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Author Topic: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?  (Read 19603 times)

Blaithin

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Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« on: August 26, 2011, 01:09:34 am »
So in perusing a number of different threads on here I've noticed a theme. There seems to be a great semi silent battle waging about whether using aspects of different cultures is acceptable or not.

I have to admit, I've never really thought much about this myself. There's the couple different cultures that I'm attracted to and I research and I try to incorporate into my life. To me it's always been a matter of what feels right to me and what helps me fell connected to Mother Earth. I am hesitant to try new things and hence tend to ask many ridiculous questions if given the chance but still.... I'd like to know other people's opinions on this.

Is cultural appropriation acceptable, sometimes acceptable, never acceptable? What do you think :confused:

Aubrey_Rose

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #1 on: August 26, 2011, 01:56:44 am »
Quote from: Blaithin;15658
So in perusing a number of different threads on here I've noticed a theme. There seems to be a great semi silent battle waging about whether using aspects of different cultures is acceptable or not.

I have to admit, I've never really thought much about this myself. There's the couple different cultures that I'm attracted to and I research and I try to incorporate into my life. To me it's always been a matter of what feels right to me and what helps me fell connected to Mother Earth. I am hesitant to try new things and hence tend to ask many ridiculous questions if given the chance but still.... I'd like to know other people's opinions on this.

Is cultural appropriation acceptable, sometimes acceptable, never acceptable? What do you think :confused:

 


I don't see any reason its not acceptable. I use christian and pagan cultural aspects in my life. I think it all depends on the person, if you feel wrong taking, and meshing together different cultures, then you probably shouldn't do it. But if you feel more spiritually connected by meshing them, then I say go for it.
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Garm

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #2 on: August 26, 2011, 02:10:02 am »
Quote from: Blaithin;15658
Is cultural appropriation acceptable, sometimes acceptable, never acceptable?


Sometimes

Some practices are freely taught, yoga perhaps being the best example

It is a contentious issue with first nations spirituality.  A lot of them feel their beleifs are a part of what gives them group identity and there isn't much else they have been left with.  As a part native XGF said to me "They taken everything else, do they have to take the religion too?"  Now if some one is authentically godsmacked by Manitou I might understand that persons situation, but otherwise I would say leave the native corpus alone.

OTOH I have seen claims of appropriation that are just patently ridiculous.  Among the adherents of Northern Euorpean spiritualities the recons have laid claim to the word "Heathen" which is fair enough, words do take on more specialized meanings over time.  But this is a fairly recent development.  Some one might be accused of being pigheaded for continuing to use, against the current definition, the older and more inclusive meaning of the word which equates heathen being anything associated with the the Norse deities .  But to add the charge of appropriation because they are not using a definition the norse recons have foisted upon the rest of us is downright dishonest.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2011, 02:17:22 am by Garm »
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Liadine (dragonflyeyes)

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #3 on: August 26, 2011, 03:58:52 am »
Quote from: Blaithin;15658
Is cultural appropriation acceptable, sometimes acceptable, never acceptable? What do you think :confused:

 
Cultural appreciation is acceptable, trading between cultures where the power balance is even is acceptable, and learning what is freely taught/buying what is freely sold is acceptable. Cultural appropriation, however, is never acceptable. From my perspective, the differences between 'borrowing from a culture' and 'cultural appropriation' are power and the feelings of the culture being 'borrowed' from.

If a culture has been systematically exploited and destroyed, and part of that ongoing abuse included being told they couldn't take part in their own culture anymore, then there's a lot of not-okay power-over stuff when someone from the dominant culture waltzes in and cherry-picks bits of their culture (especially if they then turn around and profit from it in some way). That person might have all the best intentions, but they're functioning in a framework that tells them that it is totally okay (even their right) to cherry-pick those pieces of culture, to get them wrong, and that just because they feel a connection, somehow it is okay.

As a rule, I don't take claims of cultural appropriation from dominant groups seriously. Racists might claim they're oppressed, but... no, they're not, and the 'what heathen means' sorts have no ground to stand on. Their culture hasn't been systemically stripped away, then suddenly repackaged and sold.

Also, the feelings of the culture being borrowed from trumps pretty much everything. If they say 'no, this is our culture, you aren't invited', you stay away. End of story. Of course, a cultural group isn't a monolith, and there might be some argument within it as to what can be shared with those outside the cultural group, but when you're told to back off, back off. Going 'but so-and-so said it should be shared!' runs dangerously close to 'I have a black friend'. With cases like this, the 'what is freely taught/what is freely sold' thing is important. If someone from the culture has invited you to learn, that's fine. If someone from the culture is selling jewelry or so on based on cultural designs, supporting them is fine.

