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Thread: Cultural Appropriation

  1. #1
    Awesome Admin Hazel's Avatar
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    Default Cultural Appropriation

    What are peoples views on this? It seems literally everywhere I turn and a lot of things I like/own/want to do appear to be classed as cultural appropriation. I recently bought some cone henna as I've used it in the past and spotted it in Asda. The Indian lady on the till was like "wow do we sell this?" then gave me a load of tips and advice on making my own cones and where to find nice designs and was lovely. Yet when you google a white girl wearing mehndi henna tattoos you'll see accusations of being racist etc (however, you do see a lot of people defending this and saying it's not). I'm not even sure I want to use it now in case I offend someone :/

    To clarify, cultural appropriation is when people in a majority culture adopts the symbols or certain elements of a culture that is oppressed, in a minority, seen to be outsiders or immigrants. It is not the same as cultural assimilation (ie from immigration) or acculturation (2 cultures meet and the culture starts to change).

    But then I got thinking, it's very prevalent in the body mod world, for example:

    Tattoos/Scarification: Chinese, Latin, Sanskrit lettering, tribal, mandalas, hieroglyphics, Gautama Buddha, sugar skulls/Dia de Muertos, crosses from all background and religions
    Jewellery: Swastikas, mandalas, lettering, tribal patterns, 3rd eye piercings/bindis, celtic crosses
    Make-Up/Hair: Creating the look of another race (as simple as attempting hooded/Chinese looking eyes to full on "blackface"), sugar skulls, tribal/warrior paint, mehndi/henna (skin or hair), dreadlocks (real or synth)
    Clothing: Rasta, hijab, kimono, sari, patterns like the above on any clothing, dressing in religious garments (priest, nun, rabbi etc), native American headdresses - a lot of this is seen on Halloween.
    Mannerisms/activites: Speaking in another accent, using slang/dialect, visiting places of worship not your own (aside from sightseeing), giving your child a name that's native to an area you're not from, dreamcatchers

    That's just the tip of the iceberg apparently. It seems that no matter what we do, where we turn, who we see, it's happening somewhere. I've looked at discussions, some people don't care that others want to discreetly express a desire or interest in their culture and some find it healthy and flattering. There's obviously some in the above examples that are outright wrong (blackface, pretending to be of a certain culture or religion because it looks/sounds cool) but a lot are things I've seen people do. I myself have part of a mandala tattooed on me, I've worn henna, my hair has dreaded in the past (but hey, guess what? it loks naturally if I leave it to - so how is that seen as cultural appropriation?). I read recently a girl telling people that unless you are Hindu/Buddhist then no way should you have a mandala tattoo - however the mandala is well represented in Christian religion....but no mention of that from her.

    So what are your views, do you think it applies to all the above and more? Have you ever been offended by someone doing/expressing something from another/your culture? Have you directly offended someone by your actions - being called out on cultural appropriation?
    Last edited by Hazel; 09-29-2014 at 03:25 AM.
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  2. #2
    Magnificent Moderator Kaitey (:'s Avatar
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    I tend to stay away from checking things like this online unless I genuinely have no idea where to start forming my own opinions on it (like if it's something I don't have a lot of background knowledge on), like you've already stated you can find hard liners from both sides on nearly everything! I generally try to look at things from a respect view point - if something has a lot of religious/cultural significance I'm a lot more careful in my use of it, for example I love mhendi and I'm happy to play about with it on my own (although super lucky to have a fab friend who is Indian and a million times better than me who frequently offers to do it for me) but I love the look of wedding mhendi and it's something I've loved since I was a little kid. However I wouldn't do that on myself as that feels appropriation-like (it is looking like I will be able to have it though as S offered to do some for me and seemed really keen to share that part if her culture with me, personally this feels OK but doing it by myself for purely aesthetic reasons made me feel a bit squicky). Generally I ask myself "does this feel 100% ok? Would I feel ashamed or embarrassed meeting someone from that culture and explaining my choices?" (Again going back to mhendi telling someone who uses it culturally I've put it on myself for day to day wear because I love the look wouldn't make me feel embarrassed at all but telling them I did my own wedding mhendi would as it's much more culturally significant than just using it aesthetically IMO)
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  3. #3
    Awesome Admin Hazel's Avatar
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    Aye, I didn't check it as such but have come across it before on social media and was curious.

    An Indian girl in a discussion said in all honesty there's no real thing as strict wedding mehndi anyway and people are just looking for excuses to be offended. Desi ladies all over the world wear it for fun now even in the style often seen used in weddings.

    I think if I was to use it and seek out someone's wedding design, use it at a wedding or say that it had deep significance to me or that it made me somehow a part of their culture then yeah, all that is out of order. I also don't like seeing non desi girls charging for doing (a usually very bad job) mehndi tattoos.

    I got my first henna cone after going into a shop when I lived in an area where Indian and Pakistani people were in the majority and we had some awesome shops. I went into one and the desi lady there chatted to me for ages about henna for hair and skin and also did some on my hands. Some other desi ladies came in and were really friendly and advised me what they use. I bought some and was told to pop back in any time.

