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What Do You Think Cultural Appropriation Is?

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From how I understand it cultural appropriation is really about power structures and how those power structures intertwine with colonialism and imperialism. Say when a non-Native white person wears a Native American headdress for Halloween (or any time really) that person is appropriating a symbol of cultural significance from a group with all of the historical context that comes with it (genocide, forced assimilation, etc). Using cultural symbols or festivals (when not belonging to that culture and where these power dynamics again exist) to make money (color run for example) is another form of cultural appropriation.

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This is a tricky question, because to go too far one way is ethnic-essentialism, (i.e. everyone can only perform the culture of their genetic makeup) but the other way is obviously the path of racism, colonialism, and exploitation. 

As far as Halloween costumes go, I think dressing up as a specific character (ie. Moana or Black Panther) is far more acceptable (provided no one does something stupid like blackface makeup) than wearing a Native American headdress. After all, a lot of people who cosplay at anime conventions are dressing up as Japanese characters. 

And this is an example of white culture being appropriated (when it's clearly more of a problem for non-white cultures), but what about St. Patrick's Day? It's pretty much an excuse to get drunk for a lot of people. And there's the linking of people of Irish descent with drinking (wearing shirts that say, "I'm so drunk I must be Irish").... which... um.. that's bad. 

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Seen from across the pond, the concept feels instinctively to be a mix of failed multiculturalism, individuality cult, and capitalism worship.

Failed multiculturalism because it seems to have been born just as ethnic groups in the US, instead of living together and sharing their cultures, seem to now be more and more divided and hostile and worse, essentialized.

Individualism and capitalism because the concept relies on property, that must belong to one person/group, and for someone else to use it, or, god forbid, profit from it is implicitly bad (see accusation of theft in this very thread.)

So it feels alien here. I've listened to a fair number of academics and politicians from all over the political spectrum broaching that issue and this was a generally shared sentiment (trigger warnings and safe spaces were usually lumped with it, for good measure.) I must reiterate that left and right share the stance.

 

This being said, while nobody cares about the "cultural appropriation" that is Aladdin's genie saying "c'est l'amour" while wearing a beret and smoking under a streetlight, or french fries or american pizza, we do have actual laws against racism: you demean or harm an ethnic group with speech or representation, you're liable to be censored and punished. Look for "banania" on google... that does not fly anymore and a good thing too.

Speaking for myself, it all hinges on consequences:

1) The "appropriation" no matter the intent has no other consequence than offend people who feel only they can use that symbol: it's fine, screw the cultural scrooges. 

2) The "appropriation" is harmful (hate incitation, encouragement of racism, etc), then smash that shit. 

 

I've come to this after an ex-friend rambled about gay marriage being offensive to him and harmful to "tradition" and I was like "dude, who cares about what you feel is culturally yours and what you find offensive, who is hurt?". Mileages vary.

Edited by Errant Bard

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12 hours ago, A Horse Named Stranger said:

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

In other words: cultural appropriation.

But I am not Bavaria

19 hours ago, Ser Scot A Ellison said:

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?

The point here is, that in my observation, many (North-)Americans are obsessed (in an unhealthy way) with their ancestral roots. I could be wrong, I present only my own observation here. But the point is: just because your great-great grandfather was Irish, German, Native American, a black slave or Chinese, it doesn't make your part of that culture. Culture is about upbringing, learning, language, the written and unwritten norms of society. So if you decide to wear clothes to make a fashion statement, but don't assume that you are actually part of the "culture", because you're not. You are American. Which brings me to the next point:

19 hours ago, kairparavel said:

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. 

Forgive me, if I'm putting you into the North-American basket.

Now, I am not Bavarian and I don't speak for Bavarians, so all this is just my personal opinion. I don't find it offensive, because German culture is much more than that. I and most of my fellow citizens have very deep roots in this country, we have developed our culture over centuries and we have an ongoing public discourse about what German, Bavarian, Upper Bavarian culture and identity is. So the traditional garb is such a tiny aspect of that complexity that to me it more of a funny thing that foreign people do than anything else and if it makes them feel good and curious about Germany, all the better.

Now with Native American headdresses, it's a bit different. Basically, the Native Tribes of Northern America were victims of a relentless Genocide that acitvely tried and succeed to kill most of them. Then the survivors were driven into "reservations", i.e. large camps, and there a policy of active cultural genocide was continued. Language forbidden, kids removed from their families, traditions cut etc. But to add insult to injury, after the fact was accomplished and even while it was carried out, few selective cultural symbols, especially those representing the "warrior culture" of Noth American plains tribes became the object of obsession of the perpetrators, and - representing strength and courage - they became part of the American myth. And so today, the what is left of the Native Tribes is a tiny fragment and those who remain have very few remaining cultural tradions they can build on to develop their own culture. Basically the perpretrators of that genocide remorselessly eradicated Native Culture while using their own symbols, leaving the survivors only a desecrated shell of their traditions. That's offensive, no doubt.

