By: Athena Brown
Cultural Appropriation is a popular topic in the field of social justice, so if you’ve been following stories centered around racism, privilege, and so on, undoubtedly you’ve heard this term also come up. As per our usual method, we’ll start out with defining what this word actually means by using definitions put forth by it’s proponents.
And of course we’ll get this ball rolling with one of the most popular sources on the internet (it’s in the top 5 search results every time I start researching one of these for some ungodly reason). According to
the source of all that is wrong with the internet Everyday Feminism, a basic definition would be “Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own“. Right off the bat, that sounds like something that wouldn’t pass rational inquiry, but first lets focus on getting our terms straight. Everyday Feminism goes on to say it’s a “power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group“.
This definition goes on to emphasize “power dynamic” as the condition that differentiates this term apart from “cultural exchange” (where people share cultures) and “cultural assimilation” (where people adopt certain conditions because it will make life easier).
This definition is also concordant with other sources, such as what I could find here, andhere. I’ll be focusing mostly on EF as a source, because they not only give the generally accepted definition, but give a list of practical examples to back up their claims (or in other words, they are the best source – and that’s really saying something).
Several possible outcomes are stated to result from the practice of cultural appropriation. Some of them are:
1) It trivializes historical oppression (like calling Native Americans “Redskins” in the NFL)
2) It makes being racist okay (like writing a positive review on Mexican food in a “shady neighborhood”)
3) It’s cool if a white person does it, but “ethnic” if a person from that culture does it.
4) It allows the dominant group to profit from the oppressed group in a way the oppressed group cannot
5) It allows one race to be rewarded for the accomplishments of another race (like Elvis being the inventor of Rock and Roll, while this was actually invented by blacks).
To go straight ahead and bat these out of the way…
— 1) No one thinks the Trail of Tears was trivial because we have a baseball team by that particular team. I’ve never heard anyone say “The Native Americans had it good – just look at our baseball team!”
For cultural appropriation to happen under the stated definition, it must necessarily included 1. a power dynamic, and 2. something being taken from the oppressed group. So while this might technically fit the definition, it doesn’t necessarily lead to this outcome.
— 2) You’re using yelp reviews of “good restaurant, bad neighborhood” as proof that eating Mexican food makes racism towards Mexicans acceptable. Those damn yelp reviews!!
What’s more, I’m still not seeing anything being “taken by a dominant group” through a “power dynamic”. This comes dangerously close to presupposing that one race is always dominant and the other is always oppressed for no other reason than race – which is the definition of racism.
— 3) The comparison in the third example is that showing up to a corporate job interview wearing cornrows would be something that would bar a black woman from employment, while a white girl in a fashion magazine with cornrows is seen as edgy. Can anyone not see the difference between the expectations at a corporate job interview and a fashion magazine? Or how a white person showing up to such an interview with cornrows would be equally rejected?
Black people do not own cornrows anymore than white people own straight hair, and black women straighten their hair all the time.
— 4) The example used is a white woman selling Native American items because she can get a home mortgage loan to start a business, while a Native American cannot, because reservation land can’t be mortgaged. However, the Native American woman can mortgage a private home just fine – she just can’t mortgage reservation land because it belongs TO THE RESERVATION. There’s nothing barring her from starting her own business.
If the simple act of making and selling something that originated in another culture was the same as “a dominant culture taking something through a power dynamic”, then utterly everything you’ve ever bought or sold is an example of cultural appropriation.
— 5) Elvis became famous for rock and roll, a form of music which came from rhythm and blues, invented by black people. However, black people invented rhythm and blues from church hymns, which were invented by white people.
Further, this directly conflicts with the second possible outcome given; the music from black people may very well have helped them be seen more favorably, which would have helped end racism, not promote it.
Now lets go ahead and get the next few out of the way.
6) It misrepresents marginalized cultures – like how dressing up as Pocahontas ignores the real story of her life.
7) It perpetuates stereotypes, plus you’re pretending to be a race you’re not.
8) White people can do things that people of other cultures were once punished for doing.
9) My right to wear your stuff trumps your feelings about it.
— 6) First, dressing up like Pocahontas isn’t what created all the misconceptions about her life. This is a normal part of how history passes down through generations. It often gets distorted as one retelling follows another. For example:
What’s more, it’s pretty well known that when Disney gets a hold of something, they spruce it up quite a bit. And of course there’s always actual history books laying around if you care to improve your knowledge (What?? Take personal responsibility for my own education???). There’s also Crash Course on youtube if books aren’t your style.
Either way, no matter what historical figure your daughter dresses up as, I’m willing to bet you have a distorted understanding of who they actually were.
Second, where’s the power dynamic? Your daughter could dress up as Susan B Anthony. She’s not doing that because she has power over Susan’s indigenous culture. Also, what’s being “taken”? What does Susan or Pocahontas or anyone else actually losing as a result of a kid dressing up like them?
— 7) Honestly? If I have cornrows… I’m pretending to be another race???
