7 Resources on Cultural Appropriation
Recently, I was asked by a reader if I knew of any resources on the topic of cultural appropriation. I’m sharing these here, and also placing them into the Blogs You Should Read Category.
The links here can serve to spark critical thought and dialogue. If you have any resources on cultural appropriation, feel free to share them in the comments section or by sending me an email.
“Cultural appropriation is a method of cultural syncretism that is specific to our primary-Other-identity, post-colonial, identity-politics era. It arises when a dominant culture, as I said above, raids a subordinate culture for cultural items that it then pulls out of context. The dominant culture — in our case, white Americans — doesn’t properly acknowledge the borrowing — or else the dominant culture makes a complete hash of the borrowing and then tries to pass it off as authentic. “
“There is a history of genocide and colonialism involved that continues today. By the sheer fact that you live in the United States you are benefiting from the history of genocide and continued colonialism of Native peoples. That land you’re standing on? Indian land. Taken illegally so your ancestor who came to the US could buy it and live off it, gaining valuable capital (both monetary and cultural) that passed down through the generations to you.
Have I benefited as well, given I was raised in a white, suburban community? yes. absolutely. but by dismissing and minimizing the continued subordination and oppression of Natives in the US by donning your headdress, you are contributing to the culture of power that continues the cycle today.”
If you’re Caucasian (be you European or USAmerican), you need to be mindful of colonialism: its structure, remnants, and legacy. There is no “truth to stereotype”: European and American imperialism in the 18th century created (not codified) much of the perceptions about colonised people, most notably that of being “noble savages”, uncivilised (and therefore inferior), and/or inscrutable, and much of these attitudes are still present in the form of veiled, or unveiled racism.
If you are writing a minority character, examine them. All these characters are people, with quirks, contradictions, and endearing traits, they are not “oddly coloured natives”, who wave cheerfully and are happy to bow to the foreigner. Neither do they gibber, or jabber in their mother tongue. They speak, and I’m willing to bet many of them speak much better English than you do.”
Ethnic Fashion Obscures Cultural Identity
“Assigning new cultural meanings to symbols with very old traditions or deep personal significance is inappropriate and insensitive. It reduces the complexities of South Asian culture to mere physical items, rather than the continual process that culture is.”
Cultural Appropriation Bingo
“Forced assimilation does not equal the appropriation and the commodification of another person’s culture. Furthermore, forced assimilation does not have to be as black and white as putting people into residential schools, but it can also be an epistemic and ideologically forced assimilation such as “business suits* = a necessary uniform to gain access into the white collar workforce,” therefore, in turn, what this also produces is the idea that the “native dress” of someone else’s culture is devalued and “uncivilized.”
Therefore, in order for a person of colour to have a white collar job, they must then wear a business suit. We have the social and cultural understanding that “business suits = employment,” but we never interrogate where that comes from and what that means.”
“A Japanese teen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo of a big American company is not the same as Madonna sporting a bindi as part of her latest reinvention. The difference is history and power. Colonization has made Western Anglo culture supreme–powerful and coveted. It is understood in its diversity and nuance as other cultures can only hope to be. Ignorance of culture that is a burden to Asians, African and indigenous peoples, is unknown to most European descendants or at least lacks the same negative impact.
It matters who is doing the appropriating. If a dominant culture fancies some random element (a mode of dress, a manner of speaking, a style of music) of my culture interesting or exotic, but otherwise disdains my being and seeks to marginalize me, it is surely an insult.”
If you have any resources on cultural appropriation, feel free to share them in the comments section or by sending me an email.
From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins, MSW