When Cultural Appropriation Goes Too Far.

One of my biggest struggles when I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area as a South Asian, was the unapologetic way self-proclaimed new-agers would appropriate Indian culture. Wearing Indian inspired clothing, listening to Indian music, eating Indian foods, studying Indian traditional medicine and of course, practicing yoga (including all various types of chanting and instrument playing). It has never been an easy line for me to tow. I believe that culture is fluid, it doesn’t necessarily belong to any one person and South Asian culture is the jam, so it is easy to understand why people are drawn to its complexity.
Or are they? Perhaps it was curious exploration, but to me it has always felt like the new-ager obsession with India feeds into the belief that Americans don’t have their “own” culture, so they need to participate and steal from “mine.” Even though I had adopted a Western lifestyle and it was definitely “my culture”–one trip to India made that very clear. Furthermore, it felt very convenient for people that hadn’t experienced life as a person of color and an immigrant in this country to participate in a culture by choice, one that I had been discriminated against for being a part of. My ambivalence to Westerners adopting and often distorting what I knew as my “home” culture has only grown, where yoga practice for me is sometimes my fight to deal with my anger around cultural appropriation.
This very personal confrontation I have had with cultural appropriation (and the fact that I am human) makes me think the incident with the Oprah-approved self-help guru, James Arthur Ray who took some 50-odd people to a retreat center in Sedona, Arizona, had them fast and then sit in a sweat lodge, after which 2 of them died and 19 were hospitalized, is especially disgusting. The blatant lack of recognition of cultural appropriation, how dangerous and deadly the situation turned out to be and the chilling reality that perhaps this could have been anyone of the new-agers I encountered in San Francisco, starved and craving a culture of their “own,” is irksome at best.
Indigenous leaders agree. Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, writes personally on NDN News,

As Keeper of our Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, I am concerned for the 2 deaths and illnesses of the many people that participated in a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona that brought our sacred rite under fire in the news. I would like to clarify that this lodge and many others, are not our ceremonial way of life, because of the way they are being conducted. My prayers go out for their families and loved ones for their loss.
Our ceremonies are about life and healing, from the time this ancient ceremonial rite was given to our people, never has death been a part of our inikag’a (life within) when conducted properly. Today the rite is interpreted as a sweat lodge, it is much more then that. So the term does not fit our real meaning of purification.

Who knows what Ray’s intention was, but not knowing how to do the ceremony properly led to the unnecessary death of 3 people and injuries to countless others. According to CNN the deaths will be investigated as homicides.
I am so deeply disturbed by this.

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  1. gadgetgal
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    Hi Gretel – I’m not really talking about either citizenship or ethnicity, which are difficult things to pin down to one word or explanation anyway. I’m talking more about describing your life experience. The reason why a lot of people over here(not so much me, because my background’s even more mixed up than yours or Thomas’ so I get why other people over there don’t get this)is talking about life experience and things you have in common. When I say to someone from the US that I’m British it’s letting them know generally who I am and where I come from; when I say to someone from the UK that I’m British (although you’d have to be more specific here because there are big differences place to place) it’s letting them know we have a shared experience – that’s not to confuse it with tradition or culture, which is quite complimentary when other people adopt it, I reckon, or when people acknowledge that’s where their ancestors came from.
    And I’m a history buff too, so although I know you’re right when you say people might be hesitant when associating themselves with the States because of it’s past, ALL countries have violent, shameful pasts somewhere in their history. That doesn’t then mean that all of their heritage is bad, though, and I don’t think it means they should remain ashamed forever of where they come from. The USA is an amazing country!

  2. Devonian
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Not to mention Japan itself appropriates from other cultures at least as much as others do from it…

  3. gadgetgal
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure whether she meant specifically the clothes and the food or just the whole “new agers” thing that went with it – sometimes (and although I count some new age people among my friends, and I don’t wish to offend them) they can take it a bit far, sort of like they’ve gone beyond saying “I like your culture” to “I’m a part of your culture”.
    I don’t think an appreciation of something from somewhere else is bad at all – if we didn’t want to adopt any other cultures we could even end up not adopting things from the next town over (because culturally they would be slightly different), and how dull would all our lives be then?

