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I had caught her attention from across the party and she proceeded to waltz a waltz that only someone with a stern provocation at hand could muster. It was an innocuous Saturday night sometime mid-vortex and we had both foolishly decided to frequent “Animal House,” Gamma Beta Beta's—or whatever the damned place is called—warped version of an entertaining evening. And yes, we were both in costume.

I say “we” when in truth only moments ago I had been standing alone, nursing a handful of well-rehearsed conversations I had no intention of using. Not that she somehow saved me from social isolation—quite the contrary; I had thought that by choosing the most soiled corner of the room I would make a fortress of cracked cups and scattered cigarette butts and become beautifully unapproachable. Why feign a desire for conversation in a room brimming with familiar strangers? You must understand that I had known them all already, known the many mutterings the faces would make, known already the glancing of eyes and the formulated questions they would conjure. I had no intention of discussing present futures or bygone opportunities, and so, until she shattered my universe with a swift-footed approach, I had been resting against a wonky table, harboring a series of snarky remarks I didn't have the guts to verbalize.

“Marti, I find your costume really offensive,” she says, cutting to the chase. She accidentally steps on my foot and I tumble awkwardly into her midriff, which hardly ameliorates the situation.  

“Well, hello to you too,” I say, rearranging the cat ears that had been dislodged during our collision.

“If it's some kind of cheap joke, it's not funny.” 

“What are you talking about?” I reply, looking nonchalantly down at my leopard-spotted leotard, which if you must know, fit me rather well. Over the course of the evening however, the centerpiece of my outfit has migrated uncomfortably northwards; with the sudden attention I began to feel self-conscious. Accordingly, I attempt to subtly pry the spandex from its eager clinging. I think of telling her it was my mother's swimsuit from the '80s but realize the detail is unlikely to pacify the fuming expression that faces me.

[Related: What is the difference between cultural learning and cultural appropriation, and how do we navigate it at Columbia?]

“I'm talking about you coming here dressed as a slutty cat,” she says spitting the remnants of watered down beer into my eye. She says ‘here' as if the begrimed brownstone basement is hallowed ground, when we both know it isn't. It is at this point that I really should have left the overhyped, underwhelming apology of a ‘party.' As a self-identifying coward, I would have felt no guilt in walking away—hell, I would've sprinted clear of that airless room if necessary.

“Actually I'm an Iberian lynx,” I say before adding, “we're on the verge of extinction.”

“Oh really,” she says skeptically.

“Yeah, look,” I say, turning so as to reveal a sign pinned to my behind that reads ‘endangered,' which only provokes further fury. What follows is a tirade packed with artless political correct-ness-ness-ness. Her drivel turns to static in my ear and on reflection, all I can make out is:

“appropriation…reappropration…disappropriation…cultural association…feline structures of dominance…white male privilege…patriarchal embodiment…Are you even listening?"

“Did you know there are only 112 adult Iberian lynxes left in the world?” I offer.

“I don't care if there are only 10 left, Marti. You are totally missing the point.”

“Look who's asserting a ‘structure of dominance' now? Think people are more important than animals, huh?” I taunt in my best mock-intelligentsia voice.

The string of scholarly insults that slip from her tongue are hardly worth mentioning. I am tempted to reply that her decision to wear all beige to an “Animal House” party is a distinct demonstration of her lack of individuality. After all, I had no idea whether it was a camel, a Shetland pony, or a mouse that had been chastising me for the past five minutes. It would be rather like going to an “international” themed party dressed as a Canadian. When her tirade ends, I bow melodramatically and meander my way past fluorescent foxes and intoxicated iguanas.

Walking homeward I begin to reconsider all that she had said to me. Her words replay themselves over and over in my head. Had I been arrogant and overly defensive? Or had she been crude and dogmatic? Am I really a ‘misanthropic misogynist' or is she merely a full time devotee of the PC police?

 Richard Whiddington is a Columbia College junior majoring in East Asian languages and cultures. Whiddy Banter runs alternate Thursdays.

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political correctness cultural appropriation privilege White Privilege patriarchy
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