Let's talk about appropriation...

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Cammybatty, Jul 23, 2013.

  1. Here’s what’s wrong with hijab tourism and your cutesy “modesty experiments”

    This blog post really hit some chords with me. I am someone who actively strives against committing cultural appropriation myself, or 'cultural tourism' to use the concept written about here. People take little jaunts into another culture or life choice and then go tell everyone about it like they're some expert. Some people even make money off of it.

    While, on the surface at least, it may seem harmless and even noble, there are deep systemic problems with it, like colonialism, which the author talks about here, racism, and in this case, Islamophobia, but it can also just as easily be expanded to include all forms of xenophobia.

    So, let's talk about this. What is appropriation? What are popular fads that we have clearly appropriated, and what's the harm in it? I can speak from my own experience, but I want to hear your thoughts first.
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  2. So I'll give an anecdote as my contribution.

    When I was in elementary school I had a best friend who was white. She had blue eyes and blonde hair and was really pretty. Cultural heritage day was coming up and I had my friend over a couple of times and I showed her some of my silk Chinese dresses. I had a light blue one, a green one and a pink and black one. I could tell from the way she looked at them that she wanted to wear them, and she borrowed one of my dresses and wore it on cultural heritage day.

    ... My asian classmates were not amused. >.> I think they all knew that she wanted to wear the dress because she loved the look of it. Someone even said, "_______ you aren't Chinese! Why are you wearing that!" And she spat back saying that she had a grandmother of some kind that was Chinese.

    Lesson of the day? It's fine if you love the cultural outfit, but don't wear it on cultural heritage day and say that it's part of you when it obviously isn't.
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  3. I can't say that I have ever experienced this personally. Maybe I have and just didn't realize it, but to me it doesn't seem like such a big deal unless the "cultural tourist" encroaches on something of incredible religious or cultural significance. Wearing a hijab for a day, a week, or a month does not really cross that line in my opinion. Granted, there are plenty of ways to go deeper into the culture than simply wearing a hijab.

    Where I DO have a problem is when the journalist who has embarked on their cultural tourism likens their action to actually BEING a person of that culture. Sorry, privileged white girl, you will never truly know what it is like to be Muslim. You will never, ever know how it feels to be oppressed because of your skin color, your culture, or your religious beliefs. Wearing a hijab or a burqa, no matter for what length of time, does not somehow magically make you Muslim and somehow give you insight into what life is like as a Muslim person. Don't get me wrong, I don't know what it's like to be Muslim either - and I understand that I don't know.

    That's like saying if a white man goes to China for a month, suddenly he's Chinese and has insight on what it's like to be Chinese. No; he has insight on what it's like to be a white dude in China. Nothing more.

    For educational purposes, it's fine. For reflective purposes, it's fine. Some things, people are curious about and want to know about, and I have no issue with those who try to educate them. But the moment they try to pass it as firsthand knowledge on what it's like to actually be from x culture, that is when I have a problem.
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  4. My tears are tears of joy and faith. I love you. ♥Makes me so proud y'all♥

    SO GODDAMN PROUD. p.s. Fuck Miley, Iggy Azalea & Macklemore.


    Also all that shit can be summed up as, "They want all the flavor but they don't want to taste none of the bitterness."

    EDITEDIT: I've read articles like this before and one of the best comments I read I'll paraphrase, "They'll do [this thing like wear a hijab] this and experience the things we do and they'll get so surprised. It's maddening because we've been talking about it all this time and they'd say 'Oh it was just that person.' or 'You were just at a bad place at a bad time.', it's like they think we're lying or exaggerating about all of what happens to us."
    #4 Kooriryu, Jul 23, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2013
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  5. Where the problem comes in, Fatal, is when people go journeying into those cultures by just 'going off and doing it', and taking all their knowledge from that alone. What these people are doing is discounting the experiences of millions of people who LIVE THIS WAY DAILY. It's saying, 'you don't know what you're talking about, but I have the intelligence to learn it and say it for you'. It's belittling, it's nullifying, and it's a central issue with Western culture in general. Even if you're just doing it for yourself, you're robbing yourself and those in that culture of a true, authentic teaching/learning experience, and at the same time perpetuating the systemic issue.

    The author talks about (either in this post or other conversations, as I also follow her on Twitter) about Colonialism. Basically, anything that is seen as 'non-Western' is at its heart barbaric and uncivilised. Even the pandering, false positive view of something being 'exotic' falls under the same rule.