  4. tsokol
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 3:41 am | Permalink

    “There must be something in your life that’s someone has labeled “nonsense” that is important to you.”
    Doesn’t mean it isn’t nonsense — it’s just MY nonsense.
    Why is the fact people all over the world have appropriated “western culture”, art, music, etc celebrated, while if the west does the same to other cultures — it’s a “bad” thing? It’s being a “culture vulture”.
    It seems many folks talk about equality, respect, interaction between cultures, even “one world” — while, at the same time, they appear to want to keep their stuff all to themselves. You can take our Jazz music, make it your own (or so many think) — but, we cannot do the same — even while showing respect for the art form.
    Japanese country and western bands are just one example.
    In truth, the European and Japanese love of Jazz has saved many recordings that otherwise might have been lost. Perhaps imitation IS the highest form of flattery. Heck, most of the folks playing the blues today are white guys, old white guys, and very old black guys — somebody has to save this stuff — who knows, there might come a time when various forms of “traditional music” will be saved by white dudes faithfully playing it, while the “native culture” has moved on to something new.
    Remember — one world, Peace.

  5. gadgetgal
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    Ok, I get the impression that maybe you’ve run into this one before and it offended you, which in your instance (which is a bit different from most other people, like me) seems unfair. You father is Scottish – so is mine. My mother is American. I’ve lived here most of my life but spent 12 of my formative years in the US, so try and suss that one out!
    What you’ve taken as an attack upon your heritage and your culture isn’t. As I said to Gretel before acknowledging your background is a good thing, and most people over here would appreciate that fact that you recognise it. One of my good friends whose parents are from Pakistan would either call herself British or Pakistani British, to denote her home country and also her cultural origins. She would NEVER, however, go to visit her family in Pakistan and proceed to tell the locals “I’m Pakistani” – not only is that denying them their shared and very different life experiences, it would be doing it from a position of privilege. She’s from a much better off part of the world, and her entire upbringing has been different to theirs, so to say otherwise is quite disrespectful.
    I’d have to go with the same response here – Gretel said she calls herself British American, and people here wouldn’t really have a problem with that, because although it acknowledges her heritage it’s also letting them know that she’s aware of the fact that she comes from somewhere different than them, therefore she doesn’t share the same common experiences they’ve had, and acknowledges those differences.
    When you call yourself Scottish as opposed to Scottish American that is why people from Scotland seem to get so annoyed. You have a Scottish cultural history but you’re American – that puts you not only in the position of privilege (since last I checked the USA ruled the world and Scotland, as well as the rest of the UK, owe big big debts to them and are way way down on the super power league these days) but it would put them in a very difficult position. You practically own us so now you own our life experiences as well? And from our lower world status are we allowed to take that back? Or do we just have to accept what you say and agree our lives are the same even though they clearly aren’t?
    Also it’s the denial of the differences between two very different countries – by implication you’ve tried to let me know that you know more about Scotland than I do, even though I’m closer to it than your are. You probably do, bookwise, as I’m English. But knowing how little my father knows about living in Scotland now (he left there in the late 60s and left the UK in 1979) I’m a little more sceptical about the importance of that when you’re talking about peoples’ real lives.
    As I said, I personally don’t care what you call yourself – from my mixed background you can tell I find it difficult to pin it down as well. But bear in mind, that although your father is a relatively recent migrant, most “Scots” over there are probably further away from that past than you, and to them Scotland tends to mean kilts, haggis and whiskey. Which (as any good Scot today would tell you) has very little to do with their life experiences today, and is even sometimes considered to be a bit insulting, because some people can use it in a derogatory manner. So I’m not denying you your past, or the things you want to do today, I’m just saying that’s the reason why some people might find what you say offensive.
    Oh, and the crack about McDonalds only came about because it was the only American chain over here that I could think of off the top of my head – I actually prefer Taco Bell but we don’t have them here. And, before you go off on one about how the food culture over there is not just fast food, I’ll say I love a lot of American food that isn’t available here – I still miss the steamed crabs and I would sell my soul for a decent Amish potato salad!

  6. gadgetgal
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    Oh, and just an addendum – saying some people might get offended by the use of certain tags and the confusion that can then arise from it doesn’t mean I think that adopting styles, traditions, foods, etc. etc. from other cultures is wrong – I think it’s a very good thing to experience as much about other places and people as possible. It usually leads to having a more open mind about people’s differences, and just because you’re not from a particular place doesn’t mean that you should dismiss the art, literature, dance, science, mathematics, engineering – if everyone had done that most of the advances we’ve made today would not have happened, because they’re an amalgamation of more than one set of discoveries from more than one place!

  7. gadgetgal
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Well said – creative arts can be saved by a renewed interest from other people, and with new people come new ideas, from a different perspective, which seems like it could enhance things too.