    That was 14 years ago, I didn't experience one person in the community who had a problem with it. Many loved the idea of someone else showing a genuine interest. Yet today its offensive? What's changed?
    Last edited by Hazel; 09-29-2014 at 05:30 PM. Reason: typos
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  4. #4
    Magnificent Moderator Kaitey (:'s Avatar
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    I think for me it was more the ceremony and ritual associated with the wedding mhendi application than the design that made me feel it wouldn't be appropriate if that makes sense?

    I think on the one hand it's amazing that we're more empathetic and open to other people's concerns or negative feelings about us (in the general sense not me and you) using their cultural symbols/customs but on the other hand I think fear of being branded as culturally apropriative puts people off of genuine cultural exchange which is sad :(
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  5. #5
    Awesome Admin Hazel's Avatar
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    Totally agree with you and yeah following a specific ritual isn't good as that's something engrained into a culture.

    It seems to be a lot of cultural appreciation is being seen as appropriation which is indeed sad :(
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  6. #6
    Senior Member Jester's Avatar
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    This reminds me a bit of an argument I once saw online about whether Westerners should read translated manga flipped or unflipped. Some people were saying unflipped was more 'authentic', while someone else said it was actually less authentic because it doesn't flow for us (we read thetext one way but the images the other), so it doesn't create a smooth reading transition. The latter said the obsession with unflipped manga was just Westerners doing it 'because it was Japanese'. (To be fair, while the argument isn't completely baseless, the guy arguing was being a complete d**k about it and was really rude.) My opinion is generally 'whatever the reader wants from the experience should be the 'correct' way to read it'. I prefer unflipped because that's the way the artwork is drawn; flipping it can make it look REALLY squiffy. However, more popular titles (e.g., Akira, Ghost in the Shell) often get the original Japanese artist on board to help with the flipping process, so I don't mind reading them flipped. Again, Katsuhiro Otomo and Shirow Masumune actively want the Westernised versions of their books to be flipped (from what I understand Otomo prefers Western graphic novels to Eastern ones); so in instanses like that, I'd rather read it however the artist/author wants me to read it.

    As for the mhendi thing, I've done it for myself and friends before. I never even really considered that it might be offensive. My friend had come back off of holiday with some and the rest of use thought it was beautiful. It then got suggested that we all have it done at a party and someone I'm the one who ended up doing it. Everyone was really happy with it. I've recently been looking at doing it again, because I do think it's gorgeous and it's a fun thing to do, but this has got me thinking. Especially as I now have classes with a lot of people from all over the world. (There's a Muslim girl who wears the most amazing headscarves every day; I'm kind of jealous as I love headwear but there's no way I could do it without being called out. I realise it is different as she wears it for religious reasons and I'd be wearing it 'because it looked nice' and my respect for that is partly why I wouldn't do it.)
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  7. #7
    Awesome Admin Hazel's Avatar
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    That's really interesting Jester, nice input.

    I have asked a lot of ladies round here who work in shops about the henna only one said she thought it would be a little odd but not offensive, the rest thought it was fab and one just shrugged as if to say "why ask me, do what you want". So a little local research shows that they're not bothered by it (albeit a small "survey"). Come to think of it, the only people I've seen offended by it are young white girls on the internet......
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  8. #8
    Senior Member Firedrake's Avatar
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    I guess it depends as well, if you're doing whatever it is out of respect. I mean we had an aboriginal smoking ceremony at our hospital to respect the spirits of the ones who had passed (although really it's a publicity stunt because they run the ground around here and we're a mining town) but isn't it the thought that counts?

    Personally if someone thought something from my culture was pretty enough to have it tattooed on their body, or had their hair or make up done a certain way, it would be A. a great talking point to see if they knew what it meant, and B. if they had done their research and liked the interpretation, flattering for the culture.

    Why would it be an issue for the majority to want to take and use part of an oppressed culture? Isn't that what they want? To not be a minority?

    I guess some things wouldn't be appropriate, like a non-Muslim doing a meat blessing ceremony, but it shouldn't be offensive if the person doing it isn't doing it to be offensive
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  9. #9
    Senior Member Toofwess's Avatar
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    I teach Japanese and people tell me that its cultural appropriation because I'm not Japanese and I shouldn't be teaching Japanese culture. What a load. I think if you're showing another culture in a good way, how can that be appropriation. Ugh. I think it's become one of those buzz words dumb/angry people like to spout out over nothing to sound like they're superior.

    Not saying it doesn't exist, just saying it's been blown waaaay out of proportion to the point where anything that's pro-multiculturalism is cultural appropriation now. It annoys me.
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  10. #10
    Senior Member Jester's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Toofwess View Post
    I teach Japanese and people tell me that its cultural appropriation because I'm not Japanese and I shouldn't be teaching Japanese culture. What a load. I think if you're showing another culture in a good way, how can that be appropriation. Ugh. I think it's become one of those buzz words dumb/angry people like to spout out over nothing to sound like they're superior.

    Not saying it doesn't exist, just saying it's been blown waaaay out of proportion to the point where anything that's pro-multiculturalism is cultural appropriation now. It annoys me.

    Does that mean the fact that my Latin teacher was English and not an ancient Roman/from the Vatican was also cultural appropriation? O_o
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