What Is Cultural Appropriation?

A few years ago at WisCon (the feminist SF convention) there was a panel about Cultural Appropriation that sparked an online discussion about the topic that is generally referred to as the Great Debate of DOOM. This was partly due to the wide-ranging nature of it (over 20 blogs, I believe) and due to the great abundance of wank, ignorance, and utter fail on the part of some participants.

At every WisCon since, there have been other CA panels that attempted to fix the issues raised by the first. But it was clear to those of us who have these conversations and panels all the time that a 45 minute or 90 minute debate/discussion/whathaveyou was not going to get really deep into the topic. Judging from the stunning amount of ignorance and defensiveness associated with such discussions, obviously a longer, more in-depth treatment of the topic was necessary. Thus, this series of posts on the ABW.

At first I thought that we could contain everything in one post. But this topic has so many facets and aspects that I quickly realized this could never be. That’s fine with me, because it will help us get really deep into the issues in the comments (which are slightly unwieldy due to the lack of threading).

I thought it would be appropriate to first define what we mean when we talk about Cultural Appropriation. What is it? What do you mean when you apply that term? If we can all express that and put up a few loose boundary markers around the subject, that will make discussing its effects and manifestations a little easier.

As a writer of color, I’m used to discussing cultural appropriation in the artistic sphere. Remember, though, that the issue extends beyond art – spirituality, style/fashion, speech, attitudes and more. Let’s bring them all in.

A note on participation:

Everyone is invited to contribute to this discussion. But if this is your first time here, I suggest you read The Rules (linked at the top) before wading in. There are bannable offenses here, and I will not hesitate to bring the hammer down if you bring bullshit to the table.

A note on comments and moderation:

By default, all comments by first-time participants are automatically moderated. This is a measure to keep the drive-by crazies out, not a tool to suppress anyone’s voice. If your comment doesn’t show up by midnight or so, please use the contact form to query about it. It may have ended up as spam. To avoid being put in the first-timer box, please use the same name/email combination every time you post. That way WordPress will recognize you.

We will try our best to keep up with the moderation queue, but remember that we have jobs and lives away from the Internet!

American Terrorists — Will They Be Sent to Guantanamo? Probably Not, If They’e White

September 15th was the 45 year anniversarry of the 16th Street Church Bombing.  Some background, for those who don’t know.  In 1963, a group of white men who were members of the KKK planted bombs in a black church on a Sunday morning.  When the bomb went off it destroyed a good portion of the church, blew out the windows of nearby buildings, and instantly killed four young girls.  I guess those uppity negros learned their lesson, right?

4 Girls Killed at 16th Street Baptist

4 Girls Killed at 16th Street Baptist

It took decades for all of the men involved in the bombing to be arrested, tried, and convicted.  Even though they bragged about it to friends and family.  Even though the FBI had evidence that they did it.  Why did it take so long?  Not just because it was the South in the 60s, which was bad enough, but because dear old J Edgar Hoover saw fit to withold that evidence from prosecutors.

Just so you understand what I’m saying: in 1963 officers of our government purposefully withheld evidence that these men were guilty of killing four young girls and injuring at least 22 others because the government officials in question were dirty, racist bastards.  It wasn’t until 1978 that the first of the murdering psychopaths was put in jail, and it wasn’t until 2002 when two others finally had their asses handed to them.  The forth one died before he could be convicted.

1978

2002

This is how long families had to wait for justice.

I told you that story to tell you this one.

On Friday, September 26, the end of a week in which thousands of copies of Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West — the fear-mongering, anti-Muslim documentary being distributed by the millions in swing states via DVDs inserted in major newspapers and through the U.S. mail — were distributed by mail in Ohio, a “chemical irritant” was sprayed through a window of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, where 300 people were gathered for a Ramadan prayer service. The room that the chemical was sprayed into was the room where babies and children were being kept while their mothers were engaged in prayers.

A Kos diarist posted about it, and the local Dayton media reported on it, but a cursory Google News search shows that hardly anyone is reporting on this.

Someone, or a group of someones, attacked children in a house of worship.  Could have, and probably intended to kill children and adults in a house of worship.

What the fuck is wrong with this goddamned country.

And no, I do not care if at some time or in some place a Muslim individual has also killed or harmed children or people in a house of worship.  That does not fucking excuse this behavior.  It is not ever, EVER okay to respond to ideological differences of opinion or faith by ATTEMPTING TO KILL PEOPLE.