  8. mercaque
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Regarding the appropriation of Japanese culture in particular – I wonder if there is a generational aspect. I was born in 1982 and I totally grew up playing video games of Japanese origin, or watching anime series right alongside whatever American culture I consumed. At that age, I didn’t really question where stuff on my TV came from. (This is not an “I’m white, I did X, can you absolve me?” post – just a statement of my experience.) As an adult, I recognize stuff from my formative years and have that nostalgic, emotional “That’s mine” reaction – but as an adult it’s also my job to recognize when, in a lot of senses, something really isn’t.
    What is so poisonous is the idea that “But I love such-and-such aspect of a culture. How can I be racist?” Well, I dunno, did white appropriation of black music end racism? In fact it frequently does precisely the opposite. By attempting to divorce the culture from the people who originated it, it is frequently an attempt to render the actual human beings in question superfluous and unnecessary. And the fact that the person engaging in this kind of cultural appropriation may have genuine feelings of happiness and affection, makes it all the harder to recognize when it becomes toxic.
    So my two cents is that no, it’s not automatically wrong to eat korma or watch anime or whatever. The mistake is in assuming your affection, no matter how sincere or deep, will cancel out your privilege.

  9. gadgetgal
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Spot on – I’ve noticed that in both the US and the UK, but more about accents. In either country (because I don’t really sound like I’m from either one) I get people saying “Wow, I LOVE people with accents”, not realising that they too have accents, just a different one to mine, but they don’t notice it because it sounds more like the people they know. To people from anywhere else they sound exotic!

  10. Gretel
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks, gadgetgal. I understand better where you’re coming from now.

  11. gadgetgal
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Cool – nice to speak to a fellow mixed-up background person like me, too! If people ask me where I’m from it takes me longer to explain what I actually am than to just answer “I’m from around…”

  12. Dena
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    I think you’re on track, but the last piece of the puzzle is othering.
    I enjoyed living in a visibly Indian-American neighborhood in Berkeley. I enjoyed it so much, I moved to India for a while. But I traveled around North India and then settled down in Kerala. Now, only Vic’s (an importer which had a kitchen as well), served South Indian food. I learned a ton about Dravidian culture and history, and also a ton about Muslim identity and experience within the Indian over-culture. (Lived in a Muslim neighborhood but walked to a Hindu temple for lunch every day since I’m vegetarian.)
    It wasn’t quite what I’d gathered India was like. And I imagine that a lot of people would have that experience.
    What I’ve taken from that experience is that the Berkeley Indian-American ways are valid ways of being Indian. That there is blending happening at every level.
    But more importantly, I’ve learned that, by learning the menu of several restaurants, I’ve learned nothing about some general “character” of Indian people. Knowing that yoga comes from India doesn’t mean knowing that “Indian people” are yogic.
    I live on a boat, and at my marina, there’s a great example of the problem with cultural appropriation. Someone put up a sign in the shared kitchen. It says, “Recycle – hula girls do it!” And yes, there’s a picture of a cartoon Hawaiian woman in a grass skirt. This reference to hula is trying to make recycling sexy, fun, and, horribly, attainable. It disgusts me enough just on that basis, but were I to get a visit from a certain friend of mine – a staunch feminist and overall badass butch Hawaiian – her reaction would be disdainful.
    This appropriation of culture to make yourself or your audience respond to assumed qualities adds a level of distance between people and the cultures they’re observing. Would the people at my marina be able to understand my friend’s hula-ignorance? She’s Hawaiian, doesn’t she hula? And what if she does, but hula to her means meditation, communication, community, and religious praise?
    I don’t see cultural appropriation hurting culture. I see cultural appropriation hurting people who are further and more firmly pushed into stereotypes, more thoroughly othered.

