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!

Joe Six Pack

Palin goes on and on about Joe Six Pack, McCain is all about Joe the Plumber.  These mythical men are supposed to represent Real Americans and all that.  Yeah.

I haven’t bene paying much attention to the coverage, so maybe one of you can tell me: has no one commented on the fact that this mythical Real American is always some guy?  No one is talking about Jane Winebox, as far as I know.  (Thanks Jon Stewart!)

Seriously, how come the name that represents us all can’t be a woman’s name?

I already know the answer to this, obviously.  I just needed to say it out loud.

Louisiana State Senator Worries That There Will Soon Be Too Many Black People, Film At 11

I don’t even know if I have the stomach to do full commentary on this shit.  So here are the highlights.

Worried that welfare costs are rising as the number of taxpayers declines, state Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, said Tuesday he is studying a plan to pay poor women $1,000 to have their Fallopian tubes tied.

“We’re on a train headed to the future and there’s a bridge out, ” LaBruzzo said of what he suspects are dangerous demographic trends. “And nobody wants to talk about it.”

LaBruzzo said he worries that people receiving government aid such as food stamps and publicly subsidized housing are reproducing at a faster rate than more affluent, better-educated people who presumably pay more tax revenue to the government. He said he is gathering statistics now.

Right.  He’s totally worried about there being enough tax dollars.  That’s all.  Really.

“What I’m really studying is any and all possibilities that we can reduce the number of people that are going from generational welfare to generational welfare, ” he said.

He said his program would be voluntary. It could involve tubal ligation, encouraging other forms of birth control or, to avoid charges of gender discrimination, vasectomies for men.

Oh I am so glad that we’re being very feminist about this!

LaBruzzo described the tube-tying incentive as a brainstorming exercise that has yet to take form as a bill for the Legislature to consider. He said it already has drawn critics who argue the idea is racist, sexist, unethical and immoral. He said more white people are on welfare than black people, so his proposal is not targeting race.

And anti-racist!  He just hates poor people, that’s all.

LaBruzzo said other, mainstream strategies for attacking poverty, such as education reforms and programs informing people about family planning issues, have repeatedly failed to solve the problem. He said he is simply looking for new ways to address it.

“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh, he’s a racist, ‘ ” LaBruzzo said. “The hard part is to sit down and think of some solutions.”

LaBruzzo said he opposes abortion and paying people to have abortions. He described a sterilization program as providing poor people with better opportunities to avoid welfare, because they would have fewer children to feed and clothe.

He acknowledged his idea might be a difficult sell politically.


Also: children are the cause of welfare, not poor economic situations, lack of opportunities, lack of funding for education (that never works, anyway!), or a culture that is constantly at war against those who don’t live like the assholes on Friends.  No, none of that is to blame!

California Love

Was going to post something morose about Edwards endoring Obama. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing, especially given that this looks like the runup to an Obama/Edwards ticket. I like Edwards; he quit too soon. But I can’t help but reflect on the fact that not so long ago I liked Hillary Clinton more. There was a time when I would’ve been ecstatic over the idea of an Obama/Clinton ticket, because nuances (and the actual politicians) aside, I think a successful campaign by a black man and a white woman could’ve signalled a real ideological shift in this country. A real willingness to shift away from the antiprogressive center-right muck we’ve been wading through for the past 40 years. It makes me sad that we’re clearly not ready for that yet.

But then I saw this. Screw the depressing stuff. Party time! You go, California. You just go.

On Feminism, Part 2

I bet you don’t remember part 1, do you? Here’s a reminder.

I said back then that I was still trying to put my own feelings into words and hadn’t succeeded yet. Considering what’s been going on in the blogosphere lately I think it’s time to finally crystallize my thoughts. The problem I keep coming up against is that my interactions with feminism and feminists varies greatly depending on the venue, I am finding a hard time resolving my feelings in one area with my feelings from another.

