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Race Fail vs Cultural Appropriation - Sam PF's Journal
March 19th, 2009
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Race Fail vs Cultural Appropriation

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Date:March 19th, 2009 12:40 pm (UTC)
There's an interesting discussion on this very subject, from a couple of months ago, at the Angry Black Woman's blog. Some quotes I quite liked:

something from another culture that you’re using with no knowledge or understanding or care for its initial significance

Cultural appropriation: when a member of a group in authority uses that authority to tell or use stories, icons, myths, art, etc. that belong to a group which does not have the power or authority to tell its own stories etc.; especially in inaccurate, insulting or self-serving ways, and especially without giving attribution or context.

The appropriation is the way in which anything, no matter how holy, no matter how serious, can be revisioned, reused, remolded for entertainment. It’s the way in which white people can suddenly become martial arts masters or claim lineages of spiritual teachings, even though no one from the place of origin can verify it.

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION: Herein lies the rub. Appropriation implies taking for oneself, to seize possession (or “adopt”) without consent or consideration in a way that detracts from the source culture’s ability to access or enjoy that which you have taken. It is stealing. It is inherently negative. Unlike cultural adoption or depiction, there is no good kind of cultural appropriation.

And another post here, with some more discussion.

There's also this con write-up, which is a couple of years old now, from a Wiscon panel. oyceter's discussion of this ended up turning into a big conversation across swathes of LJ - nowhere near the scale of the GCADOD '09, but it was a precursor, and led to IBARW and a lot of the more recent conversations. It's a really smart post.

"Writing PoC badly" and "appropriating someone's culture" are two separate things, I think. They definitely overlap, but there are equally plenty of things which fall into one category and not the other. Frex: if you write a modern-day character of colour who acts exactly like a white person, who seems to have no awareness of racism or cultures other than the mainstream "white" one, I suspect that's gonna be bad writing. And if you write a story where an entirely white cast of characters suddenly starts using "Hindu magic", that's appropriation, right? But in the first instance you're not appropriating, and in the second you're not writing PoC.

I think The Free Slave makes a good point when he(?) argues that we should mostly think about what effect our choices have on other people. Not so much "am I being racist if I only watch anime?" but "how do actual Japanese people feel about me watching anime?". Mostly I think what matters is being aware of the context of whatever you're doing. But this isn't a straightforward thing where you can be obviously "right" or "wrong"; different people feel differently about the same thing. I remember in the original CA debate that started with oyceter's post a number of people mentioning Paul Simon's use of African musicians and musical ideas on his Graceland album; some people felt that was appropriation, some people didn't. There's no real consensus.
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Date:March 19th, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
Those are some good definitions. Another factor that's important to a lot of (but not all) POC in this is the question of consent. An example that was used recently on racism_101 is Indian food: a white person eating Indian food in an Indian-run restaurant in London is not appropriation, because the owners want the business. A white person telling the Indian owners of that restaurant what dishes to put on their menu probably would be appropriation, unless the owner asked their opinion. A group of white people getting together to run an Indian restaurant with no Indian input would almost certainly be appropriation.

Some of the yoga traditions that were created by Westerners make me uncomfortable for this sort of reason. Sivananda, Ashtanga, Iyengar - those were all brought to the West by Indian gurus who wanted Westerners to benefit from what yoga has to offer. I think it's legitimate for me to practise those, and even to teach them if I do it in exactly the way the founders laid down. Sivananda teachers have to promise not to make any changes in order to get certified, I believe. Things like Anusara, Christian Yoga, Yoga Dance Fusion, Yogalates, which were invented by Westerners, some of whom had little regard for the underlying philosophy - not so much.
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Date:March 19th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
This is all very helpful. Thank you.

The power thing does seem to be a key thing, and especially to how much damage CA is likely to do. The biggest problem is when the 'appropriated' (mis)representation of the culture is able to drown out the original.
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