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kuwisdelu
04-20-2014, 10:50 PM
Why do people believe this?

When I see people asking how to write characters from different cultures and incorporate cultural elements or cultural stories, I too often see this stated as if it should be fact, and too often no one bothers to question this "fact" or why we believe it or why it could come from a harmful perspective.

Sure, no one may "own" culture in the Western legal sense of "property", but we are still faced with language that only serves the privileged appropriator and leaves no recourse of objection for the appropriated.

I often talk about "my culture" and obviously the people asking these questions recognize they are talking about a culture not their own. So how can they then conclude that no one owns it?

How can we change this pervasive perspective?

shaldna
04-20-2014, 11:24 PM
Just to clarify, in case I'm getting this wrong, but are you asking why people want to include characters from other cultures? And how to do it?

kuwisdelu
04-20-2014, 11:27 PM
Just to clarify, in case I'm getting this wrong, but are you asking why people want to include characters from other cultures? And how to do it?

No, that's a separate but related conversation, but it's not what I'm talking about.

I'm asking about the perspective itself: why do people believe that a culture does not — at least in some way — belong to its people?

How to respectfully borrow from that culture is another question, but not mine.

mirandashell
04-20-2014, 11:30 PM
Sorry, I'm being really ignorant but are you talking about a defence for appropriation?

kuwisdelu
04-20-2014, 11:44 PM
Sorry, I'm being really ignorant but are you talking about a defence for appropriation?

I'm saying people often defend appropriation by saying "no one owns culture" (with an implicit "therefore, I can take it and use it however I want.")

I'm saying that's incorrect, and culture is owned by its people, and therefore appropriation is theft.

I'm saying this mindset that no one owns culture leads to appropriation, so how can we fix the mindset?

Lillith1991
04-21-2014, 12:16 AM
I'm not sure how to fix the problem honestly. But it does need to be fixed, because you're completely right. A people do own their culture, and people that don't think that baffle me.

Unimportant
04-21-2014, 12:23 AM
I'm saying people often defend appropriation by saying "no one owns culture" (with an implicit "therefore, I can take it and use it however I want.")

I'm saying that's incorrect, and culture is owned by its people, and therefore appropriation is theft.

I'm saying this mindset that no one owns culture leads to appropriation, so how can we fix the mindset?

I am not going to argue the point, but instead raise a caveat to it: where do you draw the line? If my MC is someone just like me, and she works with people from all nationalities (just as I do), how do I portray those other characters? If I model character S on the Indian woman I work with, but (unknown to me) my colleague isn't really representative of Indian culture, am I appropriating and misrepresenting Indian culture? Can my MC never travel to any country I haven't lived in at least ten years? What if I want to send her to Europe? Do I have to restrict her to six hours in the Amsterdam airport, which is the full extent of my personal European experience?

If I play it safe and make all of my characters white-bread, isn't that just as bad -- writing fictional worlds that delete the other? Isn't that what we've had for generations: books in which white boys do all the cool stuff, and white girls fall in love, and queers and PoC etc don't even exist?

(Pre-coffee devil's advocate here, so apologies if I'm incoherent.)

VRanger
04-21-2014, 12:28 AM
Forgive me if I'm misunderstanding, but it sounds as if you are claiming that people should not write of a culture which is not their own origin. If enacted, that would make for writing with very narrow focus and interest.

If a writer includes a culture foreign to him and gets it wrong, the remedy is that the writing lacks credibility, and critics WILL debunk the errors.

But any work with scope is very likely to stretch the writer's own experience, hopefully with the assistance of adequate research.

Don't tell me you'd like to ban Tarzan? ;-)

mirandashell
04-21-2014, 12:29 AM
I am not going to argue the point, but instead raise a caveat to it: where do you draw the line? If my MC is someone just like me, and she works with people from all nationalities (just as I do), how do I portray those other characters? If I model character S on the Indian woman I work with, but (unknown to me) my colleague isn't really representative of Indian culture, am I appropriating and misrepresenting Indian culture? Can my MC never travel to any country I haven't lived in at least ten years? What if I want to send her to Europe? Do I have to restrict her to six hours in the Amsterdam airport, which is the full extent of my personal European experience?

If I play it safe and make all of my characters white-bread, isn't that just as bad -- writing fictional worlds that delete the other? Isn't that what we've had for generations: books in which white boys do all the cool stuff, and white girls fall in love, and queers and PoC etc don't even exist?

That's what I was wondering which is why I asked the question.

VRanger
04-21-2014, 12:37 AM
If I model character S on the Indian woman I work with, but (unknown to me) my colleague isn't really representative of Indian culture, am I appropriating and misrepresenting Indian culture?

My answer would be no, you aren't under any circumstances doing anything wrong. In that circumstance "S" is correctly an individual, not a stereotype.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 01:10 AM
I am not going to argue the point, but instead raise a caveat to it: where do you draw the line?

That's a question for another thread, IMO.

It's the psychology of the title phrase in which I'm interested.


Forgive me if I'm misunderstanding, but it sounds as if you are claiming that people should not write of a culture which is not their own origin.

No, I think it's entirely possible to write respectfully about another culture. To frame it one way, just like there are exceptions to intellectual ownership in terms of Fair Use, there are exceptions to cultural ownership in terms of Respectful Use.

But I'm not asking about that. We have plenty of threads about that already, and anyone with the question of "how do I write about another culture respectfully" can start a new one.

I'm asking where does the mindset that culture doesn't belong to anyone come from?

To say that "no one owns culture" is a kind of appropriation itself. It leaves people from that culture no room to ask for respect and accuracy, because they no longer own it, therefore their perspective is no longer any more relevant than anyone else's. It's insidious in its subtlety.

Why do we let people say "no one owns culture" and allow it to go uncontested?

Roxxsmom
04-21-2014, 01:19 AM
Forgive me if I'm misunderstanding, but it sounds as if you are claiming that people should not write of a culture which is not their own origin. If enacted, that would make for writing with very narrow focus and interest.

If a writer includes a culture foreign to him and gets it wrong, the remedy is that the writing lacks credibility, and critics WILL debunk the errors.

But any work with scope is very likely to stretch the writer's own experience, hopefully with the assistance of adequate research.

Don't tell me you'd like to ban Tarzan? ;-)

I don't think the OP is saying this. It's certainly possible (and desirable) to write about people from different cultures and nationalities than oneself.

The statement that nobody owns a culture is often used, however, to justify the perpetuation of stereotypes, or conversely, ignoring perspectives that really do exist within a culture. Writing about a cultural perspective that isn't yours is a bit like visiting someone else's house or borrowing a prized possession from a friend--you treat it with even more care and respect than you do your own.

mirandashell
04-21-2014, 01:24 AM
Why do we let people say "no one owns culture" and allow it to go uncontested?

I'm not sure who you are asking. I think most of us on this board don't do that and therefore wouldn't know why that is said. And anyone here who does think that isn't likely to say so if they know the culture of this forum.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 01:40 AM
I'm not sure who you are asking. I think most of us on this board don't do that and therefore wouldn't know why that is said. And anyone here who does think that isn't likely to say so if they know the culture of this forum.

I have seen it said on this board before. Sometimes it was challenged, sometimes it wasn't.

Regardless, I don't see why we can't have a discussion about it, where the perspective comes from, and how to challenge it. It's extremely pervasive.

The tragedy is I think many otherwise well-meaning authors — when challenged with their inaccuracies — resort to it as a defensive mechanism.

Unimportant
04-21-2014, 01:42 AM
I'm asking where does the mindset that culture doesn't belong to anyone come from?
Ah, okay. See, I knew I needed coffee! :D

I think it comes from the White Privilege mindset. It's not so much "you don't own your culture" as "I want to play in your culture and I have the right to do that because, well, I want to, so why shouldn't I?" Followed up by "I don't mind if people of colour write about white people like me, so why should they mind if white people like me write about people of colour?" Followed up by "You should take it as a compliment! Because it's saying that white people are boring and commonplace, while your culture is all cool and exotic and something people would want to read about!"

The problem is, all that stuff works, and has done for a long time. White people (WP) appropriated other cultures, and no one said boo -- and it never crossed WP's minds that this was because they were in a position of power, and The Other (TO) didn't dare to say boo. WP haven't cared if TO wrote about white characters -- because TO authors have hardly been a drop in the bucket and haven't penetrated WP's consciousness. Books about appropriated culture -- from white-colonial-girl-and-Native-American-chief romances, to fantasies set in thinly-veiled TO cultures, to white-man-shows-the-natives-how-to-do-it-better, a la Avatar -- have historically sold well.

VRanger
04-21-2014, 01:44 AM
I think your premise is flawed. It doesn't matter if anyone says that or why. You can't stop people from thinking and saying things, whether those things are right or wrong. You can only foster an environment of education so that if people have misconceptions, they die out.

The only thing that matters is whether or not a culture is depicted accurately. It doesn't even matter if it is respectful, just accurate. All cultures have good elements and bad elements. Some lean more towards one end than the other.

The problem may be the word "own". People are more experienced in their own culture. They are more immersed in it.

I'm from the South. Since the 60s the growth of the Sunbelt has provided a fertile sociological mixing bowl of what I think you may be getting at. Lots of people from northern states moved down here. The region became more industrialized. Urban areas expanded rapidly. Incoming people learned new habits and brought their own. (Guess how many dedicated bagel stores existed in the South before the Sunbelt influx. LOL)

We could not claim we "owned" Southern culture. Even if anyone did, which culture do they own? All but a very few have changed drastically in the last century ... in the last 10 years even ... smartphones anyone?

So I still might not be getting what you're after, but I kind of think you are worrying over a problem with no fixed origin and no pat solution.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 01:56 AM
Followed up by "You should take it as a compliment! Because it's saying that white people are boring and commonplace, while your culture is all cool and exotic and something people would want to read about!"

I think this is the one that bothers me the most, because when people think they're being positive, it's hard to show them how they could still be doing harm.


I think your premise is flawed. It doesn't matter if anyone says that or why. You can't stop people from thinking and saying things, whether those things are right or wrong. You can only foster an environment of education so that if people have misconceptions, they die out.

It does matter that people say that. Because it's a mindset that fosters that very lack of education, and encourages misconceptions.


The only thing that matters is whether or not a culture is depicted accurately. It doesn't even matter if it is respectful, just accurate.

Why do you think respect doesn't matter?


All cultures have good elements and bad elements. Some lean more towards one end than the other.

Respect is not the same as taking the positive and ignoring the negative.

Even portrayals that are purely "positive" can be disrespectful and harmful.


The problem may be the word "own". People are more experienced in their own culture. They are more immersed in it.

And the culture is also theirs.


I'm from the South. [...]

I don't think "Southern culture" can really be compared to what I'm talking about, and if you think it is, I don't think you really understand where I'm coming from.

shaldna
04-21-2014, 01:57 AM
I'm probably going to cause a riot for saying this, but I don't necessarily think that cultural appropriation is a bad thing.

The average guy on the street will usually equate cultural appropriation as basically down to either skinny white kids dressing and talking like gangsters, or unwashed hemp wearing hipping embracing a foreign religion.

But whether we think we do it or not, many of us will at some stage. We make small changes, embrace small things on a daily basis depending on those we are surrounded by and where we are. To not have some degree of appropriation or adaption or cultural exchange means we are shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world only to exist and interact with those who are like ourselves.

I think cultural mis-appropriation is a bad thing though. People who take on aspects of a culture without understanding it. That's where the issue is, where the offence lies.

For instance, I'm Irish. We're a small country with a very rich culture of storytelling, myths and magic. Come March, however, and EVERYONE seems to be Irish. And we Irish can either get annoyed about all these people latching on to our heritage s a reason to have a party, or we can do what we do, welcome everyone who wants to join in, learn something and take something of our culture and heritage away with them to assimilate into their own lives.

Now, to clarify, there are aspects of every culture that I think 'outsiders' probably can never really understand, or really shouldn't adapt. In Ireland, for instance, we have a long history of religious suppression and unrest, resultant civil wars etc. I don't think it's appropriate for someone who isn't DIRECTLY descended from that part of our history to embrace or take part in - such as the Parades etc. Now, at the same time, learn about it,go along and watch, you'll be welcomed. But it's not appropriate to take part.

VRanger
04-21-2014, 02:02 AM
Unimportant, if the point of the question was to discuss the evils of a few hundred years of European Colonialism (and yes there were many), then I REALLY did miss the point. LOL

What I want to know is are we intending to go back 200+ years and critique James Fenimore Cooper, or are we thinking about how what a writer participating in this forum should be considering when doing homework about writing of an unfamiliar environment.

shaldna
04-21-2014, 02:02 AM
sorry, dulicate post

shaldna
04-21-2014, 02:08 AM
I don't think "Southern culture" can really be compared to what I'm talking about, and if you think it is, I don't think you really understand where I'm coming from.


Wow, that is actually incredibly dismissive. Who are you to dictate what constitutes as 'culture' and on how big a scale it should be? You're talking about what you see as a problem, but with this statement you are becoming part of what you are saying is a problem.

Each country, hell many areas within countries have very specific and regionalised cultures that vary massively.

Unimportant
04-21-2014, 02:11 AM
I think this is the one that bothers me the most, because when people think they're being positive, it's hard to show them how they could still be doing harm.
Agreed.

I think there are probably elements of white superiority mixed with Mary Sue, for some authors. The Avatar thing, where the white character is "open minded" enough to accept and embrace the other culture, but white is also superior and therefore can excel over the others. White girl shows the Indian chief how to bake yeast bread. White guys with tanks and uzis get transported back in time and have to take on people with slingshots and muskets (and, amazingly, win!). It lets the author feel superior on every level.

There is also a lot of sexual fetishising (is that a word?) about women of cultures (or time periods) that are heavily misogynistic, and therefore the women are (or are seen as) submissive and obedient -- aka sex slaves.

VRanger
04-21-2014, 02:16 AM
Why do you think respect doesn't matter?


Because it isn't the correct word for your discussion. I can respect a culture and know absolutely nothing about it. I can know a LOT about it and not respect it. Respect is irrelevant to your question.


Respect is not the same as taking the positive and ignoring the negative.

Even portrayals that are purely "positive" can be disrespectful and harmful.
Then you agree with me. My statement is that the important concept in portraying the culture is accuracy. That's what you just said too. We can close that one.


I don't think "Southern culture" can really be compared to what I'm talking about, and if you think it is, I don't think you really understand where I'm coming from. Then explain where you are coming from. You made one very broad complaint with absolutely no specific context or example. Please help me to understand your point of view, and I hope your point of view isn't that your culture is more important than my culture. ;-)

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 02:20 AM
What I want to know is are we intending to go back 200+ years and critique James Fenimore Cooper,

There's no need to go back in time at all. The exact same literary crimes are occurring today.


or are we thinking about how what a writer participating in this forum should be considering when doing homework about writing of an unfamiliar environment.

Other people seem to want this thread to go that way, but that's not why I started it, no.

I want to develop an understanding of why some people think culture belongs to everyone, and how to address it.


I'm probably going to cause a riot for saying this, but I don't necessarily think that cultural appropriation is a bad thing.


I think cultural mis-appropriation is a bad thing though. People who take on aspects of a culture without understanding it. That's where the issue is, where the offence lies.

Cultural appropriation is a bad thing because it leads to a perpetuation of lies and stereotypes about a culture.


For instance, I'm Irish. We're a small country with a very rich culture of storytelling, myths and magic. Come March, however, and EVERYONE seems to be Irish. And we Irish can either get annoyed about all these people latching on to our heritage s a reason to have a party, or we can do what we do, welcome everyone who wants to join in, learn something and take something of our culture and heritage away with them to assimilate into their own lives.


Wow, that is actually incredibly dismissive. Who are you to dictate what constitutes as 'culture' and on how big a scale it should be? You're talking about what you see as a problem, but with this statement you are becoming part of what you are saying is a problem.

