Appropriation Is Awful

So, this story is big news lately.

There’s a lot to be said about this that already has been said, but the biggest issue for me is one of appropriation. It isn’t okay to take elements of someone else’s culture as your own, and for me that includes elements of grief and struggle.

What comes to mind first for me is a comment by Tom Cruise about filming Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. One of the directors or producers made some silly comment about, “isn’t this like war? With the hard work and the danger?” Cruise laughed it off and essentially said, “Oh come on, we’re making a movie here.” People attributed the stupid part to Cruise, but it’s clear that he wasn’t the one making the comment. His reply was an excellent one, rejecting the appropriation of people who genuinely have to slug through war zones as part of their day job.

This situation is different, of course. This isn’t someone trying to make a false analogy, but of outright lying and using the outrage of other peoples’ experiences as a means to generate sympathy, support, and possibly financial gain for themselves. Appropriation is appropriation, but this is a particularly caustic example.

The thing is, LGBT people still suffer a great deal of discrimination. There are states still trying to block marriage equality. Californians had to fight for ten years to get the odious anti-equality amendments and propositions cleaned off the books. Matthew Shepherd was killed for being gay. It Gets Better and the Trevor Project are wonderful movements, but the fact that they have to exist to protect kids in danger of killing themselves over being bullied (often for being gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, or asexual) is a terrible thing. This is a real phenomenon and people are dying over it. 

Then you have this waitress, who has appropriated this whole situation. She’s taken the idea of the grief and fear these people genuinely have to feel and deal with every day of their lives and used it. She did so by lying – she invented this whole story about a family that didn’t tip and wrote this nasty note about her, for whatever reason. Maybe her motive was pure; maybe she just wanted to keep attention on the issue. Maybe she’s just a horrible attention seeking human being. I don’t know.

The consequences will be rather awful, to be sure. “Here,” they will say, “is our proof that this stuff is exaggerated or made up. It’s faked.” People seeking genuine assistance, or who are genuinely calling attention to true cases of bad behavior, will be forever in the shadow of “yeah, but that one time!” Claims will have to be scrutinized. The burden of proof will grow. Such claims should be validated and examined, but they shouldn’t be under a greater difficulty because this person wanted to appropriate someone else’s struggle as their own.

The weird thing is, she probably didn’t have to. She’s a Marine. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell very likely left a mark on her life, unless she joined extremely recently, which I think is unlikely. She had her own experiences she could have detailed. Why piggyback on the experiences of the waitress who dealt with the “I give god 10%” pastor? Why piggyback on the experiences of LGBT students who have to deal with genuine oppression and bigotry? Why take away from the experiences of women who still earn less than men, who still deal with sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace? 

This has harmed the cause of anyone who wants to promote equal protection before the law, equal rights in society, and equal hope for a better future. This is awful.


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