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Author Topic: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?  (Read 20341 times)

Valentine

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #15 on: August 27, 2011, 06:00:00 am »
Quote from: Sperran;15729
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


And yet I think the average Jew would have a problem with a Gentile who claimed, without accreditation, to be a rabbi or a cohen; who set up a new Temple under their direction and advertised it as Real Authentic Judaism, especially as More Real Than That Synagogue Down the Street; who told Jews they were doing Judaism wrong and hadn't read this book or that book and honestly what were they thinking; or who, say, opened an Ashkenazic home-cooking restaurant and put some Jews out of business or sold Real!  Authentic!  Jewish!  Crafts!  

Similarly, I have known many Jews who grow deeply angry with Messianic Jews, many of whom are effectively Gentile Christians who have chosen to take on some Jewish cultural trappings and traditions while leaving the parts they don't like, and with Christian Kabbalists or groups like the "Kabbalah Center" that a: disconnect Kabbalah from its very, very Jewish context, its grounding in Hebrew, etc., but still, say, sell "Kabbalah water" and "Kabbalah bracelets" for profit as though that is meaningful.  And while I am not myself a particularly practicing Jew any more, if one of my Christian or Buddhist friends from seminary lectured me about the proper way to light my menorah or fast for Yom Kippur, I would not be best pleased.

Replying more generally:
Cultural sharing is one thing, and syncretism another, and I practice both enthusiastically.  Many of our ancestors did, and as a mixed-race person raised in a mixed-religion household, I can't avoid it.  I love foods from all over the world, I took in a lot of Chicano culture that I was surrounded with growing up but not born to, I adore Bollywood movies and Delta blues and one of the Gods I pray to came from an Egypt I have only the most tenuous connections to as an individual.  
But as noted above, cultural appropriation involves a power dynamic:  specifically, people from a dominant culture taking what they like from a culture they have power over, without consultation, without context, and with a sense of entitlement, of having the right to take and claim and use whatever they please.  It's this notion that cultures can be commodified, that the things that matter about a culture are what can be bought and sold.  There are "plastic shamans" out there with not a drop of First Nations heritage selling "Native American" goods and, among out things, outcompeting the real crafters, selling access to religious rituals that were sacred and limited before, while refusing to acknowledge that the land they are standing on was won by genocide and deceit.  (I know one such, and work with him.  He says, of his work as a Vision Quest guide and shaman, that as his family has been on this continent for a few generations now, it's his land, and his religion, and belongs to him.  He insists that he speaks for it, over the objections of some Native people.  He doesn't mention that if his family his been here that long, they were involved in the removal and killing of the people whose religion he has taken as his own.  His piety is sincere and genuine, and he is a nice man, but this, kids, is called privilege.)  As an Asian, I am constantly bombarded with people fascinated at the "exoticness" of East Asian cultures who want to pick out the pretty bits--the food, the aesthetics, the movies, the tragic Spring Break tattoos, the misconceptions about this martial art or that social role, the Halloween costumes--but not deal with us, the people.  (The "Sexy Geisha" costume or whatever is way less funny when you have had guys expect you to be sexually available to them just because your skin's a certain color and your eyes are a certain shape.  The "me love you long time" gag is also way less funny when it has been shouted at you from cars or you had relatives forced into prostitution by occupying armies.  You know.)  I grew up around plenty of white people who wanted to claim hip-hop and soul food and blues music as their own but would not abide a black person in their neighborhood or marrying into their family, who would not engage with the history of oppression that is intimately linked into the history and flavor of all those art forms.  Hawai'ian natives are economically and politically oppressed in a nation that was taken by military force, only to have their colonizers sell the "authentic Hawaiian experience" in hotels built over bulldozed temples.  I have watched New Agers who went to the Exotic East to learn the Wisdom of the Orient lecture born-and-raised Buddhists who are praying to any of the many Gods prayed to by any of the many denominations of Buddhism, because in said New Agers' understanding, Buddhism is, like, more of a philosophy than a religion, and, like, doesn't have Gods.  When one of my schoolmates, who is a real live Egyptian from Egypt, took issue with the ib and ma'at marks on my shoulders, it was my job to listen respectfully to her and do my level best to understand her concerns--and not to get defensive and huffy and tell her that, you know, a God told me to do it and how dare she question me.  (Of course, a God did tell me to do it, and I do as I'm told.  He didn't tell me to get petulant and superior about it.  I honor Him by acting like a grownup.)

This appropriation thing, it's a thing.  And the things we do may seem small and personal but they add up, and what they add up to is an enormous cultural and economic juggernaut that is actively painful for a lot of people, and it simply behooves us to be respectful, mind our manners, and be mindful of what we're doing and why.  Context and power dynamics always, always matter.

