The original article makes some statements I agree with despite the edgy headline.
“When you google the word, here is what Wikipedia has to say about it: “ Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture. Cultural appropriation is seen by some as controversial, notably when elements of a minority culture are used by members of the cultural majority; this is seen as wrongfully oppressing the minority culture or stripping it of its group identity and intellectual property rights.” …
… “With a definition as broad as the one given above, it’s no wonder the conversation about cultural appropriation has devolved into dog-fights over whose ancestors “own” what.” …
… “Because no lines are drawn, because cultural appropriation is never clearly defined and seems to have entirely different definitions for different people — — the discussion of it is almost always guaranteed to turn into something that seems like children fighting over who which food belongs to whom.” …
YES. I completely agree. There has been a toxic devolution of the conversation that is cultural appropriation. There are people wandering around, waging accusations of cultural appropriation as a power dynamic to benefit themselves. And they are able to do so because the definition of cultural appropriation has been so concerned with defining the practice of cultural appropriation as if this is an intentional act rather than a terribly unfortunate side effect of structuralized racism.
It is a terribly unfortunate side effect of structuralized racism that people think its a cool idea to dress up in a headdress to get trashed in at a festival. It is a terribly unfortunate side effect of structuralized racism that a middle class caucasian artist can arise to great fame fusing first nations styles into her work when it is and has been HARD for first nations artists of any creed to include honorary elements in their work to their heritage without being trivialized or dismissed.
Cultural appropriation is a method through which to talk about this. It defines a power dynamic: and power dynamics is what the author of the afforementioned aritcle and response completely failed to look at when she attempted to engage the issue of cultural appropriation ‘critically’.
The author failed to talk about the very real power dynamics of people who are weilding cultural appropriation as just one more weapon in their arsenal for making themselves feel big. These people are a huge problem because they taint every single movement they come across and every single movement is just another pointy thing for them to stab at ‘the oppressors’ (aka, people who are making them feel bad at any given moment). You find these folks all over the internet and I blame others for too much of this. These people only have power if the people who understand the ideas and concepts that are being weilded LET THEM DO IT. More on this later on.
The author doubled down on this failure to investigate power dynamics when she brings up the very real point that people make their livelihoods selling the very appropriation that is often decried.
“Here is another thing you probably do not realize: What you often see as cultural appropriation and “problematic” is something a lot of PoC’s livelihoods depend on. There are people whose livelihoods depend on selling cultural clothing, cultural crafts, etc in festivals for instance. And they seem nothing but happy about the fact that their work gets the recognition and appreciation it deserved. I know a single brown mom whose livelihood (at least, some part of it) depends on applying henna on people’s hands. Her work is very much appreciated, she is incredibly proud of it.”
The power dynamic wherein people are supposed to be grateful for the method through which they can achieve more for themselves within a capitalisitic system is predicated upon their dominated status. How come this woman who makes part of her livelihood from henna isn’t making all of it? Is it because henna application is lucrative but not that lucrative for her? Why isn’t it very lucrative? I wonder … what companies sell ‘at home’ henna products for people to fuck with on their own without paying a real henna professional? Do I suspect they are white people? Yes I do. Am I going to research that beyond one company that seems to have a caucasian in charge? No. I am not.
And this is the cultural appropriation that people should be talking about.
I like to ladder my discussion of what cultural appropriation by talking about harm, and money.
A child or woman’s cultural costume at halloween is of a ‘meh’ level of concern for me with mind to appropriation. Whatever the person’s individual attitudes are will come out with the costume and some people really do think it’s a compliment. (A sad and terrible side effect of structuralized racism). What becomes an Issue (capital I) with mind to appropriation is that there is a costume company SELLING the culturally appropriative costume for MONEY. For themselves. That becomes an issue for me. Whatever the society’s societal attitudes are will come out with the costume. Therein lies the opportunity for widespread domination through itsy bitsy little interactions (microagressions) that no one is ‘supposed’ to get all up in anyone’s face over and yet quantify something real and tangible that is denied, dismissed and disregarded by the oppressive majority.
The artist that makes some of her money with henna body art is not and can never be an issue by my mind. Her patrons are not an issue really either. But the economic situation that almost everyone in north america faces together thinking they are alone; wherein two someones can engage in an artform and whether or not it is a side business for one and a veriatable industry for the other… what we want to discuss is the likelihood that one’s race dictates whether or not it is a side business or profitable industry.
If someone isn’t engaging in a discussion about cultural appropriation, and instead is engaging in an accusation of cultural appropriation. It is a good clue that they are symptomatic of a very real problem within all social movements of every kind. We are all dealing with backlash on our movements based on reactions to people that claim they are members of our movement but weild our ideas poorly.
This is why we have people claiming that “cultural appropriation is a toxic concept ” and then have a response from the author to responses to her original article where the author actually attributes cultural appropriation as a non-issue that white people are trying to make more of than it is … is hilarious to me.
“I am saying, let’s turn this conversation in the direction of structural inequalities that make it okay to mock marginalized cultures until a white person validates those said cultures.”
To lay the concept of cultural appropriation at the feet of white people when as I remember it was Native Appropriations that really got the public ball rolling on cultural appropriation back in 2010. But a quick search of an academic paper engine retrieves results discussing appropriation (often from a first nations perspective) from as early as 1992. And I wasn’t looking hard.
So, the author urges for everything I urge for… but for different reasons.