And that's probably the difference between the two and maybe also the difference between a Kimono and a Native American Headdress - at least in the North American cultural context.

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4 hours ago, Errant Bard said:

Seen from across the pond, the concept feels instinctively to be a mix of failed multiculturalism, individuality cult, and capitalism worship.

This presumes that cultural appropriation is not an issue on this side of the pond, which is such a serious failure of comprehension as to undermine everything else you're saying.

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The only cultural appropriation that bothers me is taking something that is of solemn religious importance  to a culture and treating it without respect. I don't see a reason  to antagonize people over something that they believe in if it is not doing you any harm. Anything else is, I think, fair game because all culture is human culture, and we are all inheritors of it.

I'm reminded of those who lambasted the non-Asian high school student for wearing a qipao to her prom because she thought it looked beautiful. The qipao not only does not hold any special religo-cultural significance in Asian society (it's "just" a piece of fashion) but the modern qipao itself was modified from earlier forms because of the influence of Western fashion in the 20's, an "appropriation" that is also perfectly acceptable.

Edited by Ran

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2 hours ago, Alarich II said:

In other words: cultural appropriation.

But I am not Bavaria

The point here is, that in my observation, many (North-)Americans are obsessed (in an unhealthy way) with their ancestral roots. I could be wrong, I present only my own observation here. But the point is: just because your great-great grandfather was Irish, German, Native American, a black slave or Chinese, it doesn't make your part of that culture. Culture is about upbringing, learning, language, the written and unwritten norms of society. So if you decide to wear clothes to make a fashion statement, but don't assume that you are actually part of the "culture", because you're not. You are American. Which brings me to the next point:

Forgive me, if I'm putting you into the North-American basket.

Now, I am not Bavarian and I don't speak for Bavarians, so all this is just my personal opinion. I don't find it offensive, because German culture is much more than that. I and most of my fellow citizens have very deep roots in this country, we have developed our culture over centuries and we have an ongoing public discourse about what German, Bavarian, Upper Bavarian culture and identity is. So the traditional garb is such a tiny aspect of that complexity that to me it more of a funny thing that foreign people do than anything else and if it makes them feel good and curious about Germany, all the better.

Now with Native American headdresses, it's a bit different. Basically, the Native Tribes of Northern America were victims of a relentless Genocide that acitvely tried and succeed to kill most of them. Then the survivors were driven into "reservations", i.e. large camps, and there a policy of active cultural genocide was continued. Language forbidden, kids removed from their families, traditions cut etc. But to add insult to injury, after the fact was accomplished and even while it was carried out, few selective cultural symbols, especially those representing the "warrior culture" of Noth American plains tribes became the object of obsession of the perpetrators, and - representing strength and courage - they became part of the American myth. And so today, the what is left of the Native Tribes is a tiny fragment and those who remain have very few remaining cultural tradions they can build on to develop their own culture. Basically the perpretrators of that genocide remorselessly eradicated Native Culture while using their own symbols, leaving the survivors only a desecrated shell of their traditions. That's offensive, no doubt.

And that's probably the difference between the two and maybe also the difference between a Kimono and a Native American Headdress - at least in the North American cultural context.

Which makes sense.  People can be respectful and admiring of garb and ideas from other cultures without “appropriating” that culture.  I do think that wearing something for purpose of ironic jabbing is much more insulting than wearing it because it is admired.

I also agree with Ran that the religious symbols of another culture are a different story.  Wearing religious symbols for ironic purposes can be very insulting.

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1 hour ago, mormont said:

This presumes that cultural appropriation is not an issue on this side of the pond, which is such a serious failure of comprehension as to undermine everything else you're saying.

It only shows that I am speaking from a remote viewpoint in a discussion that is very US centric. Minimal reading comprehension would show that when I mention laws existing here against that kind of thing, it means I know it is an issue here, only it's framed differently.

But I know how you debate and you always attack something your interlocutor did not say, so forgive me if I do not care much if something I did not say undermines anything else in your mind.

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My point of view is that it doesn't exist. It is something made up for people to be upset about, mostly on the behalf of others. Quite often, it is also applied to aspects of a culture that aren't particularly sensitive in the first place.

Is it nice to be purposefully mocking an important part of another culture/religion? Maybe not, and a bit of politeness never hurts, but no one much bats an eye when it comes to making fun of Christianity, for example. I don't see that there should be a distinction made based on size of the culture/religion in question or how much it has been persecuted. If naughty nuns are okay, then sexy Pocahontas is also okay.

And if we talk about usage as inspiration for fiction, I see no issue with it at all. 

 

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24 minutes ago, Linda said:

My point of view is that it doesn't exist. It is something made up for people to be upset about, mostly on the behalf of others. Quite often, it is also applied to aspects of a culture that aren't particularly sensitive in the first place.

Is it nice to be purposefully mocking an important part of another culture/religion? Maybe not, and a bit of politeness never hurts, but no one much bats an eye when it comes to making fun of Christianity, for example. I don't see that there should be a distinction made based on size of the culture/religion in question or how much it has been persecuted. If naughty nuns are okay, then sexy Pocahontas is also okay.