I'm painfully familiar with many Europeans and Euro-Americans making comparisons between modern-day PoC peoples and historically oppressed white ethnic minorities.

There is historic justification for that comparison, but for the most part, they are no longer true today, and for the most part, these groups have become a part of the dominant culture. I'm not saying there aren't comparisons to be made, but I am not concerned with them right now, because I think they mostly serve to downplay the PoC issues.

This is the PoC forum, and I am addressing a PoC issue.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 02:24 AM
Respect is irrelevant to your question.

No, it's not. The phrase "no one owns a culture" is disrespectful itself.


Then you agree with me. My statement is that the important concept in portraying the culture is accuracy. That's what you just said too. We can close that one.

No. Accuracy merely a part of respect. Respect is important.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 02:29 AM
There is also a lot of sexual fetishising (is that a word?) about women of cultures (or time periods) that are heavily misogynistic, and therefore the women are (or are seen as) submissive and obedient -- aka sex slaves.

It's not only women (though don't me started on the word "squaw").

Apparently the savage Indian is a relatively common hero in romance, too.

There is also a tendency to see other cultures through the lens of Western feminism, without considering how women in those cultures might feel. (Which isn't to excuse misogyny in non-Western cultures, but to point out that feminism might mean different things to women from different cultures.)

EarlyBird
04-21-2014, 02:33 AM
I have seen it said on this board before. Sometimes it was challenged, sometimes it wasn't.

Regardless, I don't see why we can't have a discussion about it, where the perspective comes from, and how to challenge it. It's extremely pervasive.

The tragedy is I think many otherwise well-meaning authors — when challenged with their inaccuracies — resort to it as a defensive mechanism.

For educational purposes, could you provide some concrete examples?

I'm a 'WP'. My family, though, is interracial and multi-cultural and while I don't [think] I presume to arbitrarily assume their cultural identity, I'm accoustomed to the diverseness of my family and so tend to write diverse characters. I'd hate to think I was offending others by doing so.

mccardey
04-21-2014, 02:34 AM
Kuwi, not to be critical, but I think difficulties might arise here from the facts that some of us may never have heard your "No-one owns culture" comment said, and that you've not really defined the parameters of your discussion.

Perhaps your original post was just too brief to do the topic justice? I think we're going to end up arguing at cross-purposes if you don't take hold of the definitions.

Unimportant
04-21-2014, 02:34 AM
This is the PoC forum, and I am addressing a PoC issue.
Ack, yes, and thanks for the reminder, because I keep broadening it! But, to commit the same sin (in the spirit of helpfulness, truly), I think it's like when straight people say "Why am I not welcome in gay bars, if gays can come to straight bars? Why do bars need to be gay at all? Why not just bars for everyone?" People in positions of privilege, who have never had to hide who they are or apologise for who they are, have no idea that others need a 'safe place', where they can be themselves, where they don't need to hide, where they can celebrate who they are.

People whose culture is the mainstream, the norm, generally don't feel proprietary about their culture because it's what everyone knows and everyone experiences. It's everywhere. It's everyone's truth. So they can't relate to the idea of a culture being exploited or appropriated.

Just throwin' out ideas here....

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 02:35 AM
Did you even read what I wrote? Because I spoke about how it can be a good, and a bad thing if it's done without full understanding and education.

I can't imagine when appropriation would be a good thing.

If it's done respectfully, then it's not appropriation.


You only spoke about CULTURE not COLOUR. The response you received from several of us was about CULTURE. It's not just PoC who have culture and histories.

Please note what room you are in.


This issues isn't a colour one, yes, certain cultures that are most commonly abused and misunderstood are mostly made up of certain non-white ethnic groups, but to just dismiss everyone who isn't PoC and every culture that isn't predominately made up of PoC is highly dismissive. It's basically saying 'our culture / colour is more important than yours so you can't be part of this discussion.'

No, I posted in here because I want to have a discussion as it relates to PoC.

That is all.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 02:44 AM
And yet you spoke about CULTURE. You didn't say WHICH culture.

As I said, I posted in this room for a reason.


But sure, all us white people will just go and sit in the corner and not have an opinion.

That is your choice.

And listening is indeed an important part of being an ally.

mirandashell
04-21-2014, 02:48 AM
Kuwi, I'm really not sure why you started this other than to pick a fight or have people console you. No-one is really learning anything and people are getting wound up. So what, exactly, were you hoping to get from this as a thread?

Unimportant
04-21-2014, 02:48 AM
Apparently the savage Indian is a relatively common hero in romance, too.
Oh, gosh, yes.

I would imagine that many authors think they are doing a good thing, and are well-intended, and think that they are being respectful. A la, "People believe Indians were savages who went around scalping each other. I will show it differently! I will show that they respected nature (by throwing in lots of references to the Great Spirit). I will show that they knew lots about the food of the land (by showing them gathering wild rice in their canoes, and collecting honey to pound into their pemmican, and using cornstalks as beanpoles). I will show that they were kind, loving people (by having the savage chief fall in love with the white woman who was kidnapped, and they have awesome sex with multiple orgasms in their teepee, and live HEA). There! Now people know that Indians -- oops, I mean Native Americans -- are real people, too! Like, almost as good as white people!"

So, it's back at you, K. How do you tell such an author that showing a PoC-culture as "better than the typical stereotype" isn't necessarily a good thing? If they were to donate all their earnings to a charity set up to support that particular culture, would that make it better? (Or worse?) How do you, as a PoC, counter that mindset?

Unimportant
04-21-2014, 02:49 AM
But sure, all us white people will just go and sit in the corner and not have an opinion.
He hasn't shut me up yet. :D Try harder, Ku!

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 02:53 AM
Kuwi, not to be critical, but I think difficulties might arise here from the facts that some of us may never have heard your "No-one owns culture" comment said, and that you've not really defined the parameters of your discussion.


For educational purposes, could you provide some concrete examples?

I'll see what I can dig up.

I admit it's not always phrased so straightforwardly as in the title (though many times it is), but the title pretty accurately sums up the attitude: a nation's culture belongs to everyone, even if I don't belong to that nation, therefore I can take whatever I want from it and use it however I wish.


I'm a 'WP'. My family, though, is interracial and multi-cultural and while I don't [think] I presume to arbitrarily assume their cultural identity, I'm accoustomed to the diverseness of my family and so tend to write diverse characters. I'd hate to think I was offending others by doing so.

Writing diverse characters is a good thing.

I honestly don't think a writer who accidentally misrepresents a culture is a bad person or a racist at all.

I think offending people by what we write is something that will inevitably happen.

It's what we do when that happens that's most important, I think.

You can understand what you did wrong, apologize, and take measures not to do it again.

Or you can defend your choices and rationalize why it was your right to write it the way you did, even if it could be seen as inaccurate or disrespectful.

The latter is what I find offensive.

I have no issue with writers who screw up. I have an issue who defend and rationalize their screw-ups when called on them.

mccardey
04-21-2014, 02:58 AM
So it's people who say "No-one owns culture." as a defense, or as a response to having blatantly or even inadvertantly dealt with another culture disrespectfully or inaccurately.

Yes, I think that would bother me quite a lot, too. Particularly if it's coming from some-one whose culture is more privileged in reference to one that is less so. I'd get pretty short-tempered with that. I'm with you there.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 02:59 AM
So, it's back at you, K. How do you tell such an author that showing a PoC-culture as "better than the typical stereotype" isn't necessarily a good thing? If they were to donate all their earnings to a charity set up to support that particular culture, would that make it better? (Or worse?) How do you, as a PoC, counter that mindset?

Haha I think the second part is an excellent question, because that's exactly what Dan Snyder did.

For anyone unfamiliar, Dan Snyder is the owner of the Washington Redskins, which is a racial slur.

Facing major pressure from Native American groups to change team's name from a racial slur to something else, he toured "Indian Country" to try to get native perspectives on the issue, including my own tribe's reservation.

Despite being presented with multitudinous reasons why the name should be changed, he apparently felt it was okay because it honored native peoples, and instead decided to found the "Original Americans" Foundation, which proceeded to help buy part of a backhoe, and call everything good.

Putputt
04-21-2014, 03:01 AM
I'll see what I can dig up.

I admit it's not always phrased so straightforwardly as in the title (though many times it is), but the title pretty accurately sums up the attitude: a nation's culture belongs to everyone, even if I don't belong to that nation, therefore I can take whatever I want from it and use it however I wish.



Hmm, I agree with McCardey...I think it would be helpful if you show us examples of this happening. I can't think of an instance where that has happened. The closest thing I can think of was when I read the reviews of Shantaram. Many people argued that the author, who isn't Indian, has done a poor job of portraying the culture. But on the other hand, even more people said that the India shown in the book is one they can relate to. Someone finally said something along the lines of, "Every culture is made up of many individuals with different experiences, so my experience growing up in India might differ from yours. It doesn't make it any less authentic." That's what I think of when I see someone saying that you can't own a culture, but we might be thinking of something entirely different...

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 03:02 AM
So it's people who say "No-one owns culture." as a defence, or as a response to having blatantly dealt with another culture disrespectfully or inaccurately.

Yes, it's a rationalization, either before or after-the-fact.

Sometimes it comes during research, as a rationalization for not trying harder to get the facts right, or changing them when they're inconvenient.

Sometimes it comes afterward, when called on inaccuracy. In that case, it's not so much the inaccuracy itself that's the problem; sometimes it's the rationalization that it's okay despite it being wrong; sometimes it's the "apology" that isn't an apology.

buz
04-21-2014, 03:03 AM
It's the psychology of the title phrase in which I'm interested.


Hmm, it's interesting to think about. Here's a stab at it, which is just sort of me thinking aloud, and therefore may be flawed :D :

I do not consider myself...having a culture, really. I mean, technically I do...Disney movies and Christmas and shit...but it doesn't mean anything to me. I don't think of it as mine. It's just there. I don't think of myself as owning it; it's all just peripheral stuff that was built into my life by circumstance, except those parts that I chose for myself.

If someone, feeling roughly the same way, projected those feelings onto other people...? I don't know. I wonder if someone would simply assume their mindset of not owning their culture applies to everyone indiscriminately?

(mind, that's not how I feel about it :p )

mccardey
04-21-2014, 03:08 AM
Hmm, it's interesting to think about. Here's a stab at it, which is just sort of me thinking aloud, and therefore may be flawed :D :

I do not consider myself...having a culture, really. I mean, technically I do...Disney movies and Christmas and shit...but it doesn't mean anything to me. I don't think of it as mine. It's just there. I don't think of myself as owning it; it's all just peripheral stuff that was built into my life by circumstance, except those parts that I chose for myself.

If someone, feeling roughly the same way, projected those feelings onto other people...? I don't know. I wonder if someone would simply assume their mindset of not owning their culture applies to everyone indiscriminately?

(mind, that's not how I feel about it :p )

No, but I think Kuwi's referring to cases where someone who doesn't belong to the culture portrays it inaccurately or disrespectfully, and when called on it says "Oh, but no-one owns (any) culture".

Which is pretty much "I don't care."

If you belong to a culture that has had to fight very hard to survive, then you might well care. And this dismissiveness might mean much more to you than it does to someone who's culture has mostly been on the winning side. Particularly if that culture runs more deeply than, say, Disney.


ETA: That last sentence sounds harsh - I only mention Disney because Buzh. raised it and Christmas. It's not shorthand for middle-class America or anything. I could also say "or Aussie mateship".

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 03:10 AM
Hmm, I agree with McCardey...I think it would be helpful if you show us examples of this happening. I can't think of an instance where that has happened.

See 16–18 and 20 in this excellent satirical post (http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2008/02/beverly-slapins-how-to-write-historical.html), all of which show modern authors rationalizing their inaccuracies in depiction of native cultures.

I apologize all of my own examples and frustrations are centered on Native America; that just happens to be my own experience. If anyone has examples to share from other cultures, please do.

Before starting this thread, I did a Google search of the phrase, and came across an article (http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/message-from-edinburgh-no-one-owns-culture-696971.html) with this gem:


This time last year I was very depressed by Glasgow Museum's decision to give the Ghost Dance Shirt to the Survivors of Wounded Knee Association. I was infuriated by the idea that Glasgow could not claim to be the "friendly city" as long as Glaswegians were burdened with the guilt of having ripped the shirt off the dying Dakota Sioux chief.

:rant:

That cemented my decision to start the thread.

buz
04-21-2014, 03:10 AM
No, but I think Kuwi's referring to cases where someone who doesn't belong to the culture portrays it inaccurately or disrespectfully, and when called on it says "Oh, but no-one owns (any) culture".

Which is pretty much "I don't care."

If you belong to a culture that has had to fight very hard to survive, You probably do care: and this dismissiveness might mean much more to you than it does to someone who's culture has mostly been on the winning side. Particularly if that culture runs more deeply than, say, Disney.

Yes, of course :D

He asked where that sort of attitude could come from; I was just thinking aloud about possible origins of said attitude. :) I don't think it's right--not defending it, like...

:)

That's what I mean--like, if your culture just consists of Disney movies, it doesn't mean as much to you, maybe, and that's why you might be inclined to think that it's not something one owns--possibly. Thus causing appropriation of cultures that DO matter to people, in potentially offensive ways. Does that make sense?

I'm not espousing this view, at all. Lol. Just thinking on the original question of where the thought might come from.

PS. Or it's what Unimportant says, below me. :) hahahaha durr.

Unimportant
04-21-2014, 03:12 AM
which proceeded to help buy part of a backhoe, and call everything good.
Well, sure, everyone knows a backhoe can make things all better. Backhoes are like magic. ::eyeroll::

I think (again, speculating) part of the problem lies in our European/American traditional mindset of ownership being a legal term. Culture isn't something anyone can own, unless they can figure out a way to trademark/copyright it. So, if it's not illegal to use/borrow it, then it's okay.

And part of the problem, too, lies in the belief that admiration is always a compliment, and compliments are always welcome. Just as men think they're complimenting a woman when they hit on her, white people think that they're complimenting a PoC's culture when they get a Maori tattoo or hang a dreamcatcher in their kitchen window or twist their hair into dreadlocks.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 03:13 AM
Polite folks were given to understand decades ago that the term was considered offensive, and we stopped using it. I haven't seen that phrase in use in my experience since the 60s, and it surprises me to see it in use here.

"Colored person" was and is an offensive term.

"Citizen of color" was used by Martin Luther King, Jr. as early as 1963, and "person of color" has been used by PoC activists since the 70s and 80s.


To me, people are people. I don't care where they come from or what they look like.

Please read the stickies. In one of them (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=232569), there is a link explaining why colorblindness reinforces racism (http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-36-fall-2009/feature/colorblindness-new-racism).

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 03:21 AM
I do not consider myself...having a culture, really. I mean, technically I do...Disney movies and Christmas and shit...but it doesn't mean anything to me. I don't think of it as mine. It's just there. I don't think of myself as owning it; it's all just peripheral stuff that was built into my life by circumstance, except those parts that I chose for myself.

If someone, feeling roughly the same way, projected those feelings onto other people...? I don't know. I wonder if someone would simply assume their mindset of not owning their culture applies to everyone indiscriminately?

I think this a feeling that many others share, and I do think there's an interesting discussion to have there.

Whenever we do an awareness event at my university, we always have a bunch of people come by our booth, and say "I'm part Native American", and I ask what tribe, and they don't know. Especially among blacks who have native ancestry, there are very valid and tragic reasons they don't know. But nonetheless, I've been trying to think about what to say to this, and how to best encourage them to explore their culture in a healthy way without accidentally appropriating it, and without invalidating their experience.

I'm curious if you have any further thoughts on "not having a culture" yourself? After all, I'm also have Swedish and Polish ancestry, but I would not call myself Swedish or Polish, because I have no connection to those cultures or that part of my heritage. I'm wondering how I would explore that part of me.

I think there must be respectful ways to find your culture without appropriating one. Right?