(Darkhawk's above point about people who think they have no culture trying to suck up other people's, instead of getting in touch with their own context, is trenchant.)
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treekisser

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #16 on: August 27, 2011, 07:04:01 am »
Quote from: Darkhawk;15722
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.

This is a misconception among non-Westerners too. I remember my mother once said to me, 'They don't have any culture do they?' (about you people :) ) and, after pointing out food, clothes, movies, mannerisms etc, I still don't think she was convinced. It's just so pervasive that it's seen as a 'norm' rather than another identity.

Although my impression is that apart from America and Britain, it's only a norm across the Commonwealth. The few continental Europeans I've run into seem more secure in their own national identities and rather blase about mass Anglo-American culture.
« Last Edit: August 27, 2011, 07:05:06 am by treekisser »

sailor

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #17 on: August 27, 2011, 07:19:03 am »
Quote from: Valentine;15895

(snip)
But as noted above, cultural appropriation involves a power dynamic:  specifically, people from a dominant culture taking what they like from a culture they have power over, without consultation, without context, and with a sense of entitlement, of having the right to take and claim and use whatever they please.  It's this notion that cultures can be commodified, that the things that matter about a culture are what can be bought and sold.  (snip)

This appropriation thing, it's a thing.  And the things we do may seem small and personal but they add up, and what they add up to is an enormous cultural and economic juggernaut that is actively painful for a lot of people, and it simply behooves us to be respectful, mind our manners, and be mindful of what we're doing and why.  Context and power dynamics always, always matter.

(Darkhawk's above point about people who think they have no culture trying to suck up other people's, instead of getting in touch with their own context, is trenchant.)

 
I have to disagree with the whole power thing.  By making it a power dynamic it impllies that somebody from certain cultures can do something, but if the borrowing goes the other way it's perfectly acceptable.

China and India are significant powers (huge populations, growing regional military & economic powers, starting a cultural export market) so anybody using Hindu or Confucian / Chinese stuffs can mangle those beliefs / etc with no consequence.

sailor

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #18 on: August 27, 2011, 07:27:34 am »
Quote from: Valentine;15895
And yet I think the average Jew would have a problem with a Gentile who claimed, without accreditation, to be a rabbi or a cohen; who set up a new Temple under their direction and advertised it as Real Authentic Judaism, especially as More Real Than That Synagogue Down the Street; who told Jews they were doing Judaism wrong and hadn't read this book or that book and honestly what were they thinking; or who, say, opened an Ashkenazic home-cooking restaurant and put some Jews out of business or sold Real!  Authentic!  Jewish!  Crafts!  

 
The average Jew would have a problem with another Jew who claimed without accrediation to be a rabbi or a cohen.

You don't need a power dynamic for an action to be offensive.

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #19 on: August 27, 2011, 11:32:46 am »
Quote from: Sperran;15729
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.


Apparently Hindus don't mind appropriation so much either, as long as it isn't done for profit. There was some pagan convention a little while ago where Hindu leaders also came, and the pagans asked the Hindus how they felt about non-Hindus honouring their gods, and the Hindus said it was fine and actually encouraged people to do so, as long as they weren't using them to profit. Of course following Hindu deities doesn't make a person a Hindu, so I'm sure it would be more problematic for a non-Hindu to call themselves Hindu without undergoing conversion with an official sect.
 
Quote from: Darkhawk;15722
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.


"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 not sure I understand what you're saying. Whether "white suburbia" is a culture/ethnic identity or not, many people still don't find it satisfying or fulfilling, and may gravitate towards the nearest thing that does help them to feel spiritually connected to the land and divinity. Aboriginal traditions may be popular within paganism because they are more or less living traditions people can observe and experience rather than dead cultures they have to reconstruct with intense research. They're also more local and not based on some foreign land that a person in North America may have never been and doesn't feel in tune with.

I don't really see the problem if a white suburbanite wants to be inspired by Aboriginal spirituality if that's what he or she is into, as long as they aren't claiming a specific identity they haven't earned.

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #20 on: August 27, 2011, 02:46:12 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;15941

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Whether "white suburbia" is a culture/ethnic identity or not, many people still don't find it satisfying or fulfilling, and may gravitate towards the nearest thing that does help them to feel spiritually connected to the land and divinity.

 
Regardless of whether or not someone finds their culture "satisfying or fulfilling", it is really damn problematic for people to claim that they don't have a culture, especially when their culture is overwhelming the whole world.

And it's even more problematic when they decide that their personal spiritual emptiness is something that Aboriginal people are in some way obligated to fill, and that there is something wrong with people who aren't going to jump and give them the happies they want.
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Juniperberry

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #21 on: August 27, 2011, 03:11:49 pm »
Quote from: Carnelian;15941



I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Whether "white suburbia" is a culture/ethnic identity or not, many people still don't find it satisfying or fulfilling, and may gravitate towards the nearest thing that does help them to feel spiritually connected to the land and divinity.

