“Part of the problem with cultural appropriation is the entitlement involved—that sense that, for a certain kind of person, the whole world is waiting to be mined, packaged, and sold, regardless of what the things in question mean to people, or whom such selling benefits. Even if, from one angle, something like artisanal ghee both looks like and in fact is a product of benevolent entrepreneurism, such trends have a discomfiting similarity to the legacy of Western colonial exploitation that continues to this day.
“More than that, the story reaffirmed that one of the things that can most grate about being a minority in the West is the disparity between public and private. If it takes a pretty white woman for people to learn about the stuff your folks have always used to cook daal, the dynamics of what runs under “ethnic” as a codeword become clear.
“The ethnic—the collective traditions and practices of the world’s majority—thus works as an undiscovered country, full of resources to be mined. Rather than sugar or coffee or oil, however, the ore of the ethnic is raw material for performance and self-definition: refine this rough, crude tradition, bottle it in pretty jars, and display both it and yourself as ideals of contemporary cosmopolitanism. But each act of cultural appropriation, in which some facet of a non-Western culture is columbused, accepted into the mainstream, and commodified, reasserts the white and Western as norm—the end of a timeline toward which the whole world is moving.”