A Response to Cultural Appropriation (Yes, To The Entire Theory)

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 beCultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their ownRight 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“.

My ancestors also invented the justice system, democracy, and modern infrastructure. Of course I was born in 1981 and had nothing to do with any of that - but for some reason I'm always included when it's genocide or slavery.

My ancestors also invented the justice system, democracy, and most of the modern infrastructure you now enjoy. Of course I was born in 1981 and had nothing to do with any of that – but for some reason I’m always included when the topic is genocide or slavery.

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, and here.  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.

So then.

— 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:

http://www.writespirit.net/greatest-historical-myths/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_common_misconceptions#Ancient_to_early_modern_history

http://all-that-is-interesting.com/american-history-myths

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.

In researching for this post, I came across this. Whoever made it, thank you. Just... thank you.

In researching for this post, I came across this. Whoever made it, thank you. Just… thank you.

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 from http://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.

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12 thoughts on “A Response to Cultural Appropriation (Yes, To The Entire Theory)

  1. Pingback: Answering Amandla Stenberg: Don’t Cash Crop On My Cornrows | 4th Wave Feminism

  2. This is an amazing article. I got here because Jezebel published this diarrhea dump of ham fisted criticism of a white Hungarian woman’s attempt to bring attention to some unique African cultures by basically cosplaying as them. – http://jezebel.com/world-weeps-in-gratitude-for-woke-hungarian-who-did-7-t-1751448258

    I also love that you’re a feminist criticizing EF, which I have come to view as a hurt feelings factory. I am a feminist, too. I moved away from my home state of Alabama to get away from the racism, sexism, right-wing extremism, and rampant ignorance. But damn if some of the extreme leftist arguments these days don’t make me feel old and embarrassed to be labeled a liberal.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. THANK YOU- you articulated everything I have been thinking while researching the topic, put it into a great little list with some awesome graphics, and really made a strong case for your argument. SJWs are making the internet a place where free speech is becoming increasingly less common, groupthink is rising, and it is just so refreshing to read a well thought out response to a ridiculous theory where the author is not silenced for fear of being called a racist.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: How to Answer 3rd Wave Feminist Arguments | 4th Wave Feminism

  5. Thank you for this post! I posted an image of my class wearing Beijing Opera makeup and someone found it offensive, they said ‘cultural appropriation’. I had to research the term and examples of it because I never heard of it before now. The makeup was a part of our study abroad program and was approved by our Chinese teachers. Yet my picture was deemed offensive because we were wearing the makeup of the actors in the Beijing Opera. I still cannot see how it’s offensive, I see it as an appreciation of their traditional opera. There was no ill intent when wearing the makeup, to us it was simply learning and experiencing something new.
    As you said, “our 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.
    You don’t appropriate from other cultures. You **ARE** appropriated culture.” I’m still struggling to understand how it’s offensive, the person who said it was Chinese but she lives in America. So if that’s the case, then that must be mean she’s most likely doing things that can be qualified as ‘cultural appropriation’. In some cases, I can see how certain actions are offensive but in other instances I just see it as an appreciation for someone else’s culture. How is that wrong?

    Like

    • Hey there Foreigndreams! Thanks for checking us out and commenting.

      For the most part, Cultural Appropriation isn’t actually a real thing. It’s a made up concept that allows people to get outraged anytime they see… well, anything.

      I work in mental health, and I’ve got my own idea as to why people do this. Extracting from Transactional Analysis theory, I believe that on some level, people enjoy being outraged. They like to play the role of the outraged social justice crusader, and standing up for the rights of the innocent. Concepts like “cultural appropriation” are just tools that allow them to put on their mask and cape and fight the system, whenever the mood strikes them.

      It also fulfills other dark emotions and roles that folks like to explore; such as being the unintended villain. Because we’re “oppressing other cultures”, they have a chance to feel downtrodden and remorseful. These are a spectrum of emotions that may be absent from the day to day life of an upper middle class person who’s well off.

      Either way, the person is getting something out of it. It’s enjoyable, it’s not a responsibility with set hours and expectations, they can do it anytime they wish, and they can later identify themselves as “fighting the good fight”. Mentioning this term in a conversation may help them look enlightened about social justice causes, so it’s even fashionable.