    Where the 'hijab tourism' falls foul is the fact that it is taken up as a White Feminist issue, which is basically a dressed-up form of Colonialism, ie. "let's save these poor oppressed women from this thing!" It's not taking into account the fact that Islamic women actively put on their hijabs daily. They are not 'thrust upon' them by male superiors. But these feminists are not listening to that, or even bothering to ask, usually. The hijab has just become a 'symbol', and far too simple of a symbol for a choice of action that is actually quite complex. Simply wearing a hijab is not 'getting into a culture' at all, really.

    Cultural appropriation is something that is deeply embedded in society, and is highly intersectional. By that I mean that it touches on issues of race, gender, class, ethnicity, and national identity. I think if we really sat down and thought about it, we'd be surprised where we see appropriation happening.
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  6. Being pagan, this is a very hot button topic. Much of the pagan community, those who label themselves reconstructionists especially, are doing their best to rebuild and dig out tradition long ago usurped by conquerors who were themselves later conquered. Unfortunately, since many pagans of most labels are mutts AND since many types of pagans are encouraged to seek out faith that works, this gets troublesome on the cultural level. I have friends who get yelled at for having no norse blood and claiming to be heathens, there's the issue of not allowing men or trans women in some Dianic circles, and beneath it all is this "no, we're working too hard to get our roots back, you can't have them!" current.

    Add to this the noise about Yoga, which many white pagans do for health or spirituality, pagan veiling (it's a thing), and weekend shop "shamans" and you have a whole convoluted viper's nest. Where does rediscovery and path exploring end and appropriation begin?

    I would have to say that it is when you use your adopted appropriation to belittle what others in a culture have been through. When you show your privileged wiccan upper middle class self as being the voice of the native peoples of any land, there's going to be a problem. This becomes murkier when we are talking about dead traditions being revived, but shamanism, for example, is far from dead. It also varies from culture to culture and isn't traditionally referred to as Shamanism outside of certain regions. And if you hear someone (probably rich, author, white) saying they are a traditional native american shaman, well, they are either trying to speak in a language we understand or they are trying to fleece money.

    A very big problem in teasing out what is harmful appropriation and what is widening experiences is that we have shitty vocabulary. Americans like to pretend we're educated jet setters, but really, we traipse through the world of culture like the tourist who thinks that they know everything about Japan because they know how to say "sushi" and "sake" correctly. Unfortunately, learning the vocabulary of another language is confusing enough. Learning the vocabulary of a CULTURE, even a pocket of culture in the US, is damn near impossible. It is colored by a wealth of different slang, terms, varying uses of words, and things that, strung together meaninglessly anywhere else, have sudden incredible impact in one valley in one coal town. Cultural vocabulary goes beyond words to actions, colors, clothes, deferences, and traditions.

    A friend in another conversation on the yoga topic mentioned that without cultural appropriation, humans would not have survived. In a way, that's true. Innovation is driven by war a good deal of the time (medicine at other times) and both of these things are pretty much due to border crossing in some form or another. But that doesn't mean we should run roughshod over the cultures we look at.

    It's a complex mess. Research, go into things with your full heart, and I will seriously glare at anyone who says they are a shaman because they attended a weekend workshop in Sedona.
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  7. White America has no culture. We appropriate everything...

    ... Okay, I don't really feel this is true, but you know of it isn't a cheese burger or NASCAR if you've got the least bit interest in it you're obviously not (white) American but a wannabe, and why don't you move there to boot.

    I don't know what it's like to be black, Japanese, or gay. Nor will I pretned to, but can I not be interested in things identified culturly or stereotypically as them? Is it wrong, because then we should just be ignorant of everyone around us.

    Maybe I am misunderstanding. I agree pretending to be X and then being an expert is pretty damn rageful, but if exotic is just racism, then I am a racist because everything beyond my little town is exotic to me because it is different and unknown.
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  8. Transcript via http://asianamericana.quora.com/Yellow-Apparel-When-the-Coolie-Becomes-Cool
    Original Source via vvv

    woop woop


    #8 Kooriryu, Jul 23, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2013
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  9. Basically, what Koori just posted. It's not about just doing something associated with a culture or wearing something associated with that culture, but while you're doing it, take the time to really learn about that culture. Find out if it's something that could be offensive to someone. Don't just do it because it's cool. Don't go into it with any kind of pre-conceived notion about why it is the way it is. Take the time to actually learn from people who live that culture. Doesn't have to be all the time, doesn't have to take up your whole day, but be aware. Ask honest questions. Have an authentic conversation.

    Let me share part of my experience of why this is such a big deal for me personally.