The primary claim on this one is that Katy Perry dressing up as a geisha perpetuates a stereotype about Asian women, but this confuses geishas with Asian women. It’s as though Everyday Feminism believes we can’t tell the difference, or that we’re all stupid animals who can’t understand that there might be more than one side to a person. Yes, an Asian woman can be passive and submissive. They can also be domineering. They can also be friendly. They can also be angry. And that’s not different women – the SAME WOMAN can be all those things throughout the day. Because they are human, they can be all these things. But you could make this same claim that everyone will think Asian women are only that way, no matter which state we happen to depict an Asian woman to be in. You’ll say THATS the ONLY way us white folks can understand them to be.
Angry Japanese math teacher? Stereotype! Tiger Mom? Stereotype! Hyper excited Japanese camera tourist? Stereotype! Submissive Asian swimsuit model? Stereotype! Chinese dude sitting on a bench not doing anything? Stereotype!
How many of you are in danger of doing this? Lets say you saw a Geisha performance. The very next day you met an Asian woman. What are you going to do? Start ordering sushi from her because you saw the geisha serve that the night before? Everyday Feminism seems to think so.
“White men actually expect Asian women to live up to the “exotic geisha girl” stereotype” – and of course one of the sources for this claim comes fromhttp://mic.com/articles/72827/asian-women-don-t-get-luckier-on-okcupid-we-get-more-harassed – a page which mentions “Like many ladies in New York City, I get catcalls all the time.”
Right, like that 10 Hour Video where men have the audacity to say things like “Hello”, “God Bless You” and….. “HAVE A NICE DAY!!!”
No actual statistics from any credible sources are offered – the entire page is only 1 woman retelling the imagined dangers she thinks she’s experienced. And that’s your proof that geisha stereotypes cause Asian women to be harassed by white men (and specifically white men). Because one Asian woman got some rude comments online. I mean you can’t argue with that kind of proven proof.
But if you would like some actual statistics on a related topic, check out this video. In the first 3 minutes, the author pretty much lays the smackdown on any SJW who might ever try to bring up this topic in regards to Halloween.
TL;DR – if you celebrate Halloween at all, you are celebrating an appropriation of an appropriation of an appropriation of a Celtic holiday you know nothing about. So you can skip right by all the costume talk.
Also lets head back to that original definition for a moment.
1. What’s being taken from the Japanese by Katy Perry? I mean if I take your car, but the next morning your car is still there… then how in the hell did I take it? Geisha’s are still allowed in Japan. We haven’t taken anything away from them.
2. Where’s the power dynamic? Japan rivals the US in a number of ways, Japanese culture is very highly respected and admired, so much so that we’ve coined the term“Wapanese”. I’ve never heard of any modern Japanese person being discriminated against. Most of us Americans are probably more fascinated to meet a person from Japan, and are more likely to ask them what Japan is like.
— 8) Here it’s said we’ve culturally appropriated yoga, and can practice it, while Indians were once punished for practicing it. And while we’re benefiting from it commercially, people living in India aren’t.
Or have they?
Consider how much culture we’ve appropriated from China for a moment. We tattoo their letters on our skin, we eat their food at restaurants, we practice their martial arts, we enjoy watching them in movies, we listen to their music, and Chinese themes can be found decorating our homes.
Now consider how many far right politicians would love it if they could convince the American public to go to war with China, which they can never do now, simply because of how we’ve come to view them. Despite having such political animosity, China is one of our biggest trading partners, and all of this is thanks in part to our “appropriation”. A long time ago, we used to have a decidedly racist stance against the Chinese, but that changed too, again thanks to appropriation. As we start taking more and more of their culture, we stop being racist and start liking them. Pretty soon we’re even appreciating them!
It’s true that Great Britain once brutally subjugated India. Today, British teens can be seen wearing nose rings, and cricket is wildly popular in India. That’s a sign that relations between the two cultures have considerably improved. There’s no longer hatred between them. That’s what tends to happen when one culture starts taking from another. Cultural appropriation makes it hard to stay mad at each other, and even harder to keep seeing the other side as being inferior. Why would you adopt their culture if it were inferior??
9) From the page: “You should have the right to express yourself however you want to – and you do. Nobody can force you to stop taking things from other cultures.“
๑۩ﺴ Reality Check! ﺴ۩๑
Your car is German. Your vodka is Russian. Your pizza is Italian. Your kebab is Turkish. Your video games are Japanese. Your democracy is Greek. Your coffee is Brazilian. Your tea is British. Your bread is French. Your timber is Canadian. Your rubber is Malaysian. Your oil is Saudi Arabian. Your electronics are Chinese. Your numbers are Arabic. Your religion originated in the middle east and most of your holidays are pagan.
If cultural appropriation were real, then you don’t appropriate from other cultures. You **ARE** appropriated culture.
That’s what makes this topic so incessantly inane and inspired this response. The “power dynamic” is nothing more pseudo-intellectual way of addressing which cultures you actually think are inferior to ours. We consider the United Kingdom to be on equal terms with us. That’s why it’s never said that we’re appropriating from them. Or Australia. Or Norway. Or Russia. There’s no “power dynamic” (we’re not superior). India is seen as inferior because it’s largely undeveloped as a nation. Hence there’s a power dynamic (another way of saying we’re superior), and thus we can appropriate from them. We can identify ourselves as the white devils we are and begin practicing that mental self-flagellation, because we’re more “enlightened”.
Meanwhile, most folks living in India honestly couldn’t care less if Americans are practicing yoga. Go on facebook right now and ask someone living in India and see for yourself.