Tag Archives: cultural appropriation

Dear Settlers: Before Using Our Medicine, Be Aware of Your White Privilege

Via From An Indigenous Perspective:

Authors Note: I’m not an Elder or Medicine Person, so I’m aware I have no authority to say who’s allowed to use our medicines and in what way. I simply want to explain how I feel and why.

I’ve noticed a lot of well-meaning non-Indigenous people have really taken a liking to our traditional Ceremony. This has me feeling a mixture of a few intense emotions that I’ve needed to unpack for a while.

Specifically, I’ve seen trendy hipster stores selling ‘emergency smudge kits’ with sage and a smudge bowl, maybe a feather, all promoted on Instagram. Or a non-Indigenous yogi selling dream-catchers to wear around your neck like a necklace. Or self-proclaimed spiritual healer who uses sage to smudge her clients and promotes it on Instagram. Or most recently, a non-Indigenous man leading a “medicine picking” excursion teaching others to pick sage.

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What is Cultural Appropriation?

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By Pegi Eyers, Stone Circle Press

To understand how cultural appropriation shows up in our environmental movements and spiritual life, we need to look at the backstory, or how cultural appropriation came to be.  About 50 years ago a strange phenomena began to happen.  In mainstream society young white people were rebelling against the imperialist machine, while in a much less visible sphere, First Nations were just starting to recover from the dark ages of genocide, oppression, residential school displacement and segregation.  In the dominant society of the mid-20th century, our ties to a genuine spiritual life had been broken, organized religion was on the decline, and all of a sudden young white people were reconnecting with nature. This was a wonderful thing – but they had no role models to follow so they turned to First Nations, freely adopting these cultural tools and spiritual traditions, and some going so far as to create a whole new indigenous identity for themselves.  Without proper boundaries, the whitewashed genre of “Native Spirituality” was born, and cultural appropriation became imbedded in the flourishing New Age Industry.

Of course we owe a huge debt to the original rebellion of the hippies and the counterculture that gave us the alternative choices, sexual freedom, new spiritualities, holistic self-care and healthy life-sustaining practices we enjoy today.  These are features of society we now take for granted, but unfortunately within  the massive self-help, transformational and New Age marketplace the genres of “Native Spirituality” and “Shamanism” have been normalized. Being exposed to this material for so long, many New Agers are shocked to find these genres being questioned, yet an interrogation is exactly what is needed. Not only are white practitioners of “Native Spirituality” on shaky moral ground, First Nations have made it abundantly clear that they are completely opposed to the theft of their cultural and spiritual property.

Today, cultural appropriation occurs on a continuum from relatively harmless practices, to serious mental disorders such as identity theft. Having moccasins, native jewellery, native art, or a drum in the privacy of your own home (acquired from native artisans) can be considered good Allyship by supporting the livelihood of First Nations.  But in mainstream industries like fashion, fine art, entertainment and home décor, items like dreamcatchers and headdresses are big business, and these cultural signifiers are casually used by white people for fun and self-expression. Many of these symbols, often products made in China, are the sacred property of First Nations!  We can just imagine how deeply hurtful this must be.

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Cultural Appropriation and the Gypsy Industry

Time and time again, Romani people are the targets of cultural appropriation, with various levels of offenders to tackle. On Etsy, Ebay, and Pinterest combined, one can find over 498,000 objects tagged “Gypsy” which includes items such as dangly jewelry, hippy/Boho skirts, colorful bedsheets, and even pet supplies with tags such as “ Vintage gypsy”, “Bohemian gypsy ”, and “Gypsy Junk” while fashion designers label their companies and collections using comparable terms and are relentless in their use of racially stereotypical themes. There are also appropriators of our music and dance, who name their bands and dance troops using various forms of the term “Gypsy” with not one Romani person to be found among them, such as Toronto, Canada’s “Travelling Gypsy Market”  or the Vancouver B.C. based “gypsy performance troupe, Roma Gry” (Gypsy horse). Groups like these escalate their appropriation by not only claiming to be Roma, but are also hired, open to taking educational funds and teaching the public their version of Romani history and culture.

