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What Do You Think Cultural Appropriation Is?

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I notice a lot of people, mostly in a negative context, seem to have this idea that cultural appropriation takes place whenever a white person puts on a Dashiki or a Kimono, or dresses like a ninja for Halloween. In my further experience, it's almost always white people who think this. Anyway, I suspect this is a situation of the popular strawman having actually manifested itself upon the popular consciousness through the manipulation of well-meaning idiots, boosted by the media's utter helplessness in perpetually feeding the outrage machine.

Anyway, it occurs to me that some of these issues are so new to the public discourse, that we really haven't all settled on anything close to a universal definition.

My understanding of cultural appropriation is that it represents the continued exploitation of cultures or peoples that were damaged by the legacy systems of many industrialized world powers (American slavery and Indian removal, Japanese/European colonialism, Russian expansionism, etc.). It's a complex issue, and an important one, but I feel as though lately the conversation has shifted from the very real socioeconomic consequences that the modern world's colonial heritage has on many communities and cultures throughout the world, to whether or not we should all be outraged at the white girl who dressed as Moana for Halloween.

So what do you consider cultural appropriation to be? How should the conversation around it be framed?

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Jay Kristoffs "Japanese Steampunk" books are cultural appropriation turned up to 11. I uh, don't really have much to add, I just hate that guy and his crap. Guy's research into Japan consisted of, and this is from his own mouth, I shit you not, "reading the wiki article on japan and watching some anime"

 

Anyway I digress but anytime this topic comes up those goddamn books come to the forefront of my brain.

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As my Father’s family is of German extraction is it cultural appropriation for me to wear any gard other than traditional German garb or traditionally Irish garb based upon my Mother’s heritage?

In other words isn’t everything cultural appropriation to one degree or another?

Edited by Ser Scot A Ellison

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43 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

As my Father’s family is of German extraction is it cultural appropriation for me to wear any gard other than traditional German garb or traditionally Irish garb based upon my Mother’s heritage?

In other words isn’t everything cultural appropriation to one degree or another?

i think maybe you are confuse at to what culture appropriation means?

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Just now, Conflicting Thought said:

i think maybe you are confuse at to what culture appropriation means?

Perhaps.  But If I choose to wear a Kimomo would I be accused of cultural appropriation, or not.  It think they are beautiful garments and, frankly, they look very comfortable.

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There are some pretty strong distinctions to be made from Octoberfest cosplay.

There's a colononialism aspect and with that a power imbalance. The dominant culture taking for their use pieces of minority culture after (hundreds of) years of oppression. 

There's a disrespectful aspect where items and symbols are in use by the dominant culture without understanding their meaning or importance to the minority culture from which they are taken. See native headdress and Dia de los Muertos skull makeup.

And there's a fetishization or exoticism aspect. 

At any rate, your interpretation of what it means really boils down to your interest in and respect of other cultures. There is the possibility of over-sensitivity but the real problem rests with people who just don't give a shit about what is important and meaningful to others.

 

Edited by kairparavel

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Just now, kairparavel said:

They are some pretty strong distinctions to be made from Octoberfest cosplay.

There's a colononialism aspect and with that a power imbalance. The dominant culture taking for their use pieces of minority culture after (hundreds of) years of oppression. 

There's a disrespectful aspect where items and symbols are in use by the dominant culture without understanding their meaning or importance to the minority culture from which they are taken. See native headdress and Dia de los Muertos skull makeup.

And there's a fetishization or exoticism aspect. 

At any rate, your interpretation of what it means really boils down to your interest in and respect of other cultures. There is the possibility of over-sensitivity but the real problem rests with people who just don't give a shit about what is important and meaningful to others.

 

That's a good way to put it.

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3 hours ago, kairparavel said:

There is the possibility of over-sensitivity but the real problem rests with people who just don't give a shit about what is important and meaningful to others.

 

EDIT: Actually I misread that. I agree with what you say here.

Edited by Let's Get Kraken

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7 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

As my Father’s family is of German extraction is it cultural appropriation for me to wear any gard other than traditional German garb

 

6 hours ago, kairparavel said:

There are some pretty strong distinctions to be made from Octoberfest cosplay.

Ah yes, two Americans talking about "traditional German garb" - one thinks that there actually is a traditional "German" garb, the other dismisses tradional Upper Bavarian garb as "Octoberfest cosplay". In a thread about cultural appropriation.

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4 hours ago, Alarich II said:

 

Ah yes, two Americans talking about "traditional German garb" - one thinks that there actually is a traditional "German" garb, the other dismisses tradional Upper Bavarian garb as "Octoberfest cosplay". In a thread about cultural appropriation.

Oh, I’m aware.  My Father’s family isn’t Bavarian.  It is Moravian (german speaking) no clue what the traditional garb is as my Paternal side has been in North America since the 1760’s.  But that is part of my point.  Fashion, to one extent or another borrows heavily from many traditons.  When is that cultural appropriation and when is it not?

It seems to be a very subjective analysis.

Edited by Ser Scot A Ellison

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4 hours ago, Alarich II said:

 

Ah yes, two Americans talking about "traditional German garb" - one thinks that there actually is a traditional "German" garb, the other dismisses tradional Upper Bavarian garb as "Octoberfest cosplay". In a thread about cultural appropriation.

I'm not sure how you interpreted my statement but if it was that Bavarians were the cosplayers then no, that was not my meaning. North Americans of non-German heritage routinely engage in 'dressing up' for Octoberfest which is what I suggested to be cosplay because I expect it's more novelty than tradition. Perhaps it's appropriation but it doesn't feel like it's as disrespectful as native headdresses, for example. I could be wrong.

Also, I'm not American. Yet.