I think anyone interested in aspects of a marginalized culture has to be careful, respectful, and should keep their mouth shut if told to back off. I work with Coyote, and I'm a Canadian of Irish heritage - he showed up one day when I was very young and hasn't backed off since. Working with him has meant walking a very fine line between what I'm called to do and what would be culturally appropriative. I have to remember that being interested in something, and finding it beautiful, does not mean I'm welcome to have it, even if I am called by Coyote.

Sorry if this went a bit long or ramble-y, I just have A Lot of Feelings about cultural appropriation.
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catja6

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2011, 05:08:02 am »
Quote from: Liadine (dragonflyeyes);15685
:


I agree with everything you said, particularly the need to think carefully about institutionalized power structures and where you're coming from.

I don't think it's appropriative to be called by a god, and to act upon that: in most systems, gods are conceived of as having their own free wills to do as they damn well please.  I also think that being inspired by particular philosophical perspectives and theology is also fine.  Where it gets appropriative is when you decide that you're entitled to the *religion*. Religion is a social construct designed to meet human needs, and in the case of a tribal religion, the only people who get to decide who's in the religion are the members of the tribe. But people from Christian or culturally-Christian backgrounds often absorb the idea that religion is supposed to be universal and open to everyone, and that anyone trying to discourage or limit religious membership is meanly withholding stuff that everyone is entitled to.  

The kind-of exception to this general cultural rule is Judaism, so I'll use that as an analogy.  Most non-Jews, I think, would recognize things like lighting menorahs or calling oneself a rabbi as problematic when done by non-Jews.  That's because, in the modern West, Judaism has the status of "real religion": it's a monotheism with a strong relationship to Christianity, its systems of training and accreditation of religious professionals is well-known and recognizable, and Jews in general are widely assimilated into society at large. I'm not playing Oppression Olympics here, just pointing out that Christian-dominant society is generally familiar and tolerant enough with Judaism to look askance at non-Jews laying claim to Jewish stuff, and is somewhat willing to listen when Jews point something out as appropriative.

But First Nations tribal religions often don't look a thing like Western monotheism, and they "belong" to people who aren't considered white, who aren't as widely assimilated into dominant society, whose processes for accrediting religious leaders are not well-known, and who are as a group enormously underprivileged.  So there's not the same kind of widespread derision attached to white people who claim to be "Cherokee medicine men": First Nations religions aren't "really" religions -- they're just a mishmash of charmingly primitive spiritual practices by savages, after all, so everyone's entitled to them!  

Indigenous religions in general are dogged by fantasies of "naturalness" -- as in, this is a more "natural" way for humans to relate to the universe -- so the very real social developments and integration with the tribe's cultural history get downplayed.  You often see this in ev-psych bullshit about "natural human behavior," using the practices of modern hunter-gatherer tribes -- as if hunter-gatherer cultures that still exist today haven't changed one little bit in 20,000 years!  It's just a repackaged Noble Savage story, and it's racist as hell.

Like you, I have the same impatience with modern Neopaganisms claiming analogy with First Nations tribal religions, and the like.  Members of a religion get to define who belongs to that religion, of course, but a modern white Western jerryrig of a religious system out of historical fragments is NOT the same thing as a continuously existing tribal religion fighting for its survival in the face of systematic and ongoing oppression.  I see no reason why modern Neopagans can't say, team up with members of indigenous religions to work on things that affect all members of religious minorities in the West, but it's another thing entirely for Neopagans to lay claim to the historic and ongoing disprivileging of indigenous religions, or to pretend that their relationship to dominant society is identical.

Liadine (dragonflyeyes)

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #5 on: August 26, 2011, 05:47:45 am »
Quote from: catja6;15688
I don't think it's appropriative to be called by a god, and to act upon that: in most systems, gods are conceived of as having their own free wills to do as they damn well please.  I also think that being inspired by particular philosophical perspectives and theology is also fine.  Where it gets appropriative is when you decide that you're entitled to the *religion*


This is a really important distinction, and thank you for making it. I agree, but I totally forgot to make the point myself, and you said it better than I could have. I do think that people who have been called by gods from a marginalized culture need to be careful to separate their experience of the god from the god of the culture; if someone from that culture is discussing the god, it's fine to briefly have your say (if the forum is appropriate for that), but then I think it's important to sit down and listen.

Thank you for the rest of the post as well, you brought up a lot of important points.
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Jenett

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #6 on: August 26, 2011, 07:01:09 am »
Quote from: catja6;15688
I agree with everything you said, particularly the need to think carefully about institutionalized power structures and where you're coming from.


One of the guidelines I really like (though I can't remember for the life of me now where I found it) is "Don't go further into the religious practice than a lay person of that culture would be able to do, without additional training."

