Student Federation due to “cultural appropriation.”
Teacher Jennifer Scharf was told in an email exchange by a member of the Student Federation that “yoga has been under a lot of controversy lately due to how it is being practiced” and which cultures those practices “are being taken from.” Those cultures “experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and Western supremacy,” the email said. “We need to be mindful of this and how we express ourselves while practicing yoga.”
Like in Missouri, the test tubes have again bubbled over. But rather than try to clean up the mess, we suggest that it is time to end the experiment and move on to something else. “People are just looking for a reason to be offended by anything they can find,” Scharf rightly told the Ottawa Sun.
In the race to combat injustice, real and imagined, some people will go to extremes. At the University of Ottawa, the students apparently forgot that fighting the fact that culture has no borders can lead to the creation of a culture police. And that move makes no sense.
The Ottawa Student Federation so lacked empathy and a sense of humor that its email exchange with Scharf looks like the draft of a comedy spoof. Taking the Ottawa students’ argument to its next logical step, salsa — the most-popular condiment in North America, having surpassed ketchup years ago — would be banned as a culturally misappropriated foodstuff. So, for that matter, would hummus and cornbread.
It’s not often that the satiric newspaper The Onion knocks one out of the park, but a recent headline on this topic pretty much says all there is to the kind of nonsense that has taken place in our neighbor to the north: “Report: Majority Of Nation’s Civic Engagement Centered Around Oppressing Other People.” We urge would-be members of a future culture police to be more mindful.