RichardGarfinkle
04-21-2014, 03:22 AM
Kuwisdelu,
I think one aspect of the problem may be academic in origin. As you know, Bob, there are fields of academia for which culture is subject matter. There is an implicit presumption in the creation of such fields, the presumption that culture is there to be analyzed (dissected, vivisected etc).
While anthropology and sociology can be done respectfully, the academic distance between scholar and subject matter makes this more difficult.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 03:28 AM
I think (again, speculating) part of the problem lies in our European/American traditional mindset of ownership being a legal term. Culture isn't something anyone can own, unless they can figure out a way to trademark/copyright it. So, if it's not illegal to use/borrow it, then it's okay.

Another example of this attitude, specifically re: "cultural copyright" can be found here (http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2009/04/scholastic-guide-to-arrow-to-sun.html).

Scroll down to a comment by Beverly Slapin regarding her confronting the author about his appropriation of Pueblo culture, and the author's reaction.

This is a story that I read growing up. At the time, I recognized the inaccuracies and it was obviously a fantasy fiction to me. I did enjoy it this way. Yet it is marketed and sold as traditional folklore.


And part of the problem, too, lies in the belief that admiration is always a compliment, and compliments are always welcome. Just as men think they're complimenting a woman when they hit on her, white people think that they're complimenting a PoC's culture when they get a Maori tattoo or hang a dreamcatcher in their kitchen window or twist their hair into dreadlocks.

That's a good analogy.

Putputt
04-21-2014, 03:33 AM
See 16–18 and 20 in this excellent satirical post (http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2008/02/beverly-slapins-how-to-write-historical.html), all of which show modern authors rationalizing their inaccuracies in depiction of native cultures.

I apologize all of my own examples and frustrations are centered on Native America; that just happens to be my own experience. If anyone has examples to share from other cultures, please do.



Ahh, thank you for the link. The examples given in the post are really bad, but I'm not sure that it's a matter of feeling like nobody "owns" culture. I might just be speaking out of my ass here...but it read to me more like exoticizing a culture and twisting the truth to make it fit your story. Both examples 16 and 17 state that "this is a work of fiction" as their defence, not "Nobody owns this culture", so that's how I read it. Note that this does not make it any less bad. I got really frustrated reading the blog post as well.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 03:33 AM
I think one aspect of the problem may be academic in origin. As you know, Bob, there are fields of academia for which culture is subject matter. There is an implicit presumption in the creation of such fields, the presumption that culture is there to be analyzed (dissected, vivisected etc).

While anthropology and sociology can be done respectfully, the academic distance between scholar and subject matter makes this more difficult.

Certainly, and there is quite a quandary there. I can't speak for other cultures, but in the past, many native peoples were much more open. Anthropologists and ethnographers and linguists were welcomed and — though it took time — earned trust and were allowed access to our stories.

There were packaged and published and copyrighted the white author, and what were we to do? I understand that's how academia works (naturally, since I'm in academia!) but I think it's what happened afterward that really burned us. Other white authors read the versions written down by white men and transformed them even further until they fit the Disney fairy tale their readers wanted.

And we end up with Quileute werewolves.

VRanger
04-21-2014, 03:34 AM
I apologize all of my own examples and frustrations are centered on Native America; that just happens to be my own experience.
:rant:

You could have simplified this a LOT by providing your perspective early on! Native American experience is almost unique in the world. In the very country in which Native Americans are born and live, the perception of their history and culture is almost entirely popularized by Hollywood movies.

Hollywood movies virtually never get it right.

As vexing as it is, as insulting as it is, you have to learn to laugh it off. My experience as a Southerner is more on target than you think. The South is constantly misportrayed, often in insulting and demeaning depictions. You can stay ticked off all the time, or you can learn to understand ignorance and not let it get to you. Because you're not going to stop it in the short term. It's a process that takes generations. It is happening and it is ongoing, but a little bit of it will always survive.

Putputt
04-21-2014, 03:36 AM
To me, people are people. I don't care where they come from or what they look like.

While on the surface this seems like a progressive way of thinking, you may want to read up on why the colorblind approach to race is actually not that great (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/colorblind/201112/colorblind-ideology-is-form-racism). :)

ETA:

As vexing as it is, as insulting as it is, you have to learn to laugh it off.

Mm, I have to disagree with you again, VRanger. :D There are times when it's appropriate to laugh things off, but I think having your culture misrepresented isn't one of those times. It's insidious and harmful and laughing it off isn't going to get rid of it. You are right that it's a process that takes a heck of a long time to change, but laughing it off and dismissing it isn't going to get us there.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 03:41 AM
Native American experience is almost unique in the world.

There are ways the Native American experiences are unique, but there are aboriginal peoples all over the world who have had similar experiences, along with peoples and nations from non-dominant and non-Western cultures.


As vexing as it is, as insulting as it is, you have to learn to laugh it off.

We've been forced into that role for decades. I'd happy not to have to retreat back to it.

Cathy C
04-21-2014, 03:44 AM
I think the problem here is that you've used the word "culture" in skin tone terms. But the word is so much broader than just skin. Merriam-Webster considers it: "the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time."

Culture is most often identified with a place and time, or socieo-economic income, so that all people living in inner city Atlanta have a different cultural experience than people living in inner city Detroit or inner city Brooklyn. And within the inner city experience are those cultures of varying stratas of wealth. So the PoC who share the cultural experience of pawn shops aren't the same as those that share the cultural experience of the opera season. The trick is that the skin color might be identical. Yes, it's quite possible that all within a skin color or race might share some experiences related specifically to their color, but the American PoC "culture" is so far removed from the British version, or the Australian, or the French or the Haiti or the German, or the Gabonese experience as to render it useless in discussion.

All a writer like myself can do when I want to show realistic diversity in my cast of characters is be cautious and try very hard to stay within reasonable guidelines based on how I imagine that character's background would have them to respondto a given stimuli. Does that mean I'm misappropriating the culture somehow? :Shrug: I have no idea. But I do try.

Wilde_at_heart
04-21-2014, 03:44 AM
Kuwi, not to be critical, but I think difficulties might arise here from the facts that some of us may never have heard your "No-one owns culture" comment said, and that you've not really defined the parameters of your discussion.

Perhaps your original post was just too brief to do the topic justice? I think we're going to end up arguing at cross-purposes if you don't take hold of the definitions.

This has felt like a bit of a straw man argument to me and without a specific example of something, it's hard to say.

I can see the point when people are talking about a relatively tiny, homogeneous and isolated population - like my mention in some other thread about the Haida Gwaii vs say, India or England. The larger, more divergent and less isolated any group is, the less one can make sweeping statements about their culture at all because it gets too hard to define narrowly enough to be at all useful in such a context.


Native American experience is almost unique in the world.

Actually, if it's about some other group heavily armed and with more wealth coming in and stealing your land and killing off your people, that's actually the experience of most groups of people at some point or other in history, unfortunately.

slhuang
04-21-2014, 03:44 AM
Hmm, it's interesting to think about. Here's a stab at it, which is just sort of me thinking aloud, and therefore may be flawed :D :

I do not consider myself...having a culture, really. I mean, technically I do...Disney movies and Christmas and shit...but it doesn't mean anything to me. I don't think of it as mine. It's just there. I don't think of myself as owning it; it's all just peripheral stuff that was built into my life by circumstance, except those parts that I chose for myself.

If someone, feeling roughly the same way, projected those feelings onto other people...? I don't know. I wonder if someone would simply assume their mindset of not owning their culture applies to everyone indiscriminately?

(mind, that's not how I feel about it :p )

I have the opposite experience, and it makes me want to believe no one owns culture.

Let me unpack.

I'm first generation American, and my Chinese culture -- yes, I say "my" -- feels so close as to be on the other side of a tissue paper barrier, but I can't break through, and the voices are muted. You see, my father desired assimilation for us, and purposely excised as much of his culture as he could from our lives, from language to traditions to values, and it is something for which I will never forgive him.

This has not stopped Chinese culture from being tremendously important to me. From before I could remember I tried to insert it into my life on my own. Celebrating holidays, reading literature, attempting to teach myself the language -- etc.. I single-handedly forced (I didn't realize at the time how much the verb "forced" was accurate) my family to travel to Hong Kong so I could meet my family, by obtaining a grant for the trip. I studied Chinese culture and politics in college, by choice, along with Mandarin, and traveled to China to teach computer science.

But is any of this really my culture?

My family doesn't speak Mandarin -- they speak an obscure almost-dead dialect from a tiny region of China I've never been to, where I have no ancestors left, and my aunts and uncles only learned Cantonese after they emigrated to Hong Kong. I've never been able to reach fluency in Mandarin anyway, and my writing is atrocious. The food I grew up eating is a like a culinary pidgin, a blend of Asian and American, and there's no region in China where I can eat that food. Most of my family doesn't particularly celebrate Chinese holidays, or learn Chinese history, or consider our ancestry particularly important.

(The one thing I did grow up with was an understanding of the unstated nuances -- things like face, money, the style of high-context communication that is popular in China. That feels a part of me. I didn't get the fancy trappings, nothing tangible, but I got that.)

So: what is my culture? Am I appropriating, when I try to reach, and reach, and reach, in a futile attempt to fill this hole in my life that will always ache?

What about the cultures of my blood that are so much more distant? Does the fact that I'm 1/16 Scottish mean I can claim Scottish culture as "mine?" I don't think it does. But if I yearned for that piece of my heritage, studied it, immersed myself in it, as I have tried to do with the Chinese side of me -- then what?

I don't want anyone to own culture. Because that shuts me out. That leaves me on the steps, shivering, looking in, hungry and wishing. If the only culture we get to call our own is the culture we are raised with, then all I get is Disney and Christmas too, only fused onto a sad parody of celebrating the Autumn Festival by buying moon cakes for white friends.

I refuse that.

But if I get to wrap myself in a culture that is not technically my own, if it's okay for me to call it mine because someone stole something from me that was vaguely similar, then who am I to tell anyone else they should always be an outsider?

VRanger
04-21-2014, 03:45 AM
"Colored person" was and is an offensive term.

"Citizen of color" was used by Martin Luther King, Jr. as early as 1963, and "person of color" has been used by PoC activists since the 70s and 80s.

You'll just have to trust me, NO ONE ELSE gets to.



Please read the stickies. In one of them (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=232569), there is a link explaining why colorblindness reinforces racism (http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-36-fall-2009/feature/colorblindness-new-racism).

No, I'm not going to read that sticky. That's absurd. I know that spurious arguments can be made to justify any faulty thinking, and that is faulty thinking. You see, I don't deal with a race or a culture, I deal with an individual when I meet him, socialize with him, and work with him. That doesn't make him the same as me, that makes him EQUAL to me. Differences in culture enrich the experience, they don't segregate it.

mccardey
04-21-2014, 03:48 AM
"laughing it off and dismissing it isn't going to get us there."

You don't need my permission to stay aggrieved, but it won't get you anything but stress. Don't forget what I said earlier about education. This is an ongoing conversation. If you want to take every sentence out of context of the entire conversation, there is no point in continuing.

Well, this is getting awkward...

VRanger, the stickies actually are a good place to start. It's a way of defining the terms of the discourse, just as we asked Kuwi to define this threat at the start. So we knew what we were discussing and could make it relevant.

buz
04-21-2014, 03:50 AM
I think this a feeling that many others share, and I do think there's an interesting discussion to have there.

Whenever we do an awareness event at my university, we always have a bunch of people come by our booth, and say "I'm part Native American", and I ask what tribe, and they don't know. Especially among blacks who have native ancestry, there are very valid and tragic reasons they don't know. But nonetheless, I've been trying to think about what to say to this, and how to best encourage them to explore their culture in a healthy way without accidentally appropriating it, and without invalidating their experience.

I'm curious if you have any further thoughts on "not having a culture" yourself? After all, I'm also have Swedish and Polish ancestry, but I would not call myself Swedish or Polish, because I have no connection to those cultures or that part of my heritage. I'm wondering how I would explore that part of me.

I think there must be respectful ways to find your culture without appropriating one. Right?

Well, what I mean is...um... (bear with me, I'm not great at articulating this and sort of thinking as I go...)

I have English and Irish ancestry. I can say with absolute sincerity that Irish folk songs were a part of my upbringing because that is the truth. But that is the only connection I have to any heritage whatsoever, and I wonder if even that is appropriation, because it's not like my dad (who sang these songs to me) grew up in Ireland. If I go to Ireland and say I'm Irish, they'll kind of snort at that, because I'm clearly not, you know? :D I haven't experienced the things that make up the Irish identity; I can't call myself Irish. My English ancestors came here so long ago there is no real connection there, either.

I am American--but I don't really identify with the culture of a certain locale, cuz I grew up in one of those odd in-between areas, suburbs, with strictly standard news broadcaster American accent, and so on and so forth. I wasn't brought up with religion, so that part of culture doesn't exist for me, either. What remains is...I don't know. Pop music? Cartoons? The Pledge of Allegiance? Saying "how are you" immediately after "hi"? Stuff that doesn't mean much of anything to me. So, in my view, I do not have a culture that I am a part of, that I genuinely identify with. So what's left...trying to rely on my own internal life, is what I've come up with.

Which comes from where...?

I study other cultures as well as cultures from my own heritage; I find inspiring ideas and beautiful art and great writing therein. ;) They have shaped parts of my personality, helped me solidify concepts that tinged my view of the world, maybe even formed those views. It would be accurate to say that other cultures have been incorporated into my own...personal...culture--um, does that make any sense? Not by design...simply by studying Egyptian art or Assyrian religion or Buddhist concepts or Greek philosophers or whatever, as I do because I'm curious. I don't know if that's appropriation, and now I'm starting to question, but it's happened nevertheless...I've found greater meaning in cultures that I have no ownership in than my own, I think.

But, since I have no ownership in any culture but modern America, which I find no meaning in, does that mean I've appropriated everything that means anything to me?

So, anyway, what the hell am I saying. I'm not sure what I'm saying, lol. I think I was going somewhere at the beginning of this but I have no idea. Just stating thoughts as they come. :p

(considers that username is in Chinese when I'm not Chinese)

Uh. Fuck.

PS. My brain is seriously turning inside out and I'm really not trying to make any point whatsoever, lol. :p Just babbling...I may think of a point...eventually...

Ken
04-21-2014, 03:51 AM
I'm with Kuwi on this. Appropriation is theft. A culture belongs to its people. It is not up for grabs. And like property, if it is stolen the thief should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Write a book with a character who is of another culture other than your own and face criminal prosecution. A white person should not portray a black person. A black person should not portray a white. Etc. Respect people's property. It is as much of a possession as a string of pearls or ruby ring. Even more so. It is an intrinsic possession as much as an arm or leg is. You would not go up to someone and take their leg. So do not go up to someone and take their culture !

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 03:55 AM
[lots of really important stuff]

My own experience is not entirely dissimilar, and I think there is a whole other discussion to be had regarding who (if anyone) "owns" culture between insiders — that is, people originating from a culture, including people of mixed blood, immigrants and their children, etc.

I'm half-blood. I didn't grow up on the reservation. I don't speak my own mother language. I've never danced.

But I don't believe in blood quantums. At the same time, I no longer think it's possible to be "part" Indian. I claim it now, even the parts I don't understand but want to understand, knowing in my heart that there's still so much I don't know, understanding there's still so much I don't understand.

I want my children's children to be Zuni regardless of whom I marry.

What does it mean to be part of a culture? I'm trying to figure that out myself.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 03:59 AM
Write a book with a character who is of another culture other than your own and face criminal prosecution. A white person should not portray a black person. A black person should not portray a white. Etc.

If you read my posts, you should know I'm not saying this.

I wholly support writing about other cultures.

