A new joke has been making rounds in Russia, and, it seems, it has become wildly popular in that country. Here it is:
A guy who happens to be a foreign spy enters a pub somewhere in Russia. The regulars take one look at him and say: “You speak like a Russian, and you dress like a Russian, but you definitely aren’t Russian.”
So, the newcomer orders a glass (stakan, 100 grams they call it) of Stolichnaia vodka and downs it. The regulars shrug and say: “You speak like a Russian, you dress like a Russian, and you drink like a Russian, but you definitely aren’t Russian.”
Now desperate, the newcomer breaks into kazachok (a Russian dance). The regulars shrug and say: “You speak like a Russian, you dress like a Russian, you drink like a Russian, and you dance like a Russian, but you definitely aren’t Russian.”
The guy returns home to America, goes straight to his spy chief’s office and reports he failed.
“Hell,” the spy commander yells, “you Afro-Americans screw up everything you touch!”
Why all this?
The trickle of accusations that this or that equals cultural misappropriation has grown into a veritable flood.
Mostly, the cries deal with the names of sports organizations. Just as mostly, they come from people whose jobs should not exist, that’s how irrelevant they are.
Just a few examples: professor of Canadian and Indigenous history at the University of Manitoba, a Dr. Sean Carleton, posted a Twitter message on the subject of NHL club Vancouver Canucks’ logo. It shows a killer whale or orca. And Dr. Carleton, who obviously must be bored beyond humane limits, is upset. The logo, he says, uses elements of Coast Salish or Haida design.
This is not the first time in recent history that the Canucks got into hot water.
In an attempt to get better in goal, they hired Braden Holtby, a Stanley Cup winner with his previous team, the Washington Capitals. In order to show respect for the people of the area he was moving to, Holtby had his mask re-painted, using Indian (First Nations, in the politically correct lingo) motives.
Unfortunately, Holtby used the services of an artist who could not claim even an ounce of Indian blood.
Holtby committed an act of cultural misappropriation. Thus Dr. Carleton.
Instead of sending Dr. Carleton a request that he direct his steps into an area better not described in mixed company (or at the dinner table, your choice), Holtby apologized profusely, and commissioned a local Indian artist to paint him another mask.
Holtby must have realized that by signing with the Canucks he joined a world ruled mercilessly by idiots. The club’s owner, one Francesco Aquiini, had just fired the team’s anthem singer, Mark Donnelly. Poor Mark’s sin: he sang O Canada at a rally that protested the new mandatory facemask fashion.
If Dr. Carleton’s was a lone voice in the Sahara Desert, fine, we’re entitled to being idiots, this is a democracy, after all.
But if this becomes a new fashion, then, alas, something is desperately wrong.
And it has: most recently Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Cleveland Indians announced that they will be changing their name. Canadian Football League’s (CFL) Edmonton Eskimos and National Football League’s (NFL) Washington Redskins have already dropped their former names. They are nameless while this is being written. MLB’s Atlanta Braves, NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, and NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks have yet to announce their plans, if any.
Of course, the Blackhawks have, for the time being, banned wearing your typical Indian attire, starting with warbonnets and sundry headbands, to their home games. People who would insist on wearing this kind of traditional attire without showing proof they are of 100-per-cent Indian blood would be asked to leave the arena forthwith. No word yet on whether they would be reimbursed for their tickets and parking fees. No word yet, either, on whether the Blackhawks would be demanding that other teams introduce this policy, too, whenever their club drops by for a road game.
Those who defend this example of perfectly clinical moronism point to the fact that, for example, the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes asked the Hopi tribe leaders for permission to use Kachina in their logo.
For the uninitiated: Kachina is a spirit being in the religious beliefs of the Indian cultures located in the south-western part of the United States.
Since the Arizona Coyotes’ current existence is closely (some would say too closely) linked to Indian gambling institutions in the area, their Kachina obedience is easily explained.
But the principle is not.
Step in different shoes
Is it cultural misappropriation when many Indians, chiefs included, wear trousers (with belts or suspenders, or both), white shirts with ties, and jackets, with polished shoes on their feet?
(To avoid any potential misunderstanding: ties worn around people’s necks are also known as cravats. Croatian soldiers who, a couple of centuries ago, lived in France, were wearing this kind of nonsense, the French, fashionistas as they always have been, adopted it, calling it croats, which quickly led to a mutation: cravats. Most Croats would become acquainted with the Indians only when some German filmmakers decided to change Karl May’s imagined stories into films about a noble savage named Winnetou. They filmed most of the Wild West sequences in Croatia. May was behind bars for some allegedly serious insurance swindle when he wrote his Indian stories. He had one fact right: Winnetou really existed. He was the chief of the Mescalero Apaches (and the Apaches in general, with the Navajo included). His father was Intschu-tschuna and he had a sister Nscho-tschi. Both of these names appear in the film series. Everything else was Karl May’s imagination, including the Germanic ways all of his characters – including the Indians – lived under.)
Or: is it cultural misappropriation when Louis Armstrong sings about Moses who heard from the Lord he should tell the Egyptian Pharaohs to let his people go? Are the gospels cultural misappropriation?
Of course not. And neither is Karl May’s Winnetou.
While useful, Canadian and Indigenous history studies should keep to studying history. Activism, such as that shown by Dr. Carleton, would seem to indicate there’s not much material to study. A wrong conclusion, by the way. Canada’s history is pretty rich, and a lot of it deserves to be discovered yet. Unable or unwilling to dig deeper, the activists have invented a brand new field for their efforts.
Except: this is no longer history. If they are sincere, they would stop collecting wages as historians and start fundraising for their activism.