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Dear White People: An Open Letter to White People on Becoming Indigenous

By Adebayo Akomolafe / bayoakomolafe.net

Dear white people,

For as long as I can remember, I have always been white. Like you. I just didn’t know it.

Born in the bipolar Nigerian city of soaring skyscrapers and sprawling slums, Lagos, where the sun sometimes forgot to dim its fierce heat, I grew up thinking I was black like everyone else. All the signs were there – including my black skin, my shy head-hugging hair, and my Yoruba name with its lyrical tonality and vaunted meanings.

There wasn’t much more to that identity, however. Nothing special. When I walked down Jemtok Street to buy my dad a small cold bottle of Guinness Extra Stout, it wasn’t ‘black’ music that people were dancing to in street parties or ‘black’ movie heroes that people were speaking animatedly about. We were all bedazzled by Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo, by the manner of speaking of those of us who were fortunate enough to visit your countries, and by your technological wizardry – evidenced in every gadget we owned or wanted to.

At school, we watched recorded clips of BBC news videos to learn how to pronounce English words properly. “Don’t open your mouth so wide”, our teachers would warn – not quite living up to their own imposed standards. During Christmas, my sisters and I didn’t understand why we were not allowed to hang our stockings on the front door[1], and cursed our misfortune when snow didn’t fall – like it did on TV.

Even though we preferred our own food (yours never seemed to have enough seasoning or fried chunks of meat), our own traditions (our elders felt kissing publicly meant you all had no proper ‘home training’), and our music, the soundtrack of our lives was the promise of traveling ‘Abroad’ and knowing the magic of meeting ‘oyinbo[2]’ people and living in ‘oyinbo’ lands. And living ‘oyinbo’ lives. The good life.

It was every thinking and non-thinking man’s dream. And for good reason: the West, your home, was heaven, and God lived there.

Needless to say, a steady undercurrent of self-loathing flowed through our lives – urging us to civilizational heights of whiteness. Urging us to wear three piece suits under a quizzical sun. Urging us to demonize our own traditions so that we could catch up with you.

We didn’t say it this way, but it was nonetheless inescapably true to us: if it was white, it was right.

But one day, at least for me, it ‘suddenly’ wasn’t.

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We Can’t Trust White People: On Blood Quantum and Identity Appropriation

Just over 500 years ago, there were these white European explorers who, in the name of god, gold, and glory, sailed west in search of delicious and shiny new things.

After several months at sea, they “discovered” the Americas and claimed them in the names of their Western kings. The problem with their “new world”, besides the fact that it wasn’t all that new to begin with, having been discovered at least forty thousand years prior, is that it was already inhabited—by millions of Indigenous peoples whose love of bathing, science, mathematics, and non-Judeo-Christian spirituality deeply offended the newcomers’ “civilized” sensibilities.

This of course was intolerable to the European emigres; these champions of Manifest Destiny spread a blanket of disease and “democracy” across the continent, transforming the lives and genealogy of Indigenous people forever.

Despite everything, we are still here. Since 1492 we have endured systemic oppression, cultural alienation, genocide, displacement, environmental destruction, banning of our spiritual/traditional practices, hate crimes, rape, and barriers to equal opportunities–atop this, the appropriation of the very identities denied to us.

Identity appropriation, at its best, is a nuisance, whereby people make frivolous claims like “my great grandmother was Pocahontas.” At its worst, it results in non-natives’ unsubstantiated claims to Indigenous heritage in an ad hominem effort to justify anti-indigenous actions and rhetoric.

I’m talking about white people who justify running around in “Native American” headdresses, that they bought at Party City, because they’re allegedly 1/16th “Native American.”

Indigenous appropriation not only belittles our experiences as Indigenous people, it drowns out our voices amidst a sea of non-natives who undermine those concerns with the justification that they have Indigenous heritage and are therefore authorized to to speak on indigenous issues. Indigenous appropriation victimizes and invalidates Indigenous peoples’ voices, which carry the weight of real concerns for our communities.