Respectfully.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 04:03 AM
I have English and Irish ancestry. I can say with absolute sincerity that Irish folk songs were a part of my upbringing because that is the truth. But that is the only connection I have to any heritage whatsoever, and I wonder if even that is appropriation, because it's not like my dad (who sang these songs to me) grew up in Ireland. If I go to Ireland and say I'm Irish, they'll kind of snort at that, because I'm clearly not, you know? :D I haven't experienced the things that make up the Irish identity; I can't call myself Irish. My English ancestors came here so long ago there is no real connection there, either.

I think by now, one could count Irish American and Irish as different cultures, couldn't you?

Certainly African Americans have developed culture that draws upon but is distinct from African cultures.


I study other cultures as well as cultures from my own heritage; I find inspiring ideas and beautiful art and great writing therein. ;) They have shaped parts of my personality, helped me solidify concepts that tinged my view of the world, maybe even formed those views. It would be accurate to say that other cultures have been incorporated into my own...personal...culture--um, does that make any sense? Not by design...simply by studying Egyptian art or Assyrian religion or Buddhist concepts or Greek philosophers or whatever, as I do because I'm curious. I don't know if that's appropriation, and now I'm starting to question, but it's happened nevertheless...I've found greater meaning in cultures that I have no ownership in than my own, I think.

But, since I have no ownership in any culture but modern America, which I find no meaning in, does that mean I've appropriated everything that means anything to me?

No, I don't think that's appropriation.

I love exploring Japanese culture, I make lots of miso soup, and often draw upon Japanese culture in my own writing. I don't rationalize that therefore their culture is not their own and I can treat it however I like. ;)

buz
04-21-2014, 04:07 AM
I think by now, one could count Irish American and Irish as different cultures, couldn't you?

Certainly African Americans have developed culture that draws upon but is distinct from African cultures.

Is Irish American a culture? Lol :D I have no idea...I don't *feel* it at any rate...


No, I don't think that's appropriation.

I love exploring Japanese culture, I make lots of miso soup, and often draw upon Japanese culture in my own writing. I don't rationalize that therefore their culture is not their own and I can treat it however I like. ;)

Oh good. Lol. Thank you for grounding me, was spinning off into space there...:)

Wilde_at_heart
04-21-2014, 04:08 AM
....cutting just to save on scrolling.....

But is any of this really my culture?
......
So: what is my culture? Am I appropriating, when I try to reach, and reach, and reach, in a futile attempt to fill this hole in my life that will always ache?...
But if I get to wrap myself in a culture that is not technically my own, if it's okay for me to call it mine because someone stole something from me that was vaguely similar, then who am I to tell anyone else they should always be an outsider?

That's exactly my point - that it's not so easy to define, especially in the modern era.

A lot of people move around - a lot sometimes - marry people of different backgrounds and have friends of myriad ethnic groups, etc. as well. And their relatives marry from yet more different backgrounds, etc.

I'm ethnically half-Scottish and though most of them didn't mix that much with non-Scots, my ancestors have been in North America since the 1700s on one side. I don't know much more about specifically Scottish culture than the average North American no matter what their background, beyond a couple of trips to Edinburgh. So if I borrowed anything from Scottish mythology or 'culture' would the OP consider that appropriation or think I'm being facetious by asking that question?

Putputt
04-21-2014, 04:09 AM
"laughing it off and dismissing it isn't going to get us there."

You don't need my permission to stay aggrieved, but it won't get you anything but stress. Don't forget what I said earlier about education. This is an ongoing conversation. If you want to take every sentence out of context of the entire conversation, there is no point in continuing.

Er, um, I wasn't actually asking for your permission. :D But yes, I agree that there is no point in continuing. Moving on...


I have the opposite experience, and it makes me want to believe no one owns culture.

Let me unpack.

I'm first generation American, and my Chinese culture -- yes, I say "my" -- feels so close as to be on the other side of a tissue paper barrier, but I can't break through, and the voices are muted. You see, my father desired assimilation for us, and purposely excised as much of his culture as he could from our lives, from language to traditions to values, and it is something for which I will never forgive him.

This has not stopped Chinese culture from being tremendously important to me. From before I could remember I tried to insert it into my life on my own. Celebrating holidays, reading literature, attempting to teach myself the language -- etc.. I single-handedly forced (I didn't realize at the time how much the verb "forced" was accurate) my family to travel to Hong Kong so I could meet my family, by obtaining a grant for the trip. I studied Chinese culture and politics in college, by choice, along with Mandarin, and traveled to China to teach computer science.

But is any of this really my culture?

My family doesn't speak Mandarin -- they speak an obscure almost-dead dialect from a tiny region of China I've never been to, where I have no ancestors left, and my aunts and uncles only learned Cantonese after they emigrated to Hong Kong. I've never been able to reach fluency in Mandarin anyway, and my writing is atrocious. The food I grew up eating is a like a culinary pidgin, a blend of Asian and American, and there's no region in China where I can eat that food. Most of my family doesn't particularly celebrate Chinese holidays, or learn Chinese history, or consider our ancestry particularly important.

(The one thing I did grow up with was an understanding of the unstated nuances -- things like face, money, the style of low-context communication that is popular in China. That feels a part of me. I didn't get the fancy trappings, nothing tangible, but I got that.)

So: what is my culture? Am I appropriating, when I try to reach, and reach, and reach, in a futile attempt to fill this hole in my life that will always ache?

What about the cultures of my blood that are so much more distant? Does the fact that I'm 1/16 Scottish mean I can claim Scottish culture as "mine?" I don't think it does. But if I yearned for that piece of my heritage, studied it, immersed myself in it, as I have tried to do with the Chinese side of me -- then what?

I don't want anyone to own culture. Because that shuts me out. That leaves me on the steps, shivering, looking in, hungry and wishing. If the only culture we get to call our own is the culture we are raised with, then all I get is Disney and Christmas too, only fused onto a sad parody of celebrating the Harvest Festival by buying moon cakes for white friends.

I refuse that.

But if I get to wrap myself in a culture that is not technically my own, if it's okay for me to call it mine because someone stole something from me that was vaguely similar, then who am I to tell anyone else they should always be an outsider?


Well, what I mean is...um... (bear with me, I'm not great at articulating this and sort of thinking as I go...)

I have English and Irish ancestry. I can say with absolute sincerity that Irish folk songs were a part of my upbringing because that is the truth. But that is the only connection I have to any heritage whatsoever, and I wonder if even that is appropriation, because it's not like my dad (who sang these songs to me) grew up in Ireland. If I go to Ireland and say I'm Irish, they'll kind of snort at that, because I'm clearly not, you know? :D I haven't experienced the things that make up the Irish identity; I can't call myself Irish. My English ancestors came here so long ago there is no real connection there, either.

I am American--but I don't really identify with the culture of a certain locale, cuz I grew up in one of those odd in-between areas, suburbs, with strictly standard news broadcaster American accent, and so on and so forth. I wasn't brought up with religion, so that part of culture doesn't exist for me, either. What remains is...I don't know. Pop music? Cartoons? The Pledge of Allegiance? Saying "how are you" immediately after "hi"? Stuff that doesn't mean much of anything to me. So, in my view, I do not have a culture that I am a part of, that I genuinely identify with. So what's left...trying to rely on my own internal life, is what I've come up with.

Which comes from where...?

I study other cultures as well as cultures from my own heritage; I find inspiring ideas and beautiful art and great writing therein. ;) They have shaped parts of my personality, helped me solidify concepts that tinged my view of the world, maybe even formed those views. It would be accurate to say that other cultures have been incorporated into my own...personal...culture--um, does that make any sense? Not by design...simply by studying Egyptian art or Assyrian religion or Buddhist concepts or Greek philosophers or whatever, as I do because I'm curious. I don't know if that's appropriation, and now I'm starting to question, but it's happened nevertheless...I've found greater meaning in cultures that I have no ownership in than my own, I think.

But, since I have no ownership in any culture but modern America, which I find no meaning in, does that mean I've appropriated everything that means anything to me?

So, anyway, what the hell am I saying. I'm not sure what I'm saying, lol. I think I was going somewhere at the beginning of this but I have no idea. Just stating thoughts as they come. :p

(considers that username is in Chinese when I'm not Chinese)

Uh. Fuck.

sl and buz, your posts are so...fucking...touching. Goddammit. Thank you for sharing that. I agree with you about not feeling like anyone owns a culture, probably because, like you, I always felt like I was raised outside of a culture.

I'm of Chinese descent. I spent my first few years in Indonesia, where I was told not to play with the native Indonesians because they're "dirty". Then I was moved to Singapore, where I was always "one of the Indo kids". Then California, where I became part of the large community known as the Asian-Americans. I celebrate Chinese New Year, but my Mandarin is heavy with an Indo accent and when I went to China for the first time at 16, I hated the place. I hated the food, I couldn't relate with the culture, I felt every inch an outsider.

What is my culture? Whenever people ask, I say Chinese-Indonesian, because that's probably the least inaccurate one. But what about the fact that I have the vocabulary of a seven-year-old when it comes to the Indonesian language, or the fact that I speak Singlish like a native Singaporean, or the fact that I identify most with Californian idelogies?

I feel a certain kind of jealousy when people identify with such confidence with a certain culture. I just want to roll over onto them and squish them under my hippo folds. :D

Um, anyway, but back to the OP, this is why I am always wary when I see people say that something in a book or movie isn't an accurate representation of a culture. If I were to write a book set in Indonesia, I imagine it would be vastly different from a book another Indonesian might write. BUT, kuwisdelu, I see what you're saying. There is artistic license, yes, but there is also a line, a limit to that. Choosing to ignore the facts because of laziness or entitlement or whatever else definitely crosses that line.

RichardGarfinkle
04-21-2014, 04:11 AM
My own experience is not entirely dissimilar, and I think there is a whole other discussion to be had regarding who (if anyone) "owns" culture between insiders — that is, people originating from a culture, including people of mixed blood, immigrants and their children, etc.

I'm half-blood. I didn't grow up on the reservation. I don't speak my own mother language. I've never danced.

But I don't believe in blood quantums. At the same time, I no longer think it's possible to be "part" Indian. I claim it now, even the parts I don't understand but want to understand, knowing in my heart that there's still so much I don't know, understanding there's still so much I don't understand.

I want my children's children to be Zuni regardless of whom I marry.

What does it mean to be part of a culture? I'm trying to figure that out myself.

It's a distressing problem. Who gets to decide who belongs to a culture and who doesn't. In some cases this can be a matter of political power (I could drop in a long rant about the laws in Israel about who is and is not a Jew). At other times it's been a matter of who is accepted by people in the culture and who isn't.

Let me drop in an uncomfortable thought and question. It seems to me that cultures are not static, that they flow through people and across time. They split and merge, so that one people can become many or many one.

I think it is hard to claim ownership of such a thing, the same way it is hard to claim ownership of a river.

The people who say "no one owns culture", however, don't seem to be taking this view. They seem to be saying that they can do what they want with the river of culture, whether it poisons it for others or dams the flow, or dries it up entirely.

Is it really a question of ownership or is it stewardship?

buz
04-21-2014, 04:17 AM
Is it really a question of ownership or is it stewardship?

ooooooooooooo!

(my brain broke; that's all I can muster, lol)

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 04:20 AM
I feel a certain kind of jealousy when people identify with such confidence with a certain culture. I just want to roll over onto them and squish them under my hippo folds. :D

Oh, I am constantly wrestling with my own identity, and what's okay and isn't okay for me to write about in the culture I claim as my own.

This is one of those dialogues that really has to occur at multiple levels.

There is 1) the dialogue between the insiders (PoC) and the outsiders (non-PoC), 2) there is also the dialogue among PoC, and 3) there is the dialogue of those of us who fall somewhere in between.

It often occurs that people of mixed race get lost, because there's still so much work to be done in the dialogue between PoC and non-PoC, and it always seems like we're being forced to choose a side. In the white world, it's so easy for me to put on a brave face (pun intended*) and claim my heritage. When I go back to the reservation? It's hard not to feel a bit like an outsider.

*Yes, it's okay to laugh. No, it's not okay to call a native man a brave just because I was being sardonic.

:Hug2:

Putputt
04-21-2014, 04:23 AM
Let me drop in an uncomfortable thought and question. It seems to me that cultures are not static, that they flow through people and across time. They split and merge, so that one people can become many or many one.

Oh shit, I think you hit the nail on the head. That makes a lot of sense. :D



I think it is hard to claim ownership of such a thing, the same way it is hard to claim ownership of a river.

The people who say "no one owns culture", however, don't seem to be taking this view. They seem to be saying that they can do what they want with the river of culture, whether it poisons it for others or dams the flow, or dries it up entirely.

It seems to me that the argument that "no one owns culture, therefore I can do what I want cuz I'm honey badger" is something thrown up in defence of laziness and/or entitlement.

ETA:


Oh, I am constantly wrestling with my own identity, and what's okay and isn't okay for me to write about in the culture I claim as my own.

AH! Thank you, yes, I feel the same way. I want to write a story set in Indonesia, with both native and Chinese Indonesian characters, but I felt like such a fraud doing it that I moved on to a different story.



This is one of those dialogues that really has to occur at multiple levels.

There is 1) the dialogue between the insiders (PoC) and the outsiders (non-PoC), 2) there is also the dialogue among PoC, and 3) there is the dialogue of those of us who fall somewhere in between.

It often occurs that people of mixed race get lost, because there's still so much work to be done in the dialogue between PoC and non-PoC, and it always seems like we're being forced to choose a side. In the white world, it's so easy for me to put on a brave face (pun intended*) and claim my heritage. When I go back to the reservation? It's hard not to feel a bit like an outsider.

*nods* Yuh, yuh, I totes get you. Even in Indonesia people are always calling me "bule", which means white person or foreigner (they do this affectionately, mostly when I behave in a very un-Indo way). I don't mind it, but it does remind me that I don't quite understand them at the level I wish I could.



*Yes, it's okay to laugh. No, it's not okay to call a native man a brave just because I was being sardonic.

:Hug2:

Wasn't gonna. :D:Hug2:

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 04:24 AM
I think it is hard to claim ownership of such a thing, the same way it is hard to claim ownership of a river.

The people who say "no one owns culture", however, don't seem to be taking this view. They seem to be saying that they can do what they want with the river of culture, whether it poisons it for others or dams the flow, or dries it up entirely.

Is it really a question of ownership or is it stewardship?

I'm going to contradict myself from earlier and say that yes, "ownership" is not quite the right word from an insider perspective.

This is really difficult, because dialogues 1, 2, and 3 (see above) are all occurring simultaneously here, and they all require different nuances.

From the perspective of 1, among Native American tribes, assertion of legal ownership of culture is increasingly necessary to fight appropriation. (An example (http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2009/10/has-stephanie-meyer-read-this.html).) (An even better example (http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2008/01/tribal-protocols-regarding-research.html).)

Cathy C
04-21-2014, 04:43 AM
Is it really a question of ownership or is it stewardship?

Here is the real issue. I have a weird cultural background--German and Norwegian via an Italian/Mexican region of southern Colorado. Euro-Germanic heritage was the minority. There weren't many people of my skin color in school. I spent my summers in the hot sun picking crops in the fields because, even though my family verged on wealthy, my mother rightly believed I should understand and appreciate what hard work meant. I do. I'll never be homeless because of her lessons. No job that is legal and ethical is "beneath" me. So what is my culture? I can travel easily within a wide range of stratas, and feel utterly at home and feel welcomed. Is it such a horrible thing that I and my mother appropriated the migrant culture that made me proud of a whole group of people I didn't technically belong to? I don't think so, because I feel absolutely no ties to my ancestral cultures. :Shrug:

RichardGarfinkle
04-21-2014, 04:46 AM
I'm going to contradict myself from earlier and say that yes, "ownership" is not quite the right word from an insider perspective.

This is really difficult, because dialogues 1, 2, and 3 (see above) are all occurring simultaneously here, and they all require different nuances.

