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clyde

Cultural Appropriation

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Some feel that the Social Justice thread is being derailed with discussion and debate on the harm/benefits, generalities/nuances of cultural appropriation.

So feel free to talk about it here.

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I think this article about the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is useful. One the frustrations I feel when examining this topic by watching youtube videos and reading articles served by people in forum-threads and my twitter-feed is that it appears to be safer to deride many instances as cultural appropriation rather than to provide a few examples of cultural exchange. It can seem like feminist/anti-racist public voices risk clout by thinking in a the spectrum of cultural exchange rather than the binary (of assimilation or cultural appropriation). I think one of the concerns may be that they are wary of permitting racist disrespect with explicit and clear examples that could be seen as a transfer of accountability to themselves. For example, if a youtuber that is known to make videos on feminist subjects makes one where they list examples of cultural exchange that are non-oppressive and one of their examples is wearing a hoody at night, and an audience member takes that as permission; when someone else complains that their wearing of the hoody at night is marginalizing for that third party, the audience member may use the feminist youtuber's permission to disregard the concern.

 

As I was looking at videos, I saw another instance of a person expressing concern about how their particular mix of culture and race could be seen as oppressive. They asked:

What about mixed people? I got an European and African background (probably native American too) could I possibly been appropriating black culture If I wear African designed clothes? I feel like I am too light-skinned for the black but to dark-skinned for the white. I mean that's real issue. I don't face racism as much as a dark skinned African person does but I don't have benefits from white privilege too. This discussion about cultural appropriation is so confusing for me. I really want to understand it though.

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I may have had a personal break-through when someone on my twitter-feed retweeted a facebook post about a black woman with braids being told that she couldn't wear her hair that way at her job. The caption read "This is why cultural-appropriation is a problem" or something like that. At first I was like "No, this is why expectations for homogeny is a problem." but I still wanted to understand why someone would associate this event with cultural-appropriation so I speculated for a bit on it.

I've been thinking about a k-pop music video called "Dirty Vibe". I haven't watched it in a while, but I remember my interpretation (that is not necessarily accurate); I think that "dirty vibe" is a reference to establishing gritty, threatening atmosphere by appropriating hip-hop imagery. I don't think it's done ironically in the music video, I think it's done distastefully and disrespectfully. Since it's been on my mind, it was an accessible anecdote for me and I thought about the possibility that black-women's hair-styles may have been appropriated for the purpose of gaining that dirty vibe and as a result, the cultural object is villified through the threatening demeanor which the appropriator is trying to express. Basically, the cultural symbol is reused for its capacity for evoking negative associations in a racially polarized society, and through that use, the negative association is exacerbated. I can see how that is racist. But I'm going to go ahead and say this: summarizing all that by calling it out as "cultural appropriation" and expecting folks to read academic papers to fill in the gaps is giving way too much credit to the average twitter-user. I think that there is a pop-feminism (which has many positive aspects) we are in the midst of where participants just want to find Waldo whenever they hear a buzzword. This in effect dilutes the meaning of the concept (I'd say that this is another example of cultural appropriation actually, but not one that I would even begin to try and stop people from committing). So I'm going to try to remember and be aware that I exist within a bubble of pop-feminism and think about the intricasies of call-outs rather than accumulate a list of okay's and not-okay's.

Here's an interesting article on Amy Winehouse. I like her music. The article seems to make accusations similar to my description of appropriation for the purposes of gaining dirty vibe. I agree with the article which means that Amy Winehouse's music and persona is an example of racist art that I enjoy. I'm learning how to accept things.

http://www.thenation.com/article/amy-winehouse-and-black-art-appropriation/

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If I ever visit Australia, I'd love to try both authentic aboriginal dishes and whatever the australian chefs are doing with bush tucker. I imagine that they would both be interesting experiences vastly different from each other.

I doubt I'll visit Australia though.

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On 12/16/2015 at 1:36 AM, clyde said:

If I ever visit Australia, I'd love to try both authentic aboriginal dishes and whatever the australian chefs are doing with bush tucker. I imagine that they would both be interesting experiences vastly different from each other.

I doubt I'll visit Australia though.