It’s important that I be clear. I am–not–stating that people with mixed or non-indigenous ancestry cannot claim Indigenous identities. Furthermore, I’m not saying that all people who claim possible Indigenous descent are not entitled to do so.  As an indigenous person of mixed ancestry myself, I understand full well how the issue of identity appropriation is frequently conflated with that of blood quantum: both sensitive topics amongst many Indigenous people.

To understand why these issues are so important and controversial to many of us–let’s talk culture and historical context.

Click here to read the full article…

Towards an Understanding of Cultural Appropriation in Rewilding

Rewild Or DieFrom Rewilding with Peter Michael Bauer

Dear White Rewilders,

I’m white too. Clearly. No hiding that fact. I have pale skin, blue eyes, and a lot of facial hair. If you are reading this, you are probably white too, as this letter is addressed to you, and the majority of the rewilding community is, at the time of this writing, white. While I (and maybe you) don’t identify as a white imperialist, or identify with “whiteness” at all, I live in a culture of white imperialism and I receive all the benefits of living as a white male in a white imperialist culture. As a white rewilder, I have often been accused of cultural appropriation by both Native and Non-Native people alike. Some of these accusations have been true and some false. The more I learn about appropriation, the more respectful and learned I have become. Rewilding is so important to me, and to our future, that I want to do whatever I can to create deeper connections between Native people and Non-Native people as we rewild. I’ve traversed this road for a while now and learned some things that can help us all work together more effectively. This is an open letter about cultural appropriation, how to avoid it, educate yourself on it, and learn from other cultures in a sincere and respectful way that will create collaborative partnerships. This isn’t a definitive guide. This is an intro to a never-ending conversation about this topic that we need to be having regularly.

[For those randomly reading this: Rewilding is a subcultural movement of people returning to, or attempting to re-create, pre-industrial, pre-agrarian cultures and lifeways of hunter-gatherers and/or horticultural societies. Rewilding takes inspiration from the most modern interpretations of prehistory provided by anthropology, archaeology, and ethnobiology. It is an anti-civilization critique that encourages the un-doing of empire and the culture of occupation. We believe that civilization (not to be conflated with civil societies) is inherently destructive, has caused the sixth mass extinction, and is currently in a state of long-term collapse. We are a niche within a niche within a niche. Here in the Americas, the dominant, popular culture continues to rob and mine Native Americans for everything they can, while continuing to treat them like they no longer exist, or only exist as historical stereotypes. It makes sense then, that if we want to rewild, to create sustainable cultures, to reclaim the inherent indigenousity that exists within everyone, that we need to create understanding between rewilders and the Native cultures that have lived here in this way for time immemorial. Most importantly we need to tread lightly and learn how to be respectful, and mutually beneficial as we rewild.]

I should make it clear right out that I am not speaking for Native people. I’m speaking along side them, and sharing what I have heard and learned from close friends and strangers alike. Native people speak for themselves, if you listen. However, they do get tired of having these conversations over and over again, so I thought I would address them from what I understand. Also, I’ve been told that white people tend to listen to other white people so it’s important for us to talk to each other about these issues as well.

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What, Exactly, Is Cultural Appropriation (And How Is It Harmful)?

By , Everyday Feminism

Despite the fact that people of color (POC) are being imprisoned, deported, evicted, and murdered at atrocious rates, contemporary media often tries to imply that the US is post-racial and politically just.

In reality, capitalism has turned Indigenous and POC cultural items and customs — which are usually born of precolonial legacy and historical trauma, resilience, and survival — into an economic currency that in no way benefits the groups from which they were stolen.

This exploits and ignores the very real violence that interferes with the well-being of POC and Indigenous Folk around the globe.

This is the sort of racism that people, on an individual basis, can recognize and interrupt. Please watch this video from Marina Watanabe to learn how you might be perpetuating cultural appropriation – and not even known it – and why you should stop.