Attacking children in a house of worship is on a short list of things that make you so worthless that shit starts to look like a good candidate for president.

And how many years do you think it will take for these families to see justice for this?  How many more years do we have of it being all right to attack Muslims or people we think might be Muslims the way it was completely okay to attack black people in 1963?  Which government officials will claim the glorious honor of being the ones to hush up evidence, or turn a blind eye, or just not give a shit hard enough in the victims’ general direction?

People who might be Muslim, or Arab, or look kinda Muslim or Arab or brown or strange have been sent to Guantanamo for being on the wrong side of the street on a Tuesday.  If we ever deign to catch these worthless bastards, will our government prosecute them as terorists?  Or will they decline to even label it a hate crime?

People (usually white people) often wonder why I’m not patriotic.  This. Is. Why.

16th Street Baptist Church after the bombing

16th Street Baptist Church after the bombing

On Feminism, part 1

I came across this yesterday and, considering some of the things we were talking about in the Irrational Men thread, I thought many people would find this interesting.

Why I am Not a Feminist, or “My Anti-Feminist Manifesto”

1. Being a woman, and being a woman of color, and being a Muslim, I choose to not be a feminist or in any way have the term feminist applied to my person, my choices, my thoughts, my writings or my art. I reserve the right to self-identify as I see fit and to define myself in relation to my culture and my ideals. I do not wish to take on the terminology of another’s movement nor bend it or re-invent it to suit my own.
[...]
b. I do not feel compelled to look to other cultures to find the answers to my problems. Feminism as it began in a movement by and for middle and upper class white women offers me nothing. It is not my desire to take their movement and somehow prove that my movement is the same. It is not. Theirs has its role in their lives, and mine is different.
[...]
3. I refuse to participate in the discussion that expects all women to be proud to identify as feminist, to challenge the “white” notions of what feminist thought is or is not, or to tell other women of color that they are unaware of their role and the oppression they are under because they do not self-identify as feminist.

a. I am an intelligent woman who is fully aware of the effects of colonialization and oppressions upon my peoples and upon myself. I am not ignorant of how I am used by those who wish to further their own cause, nor am I ignorant of how others see me or attempts to keep me down.
[...]
4. Why I despise the feminist movement and do not care to be a part of it.

a. I am tired of women of color being pitted against men of color because of this mis-notion that allegiance to other women is all that matters.

b. I do not need to make the movement mine. It’s not mine, it never will be mine. I have my own movement that is in line with my Islamic beliefs and values. Western style feminism, by any name it is called, is a secular order that seeks to wipe out my spirituality and force me to selfishly over-emphasize women to the detriment of others.

c. I do not feel the need to make myself a part of something where I am not wanted. It is my personal belief that women of color trying to stuff ourselves into the feminist movement does us an injustice. We do not need to broaden the acceptance of our experience into formal feminist theory. We do not need to make feminism “our own”. We can create our own revolutions, not jump on the bandwagon of that of another and then cry when we are pushed off.

Please read the whole thing. I quoted parts of it that particularly speak to me and to my own struggles with Feminism and the label Feminist.

Apparently the post/manifesto was sparked by a comment on Brownfemipower’s post about Full Frontal Feminism, teaching, and how education deals with the Feminist Narrative (Look for the comment by aleja on 24 Nov 2007 at 8:38 pm).

I’m still formulating my larger thoughts on this, but wanted to get your thoughts on the manifesto itself.

Irrational Men

Recently a friend of mine, writer Jay Lake, pointed to this article:

Saudi Rape Victim Gets 200 Lashes

A Saudi court sentenced a woman who had been gang raped to six months in jail and 200 lashes – more than doubling her initial penalty for being in the car of a man who was not a relative…

In its decision Wednesday, the court also roughly doubled prison sentences for the seven men convicted of raping the 19-year-old woman, the Arab News reported on its English-language Web site.

According to Arab News, the court said the woman’s punishment was increased because of “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.”
[...]
The victim had initially been sentenced to 90 lashes after being convicting her of violating Saudi’s rigid laws on segregation of the sexes.

Under Saudi Arabia’s interpretation of Islamic Sharia law, women are not allowed in public in the company of men other than their male relatives.
[...]
The initial sentences for the men convicted of the gang rape ranged from 10 months to five years in prison. Their new sentences range from two to nine years, the paper said.