I’m being vague, sorry. Let me be specific.

As many of you know, in my other life I am a science fiction and fantasy writer. I have spent almost my entire adult life hanging out in that community. Now, from the outside, the SF community would not seem to be a place to understand, interact with, and discuss feminism and feminist issues. But lo, there are feminists to be found. Really smart feminists. There’s even a con dedicated to feminism and feminists in SF–WisCon.

WisCon is one of my very favorite conventions because of the topics of panels, the conversations I have in and out of panels, and the caliber of people who attend. These are smart, passionate folks who care about literature and media in equal measure. And, if they’re at WisCon, they more than likely consider themselves feminists or, at least, allies.

Through attending WisCon I became interested in feminism in a more direct way than I had been before. I vaguely understood feminism and felt, as most intelligent people do, that the core ideal of feminism as I understood it was a right thing–i.e. women are equal to men and should be treated as such. That women and men may be different, but men certainly aren’t better, in general. But from attending WisCon, I began thinking about the issues of gender, privilege, and feminism in ways I had not before.

Over the years I’ve convinced many people to come to WisCon, but it was sometimes a struggle because I had to break the barrier of ignorance surrounding the word “feminist”. I’m sure many of you have encountered this same problem. People equating feminism with “FemiNazi” (what a bullshit word), or with the extreme types who ruin every ideology/movement/etc. At this time I was not aware of the real problems of feminism. Ones that were far more disruptive and dividing than women who “hate men” or other such nonsense.

Since that first WisCon my involvement in SF’s feminist contingent has deepened. I’m one of the bloggers at FeministSF.net, I contribute to the Wiki, I consider some of my co-bloggers there to be good friends, I participate in WisCon programming, and now I’m a jurist for the Tiptree award, an honor that arose from the ideas and ideals that WisCon was created to explore.

If this was the only experience I had with feminism, then I would have no need to write this post. I’d be perfectly content to call myself a feminist and be done.

But oh. Then there’s the wider world.

Then there’s Gloria Steinem, Erica Jong, Jessica Valenti, Amanda Marcotte, and any number of white feminists from the second and third wave that really ruin feminism for the rest of us. If they’re not insisting we put aside our “of color”-ness in favor of our woman-ness, they’re busy using their white privilege to marginalize, dismiss, silence, or otherwise treat us the way those pesky white men they’re so angry with do.

I hadn’t been on this blog long before I apprehended that all was not well in feminism-land. Remember the post about Cesar Milan? It started on some blog where the white, female poster was up in arms because Cesar had made some comment about women that she objected to. She claimed that if he’d made a similar comment about black people the entirety of America would have jumped down his throat. Because, see, racism is no longer a problem in America, but sexism is.


It just gets worse from there. As we have daily proof.

And these recent blow-ups not only make me angry because of what these white feminist bloggers are doing to women of color, but because it makes me angry at feminism itself. As Aminah put it way back when, feminism just isn’t made for us women of color. And as someone else (I can’t remember who, but someone please tell me in comments if you know) said recently, it seems like what white feminists want is to become white men. They want what white men have going on, up to and including privilege and the ability to ignore voices of color unless it suits them.

Some of you may feel this is an unfair generalization. And others of you are sitting at your computers right now shaking your head and saying, “Nuh uh, not me!” Maybe so not you, and maybe so I am being harsh. But you take a look around the blogs right now and tell me that the view from where I’m standing doesn’t bear that out. And take a good look at yourselves. Think about if you can honestly say that you’ve considered your own privilege when dealing with the issues of feminism and race lately. Some of you have, of course, but some of you absolutely have not.

And unfortunately, even my happy pocket of SF feminism isn’t immune from this crap. Last year at WisCon I heard more than one report of goings on in places I was not that revealed the racist attitudes of certain feminist con-goers. This was extremely sad, but not a great surprise. I resolved that this year I would make it my special project to watch and listen out for such attitudes and do what I could to put an end to them. Because I believe that WisCon and the community therein is worth my time and effort to make an even more excellent space than it already is. I want to be able to attend a con without base sexism and racism at the same time. I’m willing to be one of people making that happen.