    As a few of you who know me fairly well know, I was born and raised in Bermuda. We have a lot of pride in our culture, and we freely share it with those around us. What we DON'T like, what gets us angry, is when we, the people, are just seen as 'a tourist destination', or something. So many times when I was in university, I had to deal with ignorance like that. As soon as I said I was Bermudian, I stopped being a person in their eyes. I was suddenly "The Bermuda Triangle" or "some faraway, exotic place". They had no real interest in learning about me. As soon as they found out it was a place where people lived their lives, went to school, worked, etc. much the same way they did, interest gone. Once I told them that I didn't have lost airplanes and boats sitting up in my backyard, or that we lived in houses not huts, or that I didn't personally know anyone who'd been lost in The Triangle, they barely cared. They didn't ask what culture we did have, or anything like that. And if I tried to share with them, they laughed at it and called it 'weird'.

    What gets me angry, though, is that these are the same people who will go on and on about Bob Marley, reggae, and Jamaica, and know nothing about the actual place. Know nothing about the struggles there. The ones that were, and the ones that are. Don't care. My mother's Jamaican, so that is part of my heritage too. THAT'S the part of appropriation that is dangerous, that is hurtful. That's what nullification is. If your interest in something only goes as far as a talking point for you to say, 'I did ____________, so I am a cultured person', then forget it.
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  10. I thought this portion of your post was really profound. And it does sort of tie in with what I mentioned before, that I really only have a problem with this type of journalism when an outsider tries to share their experiences, and attempts to pass them off as insider experiences.

    It IS belittling, but I think the deeper problem is that most people don't see it that way. I think the typical average person in America might see an article like that in a tabloid magazine or something and be fascinated by it.

    Here's the problem:

    Learning of this kind (the kind you have to personally experience) gets more and more diluted the more it gets passed down. Even the most eloquent writer or speaker can't communicate learning like this in a way that the audience will capture every single detail. Then the people in that audience will communicate it to their friends, who pass it on again, and so on, like a big game of Telephone.

    The best way to understand something is to go do it, which is what these writers are trying to do. I don't blame them for it; actually I think it's wonderful if you're willing to learn about a culture that's not your own. I can see how it can be a difficult area to draw the line, because rather than writing about the experience to impart knowledge on your reader, ideally they could instead try to make their readers curious and want to go and see for themselves. In an ideal world that would be the best outcome, but realistically, most people just don't have the resources to go out and be a part of a different world. So instead the authors do the next best thing and write about their experience so they can connect with a wider audience.

    I don't know where I'm going with this, I'm just kind of rambling and have been interrupted by numerous phone calls and meetings while at work lol. So sorry if this is not too cohesive, it's just a sort of train-of-thought post.
  11. I think my problem with what the writers are trying to do is this: Are they ACTUALLY trying to learn about it? In my most honest opinion, I would have to say no. Because like Koori said, they were all surprised from the experience, but all they had to do to find out what it was like, was to ask someone, and to take them at their word.

    You're right that a teacher or a writer isn't going to be able to get down every detail, but to start, they should have the greatest wealth of details that they can, and what better way to do that than to learn from people who HAVE all those details? Or better yet, why didn't she ask them to help her write her article? She has the privilege, as a white woman and as a journalist for a respected magazine, that if she says something people will listen. She could have lent her voice to them, to help give them the voice that is so often denied them. But she didn't. Instead, she's now making money off of it.

    Remember, these weren't people in some far off place. These were people living right around her. In America. This would not have been a difficult or expensive thing for her to do. Why would she not ask them, what did she know better than them?
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  12. My sister got a sugar skull tattooed on her leg and I wanted to cut her off of my family tree. I'm a white American, but I know what Day of the Dead means and it just sort of horrified me that she got that tattoo, drawn all cutesy and adorable with cherries, when she didn't even understand the meaning behind it.

    That about sums up my experience with this topic. I won't speak further on it because forming an ignorant opinion on something is worse than not forming one at all.
  13. There is a point where you do need to just experience things if you can if you seriously want to embrace something. That's where immersion programs, living the culture, being placed with a family or group or actually getting out and doing the work is important. You don't HAVE to do this, though, as research and just asking people can give you insight that you wouldn't already have. But if you really want to be part of something, especially something of spiritual significance, putting on the costume is not enough. You need to really live the culture. And if that culture is new and growing or is being rebuilt, you still need to live it and learn it. That means getting on your knees and praying or tending to the coffee farm or, if it is a dead culture, going and digging in the dirt.

    At the same time, there's nothing wrong with wearing cute anime shirts or buying Russian nesting dolls, just make the effort to know what you're referencing when you do so. I recall a story my ex mother in law told me. A friend of hers bought a wall hanging that supposedly said "welcome" in Chinese (not sure which chinese variant) and actually, it was later discovered, translated to something akin to "whore house".