  13. Thomas
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    First, I’m not asserting that I know more about Scotland than you, or than your dad. I have no way of knowing: and I also don’t think that it matters. I don’t argue for culture only defined by a group of well-educated guardians.
    I agree that the experiences of native Scots and diaspora Scots are different, and for clarity I generally call myself an ethnic Scot, a diaspora Scot, or a Scottish American.
    I argue, however, that those identities are subsets of Scots, and that native Scots is also a subset of Scots.
    That’s not semantics. It’s a claim about who gets to say what is Scottish and not Scottish, what’s “authentic,” whatever that means, etc. Some native Scots — folks I can’t really have a polite conversation with — think that the diaspora Scots have an obligation to stay out of it. I’m not moving an inch on that.
    I’ll give an example: Tartan day. I know the folks who created New York’s Tartan Day celebration. They built it from scratch with no help from the Scottish Executive and little from native Scots. Now that it’s a roaring success with a whole week of parties, fashion shows, film festival, concert, a church service and a big parade on 6th Avenue, Scottish politicians have found it convenient to come over and march, and the Scottish Executive has attempted to intervene in the event planning on the reasoning that they represent “real” Scots and should be deferred to. We the diaspora Scots in NY tell them to fuck right off, because this is ours — Tartan Day wasn’t celebrated in Scotland to any significant degree, ever, before Scots in the USA, Canada and Australia* took it seriously. It’s Scottish because diaspora Scots created it, as part of the culture of diaspora Scots. Native Scots don’t get to take it over and redefine it for us by asserting some kind of superior claim over Scottishness. They have an exclusive say in what is native Scottish culture, but not in what is Scottish culture. Scottish Americans have exclusive dominion over what is Scottish American but a shared stake in what is Scottish. And so on.
    Look at it this way: do you think native Pakistanis get to come to Britain and tell your Pakistani British friends how to be Pakistani because being native Pakistanis makes them “more” or “real” Pakistani? Hell No, I expect. So by my reckoning, Samhita has a full share in determining what is Indian and what Indianness is as a diaspora Indian, and your friend has a full share in determining what is Pakistani …
    and you and I are Scots, with as much right to not only appreciate but own, interpret and define tartan, Robert Burns, Glenfiddich, Dario Franchitti and the Bay City Rollers. (S-a-tur-day-NIHT! Yes, it’s kitsch, but it’s our kitsch.)
    *(It’s a different day outside the US — it’s July 1, marking the end of the Acts of Proscription, which were an effort as cultural elimination, in the rest of the world; in the US that’s too close to Independence day and we celebrate on April 6, annivarsary of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 which established, among other things, the principle of popular sovereignty in Scotland in service of national independence)

  14. Thomas
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    You can call me a dick if you want, but I’ve been called much more imaginative things before. I particularly like “totally serious insufferable douche.”
    Familiarity does not bear an inverse relationship to controversy. Some of the most intractable arguments are also the most familiar.

  15. Hara
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    And it is not your business either.
    The point of art is to communicate, to express. It is to be appreciated, not just by those who made it, that would be absurd.
    Art, music, dance,
    all these things are bridges.
    Bringing people together is a good thing. The bridges do that.
    Perhaps the first bridge is not steady, it’s ugly, it hurts some folks (Elvis) but, the truth is his life was a sacrifice for his art wasn’t it? Regardless of the material gain, he died young, sick from one of his arts side effects.
    But, before he went, he used AA music and white kids who hadn’t given it a listen before ~ loved it. It opened the way for AA to be heard by a larger percentage of the population. Hate that all you want, careers and great music were made. Was he the only bridge? Of course not. He was a major one though.
    Bollywood is exposing Indian culture where it had not gone before and I think the two major stars that went on Oprah are glad for the audience.
    I’m American and if someone from Japan appreciated my art because it was exotic to them ~ I would not be bothered by that. I’d be happy for the sale and the exposure.
    We are all world citizens, alike more than different. The only way for us to really know that on a visceral level is to communicate; sharing our creative expressions is a great way to do that.

  16. i_muse
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Yes, part of my mix is Greek. It’s said that is where I get my large, round eyes from .
    Can you imagine if Greeks started flipping out on Americans for totally twisting and fucking up the concept of Democracy?
    and if Greeks went after Italians for their “Italian Bread” and “Italian Dressing” that was actually something they got from their Greek slaves?
    One they that does piss Greeks off is theft of their art and artifacts.
    but, appropriation~ not so much.
    I recall the Greekophiles at the Greek festivals of my youth, being treated well. After being pre-judged wrongly by Anglo’s Greeks were glad to be appreciated, even if it was kind of quirky and a bit much~ it beats being excluded.
    Now, go rent Zorba the Greek, eat a “Greek Salad” that is really an American invent (Salata in Greece is different that in the US at diners) and yell OPA the next time something awesome happens. Greeks will smile at you for it.

  17. i_muse
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    oh, I wasn’t aweare you were the comment police. Peopel have a right to ask questionjs. Not everyone is going to read 165 comments before commenting.
    They are ligitimately trying to figure out how not to be assholes and if they even are assholes for appreciating something they weren’t born into.
    Because of my background-
    I call bull shit.
    Art is to be appreciated- it’s an expression.
    If your religion is exclusive, it is not what spirit intended as far as I am concerned
    and hey
    go ahead and enjoy part of my ancestries gift to this world,
    quote out philosophers and do your best to actually have a democratic system.
    It’s called sharing.

  18. i_muse
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    that is exactly my point, duh!
    You can enjoy democracy, Greek Philosophy and make Spanokotiropita with tortillas (so much easier and tastes good too), the Greeks I know appreciate that, even when you are so far from the original intention (democracy).
    This seems to be an American issue~ We as American are TODDLERS in a world of elders. They alugh at our ridiculous insecurities. I doubt Samhita is an Indian purest or an American purest, I can guarantee she she has appreciated something from another culture and that if we nitpicked and attacked could accuse her of approp. too
    but, it’s a bull shit concept.
    The real problem is prejudice and sometimes – over adoration is a way to get over one’s prejudice
    go from one extreme to the other before ending up in the middle.
    Now, go name your cat Zoe and your fraternity with Greek letters, quote Greek Philosophers and dance the Hasapiko while drinking Ouzo,
    I wont hate on you for it.