But I’m not entirely sure I want to do that on these here internets. Why? Because maybe the wider swath of feminism isn’t worth saving.

Feminism is made for and by white women. And I really feel like this is one of those areas where the white women need to get enlightened before things can change. But, of course, many of them won’t be because they don’t see racism, which is directed against women of color, as a feminist issue. They’re hard pressed to acknowledge that racism is as great a problem as sexism at all.

No, actually, what I should say is that the white feminists who are seen as leaders, who are given press and attention and cred are in need of enlightenment. Because there are plenty of white feminists who do get it, who are enlightened, who can see the interconnectedness between anti-racist work and anti-sexist work. So what’s really needed is a good purge. Those of you who know what’s up need to weed out or educate those of you who don’t. Because obviously we women of color are too angry or jealous or indelicate to do it.

And, quite honestly, I am tired of the burden being on us to fix this mess. I’m tired of having to decide if I want the label of “Feminist”, not because someone might think I hate men, but because someone might wonder why I would want to associate myself with people who think my voice and experiences are less important because I refuse to put my gender ahead of my race.

What am I, if not a feminist? I’m not sure. Maybe this will help me figure it out:

When I offered the word “Womanism” many years ago, it was to give us a tool to use, as feminist women of color, in times like these. These are the moments we can see clearly, and must honor devotedly, our singular path as women of color in the United States. We are not white women and this truth has been ground into us for centuries, often in brutal ways. [...] We have come a long way, Sisters, and we are up to the challenges of our time. One of which is to build alliances based not on race, ethnicity, color, nationality, sexual preference or gender, but on Truth.
Alice Walker

The Politics of Hair (the kind not on your head)

In my other life I work for a fashion magazine, as I’ve mentioned. One of my newest assignments is to find the best products to remove hair, whether cream, blades, electric shavers, waxes, whatever. I’m going to surprise you all by saying that I jumped on this assignment. Asked for it, even. Because, you see, I don’t shave.

When the topic of shaving comes up (and it does, every now and then), I usually say that I don’t shave for political reasons. That, as a feminist, I am opposed to the notion that beautiful = hairless below the eyebrows. I am annoyed by our culture’s insistence that hair is gross unless it’s coming out the top of the head. It’s gotten so bad that there is now a war on eyebrows that leads some women to go so far as to shave them off completely only to draw them back on. I find this insane.

I also find it insane that women voluntarily put themselves through something as painful and damaging as waxing for the sake of beauty. Beauty should never, ever cause one pain. No, really.

But beyond all that, I just can’t be bothered to shave random areas of my body. Who would I be doing it for? Not myself, certainly. And not for anyone who might be seeing me naked. I will not be naked in front of a person who fears hair. Because they will probably freak out when they find my hair in the shower, and they always will. It’s a tedious, time-consuming process that has few merits, so I don’t shave.

But every now and then I wonder if there is some product out there that will remove my hair, if not permanently, then for long enough that I don’t have to worry about it much. But hey, home permanent removal will work, too. Why? Because, as much as I rail against our culture for disliking hair and raise that old bugaboo, patriarchy, as the source of this evil, I have to admit: I don’t like hair below the eyebrows much myself.

This makes me feel like a hypocrite, though a very smart friend of mine says not. Still…

As you read this, I am embarking on a quest to find a hair removal solution that keeps hair away for a long time and isn’t painful in any way. (Though I must say i am extremely disturbed by the epilator that just arrived int he mail.)

When I mentioned this over on my LJ, my friend veejane asked some very interesting questions:

How do other women feel about hair on different parts of their bodies? Do other women have differential opinions about kinds of hairiness? How do the products on the market conform to these opinions? How do the politics/anxieties of hairiness on each body part play into the products made available to combat hair?