And if we talk about usage as inspiration for fiction, I see no issue with it at all. 

 

this is quite possibly some of the most limited  attempt at logic I have read on this topic in this thread or otherwise. 

cultural appropriation isn't an invention to make people upset. I encourage you to read more on the subject or even better engage in conversation with groups who have had their garb, customs and foods stolen for proft or made parody of by generally white western societies. 

 

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3 minutes ago, MercurialCannibal said:

cultural appropriation isn't an invention to make people upset. I encourage you to read more on the subject or even better engage in conversation with groups who have had their garb, customs and foods stolen for proft or made parody of by generally white western societies. 

 

Unless these things are being taken away from them so that they can't do them, they're not being "stolen". Mexicans can make tacos despite the existence of Taco Bell, Cubans can still salsa despite Dancing with the Stars, and people in China are not only very happy to see westerners wearing qipaos, but will happily mass-produce them for export.

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26 minutes ago, Ran said:

Unless these things are being taken away from them so that they can't do them, they're not being "stolen". Mexicans can make tacos despite the existence of Taco Bell, Cubans can still salsa despite Dancing with the Stars, and people in China are not only very happy to see westerners wearing qipaos, but will happily mass-produce them for export.

Tell that to everyone whose music Led Zeppelin stole

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5 minutes ago, larrytheimp said:

Tell that to everyone whose music Led Zeppelin stole

I'm not sure of the meaning. Who was unable to make music because of Led Zeppelin? There's certainly a long list of people they plagarized from, and a equally long list of lawsuits, ensuing settlements, and belated writing credits. (That said, this seems far from the topic of cultural appropriation.)

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Can you imagine what it feels like to see white people dress like you or your ancestors, when they where and are the ones that annhilated your culture, raped you, have you living in reservations, etc... 

Damn. 

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8 minutes ago, Conflicting Thought said:

Can you imagine what it feels like to see white people dress like you or your ancestors, when they where and are the ones that annhilated your culture, raped you, have you living in reservations, etc... 

Damn. 

well nothing prevents you from also wearing the same garb. 

see. no appropriation. 

game, set, match,  white western ignorance. when you are the conquering culture you don't have to be empathic to those you have marginalized. 

*sarcasm intended

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1 hour ago, MercurialCannibal said:

this is quite possibly some of the most limited  attempt at logic I have read on this topic in this thread or otherwise. 

cultural appropriation isn't an invention to make people upset. I encourage you to read more on the subject or even better engage in conversation with groups who have had their garb, customs and foods stolen for proft or made parody of by generally white western societies.

The incorporation of features from one culture into another is certainly real and is in fact one of the defining aspects and greatest strengths of humanity, but the post you quoted is correct: the arbitrary classification of certain instances of this as offensive is mainly to create something for people to be upset about. If you look at history, all human cultures -- powerful and weak, short-lived and long-lasting, etc. -- have incorporated aspects of other cultures into themselves and they've done it in every way possible (i.e. sometimes it starts out as mockery, sometimes as homage, sometimes it's directed from the top, etc.). Furthermore, if the feature incorporated turns out to be a good fit, it is often used in ways which would never even be foreseen in the originating culture and after a few generations, the feature appears native to the adopting culture (e.g. tomatoes in Italy).

"Cultural appropriation" is a term advanced by people aiming to sow division and hatred by taking this phenomenon (which is general to all of humanity) and trying to make certain instances of it taboo. There is no rhyme or reason to which aspects are offensive and which are not so the usual jargon is deployed to bludgeon people who don't understand it into compliance, but frankly, it's not really working anymore even in the US.

14 hours ago, Errant Bard said:

Seen from across the pond, the concept feels instinctively to be a mix of failed multiculturalism, individuality cult, and capitalism worship. 

Failed multiculturalism because it seems to have been born just as ethnic groups in the US, instead of living together and sharing their cultures, seem to now be more and more divided and hostile and worse, essentialized.

Individualism and capitalism because the concept relies on property, that must belong to one person/group, and for someone else to use it, or, god forbid, profit from it is implicitly bad (see accusation of theft in this very thread.)

So it feels alien here. I've listened to a fair number of academics and politicians from all over the political spectrum broaching that issue and this was a generally shared sentiment (trigger warnings and safe spaces were usually lumped with it, for good measure.) I must reiterate that left and right share the stance.

That's a good way to put it. Unfortunately, in the US (and, based on this thread, in at least a few European countries too), the stance is not common to the entire political spectrum -- but it appears to be gaining traction among more and more people despite a segment of society moving in the other direction.

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Cultural appropriation provides sociologists a new term to that will be re-defined each semester in the newest textbook that students are forced to pay for.  Not only will mommy & daddy pay for the added expense to the school but they'll have to pay for it in boredom at the dinner table when this sensitive "knowledge" is remarked upon after the Newman's Own sesame ginger salad dressing insensitively depicts a white man as a ninja.  

Edited by Sour Billy Tipton

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