On Friday, author Noah Rothman appeared on "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO to discuss his latest book, "Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America."
During the segment, host Bill Maher castigated so-called social justice warriors, who he said are not actually interested in justice or truth:
I think you're on to something – I talk about it here a lot, that there is, I would say, a cancer on progressivism with some of the, I guess they call themselves social justice warriors. I don't think they're interested in justice; I don't think they're interested in truth; I think they're interested in clicks. I think they're interested in things that make people click, and when I read them it makes me glad I didn't have kids who would see this. Hey, I got a smattering of applause there.
This led to the following exchange (some asides omitted for clarity):
ROTHMAN: Well, social justice is a noble idea. It is the idea of fairness and equality and a just society. In practice, it has become antipathy towards notions like meritocracy, like you can rise above your station in life, or color blindness in institutions. White supremacists believe all this stuff, too.
MAHER: Yes, and it seems like they just say things to dare you to oppose them that would then make you a bad person. Like, they'll say, "There are 71 genders. Disagree with that, a******!"
...And what about cultural appropriation? I mean, I think that's something they talk about a lot. I feel like that's something that was just made up. It doesn't really – no one is hurt by cultural [appropriation].
Maher then wondered why white people wearing their hair in dreadlocks is seen by some as a negative appropriation of culture.
Later in the segment, journalist Mary Katharine Ham brought up the story of Liz Connelly and Kali Wilgus, who approximated traditional tortilla-making methods and recipes for their Portland, Oregon pop-up burrito cart after returning from a trip to Puerto Nuevo, Mexico.
After revealing during an interview with Willamette Week that they had gained their tortilla knowledge from speaking with Mexican women and "peeking into the windows of every kitchen" after some of the women wouldn’t reveal "too much about technique," Connelly and Wilgus were accused of "cultural appropriation." Shortly thereafter, their business closed.
Regarding this story and the cultural appropriation phenomenon, Maher said: "These people just want to b****."
According to the Oxford Dictionary, "cultural appropriation" is "the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc, of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society."
Stories of alleged cultural appropriation abound in the media, from a London restaurant that was slammed over their "vegan biryani wrap," reports The Week, to white female rapper Iggy Azalea "mimicking the vocal patterns and phrases of a Southern black girl," according to The Daily Beast.
Perhaps the primary issue regarding alleged cultural appropriation is that no one can state with any certainty what constitutes "inappropriate adoption." It’s an amorphous term, and will likely continue to be, meaning social justice warriors can stretch it to cover whatever they need it to at any time.