  19. tsokol
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, the great majority of folks do not recognize THEIR privilege — they do recognize YOURS, going as far as labeling attempts to bring about equity as “unfair”. Their privilege is a “right”, your attempts to redress matters, at best license.
    The exposure to other cultures, even appropriation of some aspects, can go a long way to “de-exoticize” that culture. Many white Jazz musicians of the 1930′s, 40′s, and 50′s managed to go beyond the institutionalized racism of their era, “jamming” together with their black peers long before they were allowed to play together in public.
    With globalization, people will appropriate aspects of “new” cultures they find appealing (See: blue jeans, rock and roll, Jazz, woman’s rights, general “Westernization”, etc.).

  20. chaelaking
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I agree with Gretel here. Science is one way to quantify and analyze things. But if you think that everything, every experience a person can have, every project they can engage in, can or must be dictated by science, then you have a religious dedication of your own – to science.

  21. i_muse
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    and you missed my point-
    we are all one.
    fuck genetics and where you were born determining what you can eat and dance to-
    fuck that-
    it’s so “stupid Americano’s” to even worry about appropriation.
    In such a racist culture we ought to be glad for the opposite extreme- it’s one STEP closer to less prejudice in the world.
    Please Samhita, do not diss people who appreciate what they weren’t born into.
    I understand being a little annoyed when they go so far, but, have some compassion and patience as they evolve in their personal appreciation.

  22. i_muse
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    there is a lot of prejudice toward “New Agers” First of all, are the people you call “New Agers” comfortable with that title?
    Are they actually participants in the New Thought/ Ancient Wisdom movement?
    Since when is it ok to discriminate against people on this site?
    Thankfully, I’m far too ethnic (especially in appearance to my fellow Americans) to be called out as such- but my friends who practice Yoga, dance Salsa, work with Sage and other local plants in their spiritual and physical health etc. who look very “white”, do not deserve the heaps of hateful prejudice in these comments.

  23. Sloppy Sandwich
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    But I think Germans would eat Panda Express, though. And the Japanese mall near me has onigiri (rice balls) with hot dogs or Spam in them. Here in Chicago taco/burrito joints probably now outnumber hot dog joints (though no one eats burritos in Mexico, or flour tortillas for that matter, my Mexican coworker tells me). Much the way that curry restaurants outnumbered chippies (fish and chips joints) in England when I visited recently. Yet their curries tasted disctinctly different from the ones I get on Devon ave in Chicago, and I would imagine that neither of them taste quite like the stuff back in India. Then again, India probably has a million different regional flavors and styles of curry. And their curry in turn tasts different from the Thai green curry I like with coconut milk.
    And don’t even get me started on bahn mi.

  24. Sloppy Sandwich
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Maybe that girl is just an otaku. There are actual japanese people that are totally clueless nerd otakus. I love the otaku, cute as a button and annoying as hell at the same time. Desu.
    Maybe these people Samhita are talking about don’t fit too well into the usual oppressor/oppressed vocabulary of feministing because they aren’t so much oppressing appropriators as the are just flakes. Everybody knows flaky new age posers and otakus and white hip hoppers, etc. The crime they are most guilty of is “trying too hard.”

  25. Sloppy Sandwich
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    “Raised by a scientist” sounds like they found you in the lab amongst the test tubes and you grew up to be their queen. I am a scientist and a parent. I am not a pure rationalist, though, which is what RSC seems to mean when he wrote “are there any scientists here?” I have spiritual pursuits in my life also. I will try not to tyrannize my own children.

  26. rose0red
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Asked. And answered. IN THE FIRST TWO COMMENTS. Nobody had to read 165 to realize they were contributing to an echo chamber. I do not blame people who just happened to hit send at the same time.
    Actually, I don’t blame anybody! The original context of my comment was in reply to a thread in which somebody too offense. My post was not meant to be a stand alone.
    Yes. People are allowed to ask questions. People are also allowed to be well meaning, insensitive, and tone deaf, too.
    Thank you for giving me your permission to enjoy the culture I presume you share with millions of people. That wasn’t condescending at all.
    I’m done.

  27. Sloppy Sandwich
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Interesting! Thanks and I hope you had fun at your party. Maybe I will serve samosas at my Super Bowl party. Right next to the pigs-in-a-blanket made from cut up hot dogs and biscuit dough.