From the perspective of 1, among Native American tribes, assertion of legal ownership of culture is increasingly necessary to fight appropriation. (An example (http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2009/10/has-stephanie-meyer-read-this.html).) (An even better example (http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2008/01/tribal-protocols-regarding-research.html).)

Legal ownership is necessary because we live in a society with IP Law. And it makes sense to assert it and try to recover lost IP. But, the deeper more personal level you framed this thread around does seem to be more about stewardship.

There's something I've been chewing over as you've been posing this interesting batch of threads. There are ways in which culture (and culturally tied religion) is better seen as like unto and an extension of family.

No one owns a family, but that doesn't mean that anyone can declare themselves a member of a family. And family is more than blood. It's language and customs and cuisine and personal history and so on. People can be tossed out of families (for good or bad reasons) and distant relatives can be welcomed in.

Eventually, families can drift apart, customs change so much, people lose track of each other, etc. That's the flow of time and life, but it is possible by work and caring to maintain family ties and identities while incorporating the changes.

AW Admin
04-21-2014, 04:50 AM
No, I'm not going to read that sticky.

VRanger won't be posting in PoC any longer.

We're absolutely serious about the PLEASE READ sticky (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=232684).

I"d also strongly suggest reading this post (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=6832043&postcount=1) and following the links.

Remember, if you can't reach a PoC mod, you can always reach Mac or me.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 04:52 AM
No one owns a family, but that doesn't mean that anyone can declare themselves a member of a family. And family is more than blood. It's language and customs and cuisine and personal history and so on. People can be tossed out or families (for good or bad reasons) and distant relatives can be welcomed in.

I can relate to that. (Pun intended.)

(Has anyone noticed that I like puns?)

I have to post at least one more link from this blog. It's about holding babies. (http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2007/07/often-posed-question-who-can-tell-your.html)

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 05:11 AM
And I think an important issue to understand is that not all cultures are alike.

What is appropriation and what isn't can depend on the culture in question.

Note that this is not the same as saying that any culture is more important than any other.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 05:44 AM
Legal ownership is necessary because we live in a society with IP Law. And it makes sense to assert it and try to recover lost IP. But, the deeper more personal level you framed this thread around does seem to be more about stewardship.

To respond to this a bit further, I've framed this thread on multiple levels. At least three distinct ones.

And on one level, I still have to challenge the "no one owns culture" assertion and attitude, regardless of the complexity of my own feelings on the concept of ownership.

The idea that no one owns a thing can only really work if we are all approaching it from equal footing.

buz
04-21-2014, 07:25 AM
And on one level, I still have to challenge the "no one owns culture" assertion and attitude, regardless of the complexity of my own feelings on the concept of ownership.


Hm. So, then, is it more the excuse that the phrase represents ("I can do whatever I want with whatever culture suits me because whatever!"), than the actual literal meaning of the statement, that is the objection?

Does the idea that culture cannot be owned exclude the concept of respecting cultures you don't belong to?

Just thinking...

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 07:33 AM
Hm. So, then, is it more the excuse that the phrase represents ("I can do whatever I want with whatever culture suits me because whatever!"), than the actual literal meaning of the statement, that is the objection?

Does the idea that culture cannot be owned exclude the concept of respecting cultures you don't belong to?

It means that:


The idea that no one owns a thing can only really work if we are all approaching it from equal footing.

It means that if you're coming from an outsider perspective and feel the need to assert "no one owns culture", then you should probably take a long and hard look at why you feel the need to assert it.

Lillith1991
04-21-2014, 08:07 AM
Certainly, and there is quite a quandary there. I can't speak for other cultures, but in the past, many native peoples were much more open. Anthropologists and ethnographers and linguists were welcomed and — though it took time — earned trust and were allowed access to our stories.

There were packaged and published and copyrighted the white author, and what were we to do? I understand that's how academia works (naturally, since I'm in academia!) but I think it's what happened afterward that really burned us. Other white authors read the versions written down by white men and transformed them even further until they fit the Disney fairy tale their readers wanted.

And we end up with Quileute werewolves.

Kuwis, you know how I feel about the Quileute werewolves from Twilight. Not only do they get portrayed as the nobel savage by Meyer in my view, she attempts to use the veneer of of them being Native American. And it is a veneer, not even a semi accurate portrayal of the culture she's using. She takes some general "native myths/beliefs" and then slaps the word werewolf on them.

Now, from the my perspective as person of ethnically mixed ancetry I claim my heritage. That is to say, I identify as mixed or black. But I acknowledge and take pride in the fact that in addition to European and African American roots, my family heritage includes a half Indian maternal grandfather. It also includes some Native American, and tribal Middle Eastern, and Jewish. I feel I am the sum of all those parts.

I don't go around calling myself Middle Eastern, or anything besides mixed/black though. Because I haven't been to any events centering around the Native community or the Jewish community since I was very small. And I've never been to events centering around the other two. They're part of me in that people from the different groups met, and fell in love. Producing offspring which would lead to me. But culturally I am a mix of mainly black and white.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 08:24 AM
Now, from the my perspective as person of ethnically mixed ancetry I claim my heritage. That is to say, I identify as mixed or black. But I acknowledge and take pride in the fact that in addition to European and African American roots, my family heritage includes a half Indian maternal grandfather. It also includes some Native American, and tribal Middle Eastern, and Jewish. I feel I am the sum of all those parts.

You are more than the sum of those parts.


I don't go around calling myself Middle Eastern, or anything besides mixed/black though. Because I haven't been to any events centering around the Native community or the Jewish community since I was very small. And I've never been to events centering around the other two. They're part of me in that people from the different groups met, and fell in love. Producing offspring which would lead to me. But culturally I am a mix of mainly black and white.

Being mixed myself, I am increasingly moving away from the idea of defining ourselves as "part this" or "part that".

We can describe our ancestry.

On my father's side, my great-grandmother was the daughter of Polish immigrants from East Germany. Her husband was a Swedish immigrant. On my mother's side, my family is Zuni, or Shiwi, and I have a distant Hopi ancestor somewhere in there, too, but I don't know who that person was.

Who am I? I don't want to be part anything. I'm Shiwi.

That doesn't mean I can't be something else, too.

We can use blood quantums, but they're just another way of dividing us into parts.

Have you read the Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage (http://www.drmariaroot.com/doc/BillOfRights.pdf)?

Lillith1991
04-21-2014, 08:48 AM
You are more than the sum of those parts.

You're right of course. :)



Being mixed myself, I am increasingly moving away from the idea of defining ourselves as "part this" or "part that".

We can describe our ancestry.

On my father's side, my great-grandmother was the daughter of Polish immigrants from East Germany. Her husband was a Swedish immigrant. On my mother's side, my family is Zuni, or Shiwi, and I have a distant Hopi ancestor somewhere in there, too, but I don't know who that person was.

Who am I? I don't want to be part anything. I'm Shiwi.

That doesn't mean I can't be something else, too.

We can use blood quantums, but they're just another way of dividing us into parts.

Have you read the Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage (http://www.drmariaroot.com/doc/BillOfRights.pdf)?

And I think what wer're both trying to say is similar. I have this other heritage besides black and white but I identify with being mixed or black. It's no disrepct to my mother (mainly white), who tried to and succeeded in instilling a sense of pride in all my heritage. It's just that my experiences, especially outside the community, have been shaped by the fact my father is black. Thanks for the link btw, I'm going to go read it now.

ETA: ok, I've read it now. And I adore it. I'm thinking of printing it out, or maybe a blog post about it.

aruna
04-21-2014, 09:01 AM
If a writer includes a culture foreign to him and gets it wrong, the remedy is that the writing lacks credibility, and critics WILL debunk the errors.



This doesn't necessarily happen. Take Guyana for instance. Very few novelists write books set there. Why should they? It's such a tiny country, and who cares!

But when a non-Guyanese does do so, it always seems a mess.
There's Di Morrissey, for example, a quite famous Australian novelist with many books under her belt. She wrote a book called When the SInging Stops, (http://www.amazon.com/When-Singing-Stops-Di-Morrissey-ebook/dp/B003R50ADM/ref=sr_1_13?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1398055330&sr=1-13&keywords=di+morrissey+kindle+books) set in Guyana. We should be pleased, shouldn't we, that a famous writer chose to write about us?

But I found the book terrible. It centres around a group of ex-pats living in Guyana or visiting, and they discover some scandal being carried out by unscrupulous Guyanese, and of course save the day. All the Guyanese women are loud, raucous, shallow vamps. All the Guyanese men are scoundrels. Only the white ex-pats have ethics and morals and of course only they are the heroes. I read the book more than ten years ago and though I don't remember the details I do remember those points as my lasting impression.

I could of course write a review on amazon complaining about these things but with so many glowing reviews, what's the point? (Granted, only 8 five star reviews, but still...)

Then there's that famous Indian cricketer who wrote a memoir thinly disguised as a novel the Sly Company of People who Care (http://www.amazon.com/The-Sly-Company-People-Care-ebook/dp/B004WDZZPQ/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top) set in Guyana and made a disaster of it (again: vulgar shallow Guyanese women) but because he is famous everybody praises the book as a literary discovery of the year and applauds it. Mostly, people who have never been to Guyana and take his vision as gospel.

I DID write a critical review of this (http://www.amazon.com/The-Sly-Company-People-Care-ebook/product-reviews/B004WDZZPQ/ref=cm_cr_pr_hist_2?ie=UTF8&filterBy=addTwoStar&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending&tag=vglnk-c1189-20). But the book was shortlisted for, or even won, the Man Booker Asian prize. What does my review count? :) But I think this is a good example of what kuwisdelu is talking about. Read my review, and see for yourself. One of the commenters assumed I was just jealous, and that I don't understand creativity!

Kitty27
04-21-2014, 09:14 AM
You'll just have to trust me, NO ONE ELSE gets to.



No, I'm not going to read that sticky. That's absurd. I know that spurious arguments can be made to justify any faulty thinking, and that is faulty thinking. You see, I don't deal with a race or a culture, I deal with an individual when I meet him, socialize with him, and work with him. That doesn't make him the same as me, that makes him EQUAL to me. Differences in culture enrich the experience, they don't segregate it.

I suggest you DO read it and very carefully. If you can't abide by the rules,you can be removed from this thread and forum.

They are there for a reason and no one is excused from not following them.

Thanks,@Admin for cleaning this up.

This is an interesting discussion. Being AA,I could go on for pages and pages about cultural appropriation. The main problem in the AA community is that we never receive credit or things that have been going on in our culture for years suddenly become the "in" thing when done by others outside our culture. That is why we tend to be so protective of it and get upset.I can admit that I want my culture "owned" by us because of these issues. If respect and credit were given to the originators in our community,I don;t think it would be such an issue.

See Miley Cyrus and twerking,Macklemore being praised for his song when there have been other Black rappers who spoke out against homophobia,Kendall Jenner and cornrows, and the Harlem Shake just to name a few. I won't even go into historical things as that would really go on forever.Most Blacks were well and truly pissed to see The Help become this big thing when the real story has been told in our communities for decades by better writers and oral historians.

I think anyone choosing to write about another culture has to have common sense and some kind of empathy. Time and time again we see mess with our various cultures. It gets to the point where you almost wish things could be trademarked and folks sued when they are blatantly disrespectful or stereotypical.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 09:48 AM
Then there's that famous Indian cricketer who wrote a memoir thinly disguised as a novel (the Sly Company of People who Care (http://www.amazon.com/The-Sly-Company-People-Care-ebook/product-reviews/B004WDZZPQ/ref=cm_cr_pr_hist_2?ie=UTF8&filterBy=addTwoStar&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending)) set in Guyana and made a disaster of it (again: vulgar shallow women) but because he is famous everybody praises the book as a literary discovery of the year and applauds it. Mostly, people who have never been to Guyana and take his vision as gospel.

I DID write a critical review of this. But the book was shortlisted for, or even won, the Man Booker Asian prize. What does my review count? :) But I think this is a good example of what kuwisdelu is talking about. Read my review, and see for yourself. One of the commenters assumed I was just jealous, and that I don't understand creativity!


See Miley Cyrus and twerking,Macklemore being praised for his song when there have been other Black rappers who spoke out against homophobia,Kendall Jenner and cornrows, and the Harlem Shake just to name a few. I won't even go into historical things as that would really go on forever.Most Blacks were well and truly pissed to see The Help become this big thing when the real story has been told in our communities for decades by better writers and oral historians.

I think anyone choosing to write about another culture has to have common sense and some kind of empathy. Time and time again we see mess with our various cultures. It gets to the point where you almost wish things could be trademarked and folks sued when they are blatantly disrespectful or stereotypical.

Thank you, both of you, for these great (and horrible) examples, of why this discussion is important. I was really hoping to get some examples from some fellow PoC from different backgrounds, because this is not unique or rare. Thank you.


ETA: ok, I've read it now. And I adore it. I'm thinking of printing it out, or maybe a blog post about it.

I think that link sums up some of my feelings better than I can say.

aruna
04-21-2014, 10:32 AM
Just to add: many of my books are set in India. I am not Indian. I don't have a drop of Indian blood. I am also not Hindu, but I write about Hindu characters and their attitudes etc. But I have spent years of my life loving India, living there, knowing its people and its culture, understanding it, identifying with it.
So I would say I am qualified to write about India and Indians -- but should any Indian criticize any aspect of my book I'd be sure to take that criticism extremely seriously.

Lillith1991
04-21-2014, 10:32 AM
Thank you, both of you, for these great (and horrible) examples, of why this discussion is important. I was really hoping to get some examples from some fellow PoC from different backgrounds, because this is not unique or rare. Thank you.

I agree with Kuwis. You've both given great examples.

There is something that came to mind, a black civil rights activist who worked with King and was gay. Any time I've seen a documentary on this man it never gives equal treatment to both his life as a gay man, and as a black man. It seperates the two, and that frustrates me greatly. You can't do that. His experiences in the civil rights movement were colored by his being gay in a time it wasn't accepted, and his being black colored his experiene as a gay man.

Which leads me to this, getting frustrated when people cherry pick things about a culture or person and present it as this is it. Or as the other stuff isn't important. Because it is, to the person whose had those experiences. My cousins are mixed Khmer( Cambodian), and some are full blooded Khmer. If I wanted a Cambodian MC, I wouldn't just trust my own knowledge of the culture, or my cousins knowledge. I would ask my cousins grandmother (yiey) or yiey yiey ( great grandma). Because I would want to know the things my cousins who were born here wouldn't know. Cultural things that got lost on the way over during and after the genocide.



I think that link sums up some of my feelings better than I can say.
It's a very awesome summery. :D

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 11:26 AM
but should any Indian criticize any aspect of my book I'd be sure to take that criticism extremely seriously.

This is the important part, IMO.

I don't think any less of any author who honestly tries to portray a culture and fails to do so perfectly (which is probably impossible anyway). I'd hope the same assumption of good faith is given to me, too. I will, however, think less of an author who — when faced with such criticism — responds to it with culture-blind defensiveness and rationalizations that attempt to invalidate heartfelt critique.


There is something that came to mind, a black civil rights activist who worked with King and was gay. Any time I've seen a documentary on this man it never gives equal treatment to both his life as a gay man, and as a black man. It seperates the two, and that frustrates me greatly. You can't do that. His experiences in the civil rights movement were colored by his being gay in a time it wasn't accepted, and his being black colored his experiene as a gay man.

This is also a very important point.

Identities aren't additive.

You can't combine "gay" (and let's be honest, when people only say "gay", it's almost always code for "white and gay") and "black" (which is also usually code for "black and straight") and arrive at "black and gay". The black lesbian experience isn't just black plus lesbian. The gay native experience isn't just gay plus native. And so on.

(And statistical sampling bears this out, too. Last week I was on a diversity panel where the main speaker discussed his work in LGBT studies, and not only do all of these identities represent unique demographics, but you often can't capture them at all without focusing on them directly. Attempting to survey the gay population as a whole will underrepresent people who are gay and PoC, etc.)

