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bcholmes cut-tags an excellent post (go read it!) with the text ( My Privilege Looks Like This: I've Been Staying Silent in the Conversation ). That's what mine looks like too and that's what I am doing for the most part. I will talk about it if anyone asks me to, but so far I don't have anything to say that vito-excalibur and sparkymonster and badgerbag didn't say better.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 22nd, 2009 12:49 pm (UTC)

*adds to memories, as a handy collection of links*
Jan. 22nd, 2009 08:01 pm (UTC)
I'm both sympathetic and unsympathetic to the notion of "cultural appropriation". There seem to be two issues -- who is a legitimate member of a group and a legitimate user of a tradition, and second, what counts as a real tradition. Perhaps there is a third issue: are you using that tradition in the right manner, but maybe that's really a part of issue #2 -- is this really a tradition?

For Native Americans, it's pretty complicated about who counts as Native American. Different groups have different notions of tribal membership (matrilineal descent only, family on the Dawes rolls, do descendants of slaves count? what about people adopted into the tribe?)

Many people (especially white people and black people) have family legends about descent from a certain tribe. If somebody like that decides to practice a tradition, are they legitimate only if the family legend is true, and cultural appropriators if the legend is false? Or are they only legitimate when the tribe decides they are? Who makes those decisions?

What counts as a tradition? Because of loss of language and ways of life, traditions may be lost. People attempt to rediscover these traditions, but may be inventing new ones. What about when Native Americans meet up at pan-tribal gatherings and share traditions? You are Ojibweh and and decide to carve totem poles -- is that "cultural appropriation?"

If the tradition is newly minted and may actually have its origin in New Age religion rather than traditional tradition, is it "cultural appropriation" for outsiders to adopt it? I think the answer here may be "yes", but there's something about it that makes me uncomfortable.
Jan. 22nd, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC)
Those things are true. And I think there are no clear cut answers to those questions. And that means there's no way to say "This is bad appropriation and that isn't, end of discussion.

But there might be opinion trends that emerge in conversation.

I think the issues are "how do we have conversations about this?" and "If we care about whether our art has things to say to people from cultures other than our own, how do we learn what it says to them?" and "How do we incorporate elements from other cultures more respectfully and accurately"?

I think that people who are making art that is about or that borrows from cultures/traditions/ethnic groups/etc. that aren't their own, or might not be their own, do well to listen to what people who identify more closely with those cultures/traditions/ethnic groups have to say about the art.

I also think that people who are members of privileged groups bear a greater responsibility to do this, because in general members of privileged groups are less likely to know detailed stuff about the cultures of other people, simply because they don't encounter them as often, and they are less likely to have experience learning how to navigate in more than one cultural milieu.
Jan. 22nd, 2009 09:52 pm (UTC)
I think "cultural appropriation" is most clear when a religious object gets re-purposed by people outside the religion. If the object isn't religious, then it seems less clear that there would be offense. If I take a horseshoe and use it for a paper weight, that doesn't seem as bad as if I take the Host and use it for a cheese cracker.

(Here I am making a distinction between "religious" and "not religious" that might not be valid in a particular culture.) More things to mull over.

Is this mostly an issue for artists more than just the average schmoe?
Jan. 22nd, 2009 11:34 pm (UTC)
This particular discussion has mostly to do with white people using of non-white/non-European cultures and characters in their fiction, and whether they made enough of an effort to be sensitive and respectful.

I have also seen discussions around using another culture's traditional mode of dress (e.g., white Americans wearing saris or kimonos).
Jan. 22nd, 2009 08:38 pm (UTC)
Cultural appropriation conversations always make me cringe, both as a writer and as a person, because somebody I know and otherwise respect somewhere is going to say something really, really stupid, and I stay out of them because I don't want that someone to be me.
Jan. 22nd, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)
I don't worry about its being me (so far). And I don't mind when people say stupid things. But I really do mind when people say stupid things and then get too defensive to process what the people who are telling them it was a stupid thing to say are saying. Which is why I'm trying to limit my participation in this conversation.
Jan. 22nd, 2009 09:16 pm (UTC)
Have you watched the ill doctrine video about how to tell someone that something they said was racist?
Jan. 22nd, 2009 11:35 pm (UTC)
No, should I?
Jan. 22nd, 2009 11:37 pm (UTC)
I think you would like it. But I need to chase up the link, which I can't do right now.
Jan. 23rd, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
Jan. 23rd, 2009 08:08 am (UTC)
Thank you, that's a really excellent video explaining the difference between criticizing an action ("you said something that sounded racist") and speculating about a person's character ("you are racist").

A discussion that starts out as the first can still mutate into the second, and it's often the criticized person who takes it there because of feeling defensive.

But if you start out with the first sort of statement, there's at least a chance of having a meaningful conversation.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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