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There is no “authentic” culture

The New York Times publishes a lot of strange op-eds today. Yesterday I saw one titled “The Spectacle of Latinx Colorism”. The use of the term “Latinx” is a cue that something is “up,” as I know that The New York Times seems to leave it up the author. The author in this case is Ecuadorian in origin…so part of the tiny minority of Latinos who prefer Latinx.

The reality of colorism and to be frank pro-white and pro-European sentiments among Latinos is a real phenomenon. But this section jumped out at me:

I cherish being a mixed-race person. Some of my mestizo family’s most ingrained traditions come from the Black Caribbean, like the salsa from Joe Arroyo, whose songs kept my head held high when I felt shame as an undocumented student at Harvard. We sometimes speak Quechua at home, especially to describe good or bad feelings in the body that don’t have words in English or Spanish. But I am not Black and I am not native. I have had to decide for myself what is a respectful enactment of my culture and what might be romanticization of ancestors I don’t know. What is an authentic expression of my culture and what is appropriation? It takes deep personal reflection. It takes education.

The premise here seems to be that one’s culture is conditional on one’s biology. And who gets to decide “authentic” expression?

If you are a person of mixed racial background does it take more education to figure out your culture? Is life harder for you? All these things are arguments against people mixing then, and this is another way in which strands of “woke” racial thought converge with sorts of racial nationalism.

17 thoughts on “There is no “authentic” culture

  1. What a terrible choice for the editorial page. I say that not because it’s badly written, but because it fails to have anything resembling a concrete opinion. It’s just the woman writing from her personal experience in an extremely disjointed manner. The only common thread is discussing colorism in her experience of Latin American culture, but even the typical marginally-informed Times reader would be aware of that.

  2. Gnosticism. It is all Gnosticism. Looking for the gnosis with your pneuma. It is all heresy and nonsense.

    “It’s a weirdly US thing, this obsession with “authenticity”.”

    It is French lumenphilosphes version of German Idealism. The correct Yiddish word is Narishkeit.

  3. From a sample size of 980 self reported Latino, the summary of the specific self reported race,

    Pct | N | Race
    54.49 | 534 | Latino
    36.33 | 356 | Latino White
    2.76 | 27 | Black Latino
    1.33 | 13 | Asian Latino
    1.12 | 11 | Latino NatAm
    1.12 | 11 | Asian Latino White
    0.92 | 9 | Latino NatAm White
    0.92 | 9 | Black Latino White
    0.41 | 4 | Latino MENA White
    0.31 | 3 | Black Latino NatAm White
    0.1 | 1 | Latino MENA
    0.1 | 1 | Asian Latino NatAm White
    0.1 | 1 | Asian Black Latino

    Does education influences the self identification?? It seems not that much.

    Pct | N | Edu | ‘Latino’
    29.18 | 286 | Degree | Latino
    1.63 | 16 | High School | Latino
    12.35 | 121 | Master | Latino
    0.61 | 6 | ? | Latino
    1.94 | 19 | PhD | Latino
    1.94 | 19 | Professional degree | Latino
    6.84 | 67 | Some college | Latino


    Pct | N | Edu | ‘Admixed’
    22.45 | 220 | Degree | Admixed
    1.33 | 13 | High School | Admixed
    14.9 | 146 | Master | Admixed
    1.33 | 13 | PhD | Admixed
    2.14 | 21 | Professional degree | Admixed
    3.37 | 33 | Some college | Admixed

  4. Latino NatAm?? Is the Rio Grande the determinant? If so, who are the Latinos in Southern California? The Amerindians were there before the Spanish conquest, and there was a significant amount of interbreeding. So, are the Californians Latinos or Native Americans? Are they mestizos or something else?

    Whatever happened to the chicanos? Was Caesar Chavez non-Latino? By the way, there was a movement in some California town to remove Chavez’s name from a school, because he opposed immigration. He was defending his ??? agricultural workers from competition from Mexicans and Central Americans.

  5. It would be an argument against mixing races but they will never admit it. They also will not admit that mixing certain races will be a detriment for their children in their utopian society. If you’re non-white, the last thing you want is your child to have 50% white privilege. How will they ever climb the woke social ladder? On the other hand there is much incentive for white people to race mix.

  6. What makes this non-authentic is the way her entire writing and eisegesis of her culture is geared towards the neuroses of upper middle class white Americans.

    Like “Bollywood dancing” and “Naan bread,” this reeks of NYT pandering instead of a genuine engagement with her culture.

  7. Its an old issue in America. Germans from very different places and cultural backgrounds started to imitate the most iconic German customs in American pop culture from Bavarian folklore.
    Many such clothes, customs and foods were not even present in all of Bavaria, but became kind of a tourist attraction like dancing tribals anywhere in the world.
    In America Prussian descended Germans in Lederhosen are serving Bavarian sausages at their “German festivals”.
    The individualisation and commercialisation, with the lack of any real ethnocultural tradition creates such oddities.
    And it creates a need and search for authentic cultural elements, because American society and Capitalism within its pluralistic immigrant society lacks it. Its shallow, heterogenous base creates this romantic crave in many people emotionally unhappy with this reality.
    The sad thing is, the more they try, the more strange and ridiculous it becomes sometimes, because its not naturally grown and usually ends up in some kind of political power game or profit oriented business model, or both.