 

I don't think white australian chefs really do 'bush tucker' type stuff.  An interesting thing to note is that a lot of the traditional foods were wiped out by white invaders because they saw fields and thought 'hey this is a good place for cattle', and then dug out huge fields of yams which were commonly eaten by indigenous people at the time.  A part of our history that doesn't get talked about much is that the English basically destroyed a lot of traditional Indigenous food sources because they were so blinded by self-superiority to realise all the ingenious ways that Indigenous people maintained the land because it didn't look like their agriculture.  I've lived here my whole life and have no idea where you can actually eat 'authentic' indigenous food, because now Indigenous people basically eat western food (and like parts of Canada, often suffer in remote communities with overpriced and poor quality food). 

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We have a bunch of t-shirts with a "spirit animal" theme to them coming out next week at my work, and I've spent literal hours trying to keep as much appropriative content out of the copy as possible. The shirts themselves are a lost cause, because my boss thinks that the concept of a spirit animal is cute and fun and harmless, but I'm doing my best everywhere else.

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I find this instance particularly interesting because when appropriation concerns come up they never seem to be about textiles and that has always struck me when cultural appropriation or intellectual property is discussed. To be honest, the circumstance I find myself wondering about most often is taking photos that happen to have textiles in them (being worn, upholstery, carpeting).
https://www.mayanhands.org/blogs/news/in-defense-of-mayan-art

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I've had an article from NPR bookmarked on my phone for the better part of a month because I think that it explains cultural appropriation better than almost any mainstream outlet has. From the premise of blasting an extremely ignorant op-ed from the New York Times that basically conflated cultural appropriation (members of the mainstream or dominant culture taking a significant cultural work or idea from an oppressed minority without paying respect or giving credit) with cultural exchange and then wrung its hands about all the cuisine and rock music that wouldn't exist if cultures weren't allowed to borrow from each other, Bradford's article for NPR gives its answer clearly and definitively by framing it through the NYT article's final question about writing a character from another culture for a novel: if one is unable, unwilling, or uninterested in doing the research for such a character, engaging in a dialogue with the real-life people whom the character owes its identity, and giving credit to those people in subsequent discussions of the work, it's cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is refusing to learn the context of other cultures' practices and own that context because you know you don't have to, as a white person, whether that's stealing minority music because those artists are not well-known, wearing dreads with no idea about their spiritual meaning, or running a restaurant that serves ethnic cuisine but doesn't give back either in financial terms or in cultural advocacy. I like it a lot.

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Wouldn't that also imply that it'll be really difficult to tell from a glance when people are culturally appropriating and when they are doing it 'right', or respectfully? I mean, I run around on anime conventions a lot and boy, you could have a field day there if so inclined. I myself often wear a Japanese shinsengumi outfit (and give lectures on the topic), so I'd like to think I know where it comes from, but at the same time I'm not kidding myself: it's giddy cosplay wish fulfilment most of the time.

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2 hours ago, Roderick said:

Wouldn't that also imply that it'll be really difficult to tell from a glance when people are culturally appropriating and when they are doing it 'right', or respectfully? I mean, I run around on anime conventions a lot and boy, you could have a field day there if so inclined. I myself often wear a Japanese shinsengumi outfit (and give lectures on the topic), so I'd like to think I know where it comes from, but at the same time I'm not kidding myself: it's giddy cosplay wish fulfilment most of the time.

 

You are correct: white and Western culture has made cultural appropriation such a matter of business as usual that it's difficult to tell at a glance whether it's happening or not. The idea, I believe, is to be educated about the dynamic and to engage on it when the upshot is clear.

 

That said, I think that knowing and caring enough about the Shinsengumi enough to wear an accurate costume and deliver impromptu lectures on them is, at worst, on the very low end of appropriation. After all, education and advocacy are the greatest bulwarks against appropriation!

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That was my guess. And in any case, what happens on an anime convention flows specifically out of a love for Japan (or Korea, or US comics, anythign goes nowadays). It's a celebration and an attempt to partake in this communal joy. This alone makes it very different from snatching a visual thing and using it, without paying deference to its source.

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Impossible to nail down without having perfect knowledge of another person's cultural identity/intent/skill. Perhaps it would be more helpful to say "do your research" rather than terms that are exclusively used in place of "I am morally justified for disliking this thing"

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6 hours ago, electricblue said:

Impossible to nail down without having perfect knowledge of another person's cultural identity/intent/skill. Perhaps it would be more helpful to say "do your research" rather than terms that are exclusively used in place of "I am morally justified for disliking this thing"

 

Not impossible, just difficult. There's a certain feel to these things, but the fact that it's happened for centuries and is quite clearly identified in hindsight suggests that it's not some fool's errand to point to certain combinations of laziness and entitlement as "cultural appropriation."

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