Almost nobody I know does bikini waxing. (I don’t know any swimsuit models, alas.)

Most women I know shave their legs, daily or weekly or for a special occasion, but it’s something they’ll let go and not feel too bad about one way or the other. People talk about unshaved legs, as a political statement.

Armpit hair is more like talking about farts: everybody knows about it but it’s vaguely embarrassing so we all pretend it never existed.

And stray hairs on your face are, like, not even a question.

I’m intensely interested in having a conversation about these issues. Though it’s all a bit TMI, I feel like it’s something that should be discussed in a group of mature adults, such as most of us are here. As I get and try more products, read more press, and do more research, I’ll have more to contribute to the market aspect of it.

So, ABW readers, what is your opinion on different kinds of hairiness?

March on the ABW

So, we made it through February. And I feel it was quite a successful celebration of blackness and history. But now we’ve come to March and, guess what? It’s Women’s History Month.

Now, had I planned this out from the beginning of the year, I’d be all prepared to celebrate my womaness with as much extravagance as I celebrated my blackness. However, the BHM thing was planned quickly, and now I am all planned out.

Still, I do not intend to let the month pass without some note of it. And there will be posts about history and women and feminism and other things. Plus, I am going to continue with the author essays since I found them a lot of fun to read and solicit.

Do any of you have some ideas how we can celebrate Women’s History Month? Perhaps we can break out the Virginia Slims!

The Strong Woman* & Emasculated Man

Posted by: Naamen Gobert Tilahun

The nicknames are endless, bitch, ballbuster, battleaxe, ballcutter, … all of these are used in reference to a strong woman. When confronted with a woman who exudes strength the automatic reaction of some men is to fall into the whole “woe is me, she emasculated me” line of thought. The introduction of a strong woman into most men’s lives leads to the use of this defense when confronted with ugly truths. It should be no surprise that the idea has gotten so popular that the strong woman/emasculated male trope is now trotted out constantly as an excuse for bad behavior on the part of men. Males and male-apologists alike blame everything from rape, to cheating, to sexual harassment, to cat-calling, to eaves-teasing, to depression, to murder on a woman being “emasculating” thus forcing the man to react in this way.

Yeah…I call bullshit.

A little background history on me, my parents divorced when I was very young and my father got custody of me. Despite this I was in constant contact with my mother, phone calls every week, packages every month, visits every summer, all told I spent a lot of time in my mother’s mental space if not in her physical presence. You would be hard pressed to find a woman as strong as my mother, she taught me a lot of the morals and beliefs that I now apply to my everyday life.

I never once felt emasculated or was made to feel small by my mother’s competence and strength. I never feel that way today when I meet a woman in my personal or professional life who has what is called “ballbuster qualities” because I recognize that these are the same characteristics that are admired and lauded in men all over this country.

Now the main point of me stating all this is that the way we react to anyone’s strength is a personal and controllable reaction. If men are feeling this way around a strong woman it is not a “natural” or “normal” reaction in any way, it is the reaction that our white heteronormative patriarchal society wants us to have. It is the reaction of the media, and family, and so much that we read and study giving us the impression that women are less important, less smart, less driven, less everything and suddenly getting confronted by proof that this isn’t true at all.

Instead of doing the mature thing and realizing that they’ve been fed false information they fall back on how they’ve been trained to react to such an “unnatural” woman, with contempt, with insults and undermining her authority. This is because, at least subconsciously the male has realized his place of power within the dynamic and the world which those like him have created. As a newly cut cog in the patriarchal war machine he does the small motions that keep the machine flowing, contributing to larger actions that oppress women worldwide.