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I suspect my definition is significantly different from the way most others use the term. To me, cultural appropriation is taking something away from another culture, and taking away in the sense that the original culture either can no longer use or has diminished use of it, and claiming it as your own. The British taking the Elgin Marbles from Greece, and continuing to keep them to this day in the British Museum, refusing Greek requests and demands to return them, is as clear an example of cultural appropriation that you'll see, I think.

Whereas, dressing in another culture's clothing, listening to their music, making similar music, etc. unironically is simply acculturation and does not diminish the ability of the original culture from continuing to enjoy and participate in its culture. Doing so ironically could potentially be cultural appropriation, since it is often hurtful and could cause members of the original culture to refrain from continuing to do something; though I tend towards thinking its usually just shitty, disrespectful behavior that is potentially racist.

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I agree with Fez's definition.  I think if you go overboard with cultural appropriation outrage you can get to a place where you are just shitting on multiculturalism.   Nobody can take and use something from another culture, even if one culture is historically more powerful than the other?  I don't agree with that.  Humans have been adapting and absorbing culture since there have been humans.  To me this idea that Asians do this, Mexicans do this, white people do this, black people do this - and if anyone else does it is harmful stealing - is bizarrely coming full circle towards outdated ideas of racial essentialism. 

I get that it's coming from a different place, but like, what are we doing here?  What's the goal of this in a multicultural society?  We can either meld into a cultural amalgam or we can insist that everyone should stay in their pre-determined box based on their heritage and appearance.

I think offensive caricatures are wrong, but I also see a distinction between that and say a white person who opens an Asian restaurant, or becomes a hip hop artist.  I have an acquaintance who got barbecued for cultural appropriation on the internet by some dickbag blogger because she was a white person who owned an asian food truck and it legitimately harmed her business and made her feel bad.  IMO this is not taking anything away from anybody and shouldn't incite outrage in a mentally stable individual.  I think its absurd and frankly, racist, to insist that someone must look a certain way in order to make a certain kind of food.  To me, this kind of thing is over the line, but others may feel differently and that's fine.  People should just be dicks less.  

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I would absolutely agree that the Elgin marbles case is an example of something wrong -- but "cultural appropriation" seems like a mild and academic term that we don't need when we already have terms like "theft" in the language for that sort of thing.

 

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33 minutes ago, S John said:

I agree with Fez's definition.  I think if you go overboard with cultural appropriation outrage you can get to a place where you are just shitting on multiculturalism.   Nobody can take and use something from another culture, even if one culture is historically more powerful than the other?  I don't agree with that.  Humans have been adapting and absorbing culture since there have been humans.  To me this idea that Asians do this, Mexicans do this, white people do this, black people do this - and if anyone else does it is harmful stealing - is bizarrely coming full circle towards outdated ideas of racial essentialism. 

I get that it's coming from a different place, but like, what are we doing here?  What's the goal of this in a multicultural society?  We can either meld into a cultural amalgam or we can insist that everyone should stay in their pre-determined box based on their heritage and appearance.

I think offensive caricatures are wrong, but I also see a distinction between that and say a white person who opens an Asian restaurant, or becomes a hip hop artist.  I have an acquaintance who got barbecued for cultural appropriation on the internet by some dickbag blogger because she was a white person who owned an asian food truck and it legitimately harmed her business and made her feel bad.  IMO this is not taking anything away from anybody and shouldn't incite outrage in a mentally stable individual.  I think its absurd and frankly, racist, to insist that someone must look a certain way in order to make a certain kind of food.  To me, this kind of thing is over the line, but others may feel differently and that's fine.  People should just be dicks less.  

I like this POV.  However isn’t “harm” a subjective point of view?

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7 minutes ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

I like this POV.  However isn’t “harm” a subjective point of view?

Think back to all the blues musicians in the 50's who had their music copied by white artists who went on to make millions while the originators rarely saw a penny. 

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1 hour ago, maarsen said:

Think back to all the blues musicians in the 50's who had their music copied by white artists who went on to make millions while the originators rarely saw a penny. 

Yeah, my definition of harmful cultural appropriation involves profiting in a way that a marginalized group couldn't. Elvis and the Rolling Stones getting rich off copying the music of black people, who didn't make lots of money. The Kardashians stealing the work of black artists.

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2 hours ago, Ormond said:

I would absolutely agree that the Elgin marbles case is an example of something wrong -- but "cultural appropriation" seems like a mild and academic term that we don't need when we already have terms like "theft" in the language for that sort of thing.

The issue there though is that "theft" is a legal term under English law and I don't know if what Thomas Bruce did back in the early 19th century was technically theft under the law at the time.

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1 hour ago, Fez said:

The issue there though is that "theft" is a legal term under English law and I don't know if what Thomas Bruce did back in the early 19th century was technically theft under the law at the time.

Why does that matter to us in the 21st century?

Anyway. I think there's a line between cultural appropriation and appreciation. Where that line is drawn can vary, but the one thing that must always be present is respect and credit to the originating culture. Wearing an item of clothing from another culture, for example, is clearly inappropriate if done without respect to the role that clothing plays in the originating culture.

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10 hours ago, Alarich II said:

 

Ah yes, two Americans talking about "traditional German garb" - one thinks that there actually is a traditional "German" garb, the other dismisses tradional Upper Bavarian garb as "Octoberfest cosplay". In a thread about cultural appropriation. 

TBF, I think the majority of people at the Oktoberfest, who show up in dirndl or in the krachledernen are not Bavarians. The folks from Munich I met, are rather annoyed over that annual beer festival and the hordes of drunk tourists invading their city. 1-2 gsuffa.

This entire thing has become a beer version of Disneyland, or some European version of springbreak in fall.

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