  28. rose0red
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Excuse me. Feministing is ABOUT calling out privilege when you see it. That’s what I did. Your comment police comment misses the point.
    People DO have the right to ask questions. And upthread where I originally intended my post to be (in reply to a POC that HAD been offended) I acknowledged that yes- it’s possible twenty people asked the same question at the same time. No big.
    But if somebody asked a question much later that was more or less identical to the FIRST COMMENT ON THIS THREAD, I still suggest there is privilege at work. Reading 165 comments is unnecessary to see the question had been ASKED. AND ANSWERED. IN THE FIRST TWO POSTS!
    People have the right to ask questions. People also have the right to be insensitive and done deaf (while being well-intentioned). I have a right to point it out. You have the right to disagree.
    Let freedom ring!
    PS- Thanks for allowing me to enjoy your culture.

  29. rose0red
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Excuse me. Feministing is ABOUT calling out privilege when you see it. That’s what I did. Your comment police comment misses the point.
    People DO have the right to ask questions. And upthread where I originally intended my post to be (in reply to a POC that HAD been offended) I acknowledged that yes- it’s possible twenty people asked the same question at the same time. No big.
    But if somebody asked a question much later that was more or less identical to the FIRST COMMENT ON THIS THREAD, I still suggest there is privilege at work. Reading 165 comments isn’t necessary to see the question had been ASKED. AND ANSWERED. IN THE FIRST TWO POSTS!
    People have the right to ask questions. People also have the right to be insensitive and tone deaf (while being well-intentioned). I have a right to point it out. You have the right to disagree.
    Let freedom ring!
    PS- Thanks for allowing me to enjoy your culture.

  30. rose0red
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Woooooah. Not sure what happened with the multiple postings. Sorry about that.
    Mods- I’m not sure if this is related (or if anybody is looking at this thread anymore, lol), but all Feministing pages are taking forever for me to load- much longer than other sites.

  31. Athenia
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    All cultures appropriate from other cultures….it’s been happening since the beginning of time.
    I find it really interesting how other cultures appropriate certain things–how it turns into something completely different.
    I think the most touchy issue is religious aspects that have present day consequences like what you mentioned with the sweat lodge.

  32. DaisyDeadhead
    Posted October 23, 2009 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Here’s something I wrote awhile ago about religious vs mere cultural appropriation.
    In short, I give religious conversions a pass, and I explained why. I think they’re very different phenomena at base.

  33. britgal
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 3:44 am | Permalink

    Suhaila! Now my turn to be jealous. Let’s just agree to
    I think I understand where you are coming from with this. For me, when my appropriation warning bell goes, actually it’s sometimes the clumsy grasping for ‘authenticity’ which paradoxically triggers *ding*ding*ding*. Eyeliner Berber face tattoos. I’d rather people did some fantasy makeup than drew on a fake face tattoo just like they saw in a National Geographic picture.
    Anyway, did you see this?

  34. britgal
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    ‘We the diaspora Scots in NY tell them to fuck right off, because this is ours — Tartan Day wasn’t celebrated in Scotland to any significant degree, ever, before Scots in the USA, Canada and Australia* took it seriously.’
    I’m the only Sassenach in my family. I am a Sassenach because I was not born in Scotland, and not raised in Scotland. But I am not English – I am British. It took me a while to accept this, but once I had accepted I was a Sassenach I fitted in better with my extended family.
    I have to say that the attitude you show is precisely why ‘diaspora Scots’ (or progeny of Scottish ex-pats, if you can stomach the term) will be rejected by the ‘home land’ as their own. Scottish history for a variety of reasons always been a reconstructed history – tartan has been misappropriated since the 19th Century and the whole Clan thing – big vulgar business. My cousin works on Princes Street in a shop that caters mostly to tourists – like all cultures, they will tolerate your feelings of belonging whilst the till is ringing, but titter at your sensibilities.

  35. britgal
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    the words ‘live in vicarious joy’ skipped off a sentence there.