      That’s the hypothesis I would put forward for why people involve themselves with concepts like cultural appropriation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I was born in China to an American father and second generation “American-Chinese” mother. I studied Peking Opera in high school, and I loved it!

      I never once had a problem with it while I was in China, but when I moved to the US for school it was “cultural appropriation” AND I AM CHINESE! a caucasion “big nose” “cow eye” Chinese woman!

      It makes me so angry. Art is universal. Food is food. Clothes are clothes.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: Answering Amandla Stenberg: Don’t Cash Crop On My Cornrows – Unfiltered Conservatism

  7. Rosetta Tharpe is known as the woman who “created” rock n roll. She was a queer black woman. Way before Chuck Berry. Also gospel was first done by a black man and evolved, as a genre, from spirituals. African Spirituals. Gospel music and hymns are not in the same category, hymns have specific musical guidelines that make them hymns.but either way, gospel was not birthed from church hymns. “white” ppl DONT have any original music, because we are all from europe. an Irish/Italian american (for example) may have music authentic to their ancestors, but as the group “white”, we have nothing. race is a construct, ethnicity actually exists. so, as the “white race”, yes, all of our “white culture” is an appropriation from actual ethnic cultures. All we really do have as our own is White Supremacy. Thats our contribution. Our country was founded and built on it. Werent you referencing making use of history books? maybe you should get on that yrself. and yr high schoool textbook doesnt qualify. ok, also, you gave an false (or just completely self made) definition of racism. so, before one can legitimately delve into any of these topics, a proper understanding of the word being used is a necessity. showing you dont have a clear understanding on the working definition of racism invalidates anything and everything you said after that point. You became an unreliable source there. We arent having peaceful relations with China because chinese letter tattoos are common among americans or any other social reason you gave that you claim make Chinese ppl more acceptable to us. World trade deals and now our huge monetary debt to their government is why we play nice with the Chinese. its economics. and finally, denying that cultural appropriation exists doesnt make it not real. I think you just dont understand what it actually is. Also, if a group of marginalized ppl say that white people are culturally appropriating them, as the white ppl in the equation we dont just get to dismiss it. Thats an example of our white supremacist system full at work on the brain. If I claim someone is abusing me, the abuser doesnt get to decide whether or not its true. if Im feeling harassed by someone, the harasser cannot with any validity decide its not true. I would decide what constitutes harassment and abuse to me. So, when ppl of these different groups say they are being culturally appropriated, they validate it, not the group being accused of doing it. Its not a term somebody thought up in their basement with no valid, legitimate explicit definitions and examples of it. Critical thinking skills need to be developed and then used in areas such as this. You are picking yr “sources” to get the answer you want. Like, use the gd dictionary to define feminism, not some blog or w.e. yr attempting to frame the narrative from the go. and go ahead i guess, because you sound ridiculously silly and uninformed. ALSO, every country you gave an example of on where cultural appropriation isnt “a thing”, they are all countries filled with WHITE SKINNED PPL.with the exception of the indigenous ppl of Australia (which i doubt you were referring to), and they are treated horribly by Anglo-Austrailians-oh- another country that imported all of its white skinned ppl. Look at that! so, how old are you is the real question. because you better not be too old for this ignorant bs. I hope yr hubris and ignorance are just a piece of you being without much real life experience. And thats ok! But you sound ridic. if you really cant see the difference between mixing of cultures in a productive, reciprocal manner where neither party feels used and there is mutual benefitting or just the natural blending that happens over time and actual cultural appropriation, read about it. BOOKS about it, first hand sourcing, secondary sources, scholarly cited journal articles. If for no other reason than to beef up yr position to even have a position and not sound like a 16 year old brat. good luck.

    Like

    • 「If I claim someone is abusing me, the abuser doesnt get to decide whether or not its true. if Im feeling harassed by someone, the harasser cannot with any validity decide its not true.」

      and in any legal dispute in such a case, you wouldn’t get to decide either. it would be decided by an independant judge (and some circuimstances, jury. just because you decide you have been unfairly treated, doesn’t mean you HAVE been unfairly treated.

      「Look at that! so, how old are you is the real question. because you better not be too old for this ignorant bs. I hope yr hubris and ignorance are just a piece of you being without much real life experience. And thats ok! But you sound ridic」

      it’s great fun that you ended such a blatant ad hom attack with slang that betrays a lack of maturity in yourself.

      Like

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