As a student of history I have often encountered the charge that some Western people have “culturally appropriated” cultural customs or items from what used to be termed “Third World” people. This term came about during the Cold War between the U.S. and the Communist Soviet Union. The West and the U.S. were the First World; the Soviet Union and its client states, such as Eastern Europe and Communist China, were the Second World; the rest of the globe was the “Third World”. The Cold War vanished but the term “Third World” stuck, indicating a “developing” society even if everyone knows that its “development” is stuck in low gear or no gear. Thus Brazil, a Third World society, is “the society of the future and always will be” as the joke goes.

An accusation of cultural appropriation can be brought on by a white woman wearing non-Western clothing, for example wearing a traditional Chinese dress, as was in the news recently. Other accusations are against Westerners using the term “mosque” for westerners trying to start their own version of Islam which orthodox Muslims have rejected as heretical and who claim exclusive use of the term “mosque”, or against whites growing dreadlocks and starting reggae bands. What stands out is that the charge is usually made only against White Europeans (by which term I include White Americans) adopting non-European styles, customs, or practices, and not against Third-Worlders who have adopted aspects of American or European culture such as wearing blue jeans and vision-correcting glasses.

For balance this should be corrected. I think every time a non-Anglo or non-European drives a car, uses a computer, flies a plane, puts on factory-made clothing, talks on a cell phone, speaks English or any other European language, or heats or cools his home with electricity or natural gas, he or she is culturally appropriating European customs and they should stop doing this. All the above were invented by Europeans and/or White Americans,  specifically white males. Modern Science and Civilization are White Males’ gifts to the world, but credit should be given where credit is due and if a white woman can’t wear a dress without triggering a storm of protest, and if a white kid can’t grow dreadlocks and play reggae on a stage, then Third Worlders should consider returning everything that they did not invent to the inventors of those cultural artifacts. If they were then to resume wearing grass skirts and living in mud huts using candles for heat and speaking Swahili, that is no concern of mine but merely the logical outcome of their own accusations.