Cultural appropriation exists because of centuries of:
- Imperialism: more specifically, cultural imperialism which is essentially one cultural dominating another. (IE: white folks and everyone we’ve ever invaded ever. Including each other.)
- Racism: justifies the appropriation by making various cultural/racial/ethic groups marginalised, oppressed and seen as inferior by the privileged group.
- Exoticism: justifies commodification and objectification.
- Entitlement: thinking that oppressed people’s culture, society, and spirituality are up for grabs.
- Unawareness of privilege: based on misunderstanding of power dynamics, entitlement, exoticism and racism
Why is cultural appropriation harmful?:
Cultural appropriation reinforces oppression because it invalidates and commodifies marginalised groups.
- Invalidates: the culture/society/the people
- Homogenizes: lets look at the white girls wearing warbonnets and mukluks. War bonnets are worn traditionally only by various Native plains tribes and mukluks are boots made of usually seal skin warn/made traditionally by Alaskan/Arctic natives. This haphazard and disrespectful throwing together different pieces of two completely different Native cultures which is portraying an image of homogeneity and reinforces the stereotype that there is just one Native American culture and they are all the same, which reinforces oppression and racism.
- Commodifies: putting a monetary value on something that should not be sold or purchased or marketed in any way, eg. spiritual practices.
- Reinforces stereotypes: which reinforce oppression and racism-a tool of colonisation.
- Distorts traditions into inaccurate and offensive caricatures
- Romanticises cultures: often this is something that results in entire groups of people being seen as ‘something that used to exist’ as opposed to people with lives and cultures that exist and flourish today. You get this a lot with Native American and Canadian culture.
- Eroticises/exoticizes people: this is incredibly dehumanising.
Here is an awesome post about the line between appropriation and appreciation. (Reboggable version).
Here are some awesome people who talk about appropriation and how it is shitty- linked is all their posts tagged appropriation. Please look through their archives, and do not just message them asking the same question, they are people not encyclopaedias.
These are just the first four who lept to mind- there are doubtless many, many more.
do you have any guidelines on how a white (not english or american) person can appreciate other (especially the indian) culture(s)? or can’t we? where does the border between appreciating and appropriating lie exactly?
To be honest, I’m not the go-to source for questions of appropriation, an agony column for you to feel better about things. But since you asked so verynicely :)
Not everything white people do is appropriation by default, it’s how they do it. Now, I don’t know how your interaction with [desi] culture is going to pan out specifically, & nor shall my word absolve you if you do cross the line.
1) Is it marketed to you as an object/custom from a marginalised culture without any context? If yes/unsure, don’t do it.
2) What are your reasons? Are you appreciating it because you feel bored, or because it’s cool, or you think it’s aesthetically pleasing (“exotic”)? If the answer to any of these is yes/unsure, then don’t do it.
3) What is the history/meaning of objects/languages/rituals in the culture? Are you aware of the meanings/history of these things? Will you be using them in a way that misrepresents them, or diminishes their power? If yes/unsure, don’t do it.
4) Are you comfortable with the understanding that as someone benefiting from imperialism, even if your local history does not have any, you may be contributing to the suppression of others’ cultural symbols, & that by your actions there is a strong possibility of further oppression? Are you willing to work through the nuances of privilege that occur when the question of cultural appropriation is brought up? If your answer to the second is no, and to the first is yes, then don’t do it.
5) If someone from calls you out on appropriation/racism, are you going defend your perceived right to appreciate their heritage, & how they shouldn’t be offended? If the answer is yes/unsure, you definitely shouldn’t do it.