Because, generally, that solves some of the lines between the cultural practices (which, assuming you do them honestly, are not terribly likely to offend) and the stuff where people need specific experience/training/cultural recognition/whatever to do it.
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Juniperberry

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #7 on: August 26, 2011, 09:35:08 am »
Quote from: Blaithin;15658
So in perusing a number of different threads on here I've noticed a theme. There seems to be a great semi silent battle waging about whether using aspects of different cultures is acceptable or not.

I have to admit, I've never really thought much about this myself. There's the couple different cultures that I'm attracted to and I research and I try to incorporate into my life. To me it's always been a matter of what feels right to me and what helps me fell connected to Mother Earth. I am hesitant to try new things and hence tend to ask many ridiculous questions if given the chance but still.... I'd like to know other people's opinions on this.

Is cultural appropriation acceptable, sometimes acceptable, never acceptable? What do you think :confused:


There's a bit of a difference between syncretism and appropriation. Unfortunately, there aren't any clearly drawn lines on what is appropriate or not, so you move forward as carefully as possible. If you chose to willfully integrate several cultures in your life, just be mindful of those cultures and maintain the context and origin of what you have borrowed from as much as you possibly can. I always think it's important to remember that just because something feels right to you, that doesn't mean it is right. Ultimately, you should be as a respectful of other cultures/groups/religions as you can be, without denigrating and or abusing them to further your personal spiritual needs/philosophy.
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monsnoleedra

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #8 on: August 26, 2011, 10:55:20 am »
Quote from: Blaithin;15658
.. Is cultural appropriation acceptable, sometimes acceptable, never acceptable? What do you think :confused:


I think where many westerners really fail is we make something religious when its not.  To use Native American practices, its not thier religion and its not really thier social construct it's everything they are as a people.  You can't remove a single facet with out destroying or corrupting what it represents and how it fits together.

Many of the books look to it as facets of thier spirituality, social order or practice but fail in that its a facet of the greater whole.  You can't take the concept of medicine out of the people for it is thier spirit.  Its the way thier world is created and how they are placed within it and it about them.  You can't take things like Medicine Person out for they exist within the confines of the social system and call upon the same spirits, guides and ancestors that the whole system calls upon.  It's not just a practice but an intrigual balance of the whole.
 
Then add in there is no such thing as Nativer American practice for each nation and tribal order within it had unique and seperate practices.  Granted some things were similiar, especially within given areas, yet unique to each.  Today many exploit the Lakota and Cherokee peoples mostly but call the whole Native american.

Sometimes its a fine line to tread.  I use some terms and practices that would fall into Native practices found in the Eastern Mountains.  But the thing is I don't claim to be of a certain nation but have been told that it is proper to use them for I am part of the land.  There in was one critical facet that I was told for I use the native name (when possible) which is proper for the place I live and the spirits of that place.

Sort of the threory when in Rome do as the Romans.

I think where cultural appropriation is really wrong is when you take the shell but do not include the inner works.  One takes the surface things that are visible but drops the checks and balances of the system and just what it means on all levels to the grouping they lifted it from.

To use NA practices again as an example, the Sweat Lodge ceremonies that are being lifted and used.  The recent loss of life in the Arizona situation is an example of taking of the shell but not the reason, concept and practices of the ceremony and ritual.  One can add or factor in the Vision Quest that was tied to it as well and the reason for doing so.  So titles and idea's were taken but it held none of the reasons or beliefs in the why of it and just how closely it is all tied to the people and their perspective of self.

Someone mentioned Manitou which is a word I do use when I speak of the medicine of things about me.  Is it appropriation?  Perhaps but i'm told I use it correctly and only use it limitly.  Yet its also one of those things where I knew the concept but until I heard Manitou I never had a name for it or a identifier that felt right.  Though I have to admit I was told I am descended from the Algonquin nation (No I can't prove it so don't claim it) but Gitchi Manitou laid claim to me.

Hopefully this has answered your question though at the moment I can't say if it has or not but it is what I was compelled to write.

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #9 on: August 26, 2011, 11:05:34 am »
Quote from: Blaithin;15658
Is cultural appropriation acceptable, sometimes acceptable, never acceptable? What do you think :confused:

 
"Appropriation, n.:  The action of taking something for one's own use, typically without the owner's permission."

I don't often go to the dictionary to clarify questions, but really, this one is pretty straightforward.
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Darkhawk

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #10 on: August 26, 2011, 11:13:18 am »
Quote from: catja6;15688
But First Nations tribal religions often don't look a thing like Western monotheism, and they "belong" to people who aren't considered white, who aren't as widely assimilated into dominant society, whose processes for accrediting religious leaders are not well-known, and who are as a group enormously underprivileged.  So there's not the same kind of widespread derision attached to white people who claim to be "Cherokee medicine men": First Nations religions aren't "really" religions -- they're just a mishmash of charmingly primitive spiritual practices by savages, after all, so everyone's entitled to them!  