I don't really see the problem if a white suburbanite wants to be inspired by Aboriginal spirituality if that's what he or she is into, as long as they aren't claiming a specific identity they haven't earned.

 
American culture is sort of the end result of appropriation. What we're left with is a confusing identity without context, tradition, or meaning. I don't know that more appropriation is the answer.
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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #22 on: August 27, 2011, 04:57:43 pm »
Quote from: sailor;15900
I have to disagree with the whole power thing.  By making it a power dynamic it implies that somebody from certain cultures can do something, but if the borrowing goes the other way it's perfectly acceptable.

China and India are significant powers (huge populations, growing regional military & economic powers, starting a cultural export market) so anybody using Hindu or Confucian / Chinese stuffs can mangle those beliefs / etc with no consequence.

 
Let me put it more this way, then:  for a businessman from India to adopt Western-style business suits isn't appropriation.  It is a necessary borrowing from a more dominant culture in order to do business with them.  A kid in the Philippines eating McDonald's isn't appropriating American culture.  The power dynamics make the difference.  

Everyone's got some power, in a system, but China and India having some power on the global market doesn't change that there's a power relationship.  It means they have a given power relationship with some places--Cambodia, let's say, or Somalia--and another power relationship with, say, the United States.  It's not just about the power or lack thereof of the folk being borrowed from; it's about the power and the dynamic with the folk doing the borrowing, and the reluctance of the borrowers to admit that power.  I refer again to my colleague who has put out his shingle as a Native-style shaman despite being entirely of European descent.  He doesn't think of himself as privileged, and doesn't like to consider the ways he has an unearned advantage over actual Native people, but he does have such an advantage, and there is a power dynamic there, and it is what makes the situation inappropriate that it isn't when, say, a Native person wears jeans, speaks English, or converts to Christianity.

Just as we would consider it a grave discourtesy, as you said, when anyone declares themselves a rabbi or cohen with the appropriate procedures, there are people doing more than simple borrowing--they are declaring themselves authorities in religions without the context to back it up, commodifying and selling cultures and artifacts, and so on.  It's not just about borrowing, or blending of cultures.
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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #23 on: August 27, 2011, 05:12:40 pm »
Quote from: Valentine;15987
Let me put it more this way, then:  for a businessman from India to adopt Western-style business suits isn't appropriation.  It is a necessary borrowing from a more dominant culture in order to do business with them.  A kid in the Philippines eating McDonald's isn't appropriating American culture.  The power dynamics make the difference.  

Everyone's got some power, in a system, but China and India having some power on the global market doesn't change that there's a power relationship.  It means they have a given power relationship with some places--Cambodia, let's say, or Somalia--and another power relationship with, say, the United States.  It's not just about the power or lack thereof of the folk being borrowed from; it's about the power and the dynamic with the folk doing the borrowing, and the reluctance of the borrowers to admit that power.  I refer again to my colleague who has put out his shingle as a Native-style shaman despite being entirely of European descent.  He doesn't think of himself as privileged, and doesn't like to consider the ways he has an unearned advantage over actual Native people, but he does have such an advantage, and there is a power dynamic there, and it is what makes the situation inappropriate that it isn't when, say, a Native person wears jeans, speaks English, or converts to Christianity.

Just as we would consider it a grave discourtesy, as you said, when anyone declares themselves a rabbi or cohen with the appropriate procedures, there are people doing more than simple borrowing--they are declaring themselves authorities in religions without the context to back it up, commodifying and selling cultures and artifacts, and so on.  It's not just about borrowing, or blending of cultures.

 
Uh, so it is Not a grave discourtesy when somebody from a culture with less power appropiates something from a culture that has more power?  Or it is a discourtesy and the power relationship doesn't matter?

I don't think your examples of business suits, jeans, McDonald's and conversion to Christianity really work.  People who convert to Christianity tend to find actual Christians to teach them.  It would be no different than somebody joining a tribe and converting. Or are you aware of people from non-Christian majority countries that become Christian based upon something like watching American TV?

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #24 on: August 27, 2011, 06:24:44 pm »
Quote from: monsnoleedra;15719
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.
 


I want to make sure this idea doesn't get lost in the discussion of the power imbalance involved in cultural appropriation (which I agree is very problematic). Even if one puts aside problems of cultural appropriation, borrowing from another culture's religion can still be dubious because so much context can be lost. Trying to tease out one thread can make the entire tapestry unwind. Or, more to the point, you'll get a meaningless piece of string, and miss the tapestry entirely.

And I know many will disagree with me, but I'll extend that idea to teasing out gods from pantheons. IMHO, that sort of mixing and matching is fraught with peril, because gods don't exist in isolation; they exist firmly rooted in their myths, where they interact with the other gods of that pantheon.