Now as this is theangryblackwoman.com I want to bring up the intersection this has with race. There is a certain extra layer that permeates the idea of the strong woman when it’s applied to black** women. The strong black woman is such a pervasive stereotype that it’s been the basis of movies (Deliver Us From Eva, Two Can Play That Game) and is the impetus behind the role of “sassy black friend” (Scary Movie franchise). The strong black woman is blamed for much in the African-American community both by those on the inside and the outside of the community itself. Theorists have linked the “strong black woman” with the prevalence of gangs in urban life, again falling back on the emasculation excuse offered above in two ways. Number one, the woman obviously drove off her husband by being too strong which has effected the child adversely and number two she’s doing the same with her son.

This particular use of the trope to denigrate and blame women has a large racial component because by blaming the black woman for being too strong they can ignore the intersecting race, gender, heterosexist and socio-economic reasons that oppressed groups (all oppressed groups including women, LGBTQ, those of lower socio-economic standing, etc.) have formed street gangs in the past and continue to do so. For many it is seen as their only way out of the ghetto, as their only chance for a community of people who will love them no matter what, as something they have little to no choice in.

All men are inundated with these ideas about women by the societal mores of our patriarchal society but it is their choice to buy in to the nonsense. It is their choice to become emasculated by a strong woman rather than viewing her as a valid competitor and business person. It is their choice to leave their privilege and therefore their privileged reactions unexamined. It is hard to examine your privilege and is a never ending process but it is by no means impossible. I’ve done this, other men have done this, all men can do this but chose not too because at least subconsciously and often consciously they know that the machine they are a part of benefits them and those like them. So male and male-apologists will continue to call strong women, and indeed any woman who questions them, a bitch. And I’ll continue to call them and their theory of strong women emasculating men, bullshit.

*Strong Woman – There are many different types of strength for men and women but when we discuss the strong woman of ball-busting and battleaxe fame we are discussing most often a woman who knows what she wants, goes out to get it, doesn’t allow anyone or anyone’s incompetence to stand in her way and doesn’t suffer fools. There are many different types of strength and strong women, none of them is more valid than the others. This post is not a valuing or rating of women this is simply talking about a particular trope.

**I’m focusing on black women because those tropes are the ones I know the best and it would be irresponsible of me to spout off about the racial implications when applied to Native, Asian, Latina, Middle-Eastern, etc. That is not to say I know everything when it comes to this trope being applied to black women but that is where the core of my knowledge lies. I encourage anyone who knows about the way this can interact with other racial groups and the stereotypes that dog them to expand in the comments or make a post of their own and link it in the comments.

Naamen Gobert Tilahun is a creative writer, freelancer and blogger based in San Francisco. You can visit him at Words From The Center, Words From The Edge, where he discusses writing, science-fiction, movies, and more.

Change or Die

Posted by: Karnythia

Students march 7 miles to vote in Waller County Texas. I had a vague plan to write about the Democratic candidates and the idea of “In our lifetime” and what it means to women (of all races) as well as what it means to black people. But then this story hit the wire and I got sidetracked once again. Because it is 2008 and black people are still having to stage marches and demonstrations to exercise their right to vote.

There’s this idea that Obama’s candidacy is proof that racism in America is no longer an issue. How to phrase this politely? Oh right, there is no polite way to say put the pipe down. Racism hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s just slipped out of the Klan robes and started wearing street clothes. It’s behind the eyes of so-called feminists castigating WOC for voting along racial lines even as they decide that whites know best, it lurks in terms like gentrification and racial profiling instead of declaring itself as our old friend Jim Crow, it is everywhere even if it no longer looks like a burning cross. But that’s okay because we’re going to keep coming. We’re not going to stop marching and protesting and fighting for equality.