Sunflowerrei
04-21-2014, 12:04 PM
I own of my own mish-mash of cultures...emphasis on the mish mash. I'm Irish-Catholic on one side of my family. I'm not Catholic, I've not yet been to Ireland, and I don't look like the idea of a stereotypical Irish woman, so it's not like anybody ever figures that I'm half Irish.

But I'm aware of my Irish-American heritage--my grandmother used to have a crucifix, a shamrock, and a picture of President Kennedy by her front door. I grew up with Irish music, Irish songs, Irish soda bread, the vaunted Irish love of literature and history...the disdain for idiots who deck themselves in green on St. Pat's Day, then get sloshed without regard for why St. Pat is important in Irish culture...

But obviously, Rei's version of Irishness (TM) is not Irish-from-Ireland Irishness. My Irish culture has been filtered through four generations in New York City. My version of Irishness isn't even the one that my Irish-American first cousins have because they're Catholic and I'm not. At Easter dinner, we were talking about the time when my younger cousin learned that I'm not Catholic--he was about 9 and I was about 15.

I'm half Japanese on the other side and I'm more tied to Japan. I've actually been to Japan, for one thing. I have a ton of extended family there. I attended Japanese school from age 4 to age 18 and while I can't read or write it anymore, I can speak Japanese fluently, particularly the Kyushu dialect. I eat Japanese food. My Japanese grandparents immigrated along with my mom, aunt, and uncle, so I had family to reinforce language, values and cultural norms. But I am definitely half Japanese--there are some parts of Japanese culture that I can't wrap my head around, having grown up in America, with half of my family being Irish-Catholic. If you mention Memoirs of a Geisha (is that the only freaking novel people have ever read about Japan?), I will hit you.

At the same time, I've been exposed to lots of other cultures by growing up in New York. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood. My closest friends are Jewish, Indian, black, Puerto Rican, Unidentifiable Bits of White. My high school was predominantly Russian. My co-workers are from everywhere. I feel like I can represent diversity well, but I want to respect and understand other cultures rather than cherry pick from them.

This discussion reminds me of a romance I once read. The heroine was half Scottish and half Chinese, which is close enough, in novels, to my own background that I felt really critical of the fact that the heroine knew an obscure martial art, explained feng-shui, Confucius, Buddhism, tai-chi, the Chinese writing system, issues of the opium trade, and tantric sex to the Scots/Brit hero. Am I glad that the heroine was different from heroines in most historical romances? Sure. Was I happy with this particular portrayal? Hells to the no.

And it seems I've written a novel here. Sorry, folks.

Lillith1991
04-21-2014, 12:30 PM
Cut for space.

Exactly. My experience as a mixed person aren't seperated by being visually african american, a woman, or a lesbian. They're entwined together, when I experience hatred because I'm a lesbian the person isn't going to ignore that to them I'm also black. Any prejudice the person has against black people, women in general, or the lgbt community. It will be directed at me as a whole, not in parts.

Which the reasons documentaries on that man piss me off. They treat things as additive. And they weren't.

Even within the gay community. When Fred Martinez was killed in a very horrible hate crime, they ignored that he was Navajo. There was arguments about whether he was transgender or gay. The fact that he identified as both gay and one of the four traditional genders in Navajo culture didn't matter. They still tried to seperate parts of him. The western mindset about things like this...it frustrates me.

kuwisdelu
04-21-2014, 01:48 PM
If you mention Memoirs of a Geisha (is that the only freaking novel people have ever read about Japan?), I will hit you.

Heh. I remember when the movie came out, and I heard about the controversy over a Chinese actress playing the lead, and then I read a bit more about the novel, and at first I was liked "wait, it's not a memoir?" and then I was like "wait, what about all the other issues here?"

(And it frustrates me as a fan of anime that I often feel like I have to distance myself from the Western anime community, which often doesn't seem to know anything at all about Japanese culture other than what they've "learned" via anime. It wasn't until I joined a kendo club that I met someone, a half-Japanese guy, with whom I could actually relate and share perspective with regarding anime.)

I'm saving up in hope of visiting Japan myself sometime. Looking into Japanese and other Asian cultures, I feel a sense of familiarity, and see lots of similarities with my own and other native cultures.

I had a wonderful conversation the other day with an Indian man (from India) about cultural and spiritual similarities between American Indians and (India) Indians. :tongue

buz
04-21-2014, 02:58 PM
It means that if you're coming from an outsider perspective and feel the need to assert "no one owns culture", then you should probably take a long and hard look at why you feel the need to assert it.

Right, sorry, that's not quite what I meant--but I kind of lost the thread in unraveling the sweater, lol.

I was trying to chase the logic of the previous posts, where it seemed that ownership wasn't the right term--but then I realized you meant that ownership doesn't quite apply only within the insider group, and that the validity of the ownership concept is still there between non-POC and POC. Correct? Ya, I'm on board with that :)

So, then, going back to the original question--


Why do people believe this?Maybe they believe it because the concept of ownership when applied to culture is, in fact, rather shaky--and sometimes when people run into something gray, they reject it; some people would rather live by absolute rules.

But...

it's still pretty easy to understand that it's not cool to take a culture that you don't belong to and shred it into something else to look like something convenient for your story (or whatever the situation is), yeah? Whether you phrase it in terms of ownership or belonging or not being a part of it or simply not living inside of it--that part seems clear to me, regardless of the question of what "ownership" means and when it applies. So:


How can we change this pervasive perspective? I'm not even sure it's a question of changing the ownership logic, but rather changing the frame of mind that the excuse comes from, which, as usual, I think comes from things like not being able to (or not wanting to) see from the perspective of another...

However, again, I could be wrong, as my thinking abilities are not exactly top-notch, as evidenced elsewhere :) Heh.

shaldna
04-21-2014, 03:20 PM
Actually, if it's about some other group heavily armed and with more wealth coming in and stealing your land and killing off your people, that's actually the experience of most groups of people at some point or other in history, unfortunately.


There are ways the Native American experiences are unique, but there are aboriginal peoples all over the world who have had similar experiences, along with peoples and nations from non-dominant and non-Western cultures.

I feel these two statements are very important to parts of the discussion that happened last night in relation to culture.

I appreciate, having re-read through a lot of the posts, were Kuw is coming from with regards to their own Native American heritage and the treatment of it. But I still stand by what I said last night that this isn't a colour issue, it's a culture issue and it happens, as has been said here, all over the world.

I used an example of my own country, which was dismissed because I'm white. But in terms of having culture stripped away, you'll be surprised to find how much the Irish have had taken from them in them through history - their religion (several times), their language, town names, land rights. Everything. And I'm not just talking in the last 200 years, I'm talking throughout history. That's why we hold on so tightly to our culture, but it blends. The old myths and stories merge with the more recent, customs, habits, things that make no sense to outsiders.

Is it annoying when cultural stereotypes make us cringe? Sure. I HATE seeing non-Irish people playing Irish folk on TV. I hate seeing Irish folk with the wrong accents or phrases for the area the character is from. We don't all sound the same. Hollywood thinks we do though.



I think by now, one could count Irish American and Irish as different cultures, couldn't you?

Certainly African Americans have developed culture that draws upon but is distinct from African cultures.





Now, from the my perspective as person of ethnically mixed ancetry I claim my heritage. That is to say, I identify as mixed or black. But I acknowledge and take pride in the fact that in addition to European and African American roots, my family heritage includes a half Indian maternal grandfather. It also includes some Native American, and tribal Middle Eastern, and Jewish. I feel I am the sum of all those parts.

Both of these statements raise something very important to this discussion. Increasingly people are more culturally mobile. They move, they marry people from other places, as a result they take parts of their own culture with them, bring other cultures back, produce children who grow up relating to several cultures or many. I think cultures are becoming more fluid in places - further upthread someone mentioned the South. This is a great example of where several very unique, very distinct cultures have come together and are creating something entirely new - taking from each culture, adding something new. Developing.




See Miley Cyrus and twerking,Macklemore being praised for his song when there have been other Black rappers who spoke out against homophobia,Kendall Jenner and cornrows, and the Harlem Shake just to name a few. I won't even go into historical things as that would really go on forever.Most Blacks were well and truly pissed to see The Help become this big thing when the real story has been told in our communities for decades by better writers and oral historians.

This is something I was trying to say upthread. It's a problem when people don't understand why they are doing what they are doing, the significance of it, the meaning or the history.


I think anyone choosing to write about another culture has to have common sense and some kind of empathy. Time and time again we see mess with our various cultures. It gets to the point where you almost wish things could be trademarked and folks sued when they are blatantly disrespectful or stereotypical.

Aye, bay Jaysus ye could'nee be more right.

See what I did there. :)

This is exactly the issue when writing about any culture. Do the research. Do it right or don't do it at all.



I own of my own mish-mash of cultures...emphasis on the mish mash. I'm Irish-Catholic on one side of my family. I'm not Catholic, I've not yet been to Ireland, and I don't look like the idea of a stereotypical Irish woman, so it's not like anybody ever figures that I'm half Irish.

'Cause we all look the same......... (hides red hair and green eyes)

To be fair though, despite having the hair and eyes and the faintly transparent skin of a 'typical' Irish woman, everytime I open my mouth, even here, people ask me where I'm from. I've given up telling them I'm local born and bred and just let them assume I'm Canadian.


But I'm aware of my Irish-American heritage--my grandmother used to have a crucifix, a shamrock, and a picture of President Kennedy by her front door. I grew up with Irish music, Irish songs, Irish soda bread, the vaunted Irish love of literature and history...the disdain for idiots who deck themselves in green on St. Pat's Day, then get sloshed without regard for why St. Pat is important in Irish culture...

And again, many of these things are pretty stereotypical and only representative of SOME Irish. Which is pretty interesting as the culture goes so much deeper than that and I bet there were many things you grew up with, that were part of your own family culture that you never had any idea were Irish or part of that culture (there was probably a Daniel O'Donnell tea towel somewhere - there always is). I just hope the soda bread was properly made and not that wheatgrain shite I seem to offered every time I'm in America. (rant rant, difference between soda and wheaten. grrr.) :)

All in all, having re-read this whole thread today, I think that, despite some initial teething issues, this has been a really interesting conversation.

Hapax Legomenon
04-21-2014, 04:39 PM
I don't know. I've never felt like I owned my "culture" or "sexuality," more just that I'm not entirely a part of the mainstream, which probably only makes things harder, not easier.

Despite being white, slhuang's post really spoke to me. Even though I did do "cultural" stuff as a kid, it mostly felt like going through motions, not like I "owned" any of it. I don't feel like it's a part of me the same way culture seems to be for other people -- I just feel more of a lack of what other people have.

RichardGarfinkle
04-21-2014, 06:21 PM
I hope this isn't too much of a derail. It's been brewing in my mind for a time as kuwisdelu's been doing these very interesting threads about culture, religion, identity and race. I apologize in advance for the text wall. But it does tie in explicitly with the OP.

If nobody minds I'd like to talk about the Jewish-American experience, or rather the Jewish-American experience as perceived by a 52-year-old New York-born male with Polish and Russian Jewish ancestry who is by natural inclination an atheist. In short, my experience as part of a particular culture with associated religion, brought up in a particular historical period and place.

In a sense that's all any of us have of our cultures, the past as given us in the present and thoughts of the future.

Judaism is, if one is struggling with categories, four interconnected things: a religion, a culture, an internally defined people, and an externally defined race and religious role.

1. Judaism is a religion. As a religion, Judaism is classified as one of the three Abrahamic religions (for obvious reasons), but it is qualitatively different from most forms of Christianity and Islam because it is not an evangelizing religion. Indeed, it can be quite difficult to convert to Judaism. Some groups don't allow conversion at all.

Judaism isn't run or thought of as a universal religion. It's a religion of a particular people. It's also a religion focused on practice, not faith. It is what a person does and how they do it that matters in Judaism, not what they believe.

I've said before that it's possible to be an atheist Jew, and not difficult to be an agnostic one.

The differences in the various branches of Judaism aren't essentially doctrinal; they're differences of practice.

The fundamental question is how are the people supposed to live and act. Rabbis argue about this, creating variations, sometimes making major splits into categories of Judaism.

The observances are a combination of personal and cultural activities. There are commandments on individual actions and commandments for how the people as a whole are to behave.

These commandments are rooted in a particular set of books which for neutral terminologies sake I'll call the Hebrew Bible. If you're used to reading the Christian Bible, reading the Hebrew Bible is difficult, because there are a number of Christian teachings that universalize the Hebrew Bible, producing a radically different text.

The Hebrew Bible is a sacred history of a particular people. It chronicles, among other things, where people messed up and what corrections were done in that mess-up. If you look through the Hebrew Bible, you might notice one vital thing: there are no infallible human characters. Everyone messes up in ways that cause consequences and need correction.

Personally, I was brought up with various teachings of Judaism in a relatively relaxed environment. My parents didn't keep kosher (though my grandparents did), but did observe the holidays. We didn't go to temple, but I was Bar Mitzvah at 13, having been tutored by an interesting young Conservative rabbi (in the spectrum of observance strictness, Conservative is around the middle).

2. Judaism is a culture. Actually, this is a lie. Judaism is many cultures, thanks to the Diaspora. Jews scattered all over the place around 2000 years ago, and in each place they set up communities with various degrees of assimilation.

In America the dominant strain of Judaic culture came in from eastern Europe. It had a special language, Yiddish, and various different cultural experiences, from the shtetl (small town life) to the ghetto to the partially accepted middle class Jew to the rare upper class personage.

These amalgamated in New York during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and formed what people think of here as Jewish culture. It produced a particular strain of humor and literature, and because of a cultural emphasis on scholarship, a lot of nerds.

But there are other Jewish cultures in the US and many others elsewhere with different customs, languages and attitudes.

One of the crucial elements in the culture and in the religion, indeed one that is brutally reinforced several times in the Bible, is endogamy. The people are supposed to marry within the people.

In a number of traditions, being a member of the Jewish people is matrilineal. That is, if your mother was Jewish you are counted as Jewish (more about this on the matter of race below).

For me, the decision to marry outside the people didn't matter much. I was never very observant and my wife matters to me more than any of the culture. But it was a conscious choice. I knew that by most standards my children would not be of the people.

But, interestingly enough, the older generation of my family didn't care about anything but love. No one in my family has any problems with my wife or my sister-in-law or any of the next generation. My children and my nephews are part of the family, ergo part of the people. My family still has Passover seders, and my children were taught the stories of their ancestry. At some level they will decide what of the culture they choose to take with them.

But not everyone is as open minded. There are Jewish families, temples, and communities that, had I been born into them, would have shown me and my wife the door and not acknowledged the existence of our children. The different levels of strictness determine how the culture treats the people who might belong to it.

And therein lies the reason I'm posting this on this thread. Who decides who belongs? Can a person do so on their own or do they need to be welcomed by part of the culture? And if they are rejected by one part can they be accepted by another?

3. Judaism is an internally defined people. As noted above, Judaism is something one is born into. The Reform movement in Judaism allowed for either parent to be Jewish. The Conservatives are debating the point (The rabbi who tutored me is one of those leading the charge for change).

Being born into something like this leads to an aspect of self-definition and introspection. To be born with the claim that one has certain inherent responsibilities which one may later consciously choose to follow or not is, to my mind, part of the tension in the question of cultural and religious ownership/stewardship.

I am not an observant Jew (and I am an atheist). I don't think I can make any proper claim to much of Judaism. But I find myself having to take up the cultural and religious position of a person born and educated to Judaism in order to challenge certain positions and cultural assumptions.

So, without seeking to, or feeling properly qualified to, I find myself in a position of stewardship toward the culture and religion.

4. Judaism is an externally defined race and religious role. As a race, Jews have a completely different external definition from the internal one in 3.