  8. @Karl Zimmerman & Brett

    Someone, can’t remember who, wrote that entire fields of the academic humanities had been turned into exercises in autoethnography: “Here I am, I have this identity, this is how I feel about who I really am, let me extrapolate grand theories about identity, society, and history as a whole from this.” Frantz Fanon was an early progenitor of this trend, combining French existential thought, leftist politics, and psychoanalysis’s obsession with sexual feelings, particularly after Wilhelm Reich treated them as something to be embraced fully rather than managed, as an expression of your “authentic self.” Much Western philosophy since the 1930s when existentialism took root has been grappling with notions of authenticity, the contours of what the core “authentic self” is changing generationally: for people born in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, it was sexual feelings, for Gen Xers, it was drugs, music, and feelings of alienation, for millennials it appears to fast becoming race and ethnicity.

  9. @obs, the fake neopaganism that is a common subculture in Europe (“Viking metal” and “Celtic rock” and such) has got to be the worst examples of this sort of fake cultural reconstruction with no real connection with actual history.

  10. I’m married to a Central American and having acquainted myself with my wife’s home country and with Latin America more broadly for the past two decades, I would argue that the sentences above are some of the most American, least Latin American words she could have written. Regardless of what she claims to be struggling with culture-wise, she seems to be assimilated into American culture now.

  11. There Is No “Authentic” Culture

    It is quantum.

    If you try to delineate it or study it it not authentic.

  12. The topic about ‘authenticity’ is about the truthful history. Can we talk about authentic culture based on falsified history? If we ignore, hide or call chauvinistic (!) the oldest culture in Europe, how can we talk about authenticity? Is for e.g. Corded Ware authentic culture or a pale shadow of some other culture? Someone mentioned Prussians probably not knowing that they were not Germans then germanised Serbs who spoke Serbian until 200 years ago when this was finally prohibited by law. What is the ‘authentic’ culture behind the hozentregers and sausages? Or, if we don’t (want to) know who were Vikings and Goths, can we competently and credibly talk about authenticity? Is the instant, sc. ‘ancient’ Greek mythology, appropriated from indigenous people, something authentic? The language is a founding stone of every culture, but we don’t want to open up our minds and hear anything different from what we already ‘know’. We don’t want to know for e.g. that ‘ancient’ Latin and Greek languages are artificial and that Romance languages did not come out from Latin. And, which language is really ‘authentic’ i.e. organically developed? Now, it is possible to establish this almost exactly as in genetics.

    Btw, to congratulate to Norway’s Karsten Warholm who smashed his own world record to win the Olympic men’s 400 metres hurdles gold in one of the best Olympic races ever. In OT we already explained the origin of Holm in his name.

    Olympic games – which are they authentically?

  13. @j> there is much incentive for white people to race mix

    White seems to be very conservative. From a sample of 23,255 self reported White, 95.6% only self identified as “pure” White. Oh. I forgot to mention that it was from a self reported salary survey so the sample only consists of those employed. This race diversity data make the summary of salary data without multiple counting very tricky. The originator of the survey seems not that familiar with data analysis. On the other hand this gives a view on the specific race diversity.

    Pct | N | Race
    95.63 | 22238 | White
    1.53 | 356 | Latino White
    1.44 | 335 | Asian White
    0.52 | 122 | Black White
    0.33 | 77 | MENA White
    0.29 | 68 | NatAm White
    0.05 | 11 | Asian Latino White
    0.04 | 9 | Latino NatAm White
    0.04 | 9 | Black Latino White
    0.02 | 5 | Black NatAm White
    0.02 | 5 | Asian Black White
    0.02 | 4 | Latino MENA White
    0.02 | 4 | Black MENA White
    0.02 | 4 | Asian NatAm White
    0.01 | 3 | Black Latino NatAm White
    na | 1 | MENA NatAm White
    na | 1 | Black MENA NatAm White
    na | 1 | Asian MENA White
    na | 1 | Asian Latino NatAm White
    na | 1 | Asian Black NatAm White

  14. @ Mekal,

    I had to read a fair amount of “western ethnography” in college. I by and large hated it, and (as a leftist, then and now) I saw it as an inherently apolitical field – and generally boring to boot.

    The problem with it is a lack of emphasis. For example, I once read a book on black suburbia, and distinctly remember a transition from a cogent discussion of the experience of racism to the importance of sneakers. By making no authoritative statements and presenting all aspects on equal footing, it to some extent trivializes the heavy policy stuff. Saying the personal is political is all well and good, but if everything is political, nothing is political at the same time.

    I would also say they tend to fail in developing deeper understanding of others in that all-too-oft they tend to focus on what makes us different over what unites us. I mean yeah, that is literally what ethnographic work is supposed to do. But humans have a remarkable ability to show empathy for others. This is arguably the entire basis of the popularity of dramatic fiction, which usually hinges on finding something to identify with in the main characters. Essays that treat our experience of life as something like a dead beetle in a case – to be classified and filed away – will never have any emotional resonance.

    I suppose what I’m really saying is there are two primary effective modes of long-form human communication – the argument and the story. Ethnographies (self or otherwise) are neither – they are essentially textbooks. Few people read textbooks for fun. Hell, I do myself – if it’s a subject I’m interested in – but the lack of a cohesive narrative means I’m free to skip to the sections that interest me (or contain new information).

  15. Latinos are just southern europeans with varying degrees of African and/or Native American influence(racially, genetically, culturally etc). And by latino, I mean a person that speaks Spanish or Portuguese as his or her first language as well as grew up in a catholic latin household and community.

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