The term “ride or die” is a familiar one to those of you that know hip-hop culture. And we’ve all seen the “Vote or Die” slogan in an earlier election. I used to be able to view such slogans as hyperbole, but now? Now they are the truth. If our society is going to make it? It’s Change or Die. With 10 straight wins Obama is on target to be the Democratic candidate in November. And I’m not telling you to vote for him or for anyone else. But, I am saying that as a society we need to change. Now. Because those that don’t learn from history are doomed. Not just to repeat it. Literally doomed as a society in a way that so many other civilizations have already faced right before they fell into ruin. There’s a lot of talk about patriotism, and morality, and even some talk about the signs of the Apocalypse. It’s not about any of that, it’s about the choices that are being made and the impact those decisions will have in the end.

I’m sure someone reading this is going to say I’m overreacting and that things aren’t that bad (bonus points if they claim not to see color), but what kind of logic is there in a society that keeps engaging in the same harmful behavior and expects a different outcome? The Civil Rights Act was signed in 1964, and yet here we are 44 years later and it’s still the same hot mess being served up on a shingle. If people want to stick their fingers in their ears while they’re neck deep in sand and pretend they can’t hear the waves coming in? That’s their choice, but I’m here to tell you that pretending a problem doesn’t exist will not fix it. We can either change the approach or we can watch our society tear itself apart.

Karnythia is a writer, a historian, and occasionally a loud mouth. In between raising hell and raising kids she usually manages to find time to contemplate the meaning of life as a black woman in America.” Her posts on any topic (including an abbreviated copy of this one) can be found at her Livejournal

Are Women or Blacks More Disadvantaged?

Posted by: Steven Barnes

Recently, a question has been bandied about the airwaves and internet. Which causes more pain: Being black or being female?

There is only one group who can answer that question, and I’m not a member.

Only African-American women have personal experience with both femininity and blackness.

I’ve asked this question of five black women, who agreed to be referenced so long as I didn’t use their names. Four of five said that race was more problematic, and the one who chose “gender” warned me that, due to her very light skin, her experiences might not be typical. She mentioned gender as a problem largely because of cultural expectations about child care, and pay discrepancies at work.

On the “race” side, I heard stories of being denied entrance to a private school. Of lacking networking opportunities that benefited white students at university. One lady said race was hurtful from the day her schoolmates and teachers first saw her. Another that race has been more painful by a margin of three to one, and described a childhood attempt to lighten her skin with baby powder.

In truth, my sample was small, and skewed. I don’t take the results seriously. If you’d like an answer, I suggest you perform the experiment for yourself.

The subject of race versus gender has raised its ugly head at parties, and I’ve proposed this same challenge. The most consistent comment I’ve gotten back is: “I don’t know any black women to ask.” I find that interesting, but rather admire the mind that can form an opinion about black people without actually knowing any.

It’s sad so many people need to quantify the pain of others. I suppose that the “winner” of the Pain Game gets to take the moral high-ground. The logic of Victim Politics suggests that if women are the most disadvantaged group, then women, and the men who love them, should naturally gravitate toward Hillary. If Blacks are most disadvantaged, then blacks and non-blacks who believe in social justice should gravitate toward Obama.

Pioneering Science Fiction author Octavia E. Butler once told me that the two tendencies placing us at greatest risk as a species were hierarchicalism and the tendency to place ourselves above others on that hierarchy.

But rather bizarrely, not only do human beings want to believe that they are best, they also want to believe their wounds are deepest, the knives that have worried their flesh the most cruel. In some minds, being the greatest victim is almost as good as being the champion.

This is a momentous election, in which the stakes are stratospheric. Potentially, change is not merely on the agenda or the stump, but in the Oval Office itself. Vote for Hillary, or for Barack, or for McCain, or the candidate of your choice. But if you vote for them primarily BECAUSE they are black, or white, or male, or female…then you are a part of the problem, not the solution. More importantly, you are yesterday’s news, rather than tomorrow’s revelation.

Steven Barnes is a fiction, television and movie writer. His career has spanned over 25 years and produced dozens of books and teleplays as well as nominations for the Hugo and Cable Ace awards. He blogs about his passions: writing, martial arts, writing (again), his family, race, and politics.


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