Click for the Transcript

Please read the following Everyday Feminism articles to learn more about cultural appropriation:

Inappropriation

Photo by Angela GzowskiEvery day, aboriginal culture is borrowed, copied, dressed up or watered down. Is that art? Or is it stealing? Appropriation, it turns out, is all about the attitude.

By Samia Madwar, Up Here

Last fall, two exhibits opened in Montreal, both centred on aboriginal themes. Beat Nation, a multimedia presentation by aboriginal artists who’d mixed hip-hop culture with their own iconography, opened at the Museum of Modern Art on October 16. The next day—purely by unfortunate coincidence—the Museum of Fine Arts boutique unveiled Inukt, a new product line featuring aboriginally-flavoured clothing, accessories and homewares.

Beat Nation was an unapologetic, boundary-crossing exploration of tradition and modernity, and largely a critical success. Inukt was a confused, haphazard jumble, and a public relations disaster.

Like its mock, made-up name, few of Inukt’s products bear any resemblance to Inuit art. This April, the website advertised everything from T-shirts and tote bags to throw pillows and arm-chairs, adorned with portraits of random Plains Indian chiefs, bought from an online stock image gallery. Other T-shirts feature west-coast imagery—though the items themselves have Anishinaabe names. And then there are the “Eskimo doll” key-chains, miniature versions of embarrassing kitsch holdovers from a less sensitive time, their survivors now scattered across dusty thrift store shelves around the country. “The cultural mishmash here hurts my head,” wrote Chelsea Vowel, a Montreal-based Métis blogger.

Click here to read the full article…

 

Cultural Appropriation: Gaels and other Natives

The Virtual Gael

Showbiz antics this summer, especially Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto in the Lone Ranger movie and Miley Cyrus’s MTV dance performance, have prompted necessary public discussions about cultural appropriation. It’s tempting to try to boost the hits to my blog by inserting provocative pictures from one of those entertainment enterprises, but you’ll have to settle instead for one of the scores of illustrations from romance novels featuring Highlanders (hopefully this will draw readers in droves) to prepare you for appropriations from “people of pallor.”

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What do we mean by “Cultural appropriation”? The WikiPedia entry on Cultural Appropriation begins with an attempted definition:

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It describes acculturation or assimilation, but can imply a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture.[1][2] It can include the introduction of forms…

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What’s the Difference Between Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation?

Courtesy of Elephant Journal(Related: “Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?” and “Wanting To Be Indian“)

Jarune Uwujaren explains that there needs to be some element of mutual understanding, equality, and respect for it to be a true exchange.

From The Good Men Project

Cultural appropriation is a term that isn’t often heard in daily conversation, which means it’s inevitably misunderstood by those who feel attacked by feminists, sociologically-informed bloggers, and others who use the term.

Many a white person sporting dreadlocks or a bindi online has taken cultural appropriation to mean the policing of what white people can or can’t wear and enjoy.

Having considered their fashion choices a form of personal expression, some may feel unfairly targeted for simply dressing and acting in a way that feels comfortable for them.

The same can be said for those who find criticisms of the Harlem Shake meme and whatever it is Miley Cyrus did last month to be an obnoxious form of hipsterdom – just because something has origins in black culture, they say, doesn’t mean white artists can’t emulate and enjoy it.

And then there are people who believe that everything is cultural appropriation – from the passing around of gun powder to the worldwide popularity of tea.

They’re tired of certain forms of cultural appropriation – like models in Native American headdresses – being labeled as problematic while many of us are gorging on Chipotle burritos, doing yoga, and popping sushi into our mouths with chopsticks.

They have a point.

Where do we draw the line between “appropriate” forms of cultural exchange and more damaging patterns of cultural appropriation?

To be honest, I don’t know that there is a thin, straight line between them.

But even if the line between exchange and appropriation bends, twists, and loop-de-loops in ways it would take decades of academic thought to unpack, it has a definite starting point: Respect.

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