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Drasiana

Cultural Appropriation

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Drasiana

This is a phrase that a lot of you might not be entirely familiar with, unless you're on Tumblr, and are witness to the frequent shrieking hoardes who'll accuse you of it if you happen to enjoy sushi. The actual idea behind cultural appropriation is that it's when one culture "absorbs" and misuses a different culture. However, the line between appropriation and the natural process of human influence is kind of blurry, and discussion comes about on where to define it.

Personally, I do not think someone partaking in aspects of a different culture is insidious on its own. The problem arises when those aspects are twisted or stereotyped and the original culture is improperly or not credited at all. It's the difference between someone studying Japanese history, and a weeaboo who romanticizes Japan based only on what they see in anime.

A more American example would be, say, recent fashion trends that have emphasized a Native American design, like this shirt. The shirts themselves are not necessarily terrible on their own, especially considering you can buy things like it from actual Native artists who would be happy to do business with you. But then you get Urban Outfitters, who have entire fashion lines attributed to the Navajo that aren't Navajo at all, showing a weird attempt to cash in on a cultural identity just because they have a recognizable name (also read that blog, it has great discussion on Native American appropriation). So it's not them respecting a culture, contributing to their communities and knowing the meaning behind certain styles or designs, but usage of a mish-mash of styles mislabelled as if a culture on its own were a fashion.

If you do the former, that's okay. But the latter is where things become a problem.

So tl;dr Appropriation: hipsters wearing war bonnets, getting a tatoo of Chinese lettering because it "looks cool", geisha Halloween costumes

Not-Appropriation: Eating at a Vietnamese restaurant, enjoying J-Pop, buying Native-influenced clothing and jewellry made by actual Native people

What do you think about it?

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Faisul

Man, this is going to be a bit confusing, even for me. Lateposting is a bad idea, folks!

I think this is a very interesting problem. In your example you definitely see a conflict of interest between a corporation that capitalizes on a constructed identity of the Navajo that is inaccurate as well as generalizing, and the Nation which probably isn't interested in being lumped together with a dozen other tribal identities from the region (as well as having a non-Nation corporation 'appropriating' heh customers from their own markets). In this case, the onus is, as I see it, definitely on Urban Outfitters to adjust their label accordingly.

Cultural appropriation is definitely an issue in the case of minority identities. It's a somewhat difficult concept to come to terms with, but from what I can see it contributes to the propagation of simplistic stereotypes and wrongful assumptions of another group's characteristics. There is also the idea that some cultures, especially those that have been oppressed or otherwise disadvantaged, have unique cultural, artistic or linguistic artefacts that are simply not up for grabs for outsiders. Most infamously, the n-word and f-word, off the top of my head. Appropriating these artefacts, especially by the majority group, can be very antagonising for the minorities in question, as I understand it; interestingly, in the previous examples, the oppressed have appropriated these terms for their own ends, often to defuse them, to make them their own.

What I would like to ask, is there such a thing as intra-cultural appropriation, or is that a completely different thing? I'm thinking about nationalism - constructing a national identity from an idealized historical narrative about your own country's background and the perceived characteristics of your countrymen in times of yore and asserting that these are still present, essentially. Since cultures change quite a bit as time passes, wouldn't the past culture of your countrymen be essentially foreign to your own? And then, by forming that idealized narrative and utilizing it for the present, wouldn't you be appropriating parts of that culture convenient for you? For example, if I launched off into a diatribe about being a viking while displaying violent, rapacious behaviour, wearing a horned helmet and munching on fly mushrooms and swillng mead, would I be a Vikaboo? Or is that no longer appropriation as the culture in question is essentially dead?

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Mr. Krystal

In this particular case of Navajo branding by Urban Outfitters in apparent violation of a Trademark is against the law. If this is indeed a violation of Trademark, it should be treated like any other violation of this type of law.

More generally, cultural appropriation falls under freedom of speech for me. If you want to make or sell something inspired by or named after something, so long as you're not breaking any laws, I'm philosophically ok with it. It might be offensive (to me or others), but freedom of speech was set up to protect all speech, especially offensive speech.

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Drasiana

What I would like to ask, is there such a thing as intra-cultural appropriation, or is that a completely different thing? I'm thinking about nationalism - constructing a national identity from an idealized historical narrative about your own country's background and the perceived characteristics of your countrymen in times of yore and asserting that these are still present, essentially. Since cultures change quite a bit as time passes, wouldn't the past culture of your countrymen be essentially foreign to your own? And then, by forming that idealized narrative and utilizing it for the present, wouldn't you be appropriating parts of that culture convenient for you? For example, if I launched off into a diatribe about being a viking while displaying violent, rapacious behaviour, wearing a horned helmet and munching on fly mushrooms and swillng mead, would I be a Vikaboo? Or is that no longer appropriation as the culture in question is essentially dead?

I'd stay it still counts as appropriation. "Culture" doesn't inherently mean "white", and any culture can potentially be appropriated. A good example of white people appropriating other white people is St. Patrick's Day, where a bunch of idiots run around pretending to be Irish all night, or the multitudes of girls on Tumblr obsessed with England the same way that weeaboos are obsessed with Japan (a romanticized vision built entirely out of media). As well, think of any Neopagan who claims their beliefs are "ancient" yet the only evidence they have of such is a bargain bin book written by someone who is distinguishably not a historian who gave their cat a co-credit. The fact that some of these cultures no longer exist, much like the druidic religions my ancestors belonged to, has been more through intentional acts of assimilation and eradication; not an appropriation of the cultures (that came later), which is generally more of a misguided attempt at positivity.

Mr. Krystal, freedom of speech goes both ways. If someone is feeling hurt and marginalized by the accepted actions of a group they are fully entitled to say so and you shouldn't need to trademark your own culture to have to stop people from dragging it through the mud. The people who have corrected cultural appropriation are those who have explained to the offenders why what they're doing is harmful and lots of people are happy to oblige (the blog I linked has many examples of this).

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