The attack took place in 2006. The woman has said that it occurred as she tried to retrieve her picture from a male high school student she used to know. While in the car with the student, two men got into the vehicle and drove them to a secluded area. She said she was raped there by seven men, three of whom also attacked her friend.

Reading stuff like this is Why I’m Angry, as I’ve pointed out before. But something in the commentary Jay gave along with this link also made me angry:

How about this: Under Shariate law, a woman who simply reports a rape is considered to have admitted her guilt as an adultress, and is subject to penalties up to execution. If this horrifies you, consider the secular viewpoint on this. There is no difference between that sort of religious insanity and moves to teach Intelligent Design in school, except in the matter of degree. In both cases, people of faith are deliberately discarding rationalism in the name of their religious principles.

Here’s the problem I have — if what he says about Sharia law is true (I say if only because I haven’t verified this independently), the problem here is less religion-based irrationality but patriarchy/misogyny-based irrationality. So he’s comparing apples to oranges in an attempt to prove that irrationality = religion/faith = bad as compared to supposedly completely rational secular/atheist folks.

Obviously the patriarchal attitude permeates the religion as well, but it isn’t the sole cause of what can go wrong in religion just as religion isn’t the sole cause of patriarchy and misogyny. Plenty of secular folks have wrongheaded attitudes about women. Plenty of secular folks harass, marginalize, or otherwise act/think in ways that harm women. Religion does not have a corner on this market.

Just as anyone can use the Bible or the Qur’an or the Torah to justify any bad thing they want to do, so can they use those books to justify any good thing they want to do — like feeding the poor, taking care of widows and orphans, and being a good host, to name a few.

But the bad justifications are just that: justifications. I don’t think misogyny and patriarchy is inherent in religion. Nor do I think we can solely attribute religious irrationality to the horrendous rule that women who admit to being raped are admitting they did something wrong themselves. That’s all about Men and their Dominance Issues, and one can find analogs of varying degrees across all patriarchal cultures, including ours, and including the secularists among us.

It’s not the same thing as believing in Intelligent Design because that is purely (or majorly) about religion. Apples and Oranges. (Not that I agree with /approve of either ID or Sharia law as regards rape.) I think it would help us all if secular folks would stop using examples of misogyny to denigrate all aspects of religion. It’s reminiscent of the way some people say “Race isn’t the problem, Class is,” when really it’s Race and Class and a whole bunch of other things individually and in tandem. But the relationship is extremely complex. Don’t toss it all together as if it’s a simple 1 to 1 equation.

Dear Religious Black People

Speaking as a black woman who was raised in the church (AME Zion, to be precise, but I have strong Baptist ancestry, too), speaking as a woman who is still deeply spiritual though no longer Christian, speaking as a woman who is queer, I have something to say: Knock it the fuck off.

I understand the tension between LGBT folks and Christianity, but what you need to understand is that this whole crap where you participate in bigotry, discrimination, and hate is not only un-Christian, it’s completely insane from people who not that long ago were considered a half step above gorillas by many people and are still considered such by a significant minority now.

I am well aware that we cannot compare the stuff that LGBT folks go through to what black folks and other ethnic minorities go through wholesale. There are some similarities, yes, and there are some major differences. This argument isn’t about that. It’s about the fact that you, as people who have and still suffer from the effects of hate, bigotry and oppression, do not seem to have any compassion or understanding for LGBT folks.

This is not true for all Christian black people, I know. If this isn’t true for you, then just know that I am not talking to you. I am most likely talking to the woman in the big hat behind you fanning herself. I am talking to the people who, despite the fact that we are in a serious crisis in this country that starts from the White House and trickles down on us all like urine, are still playing the You Have To Be Against Them To Be With Us game. It’s not cool.

Let me put it to you this way: Do you want a president who hates a whole group of people for an arbitrary reason? I know you may not think that sin is arbitrary, but I invite you to take a close look in the mirror before you start throwing stones (yes, that is me referencing the Bible). How many sins have you committed today, this week, this year? The whole point of protestant Christianity is that Jesus loves you and will forgive you if you repent. So, therefore, quit fucking worrying about what other people are doing. Or, if you can’t stop thinking about them, try projecting some love and compassion. You know, like Jesus would. But this whole prejudice thing? The whole not supporting a candidate because they won’t say “I hate those people”? That has got to stop.

No, I mean right now.

Love,
ABW

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