“Cultural Baggage”?

Does the Baltimore City Paper even have editors anymore?

In the latest “Social Studies” column by Vincent Williams, we learn of Mr. Williams’s recent purchase of a “really cool messenger bag” with a red star and a Mao Zedong quote (in Chinese characters, but the Chinatown shop clerk translated it for him) printed on the side. Then, a little while later, he chuckles about an encounter with “a Chinese dude, as in ‘from China,'” who “comments on the ‘interesting’ quote on [his] bag.” This makes Mr. Williams nervous that he might have been tricked by the shop clerk – that his bag might have something other than a Mao Zedong quote on the side, something that might make him look foolish.

I left the following comment on the article page:

Um, the Chinese guy was looking at you funny because you appeared to admire Mao, one of the worst monsters of the 20th century. If you find that “cultural baggage” a little “heavy,” maybe you should switch to a quote and symbol from a dictator who murdered fewer people than Mao. Hitler? Stalin? Go crazy…

I mean, shouldn’t the writer of a column called “Social Studies” understand the rough equivalency not only between Mao’s red star, Stalin’s hammer and sickle, and Hitler’s swastika but the atrocities they represent?

To make things worse, Williams spends part of the column describing the cultural icons he’s not willing to appropriate: no Haile Selassie or Che Guevara t-shirts for him because he “doesn’t know enough about” either one. (Note to Mr. Williams: for what it’s worth, Che was a bloody-handed, totalitarian, pro-Soviet hardliner, the architect of Cuba’s labor camps, and Castro’s go-to guy for behind-the-scenes backstabbing, so good call not hanging his face on your belly.) But since your knowledge of Mao is such that you feel comfortable making the following statement, I would think the same rationale should have applied:

And, let’s face it, even on his best day my man Mao was a complicated guy whom folks have pretty strong opinions about.


I know, I know, hardly anyone reads the City Paper columns, anyway (where are you, Funny Papers? Sandy Asirvatham?), but still.