Indigenous religions in general are dogged by fantasies of "naturalness" -- as in, this is a more "natural" way for humans to relate to the universe -- so the very real social developments and integration with the tribe's cultural history get downplayed.  You often see this in ev-psych bullshit about "natural human behavior," using the practices of modern hunter-gatherer tribes -- as if hunter-gatherer cultures that still exist today haven't changed one little bit in 20,000 years!  It's just a repackaged Noble Savage story, and it's racist as hell.

 
The thing that makes it particularly fraught is that a lot of Westerners suffer from the delusion that they don't have a culture or ethnic identity.  "White suburbia", that's not a tribe, that's not an identity, that's just a default state of being.  "Identity" is something that minority groups have.

Which feeds into the colonialist impulse to believe that something another people has is a human right: people are trying to fill their own soul-emptiness with magpie-scraps of other people's religion.  Rather than have the strength of their own place, they want to slide into a place that has the cachet of being real, of being special, of being meaningful, by the simple fact that it isn't a tidy fit in "part of the mainstream culture".

The number of suburban teenagers (and older, alas) I've encountered who have said something to the effect of "I don't have a culture" while drinking their fucking Diet Coke, driving their junk hand-me-down cars, and making plans for Super Bowl Sunday is immense.  And the sense of wounded entitlement - the 'I have nothing, so why will you not give me what's yours?  How can you not share with the impoverished and empty?  I have to make up some Native Spirituality because otherwise I have no soul!' that comes from that cultural place where "culture" is just "normal" and its outward, crushing pressure on everything else in the world makes it ... nonexistent ... is immense.


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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #11 on: August 26, 2011, 11:30:31 am »
Quote from: catja6;15688
I agree with everything you said, particularly the need to think  Most non-Jews, I think, would recognize things like lighting menorahs or calling oneself a rabbi as problematic when done by non-Jews.  .

 
As an aside, Jews don't actually have a problem with non-Jews lighting menorahs as long as it is done properly and the appropriate prayers are said.  The problem would be if you called yourself a Jew without being born into the faith or going through conversion.

Sperran

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #12 on: August 26, 2011, 01:49:03 pm »
Quote from: Blaithin;15658

Is cultural appropriation acceptable, sometimes acceptable, never acceptable? What do you think :confused:


My answer is simple......my ancestors are Irish on my father's side and Native American (Seminole to be exact) on my mother's side. Why SHOULDN'T I mesh both of them into my daily life?
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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #13 on: August 26, 2011, 04:00:40 pm »
Quote from: Darkhawk;15722

The number of suburban teenagers (and older, alas) I've encountered who have said something to the effect of "I don't have a culture" while drinking their fucking Diet Coke, driving their junk hand-me-down cars, and making plans for Super Bowl Sunday is immense.  And the sense of wounded entitlement - the 'I have nothing, so why will you not give me what's yours?  How can you not share with the impoverished and empty?  I have to make up some Native Spirituality because otherwise I have no soul!' that comes from that cultural place where "culture" is just "normal" and its outward, crushing pressure on everything else in the world makes it ... nonexistent ... is immense.


"Pardon him. Theodotus: he is a barbarian, and thinks that the customs of his tribe and island are the laws of nature."  - George Barnard Shaw


I'm so glad I grew out of that phase before I hit 20.

Thank you guys so much for this thread. I was brought up and raised by my dad to believe that I was 'descended from a long line of Cherokee shamans', so this topic holds special interest to me. Luckily for me I tend to do my own research into things, so I knew enough to know that what he said was more than a bit...problematic.
 
Yes, most of my ancestors are Cherokee, but that doesn't give me a right to that culture. I did not grow up in it, I haven't had to deal with the hardships they have. For all intensive purposes, I'm a part of the privileged group that tends to oppress. Having stories of Spear Finger told to me as a young child does not give me a right to claim membership of that group. That's something I've had to teach myself over the years, and I'm just happy that I didn't embarrass myself as much as I could have, with my parents telling me at every turn that I did have that right.

Coyote called me as well, and I've had to do my best to be respectful in dealing with Him while still keeping on that fine line. It's a process, and I'm still learning how to do it properly.

Catherine

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #14 on: August 27, 2011, 03:32:19 am »
Quote from: hufflee;15744
My answer is simple......my ancestors are Irish on my father's side and Native American (Seminole to be exact) on my mother's side. Why SHOULDN'T I mesh both of them into my daily life?


I think meshing is a different thing, though. I mean, depending on how you do it, it doesn't necessarily have to be appropriation. You can honor your ancestors and incorporate certain traditions into your practices without making claims you have no right to.

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