Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Just My 2 Cents on Cultural Appropriation

I'm taking a break from The Closet's usual tone to talk about cultural appropriation.  I think it is being over complicated as bloggers struggle to have their cake and eat it too, if you follow me. Let me try to explain.

I love how this crochet looks:

And I'm not calling out this blogger-- I could have gone with this:

Or this:

And I am not the cultural appropriation police, honest I'm not. But that beautiful piece of crochet that I would love to have in my house, or the one featured on a popular blog or the one for sale at a popular shop is most emphatically not a dream catcher. A dream catcher is a sacred part of Native American cultural history that involves a very specific set of principles and prayers and requires faith in Native American spiritual beliefs.  If you want to appreciate and give a nod to Native American culture by having a dream catcher in your home, learn about what they actually stand for, then buy it from a Native American artist.  

Using items from another's culture has nothing to do with whether or not you are of that culture.  Being 1/16th Cherokee doesn't change what a dream catcher is, and wearing a feathered headdress does not suddenly become okay because your grandmother lived on a reservation.  It is about educating yourself, not your genetic make up or ancestry.

Cultural appropriation goes beyond Native American culture, incidentally.  We need to stop taking significant terms and/or items of spiritual importance to cultures and applying them to items that are obviously not. St. Patrick's Day is a Catholic feast day, not an excuse to drink green beer.  It became synonymous with drinking because of the American-created stereotype of Catholic Irish immigrants as drunken louts-- so all that beer was meant as an insult to Irish culture, not a celebration of it.  Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of a hard won battle against French forces in Puebla-- it is not Mexican Independence day and is not celebrated everywhere in Mexico.  It is also not an opportunity to decorate with pinatas, eat stereotypical Americanized versions of Mexican foods (tortilla chips were invented in Los Angeles) and drink margaritas (which my have been invented in the United States, and certainly have no historic significance in Mexico). Maori tribal symbols (Tā moko) and Japanese calligraphy actually have a spiritual significance beyond trendy tattooing. And I could go on.

It is disrespectful not to know what the real purpose of those celebrations and symbols are, and therein lies the cultural appropriation. I am not saying we shouldn't celebrate those holidays or use those symbols-- but we should have the compassion and decency to know what we are actually doing.  Think of how much we could learn and teach about other cultures if we incorporated a little knowledge with the frivolity.  Buying food "from the source," is trendy, why can't buying craft work from the culture who created it be?   Why can't the holiday be about what the culture intended instead of an insult disguised as a "celebration"? After all, being a nation of immigrants does not give us a right to demean the cultures we are distantly connected to. We are better than that. 

Of course this is just my opinion. What are your thoughts?

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