  36. Emma_Goldman
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    I love this conversation so far!
    I’d like to say that first off, I was born in Poland and still speak, write and read in Polish. However, I don’t have an accent and I changed my name when I was ten to make it sound more American (How Ellis Island of me, no?)
    Now, at age 20 I regret the name changing decision, so when I meet someone for the first time I try to introduce myself as my birth name (which is very Polish) or if I say my american name I follow it with, “but my real name is…”
    Of course it has something to do with my lack of appreciation for American “non-culture”. I’m glad my parents and I immigrated to America for a better life, and I do have a great life… but my Polish heritage and culture and traditions are super important to me. They are a part of who I am, not just what I do or what I like.
    And I love educating people! There is nothing more rewarding than seeing my non-Polish friends (mostly American) enjoy my Polish food, going to Polish music concerts and dancing, or being interested in my parents’ or my telling of stories of my family (which are very intense stories of war, prison, poverty, communism, fleeing the country, etc).
    I have even been told by my best friend who is American but has Irish heritage that she is envious of me for having real culture.
    I understand why white non-immigrants in America may feel the need to fill a “culture” void in their lives, but they need to learn to do it with respect.
    I am kind of extreme about it, but I can’t even feel good about myself wearing any Indian-like garments or anything considered traditional clothing from another culture/religion. I just feel it is too inappropriate from a young Slav like myself.

  37. IndigoCharm
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Ugh, that happens to me, though definitely not to such an extent as with Indian and Japanese culture.
    I’m Russian and when someone here (in the U.S.) finds out — either through my slight accent or because I tell them — half the time it’s like a fetish fest. Apparently, being Russian makes me a vodka-drinking porn actress who lives with polar bears and lives off of potatoes, and they know a Russian word or two so will I be their submissive wife. Huh?
    I don’t mind at all if someone enjoys Russian music, or likes Russian food, or says the name of something wrong because they just didn’t know. But when someone insists to me that pee-row-gees are a type of pre-packaged Italian dumpling, or that that have VISITED Russia so they know more about it than me (this has happened before!), or that they LOVE Russian culture because it’s so full of matryoshkas, I want to bite their heads off, honestly. People out there — the ones that don’t consider me a dirty commie, anyway — seem to think that because they have two nesting dolls, a scarf from Russia, and some painted wooden spoons, they know more about Russia and what it’s like to be Russian (growing up there and all) than me, even if they only spent two weeks there, or went there when they were in the military or something. Then they spend two weeks calling me “comrade” and laughing loudly everytime.
    Yeah, that was more of a venomous rant than I expected it to be. My point is I see what you mean and it irritates me, too (as far as any culture goes).

  38. Vail
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    This subject has been in my mind a lot in the past 5 years. We adopted a daughter from Mongolia and we have sprinkled some Mongolian pictures around the house, she has 2 Dels and we have some Mongolian music disks etc. We want to give her a taste of her culture, but since it’s not “our” culture we don’t know how far to go. Also since most people don’t even know Mongolia is a Country (no, it’s not part of China) it’s hard to even find Mongolian culture here in the USA to show her. So we try to introduce her to a lot of different foods and cultures. We also have to fight the urge to make Mongolia seem to be The Best Country Ever, since we don’t want her to think she was discarded by paradise. So we try to balance what we tell her, the good and the bad (not that we know tons about Mongolia, just what we saw when we were there and what books we could get on it).

  39. Hershele Ostropoler
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    A personal observation:
    I got on the mailing list for a catalog intended for a very different demographic than my own, with a few pages devoted (so to speak) to a vague generic ecumenical spirituality not intended to be burdened with any particular belief beyond “do good things and look to Jesus and the Buddha and so forth for your path” or some such claptrap*. And among the products offered for sale are decorated oblong boxes with scrolls in the back for the purchaser to write something (they’ve heard was) meaningful before putting the whole thing up on the doorpost. And it bothers me because it’s out of context; if you’re not going to embrace the whole gestalt of the belief system, this one thing is literally meaningless. So I’m not at all pious, but something like that seems to suggest that no one is truly serious about it, that things with actual religious meaning are just decoration.
    And I think that applies to any culture. I assume by extention that it’s offensive to throw around “nirvana” and “dharma” and so on without embracing the whole of the religion. Because it is a religion, not just a source of specialness for white people trying to differentiate themselves from their Christian families.
    The whole Mayan Long Count thing vicariously offends me the same way; I suspect most people who buy into it think there are no more Mayans, and that because it’s the beliefs of an ancient long-extinct culture, it must be truer and specialer than boring mainstream white American Christianity.
    *Not intended as a characterization of genuine and sincere religious belief.

  40. Hershele Ostropoler
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    I daresay Target would like people who are going to celebrate Diwali to find a way to give Target money in the process. That’s neither appreciation nor appropriation, it’s capitalism.