It's pretty clear that most people who are prejudiced against Jews don't care about matrilinealism, cultural differences, conversions or much of anything else connected with the internal realities of Judaism. They're bigots. They define on their own terms and for their own convenience.

Part of this bigotry is tied to a reinforcing religious role. For millennia, the telling of the Christian passion involved the specific laying of blame on the Jews as a people. Thus there was a yearly reinforcement of this external, racial view.

Consciousness of this fact and the historical horrors it's produced also pushes a sense of stewardship. There is a real awareness that letting the matter go without comment is actively dangerous.

Unchallenged prejudice does not go away. It grows. The pogrom and the Holocaust are memories in my family, warnings about the fact that it may not matter how I define myself and my children define themselves. Others will impose their own definitions.

Thus cultural stewardship is, in part, a responsibility.

Sunflowerrei
04-21-2014, 07:53 PM
'Cause we all look the same......... (hides red hair and green eyes)

To be fair though, despite having the hair and eyes and the faintly transparent skin of a 'typical' Irish woman, everytime I open my mouth, even here, people ask me where I'm from. I've given up telling them I'm local born and bred and just let them assume I'm Canadian.


And again, many of these things are pretty stereotypical and only representative of SOME Irish. Which is pretty interesting as the culture goes so much deeper than that and I bet there were many things you grew up with, that were part of your own family culture that you never had any idea were Irish or part of that culture (there was probably a Daniel O'Donnell tea towel somewhere - there always is). I just hope the soda bread was properly made and not that wheatgrain shite I seem to offered every time I'm in America. (rant rant, difference between soda and wheaten. grrr.) :)

All in all, having re-read this whole thread today, I think that, despite some initial teething issues, this has been a really interesting conversation.

I hear ya on the transparent skin, Shaldna. Our last name isn't distinctly Irish either, so, you know, other people think we're Scottish. Why do they think you're Canadian?

For me, though, it was always pretty clear--because I'm 50/50--of what belonged to which culture or at least which side of the family it was from. There are certain qualities that side of my family exhibit or attitudes or viewpoints and they're not the "jolly friendly Irish people" qualities depicted in media. They're not the "alcoholic Irish Westie mobster" either. Not saying we're not friendly, but...

And yes, the soda bread is homemade. Not the wheat shit. Actual soda. Soda bread for St. Patrick's Day. Japanese mochi for New Year's.


(And it frustrates me as a fan of anime that I often feel like I have to distance myself from the Western anime community, which often doesn't seem to know anything at all about Japanese culture other than what they've "learned" via anime. It wasn't until I joined a kendo club that I met someone, a half-Japanese guy, with whom I could actually relate and share perspective with regarding anime.)

I'm saving up in hope of visiting Japan myself sometime. Looking into Japanese and other Asian cultures, I feel a sense of familiarity, and see lots of similarities with my own and other native cultures.

I've never been into anime, but I know people who LOVE it and yeah, they only know Japan through those anime. Or Memoirs of a Geisha. When, you know, at the time, my Japanese grandmother was actually learning how to kendo in case the Americans invaded.

J.S.F.
04-22-2014, 07:40 AM
I'm saying people often defend appropriation by saying "no one owns culture" (with an implicit "therefore, I can take it and use it however I want.")

I'm saying that's incorrect, and culture is owned by its people, and therefore appropriation is theft.

I'm saying this mindset that no one owns culture leads to appropriation, so how can we fix the mindset?

---

So what you're saying is, if I write a story about an American Indian, depict him in a positive light to the best of my ability after doing shitloads of research and speaking/writing to other Native Americans, and if the story is well received, then I'm still stealing and should be hung from a yardarm?

First of all, if I were a Native American, I'd wonder why some white/black/Asian person managed to write a novel that was well received by the general public and why another Native American couldn't do the same thing.

As for the mindset that no one owns culture, well, while I understand that it's a sensitive matter for any PoC, at the same time, if the subject matter is there and if the story is told with respect no matter who relates the tale, then would it not benefit all concerned?

Or am I being too naive in this?

kuwisdelu
04-22-2014, 07:56 AM
So what you're saying is, if I write a story about an American Indian, depict him in a positive light to the best of my ability after doing shitloads of research and speaking/writing to other Native Americans, and if the story is well received, then I'm still stealing and should be hung from a yardarm?

No, I never said that.

I've repeated several times throughout this thread that I think it's okay to borrow from a culture if it's done respectfully.


First of all, if I were a Native American, I'd wonder why some white/black/Asian person managed to write a novel that was well received by the general public and why another Native American couldn't do the same thing

If you want an honest answer, there are a few different reasons for this.

The most uncomfortable one is simply that most of those successful novels written about natives by non-natives package the native experience in stereotypes and romanticism with which the general public is comfortable. When you tell people about the racism and inaccuracies in their beloved romanticizations, they tend to get defensive, because they don't want that image spoiled.

For a non-native example, see Lilith's comments on Memoirs of a Geisha.

Another one is the assumptions and expectations of the publishing industry. They often believe people simply don't want to read books written from the perspective of natives/blacks/latinos/gays, etc. So the marketing isn't there, if you're lucky enough to get published in the first place. I think aruna can speak to the struggles she's faced with publishers who say they like her writing but no one wants to read about Guyana from the Guyanese perspective.

But when written from the white savior perspective, people eat up the stuff that confirms their stereotypes.


As for the mindset that no one owns culture, well, while I understand that it's a sensitive matter for any PoC, at the same time, if the subject matter is there and if the story is told with respect no matter who relates the tale, then would it not benefit all concerned?

Or am I being too naive in this?

For the most part, I agree. Sometimes, I think permission is still important.

There are some things about my own culture that I'm not allowed to write about it.

So I don't see why other people should get to claim the right to do so.

J.S.F.
04-22-2014, 08:14 AM
No, I never said that.
---ME. Well, you did write that "appropriation is theft" so either I misunderstood or I didn't. You tell me and no, I'm not being snide.

I've repeated several times throughout this thread that I think it's okay to borrow from a culture if it's done respectfully.
--ME. I have no problem with this.


If you want an honest answer, there are a few different reasons for this.

The most uncomfortable one is simply that most of those successful novels written about natives by non-natives package the native experience in stereotypes and romanticism with which the general public is comfortable. When you tell people about the racism and inaccuracies in their beloved romanticizations, they tend to get defensive, because they don't want that image spoiled.

For a non-native example, see Lilith's comments on Memoirs of a Geisha.

Another one is the assumptions and expectations of the publishing industry. They often believe people simply don't want to read books written from the perspective of natives/blacks/latinos/gays, etc. So the marketing isn't there, if you're lucky enough to get published in the first place. I think aruna can speak to the struggles she's faced with publishers who say they like her writing but no one wants to read about Guyana from the Guyanese perspective.

But when written from the white savior perspective, people eat up the stuff that confirms their stereotypes.
---

I won't deny that stereotypes often figure into novels written about Native Americans (or other PoC) and that is most unfortunate. However, I'm the type of person--me, myself and I--that if I read a story about a culture not my own and if it's done in the most respectful way and that no one can find fault with it on any level, then I could care less who wrote it.

As for the assumptions and expectations of the publishing industry, again, that's unfortunate, but it's something that I have no control over.

I'd like to think that in time--and yes, it's long overdue--that the industry will change enough so that novels written by PoC and 'white people' (like me) about PoC if done well, will be received positively by everyone.

The thing is, though, is that when PoC say that they're the ones most qualified (not you, just a generalization) to write from their perspective (and they are) it can come across as a kind of intellectual/cultural snobbery and make it even more inaccessible to those who genuinely want to learn about that culture. JMO...

aruna
04-22-2014, 08:17 AM
What Kuwisdelu said. If you don't believe the bit about publishers not approving of Guyana as a setting, I have some evidence.

At present I'm revising a novel I wrote many years ago, which couldn't find an agent or publisher. I sent it to Hilary Johnson, a first-class editor, for an assessment back then, and the following is part of her reader's report:


The other commercial query that I have is whether Guyana as a background is sufficiently interesting to a UK readership. As a former colony it should have some resonance. But I doubt very much whether the average reader would be able to place it accurately on the map, let alone have any idea about the history and culture of the place. Some former British colonies have made a strong impact and novels set there remain perennially popular, others struggle. As a result most fiction editors have an in-built awareness of which backgrounds will sell and which won’t. Hence, for example, it is a truth universally acknowledged that novels set in the Indian subcontinent find more favour than those set in Africa or indeed in South America. It’s a fact of life and a perception that is difficult to change.


I note that your previously published titles have featured Guyana or had a Guyanese dimension but have also had a strong Indian connection and have tended – rightly or wrongly- to be classed commercially with novels about India. TSFODQ mentions India in that Rika is supposed to have left home to visit that country after the Indian love of her life was presumed dead in an accident. But the main thrust of the book concerns Guyana and the early years of two of the central characters who grew up there, plus the third main character’s introduction to the country. You cleverly focus on the fact that Frankie knows little about the country of her mother’s birth, preferring to think of herself as native of Streatham whatever her cultural heritage, thus allowing readers to see Guyana partly through her rather detached eyes.

Yes, there has been a growth in fiction titles which feature the diverse ethnic backgrounds of native Londoners in recent years. But I still wonder if this background is going to count against the novel. UK readers are notoriously insular in their likes and dislikes and reluctant to address their lack of knowledge about other countries. Clearly it’s up to an author to choose his/her own battleground and you have to write about what you know. But be aware that agents/editors may not necessarily welcome a Guyanese/English setting.

Hilary herself said this in her accompanying mail:

Personally, I liked the Guyanese setting, but concur with the reader about the insular nature of the mass market readership and the fact that it is India which seems to be the exception to this and which continues to go down well with British readers.

kuwisdelu
04-22-2014, 08:27 AM
The thing is, though, is that when PoC say that they're the ones most qualified (not you, just a generalization) to write from their perspective (and they are) it can come across as a kind of intellectual/cultural snobbery and make it even more inaccessible to those who genuinely want to learn about that culture. JMO...

I don't see how it's snobbery in the least. Firsthand experience in anything generally makes someone more qualified to write about it.

That doesn't mean people can't write convincingly about experiences not their own.

If someone genuinely wants to learn about a culture, then seeking out primary sources shouldn't be a hurdle. It should be natural.

I'm asking nothing more of anyone else than I ask of myself.


What Kuwisdelu said.

That was quick! Are you Batwoman?

Hapax Legomenon
04-22-2014, 08:43 AM
What can you do if you can't write about experiences that are, apparently, supposed to be your own?

Lillith1991
04-22-2014, 08:52 AM
The thing is, though, is that when PoC say that they're the ones most qualified (not you, just a generalization) to write from their perspective (and they are) it can come across as a kind of intellectual/cultural snobbery and make it even more inaccessible to those who genuinely want to learn about that culture. JMO...

I'm going to agree with Kuwis. Its not snobbery if it's true. Not at all. If Kuwis was to say their more qualified then me to write the half Zuni experience it wouldn't be snobbery. Kuwis is mixed and happpens to be Zuni.

I myself am mulatto. And for a more intra racial spin on things, Kitty is black. She is more qualified then me to write from the perspective of a full black woman, and I'm more qualified to write the perspective of than her of a mullato lesbian. To outsiders we're both black, but my being mixed does change things. I'm still more qualified to write the experience of a full black woman than a middle aged white man but not as qualified as Kitty is.

kuwisdelu
04-22-2014, 09:21 AM
What can you do if you can't write about experiences that are, apparently, supposed to be your own?

If you're referring to this...


There are some things about my own culture that I'm not allowed to write about it.

...then I'm not sure. I'm trying to figure that out myself.

There are some things I can't write about and some things I'm not sure if I should write about.

In the latter category, there are a few traditional stories that I'm trying to decide whether I should incorporate into my work-in-progress. These are stories I read in books. They have been appropriated by white authors who rewrote them as children's books. I didn't hear them in person from a storyteller, and I'm not a storyteller in the sense of my culture. I should seek out a storyteller and ask permission, but I'm a bit intimidated and worried I'd be seen as an outsider because I don't speak the language. I don't want to appropriate from my own culture.

In the former category, there are certain things I simply cannot write about because it would be sacrilege. Our rites of passage and initiation into a kiva is an example of this category. I can't describe what happens. Yet if I'm writing a coming-of-age novel based on my experience, that experience is going to be part of it. So I have to find a respectful way to incorporate it while writing around the ceremonies themselves, which I can't describe.

...

Anyone who wants to accuse me to racism or elitism or saying white people can't write about certain things should try to understand just how terrified I am of accidentally writing my own culture disrespectfully.

And how long it's taken me to feel confident enough to try at all.

I grew up writing white characters because I was too scared I'd get anyone else wrong. Even me.

And my god, I still cringe at remembering my first horrible attempt at writing a black character.

I grew up feeling like my own culture belonged to someone else.

So dammit, I am taking it back now.

...

So I guess, if you still don't understand, I want to ask:

Why do you feel you're as qualified when it takes everything I have to convince myself I have the right to even try?

Lillith1991
04-22-2014, 09:38 AM
I agree with Kuwis, I'm still getting used to writing mixed characters. And I'm still scared I'll mess it up and they would be too black to non-black people, and too white to black people.

Hapax Legomenon
04-22-2014, 09:49 AM
I guess that makes sense, I am afraid to go to some of my own people because I still do t think I got as much education as I "should" have when I was a kid, and my sect isn't "good enough," etc.

Then again my group is completely over represented in media so I shouldn't even try, should I? Ugh. This is why I write pretty much exclusively alt-universe spec fic, I'm too terrified of offending anyone.

kuwisdelu
04-22-2014, 09:55 AM
Then again my group is completely over represented in media so I shouldn't even try, should I? Ugh. This is why I write pretty much exclusively alt-universe spec fic, I'm too terrified of offending anyone.

I think we need to get over the fear of offending people.

(Which is not an excuse not to do research or not to try to be respectful.)

I think most people aren't going to think you're a bad person just because you screwed up when it's clear that you tried. (I certainly won't.)

It's how you respond to it that really matters. Do you get defensive? Or do you apologize and take it to heart and vow to do better next time?

Hapax Legomenon
04-22-2014, 09:58 AM
I break down in terror, usually. That's probably not a good response but it's the only one I have for most things.

kuwisdelu
04-22-2014, 10:00 AM
I break down in terror, usually. That's probably not a good response but it's the only one I have for most things.

Well, with the internet, it's possible to break down in terror secretly, and then come back and respond when you're more composed later. ;)

*thinks of how many posts I've written and never posted*

Hapax Legomenon
04-22-2014, 10:05 AM
Like I mean I have been looking at a project that would be steampunk Ottoman Empire based. I've heard so many people begging for non-European steampunk and whenever they see this idea they get really excited. But I have no idea how to go about it, particularly with the "offensiveness" because while the ethnic groups still exist there is no Ottoman Empire anymore, and, being an empire, has a significant amount of nasty history.

Lillith1991
04-22-2014, 10:08 AM
I break down in terror, usually. That's probably not a good response but it's the only one I have for most things.

Its one I have to. I end up scrambling for some way to calm down. It's not pretty or pleasent. I've ended up hyerventilating.

Hapax Legomenon
04-22-2014, 10:15 AM
I have often thought I should just not write at all because no matter what I wrote, it would somehow, no matter who I wrote about, be horribly racist.

I do wonder what would happen if we all just decided to chill out a bit.

Probably nothing good, considering the internet age.

kuwisdelu
04-22-2014, 10:41 AM
All we can do is try our best.

Lillith1991
04-22-2014, 10:53 AM
All we can do is try our best.

This! I agree completely.

J.S.F.
04-22-2014, 11:02 AM
So I guess, if you still don't understand, I want to ask:

Why do you feel you're as qualified when it takes everything I have to convince myself I have the right to even try?
-----

As someone who's trying his best to become an established writer--yeah, it's a dream--I realized a long time ago that if I ever wanted to make it as a writer then I'd have to try different things. Write outside the box. Challenge my own boundaries.