Borrowing from another culture's religion, if it's done, has to be done extraordinarily carefully.
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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #25 on: August 28, 2011, 05:50:13 pm »
Quote from: treekisser;15897
This is a misconception among non-Westerners too. I remember my mother once said to me, 'They don't have any culture do they?' (about you people :) ) and, after pointing out food, clothes, movies, mannerisms etc, I still don't think she was convinced. It's just so pervasive that it's seen as a 'norm' rather than another identity.

Although my impression is that apart from America and Britain, it's only a norm across the Commonwealth. The few continental Europeans I've run into seem more secure in their own national identities and rather blase about mass Anglo-American culture.

 
I'm going to blame this (way overly simplistically) on post 1960s cultural relativism.  Americans / Westerner's have been hammered that 1) their culture isn't a culture, 2) their culture isn't good and is the source of all evil 3) that society / schools no longer teach that America / one's country is good and civic pride isn't being taught.  

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #26 on: August 30, 2011, 11:05:48 am »
Quote from: sailor;15991

I don't think your examples of business suits, jeans, McDonald's and conversion to Christianity really work.  People who convert to Christianity tend to find actual Christians to teach them.  It would be no different than somebody joining a tribe and converting. Or are you aware of people from non-Christian majority countries that become Christian based upon something like watching American TV?

 
The reason these examples don't work is much simpler: because Americans are actively trying to spread them. It's difficult to accuse me of appropriating your blue jeans culture when you're trying to get me to buy them in the first place.

Your argument, as I understand it, is that it can be discourteous for a minority to appropriate a cultural element of the majority. I think this is too abstract to be consider on its own, since as I just pointed out, it's difficult to think of examples because American culture seems to be something Americans want to spread.

If you can give an example of something sacrosanct to mainstream Americans, not to be shared outside 'the tribe of America', but which minorities have nonetheless appropriated, then it would be easier to assess the plausibility of your argument.

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #27 on: August 30, 2011, 04:07:14 pm »
Quote from: treekisser;16602
The reason these examples don't work is much simpler: because Americans are actively trying to spread them. It's difficult to accuse me of appropriating your blue jeans culture when you're trying to get me to buy them in the first place.

Your argument, as I understand it, is that it can be discourteous for a minority to appropriate a cultural element of the majority. I think this is too abstract to be consider on its own, since as I just pointed out, it's difficult to think of examples because American culture seems to be something Americans want to spread.

If you can give an example of something sacrosanct to mainstream Americans, not to be shared outside 'the tribe of America', but which minorities have nonetheless appropriated, then it would be easier to assess the plausibility of your argument.

 
I stand by my point as a theoretical arguement.  I can not think of anything at the moment that is for American's only though, so my point is theoretical / rehtorical.

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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #28 on: August 31, 2011, 01:20:49 am »
Quote from: sailor;16673
I stand by my point as a theoretical arguement.  I can not think of anything at the moment that is for American's only though, so my point is theoretical / rehtorical.

 
The problem with this tack is that this isn't a theoretical argument, and framing it is a theoretical argument is a privilege in and of itself. For people who are trying to preserve cultures that were violently taken from them, then suddenly repackaged for the profit of the culture which condemned it in the first place, this is not a theoretical argument.

Opposition to cultural appropriation isn't because it might be offensive, it's because it is a destructive force within cultures which already have enough to deal with.
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Re: Cultural Appropriation - Yay or Nay?
« Reply #29 on: August 31, 2011, 07:50:25 am »
Quote from: sailor;16673
I stand by my point as a theoretical arguement.  I can not think of anything at the moment that is for American's only though, so my point is theoretical / rehtorical.

 
Well, as a matter of common sense I just see things the other way. Harsher judgment falls on people with more power: the parent and the child; the tutor and student; the boss and employee; the manufacturer and the consumer; the more privileged and the less privileged. The other party may be at fault too, but in the abstract the actions of the party with greater power are more fraught.

Or like Spiderman says: with great power comes great responsibility.

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* In Memoriam

Chavi (2006)
Elspeth (2010)
Marilyn (2013)

* Cauldron Staff

Host:
Sunflower

Message Board Staff
Board Coordinator:
Darkhawk

Assistant Board Coordinator:
Aster Breo

Senior Staff:
Aisling, Jenett, Sefiru

Staff:
Allaya, Chatelaine, EclecticWheel, HarpingHawke, Kylara, PerditaPickle, rocquelaire

Discord Chat Staff
Chat Coordinator:
Morag

Cauldron Council:
Bob, Catja, Emma-Eldritch, Fausta, Jubes, Kelly, LyricFox, Phouka, Sperran, Star, Steve, Tana

Site Administrator:
Randall