  41. tsokol
    Posted October 24, 2009 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Gee whiz, golly gosh!! I’m a Slav, first generation American, who happens to love my country – or, better yet, the IDEA of America, the promise of America — which has not yet been met.
    I’m a Croat. I was born here in the USA. My late mother and father were born in Austria, which became part of Italy, which became a part of Yugoslavia, which is now part of Croatia. Please explain which “culture ” I should celebrate? Perhaps the one of bitter, hard, men who struggled to make a living — while attempting to rule their family with an iron hand (and fist)? Or,can I celebrate the bravery of these people who took a leap into the unknown, trusting their ability to survive?
    I like the latter. I also remember clearly how much these folks loved the USA, loved the fact their children were not as limited as they were in “the old country”.
    While my folks were alive I spoke a now extinct Slavic dialect, etc., etc., etc.
    All that aside, I’m American. My future depends on what happens here. Our future also depends on our knowledge of OUR history, our knowledge of where we can take this country.
    If you don’t think we have a “culture”, go to museums, listen to music, attend galleries, read books by American authors — heck, have some fried chicken and cornbread, maybe some real smoked ribs, etc., etc. Better yet, go to a fancy restaurant that specializes in “New American Cuisine” — it was all the rage not that long ago.
    There is much to admire in all cultures — there is also much that can be very upsetting. Rigid caste systems, lack of mobility, all problems that are growing in the USA.
    If we look closely, our culture is in jeopardy — perhaps it’s time to look at REAL American values — community, equality, opportunity, basic egalitarian ideals — not this manufactured extreme “individualism”, and “freedom” that exists until you try to use it.

  42. gadgetgal
    Posted October 25, 2009 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Hi again – sorry been a few days but business has kept me away from my computer!
    I see where we’ve been getting confused, and still are a bit now, with what each of us has been saying – you’re saying that for you it’s not a question of semantics, whereas I’m saying for someone from Scotland it is! When you’re talking about what’s “authentic” Scotland you’re referring to the culture, not the place – but when you say to a Scottish person “I’m Scottish” that’s what they will think you’re referring to. And understandably, if I meet someone for the first time and they ask where I’m from I would presume they mean mean either where I live, where I was born or where I grew up. If I were to spend half an hour describing my ancestry back to the year zero I’d expect them to get a little irritated at not only the time taken but the overly-complex answer to a fairly simple question!
    When you mentioned the problems you’ve had over Tartan Day with the Scottish Executive please bear in mind however much they claim to represent the Scottish people they mostly don’t – they represent the privileged classes, which are small and very unlike a lot of the rest of the population. If you have problems with them I wouldn’t even put it in the same arena, it sounds more economic and tourism-associated than anything else.
    As to the question over whether or not my mate’s family come over and tell her how to be “more” or “real” Pakistani, I would have to say the answer to that is yes – they come over with recent papers and magazines, tell her family what’s going on in their district, what people are wearing at the moment, how the recent troubles have affected them, etc. etc. Because they are Pakistani and she and her family are Pakistani-British so OF COURSE they have a better idea about it than she does. Because Pakistan is not just a collection of historical dates in a book, or ancient fables, or ex-pat festivals – surprisingly it’s also a geographical location where a lot of people live their lives.
    I take issue with you calling me a Scot – first of all I’m not, by any definition. I was born in England, lived most of my childhood in the US and then the rest of life in England. If someone asked me where I was from I’d say “England” or “Britain” or, at a push “half-American half-English” because of my upbringing and the fact that I’ve lived an almost equal amount of time in both. I’ve been to Scotland a grand total of twice – to say I’m Scottish would give people an inaccurate and misleading description of who I am. I’m also in a similar position of privilege to Scotland as you – England has always been in a privileged position in comparison to other parts of the UK, so to say “I’m Scottish” would be to nullify their very different perspectives and lives compared to mine.
    I think to other Americans and possibly other people from round the world it doesn’t matter if you want to call yourself Scottish when they ask. I think, though, just for the sake of keeping the peace, and on the understanding that the statement means something different when you speak to someone from the UK, your decision to go with “Scottish American” is good – it denotes your culture but also acknowledges the fact that your are American and that is your home. It then doesn’t leave the impression that you might want to be stealing theirs instead! Not sure about the diaspora Scot bit, never heard the phrase before you mentioned it, might be a little confusing since it makes you sound like an ex-pat. But definitely don’t go with the “ethnic” Scot – first off, it sounds like it assumes all Scots are white, and secondly it also sounds like you’re saying all those white people are genetically the same, and neither one of those things is true. I know in one of your other posts further down you said you don’t like that ethnicity is considered to be genetic rather than something that’s passed down culturally, but unfortunately that’s how most people understand the word. If you’re interested in the genetic makeup of Britain then I’d recommend Bryan Sykes “Blood of the Isles” – he’s basically made a dna study of the UK, and it’s quite fascinating and surprising – we’re a much more mixed country than we thought!
    Anyway, hope that clarified a little what I meant when I answered you before – take care and all the best for the future. Slàinte mhath!

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