    Anyway, point is:

    You can't just gulp the wine and expect to really taste it. Sip or savor, but don't just toss it back and say you know the grapes it came from.
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  15. [MENTION=961]Cammyotter[/MENTION], that's a good point. I don't have an explanation for that. The only thing I can maybe think of is sensationalism.

    To the general public, it's a lot less interesting to read an article about other people talking about their experiences than it is to read an article about a person talking about their own experiences in that environment.

    But that's a whole different conversation - if we go there, we start to talk about consumerism and commodification in the Information Age.
  16. [MENTION=477]Kooriryu[/MENTION], once, in HS, I was riding the bus to town after school with my cousin. We had on our uniforms and our backpacks, and some tourist honestly came up to us on the bus and asked "Do you live here?" That was it. If I had less manners, I would've said, "No, they just fly us in for the day. We're part of the attraction."
  17. ^^^ That's that shit I don't like.
    #17 Kooriryu, Jul 23, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2013
  18. I don't want to derail Cammy's awesome cultural appropriation topic, because I have agreed with absolutely everything people have said here, EXCEPT, Any time someone says "white people can never understand or suffer the effects of racism" I just want to scream. Racism affects ALL people in ALL cultures everywhere all over the world, regardless of your race or country. Not just "everybody but the white people!" Yes, a white person living in America is absolutely NOT going to have the experiences or even begin to understand the struggles that someone who is muslim, black, chinese, etc will have to deal with on a daily basis. And anybody that tries to appropriate themselves in to that culture and claim they understand is totally being a dumbass. But that doesn't mean white people can't also be the victims of racism. Living and growing up in a foreign country where white people are the minority. Or growing up in a black neighborhood where the atmosphere is all 'white people abused us, lets abuse them'. Or not being able to work somewhere because they actually have a racial quota. Most white people in America or white-majority countries are not ever going to experience racism first hand, yes - but that doesn't mean they CAN'T and that they WON'T and that they'll never understand it.

    I had to get that out before I died. T____T It's something I get really frustrated about.

    BACK ON TOPIC, THOUGH... I don't see anything wrong with adopting some cultural things because you liked them, believed in them, thought they were cool, etc... but 100% agree that people should actually LEARN about what they're bringing in to their life. ALL cultures influence each other over time. Things spread, change, evolve, merge. This is natural evolution. But it's totally asinine when people try to insert themselves and try to own something like it's their own life story. Like the Hijab tourism thing, it's ridiculous and everyone above has already illustrated all the reasons why. >< I criiiiinge every time I hear an anime fan go on and on about how great and wonderful Japan is, but they don't know anything about the REAL culture outside of what they watch on anime. I had this friend in high school who wanted to "connect with his black roots", but he didn't do any research about his family history and where they came from. He just grabbed random African stuff in a hodgepodge of things regardless of what country and culture it came from and assumed because it was from Africa it counted.

    I think Zen's example of cultural faux pas was pretty much spot on. >> Had that little girl worn the dress in HONOR of Chinese culture, or did something like "I love the way this looked, and I also learned ___ about the Chinese and this dress!" or something, that would have been wonderful. But otherwise, I think she just kinda got caught on the spot and said something really stupid. D:
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  19. ... hopyaaa~

    1 3 6-9 11 12 14 18


    At 3:30, "Kathleen knew she walked through the world differently than I did." is my favoritest motherfuckin' line.

    Now back on track y'all.



    I mean everything so far as been basic-ass, 101, Fischer-Price, beginner, kiddie gloves, elementary-type shit. But you gotta start somewhere.
    #19 Kooriryu, Jul 23, 2013
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2013
  20. I think it's a GREAT thing to learn about other cultures, to be curious and to approach with an open mind the way that someone else lives. I think that this is not only normal and healthy and worth encouraging, but also something that can help bridge gaps. Fear stems from the unknown and I'm excited about the world becoming more interconnected to allow people to learn about others in a way that's not been possible before.

    However, I also agree that thinking you're an expert on the way someone else lives because you tried out one aspect for a while is narrow-minded and harmful to the cause. I think we should allow everyone to be the expert of the life that they lead and appreciate the culture that we all have, the traditions of our own families and the like. And I think some of the appropriation happens because people born in America feel stripped of culture and they want to be special. Zen's beautiful Chinese dress was special and cultural and beautiful and if that little girl's family has lived here for generations, she maybe didn't feel any tie with any special culture and I think it's sad. Not that Zen's Chinese heritage isn't special and beautiful and wonderful but that the little girl felt like she needed to pretend to be something else to feel as special.
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