I’d be more concerned with cultural appropriation if it weren’t for the fact that the difference between “appropriation” & “diffusion/exchange/evolution” is just not being a disrespectful idiot. Seriously, how hard is it to educate yourself when you have access to Google in your pocket?
LOL the difference is not intent or ‘respect’. Intent is actually 100% irrelevant in matters of racism.
Choosing to use a tradition from a marginalized group without consent or invitation from the members of the group, regardless of whether you think you’re being respectful is not an example of either cultural diffusion, exchange (that’s the most laughable, how can it be exchange when you’re not actually exchanging traditions, only taking and using) or evolution.
100% true. Poorly worded on my part, for which I apologize. Commence clarification rant:
I did not mean for that to sound like I was saying “Just Google it & learn about it & that makes it okay for you to pretend you’re part of another culture! Rainbows & kittens, horray!” What I meant was (using the whole Pharrell Williams headdress incident, which, to the best of my knowledge, is what sparked all of the discourse on appropriation because it’s the first one to come to mind) in the time it took to set up the lights for the shoot, the artistic director (or Pharrell himself) could have looked up the significance of that garment, thought “wait a second, I’m not a respected member of that particular group of Native Americans participating in a ceremony & therefore have no right to wear that” & nixed that idea. Ideally, he would have consulted a member of that culture & gotten their take on it (but until they invent the Pocket Marginalized Race app, us laymen will have to use Google.) That way, he would have learned something, not offended anyone, & possibly been able to affect a positive change.
But your response also brings up another issue that I have: cultural gatekeeping & blame-placing. Like it or not, the world is getting smaller & smaller. People are made to come into contact with other cultures more often now than ever before & this is clearly something we’re struggling with.
In general, white midwesterners are really ignorant of anything other than their native tradition. This is really easy because U.S. imperialism basically shoves our culture down everyone’s throat. (So I could make a case for it being “exchange” because Jazz music is enjoyed worldwide, but I won’t, because I’m not a nit-picking ass & that argument would be flawed by that whole “we’re exporting our culture whether you like it or not” thing.) To combat this, my mother made a point of exposing us to as many other cultures as she could. She did this multiple ways - taking us to exhibits, playing dress up, eating the food, learning the music & dance - really any chance she got, she tried to expand our horizons. Thing is, we always knew we were approaching things as outside observers trying to learn something & better understand the culture. Because of this, my siblings & I are now incredibly curious adults who are, in general, less comfortable around ignorant WASPs than we are around any other culture. Overall, the lesson here is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with learning about another culture (in fact, it’s great & has been shown to make you less likely to be a racist dick).
Because we were exposed to so many cultures & okay with the idea of being “outsiders” (more on that later), we try to be phenomenally respectful of any culture that we come in contact with. Due to that respectful attitude, we (or at least myself, I can’t speak for my siblings) have always been welcomed with open arms. So yes, intent is irrelevant to matters of racism, but bringing that up is acting under the assumption that all white people are racist, or at least unaware of their society’s racist conditioning. It also assumes that only cultures of marginalized groups are appropriated - if you celebrate St. Patricks Day by getting drunk & wearing a plaid kilt but can’t tell me the Irish spelling of “Patrick” or why that particular saint is so important to that culture (no, it’s not just because of the snake thing), you’re appropriating from a group that was, admittedly, marginalized, but is now privileged. & that is the problem that I have with the cultural appropriation discourse.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying “white people are persecuted,” because that statement is so fucked & if you don’t know why, you shouldn’t be allowed on the internet. White people are afforded great privilege by just being white. But when you’re working towards universal equality & you’re dismissive of a white person’s opinion on an aspect of the society, you might as well be saying “racism would be over if MLK Jr. had organized a violent coup d’etat & shipped white people off to slavery overseas.” That white person’s opinion may be wrong, but that doesn’t mean that it is not a valid view of the situation - they are also a part of the enormous culture you’re trying to change, & the fact that they’re trying to be cognizant of it & possibly try to change should be labelled as a good thing instead of “a classic example of white people running their mouths.” Ideally (& here’s where we get to the part that really bugs me), if they’re wrong you use it as an opportunity to educate them. That’s not what’s been happening with most of this debate. What happens instead is they’re slapped on the wrist & told to skip along. What does that do? It conditions that person to draw back into their ignorant world. & why is that bad? Well, it makes it easier for that marginalized community to become further insulated & therefore more oppressed.
This, really, is the problem that I have with a lot of the social justice movements happening right now: they serve not as a means of education, but a means of reprimanding & dividing. When you divide yourself into a little box, you make it easier for people to see you as an “other,” which makes it easier for the privileged to somehow blame you for a cultural issue. This goes back & forth & nothing gets done.
Like I said, the world is getting smaller & smaller. Cultures will continue to bump up against each other. The answer to that is not by just saying “you’re not one of us, get out,” but by inviting people to be better, to better understand your culture so they know what’s respectful & what’s not. People are naturally curious & they also like to see things as “me vs. them”; they’re going to say “oh that’s cool!” & want to participate. When they do decide to participate, the answer to solving appropriation issues is not just saying something’s disrespectful, it’s explaining why it’s disrespectful. & if you don’t do that & try to open up a dialogue, you’re just shooting yourself in the foot. Like it or not, both parties are responsible - the privileged for taking a little bit of time to step back & find out if it’s okay for them to do that, & the marginalized for not just castigating, but also acknowledging when a white person steps outside their comfort zone & offering more ways for them to get outside of their ignorant, biased bubble. As a Jew living in a predominantly Christian area, I feel responsible for both decrying antisemitism, but also educating both gentiles that are antisemitic & those who would just like to learn more about the culture Jesus came from.
At the end of the day, we’re all humans, each with something to share that can be used to make a better future & each with a completely valid take on things. Telling people not to participate as opposed to educating them only strengthens that “us vs. them” mentality.