Twisted is a result of that. So is Lindsay Versus the Marauders. The former deals with a gender switch; the latter has a lesbian MC. As a guy, straight, and as white as the driven snow, this is about as different for me as it gets.

Am I qualified as a woman to write this? No. Am I qualified to come at a story from the POV of a lesbian MC? Others would say no, and truth be known, the whole notion just plain scared the shit out of me at first.

But if I'm ever going to be a good writer and NOT just write about tried-and-true white guys who get into trouble with the law and then find the girl of their dreams, then this is my way of understanding or, at the very least, trying to understand a different POV. I may not be successful at it, not totally, but it's a start on my own path to literary enlightenment.

Will I offend some people along the way? Probably. I'm in the process now of finishing off a novel in which one of the main characters is a transgendered teenager. If it's published, will it offend some members of the transgendered community? Probably. But as a writer, and as someone who's making an honest effort to understand things as they are, then that's the risk I'm willing to take.

Sorry if I offended anyone earlier on with my comments. Those were my honest feelings in the matter.

Hapax Legomenon
04-22-2014, 03:40 PM
I mean if I write about white people, I'm racist, if I don't, I'm only writing in fear because with every word I'm liable to be called racist anyway. If I try to write about a place where race isn't a thing people pay attention to, it's immediately assed that people with dark skin are going to be the bad guys, if I write about people like me, I'm just contributing to the over inundation of stories about Jews, who obviously need to get out of the way for other minorities, if I write about cute woodland creatures they're still coded as white and I'm still racist...

I mean... I started writing for pleasure... So I think I need to trash any ambitions I had and never show my work to anyone to retain any of that...

Cathy C
04-22-2014, 04:21 PM
For me, a lot of the issue here is what do I want my readers to experience? My highest aspiration as an author is what I personally want as a reader. I want to be entertained. As a reader, I don't want to fret, I don't want to worry or muse about deep things. I want a rollicking, wild ride that leaves me closing the book, breathless and satisfied.

So I tend, as an author, to focus less about internal issues than external threats. Does that make me less sensitive to some of the culture issues? Yes, probably. But my character's issues have more to do with the paranormal culture they belong to than the human variety. Writing a serious literary or genenral fiction is, to me--and maybe ONLY me--far different than most of the genre fiction I write and read.

Do I worry I'm not portraying cultures well? Not really. In fact, not at all. I make my characters individuals. Some worry about their heritage, some don't. For those who don't, who identify themselves with their chosen group (whether that group is wannabe actors or cops or surfers) the heritage details don't have much book time. For those who do, it's their driving force and I spend more research time on their particular worries. So far, I've only had, I think, two fans who had any quibbles with portrayal, and I fixed those with the subsequent re-issue and made them happy. More often, fan mail has been in support of the characters and their believability.

My best advice: Don't worry so much that it paralyzes you. That does no good for you or the readers. :Shrug:

Medievalist
04-23-2014, 01:56 AM
I mean if I write about white people, I'm racist, if I don't, I'm only writing in fear because with every word I'm liable to be called racist anyway...

This is what's called reductio ad absurdum.

No one is saying you can't write X or Y. For the love of all that's holy, people write about Grendel, and Elves and Orcs, and homicidal maniacs; but they do it with care and thought and effort and honesty.

No one is asking more than that.

Do you write with good will?

Are you interested in writing genuinely and honestly?

Are you willing to work at it?

Are you willing to ask beta readers for help?

Then get on with it.

Antonin
04-23-2014, 02:33 AM
ETA: looking over this, my thoughts are scrambled. Sorry about that

I wasn't sure if I could/am able to contribute to this thread, but upon seeing a few posts about being Irish and Jewish, I figured I'd throw out my strange experience.

Also, slhuang's post really resonated with me because the idea of owning a culture terrifies me for basically the same reasons.

I am also a first-generationer and I have issues with my own culture. My native language is not the same as my parents. My mother spoke Polish and my father spoke Czech & Slovak. This has, and will be until we die, been a source of conflict for us. There are things I cannot convey to my own family. Sure, I have been brought up listening to the music and eating the food, but I'm not as "ethnic" as they are. They assimilated more. That was not my choice. It never was. I have family that are more and less ethnic than me. It's strange to think of family in that way.

I have been raised with (I guess) a more European view that looks at whiteness a bit differently as many in Europe tend to see Slavs as a "fake white" or just "not-white." I have never seen British or Irish people as the same race as me. I just can't. Our cultures are too different.

ETA: the point of this is to point out that while I know I'm not Irish I still don't see issue with time celebrating St Patricks day, but then again I also understand the history of it

Personally, I always self identified as Slavic, and not necessarily as white. (Now, I don't get cocky and label myself as a PoC either.) But things changed about a year ago when my grandmother confessed on her death bed that she was a cyganko, or gypsy.

We had always made guesses and jokes about it because she had a lot of stories, traits, and beliefs that were very different from everyone around her. Curious, I poked around and forced my family to give me answers about her life which matched with the info I read about on Wikipedia on Polish Rom. Not only had my grandmother hid from that part of her life for many years due to persecution she faced from people around her, but so did my mother and her brothers.

Some people claim that Romani is a PoC. (I'm not sure I do, but that's another topic).

Can I claim this? Am I allowed to? The thing is, when it was finally confirmed I felt a kind of click inside. Everything finally made a kind of sense to me.

So here I am, with a culture I didn't know I "had." I'm currently writing a book with a main character who is more Romani than I and I worry about how I'm doing it, if I doing it right or just adding to the gypsy stereotypes. I think my only saving grace is that I'm using the lens of "first generation" and "assimilation" if that makes any sense.

It might not be as distinct as kuwi's but I am freaking out about it none the less. Should someone else be able to write about this? Sure, if they treat it with respect but that doesn't help me.

shaldna
04-23-2014, 02:30 PM
Why do you feel you're as qualified when it takes everything I have to convince myself I have the right to even try?

I completely understand what you are saying, and I empathise. But to look at it another way:

Why do you feel that your insecurities should impact on my writing?

kuwisdelu
04-23-2014, 03:12 PM
Why do you feel that your insecurities should impact on my writing?

Where do you think my insecurities came from?

Not yours specifically (I'm assuming), but from other writings from the culture of "no one owns culture" that appropriated our stories and told them with no respect for cultural accuracy or our cultural ownership of them.

I grew up reading "traditional" stories told by white men about my people that I'm only learning now more than a decade and a half later were full of lies and mistakes and romantic revisionism.

If you come from a dominant culture where everyone knows your stories and they're easily accessible in dozens of languages in an Internet instant, and they were not systematically destroyed and erased by attempted genocide, then I can understand why it may be difficult to understand the weight of this issue and the damage it can cause.

But such careless writing is not without harm.

I apologize if I'm sounding hyperbolic, but I feel like it's the only way I can communicate this, and I feel sick that I feel like I should apologize for it. How twisted is that?

So looking at it "another way"... just makes me feel sad... and angry... (not at you...)

I can only hope my insecurities will impact your writing... to inspire you to do better than they did, if you choose to tell other peoples' stories... So other children will not grow up believing lies about themselves...

Of course, there is nothing I can do to stop anyone from writing about whatever they want however they want.

...

But as I've tried to state multiple times before... I don't want to discourage anyone from writing about other cultures. Rather, I encourage it. I just beg that you take to heart this perspective in how you go about it.

Lillith1991
04-23-2014, 04:35 PM
Where do you think my insecurities came from?

Not yours specifically (I'm assuming), but from other writings from the culture of "no one owns culture" that appropriated our stories and told them with no respect for cultural accuracy or our cultural ownership of them.

I grew up reading "traditional" stories told by white men about my people that I'm only learning now more than a decade and a half later were full of lies and mistakes and romantic revisionism.

This, I know almost all the books I read as a small kid for black children weren't written by black people. And as such they really did no matter how untintentionally write it from the perspective of a most likely white author.

Same thing for any books or media my mom could find for me and my sister on Native American stories. My mom didn't have a lot to choose from, and to be frank. Agents and publishers still greatly prefer stories, even legends from other non-white cultures told from the perspective of a white author.

Because of this people like me and Kuwis are nervous when it comes to writing about our communities, or incorperating things from those communities into our writing.

Maze Runner
04-23-2014, 08:36 PM
Because of this people like me and Kuwis are nervous when it comes to writing about our communities, or incorperating things from those communities into our writing.

But you sure have an advantage. I wouldn't write an MC with a culture that I wasn't very familiar with until I did a lot of research. And even then, I'd be working with one arm tied around my back. Unless you really know a culture there's a strong likelihood you'll offer up a surface portrayal. Not just true with culture though, right? True of any life factor you're not so familiar with. I find that for me, for my two ethnic groups, one kind of white, one kind of brown, both often stereotyped in books and movies, my bigger strength is in knowing what they're not.

So far my MCs have all been of one or the other cultures. Did I worry that I was going to get it wrong? Definitely. Did I worry that I was gonna either perpetuate the stereotypes or go so far out of my way to dispel them that I would deny the truths about them that may have been part of the stereotypes? Definitely. It's a difficult tightrope to walk. But what I'm always concerned with is depicting the truth, as best I know it, for this particular MC, from this particular culture, with these other factors and with the circumstances that he/she is presented with. Their truth, as best as i can see it, that's the best that I can do.

kuwisdelu
04-23-2014, 08:54 PM
But you sure have an advantage.

In terms of resources and experiences to draw from? Sure.

In other ways, not so much.

See aruna's examples for how writing from the insider perspective can lead to difficulty with publishing and acceptance by the majority reading audience.

And if you're not a member of the community you're writing about, you don't have to worry very much about being rejected by it if you do screw up, and that rejection by our community is a major fear for some of us.

There are many white authors who see great success and are unbothered about being rejected by the communities they've disrespectfully depicted.

(And conversely, there are some writers who write respectfully and are embraced for it.)


Did I worry that I was gonna either perpetuate the stereotypes or go so far out of my way to dispel them that I would deny the truths about them that may have been part of the stereotypes?

A common reaction to criticism I see — particularly when it involves historical fiction — "but that's just how people thought in the day; do you want to throw out Mark Twain too?"

What this reaction ignores is how Twain's narratives are skillfully crafted to subvert the racism in them and communicate a completely different message.

aruna
04-23-2014, 08:59 PM
I've read a couple of really cringe-worthy novels set in India by Westerners who, even though they had actually lived in India, still didn't get some of the nuances of life there. An example is this book. (http://www.amazon.com/Sisters-Sari-Brenda-L-Baker-ebook/dp/B004VCTPCC/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1398271774&sr=1-1&keywords=sisters+of+the+sari). Not a bad story, if you can get past the usual cliche of white-woman-going-to-backward-country-and-saving-the-poor-natives.

The author had lived in Madras/Chennai; so have I. But you could tell almost from the first page that she had never really "absorbed" India; that she remained a stranger, even though she knew a lot of straight facts about the culture. For example: a women's shelter decides to hold a feast for all the poor women living there. The main dish: chicken. I'm still scratching my head how she got that wrong. In Chennai, vegetarian is the default; restaurants that serve meat identify themselves as non-veg in bold signs outside. There would never, ever be a non-veg feast for a community such as this.
Constantly, the author had the Indian women thinking as a Westerner would; she had no inkling as to nuances that might make an Indian attitude sometimes the very opposite to a Westerners; she just went around assuming that the Western take was right.

So you see, Shaldna, it's not just about offending people or stepping on sensitive toes. It's about understanding, getting beneath the skin, getting it right. And you can only really do that if you have walked in the other's shoes, and left your own identity behind. You really have to shed that skin you know and get into another -- completely. That's what I love about books -- they enable you to do so without ever leaving your home -- but you have to trust that the author knows what she is doing. The author of the book above didn't -- and her readers don't know that she didn't to judge from the good reviews she reaped. THAT'S what it's about. If you cannot get into that other skin, at least partly, you have no business writing the character.

aruna
04-23-2014, 09:01 PM
Great minds think alike, and post simultaneously! :)

Maze Runner
04-23-2014, 09:05 PM
In terms of resources and experiences to draw from? Sure.

In other ways, not so much.

See aruna's examples for how writing from the insider perspective can lead to difficulty with publishing and acceptance by the majority reading audience.

And if you're not a member of the community you're writing about, you don't have to worry very much about being rejected by it if you do screw up, and that rejection by our community is a major fear for some of us.

There are many white authors who see great success and are unbothered about being rejected by the communities they've disrespectfully depicted.

(And likewise, there are some who write respectfully and are embraced for it.)



A common reaction to criticism I see — particularly when it involves historical fiction — "but that's just how people thought in the day; do you want to throw out Mark Twain too?"

What this reaction ignores is how Twain's narratives are skillfully crafted to subvert the racism in them and communicate a completely different message.

Agreed on both points. I just finished a novel with an MC from an Arab culture, one I'm very familiar with. I sent it to one of my old college profs who's a fairly known writer, a great writer, I think, and from the same culture himself. I was nervous, not just because he's a great writer, but because he's a generation older than mine, speaks the language which i don't, knows the time that it was set in, a time before I was born, etc. The good news is he said he had never seen that particular slice of life so authentically portrayed (full disclosure, he was speaking of not just the culture, but our common subculture and even a certain city neighborhood that we both come from. The bad news is he said, as kindly as he could that beyond that culture, he didn't see a market for it. Just starting to get it out there but we'll see if he's right.

Lillith1991
04-23-2014, 09:43 PM
Agreed on both points. I just finished a novel with an MC from an Arab culture, one I'm very familiar with. I sent it to one of my old college profs who's a fairly known writer, a great writer, I think, and from the same culture himself. I was nervous, not just because he's a great writer, but because he's a generation older than mine, speaks the language which i don't, knows the time that it was set in, a time before I was born, etc. The good news is he said he had never seen that particular slice of life so authentically portrayed (full disclosure, he was speaking of not just the culture, but our common subculture and even a certain city neighborhood that we both come from. The bad news is he said, as kindly as he could that beyond that culture, he didn't see a market for it. Just starting to get it out there but we'll see if he's right.

Not sure about right per se, but it will be difficult for you to attract the interest of an agent and publisher for it. For some reasons non-white cultures (I consider Arabs/people of middle eastern decent non-white) written from the perspective of/ by a non-white author is more likely to get snubbed than the same work by a white author. Which doesn't make sense but is how things are.

Maze Runner
04-23-2014, 10:36 PM
Not sure about right per se, but it will be difficult for you to attract the interest of an agent and publisher for it. For some reasons non-white cultures (I consider Arabs/people of middle eastern decent non-white) written from the perspective of/ by a non-white author is more likely to get snubbed than the same work by a white author. Which doesn't make sense but is how things are.

I think his concern was more that a reader outside the culture wouldn't get it, rather than it/I would be snubbed by the publishing industry because I'm non-white; yes, my understanding/definition of non-white would be any culture that isn't of European origin.

Is that (bolded) really true? Not doubting you, it just would seem counter intuitive. Why would anyone prefer to read a work written from the outside in of any culture? (Edit to clarify: all else equal, of course)

Medievalist
04-23-2014, 10:50 PM
Not sure about right per se, but it will be difficult for you to attract the interest of an agent and publisher for it. For some reasons non-white cultures (I consider Arabs/people of middle eastern decent non-white) written from the perspective of/ by a non-white author is more likely to get snubbed than the same work by a white author.

Given the number of agents deliberately looking for such books, I doubt that the "snub" is racially motivated.

Agents don't care as much about an author as they care that the book is good. Any number of offensive, rude, socially inept authors nonetheless write good books; agents and editors know this.

kuwisdelu
04-24-2014, 12:12 AM
Why would anyone prefer to read a work written from the outside in of any culture?

It tends to be more comfortable to read something written from your own perspective. If you're also outside the culture, the perspective of someone else writing from outside the culture will probably be more comfortable to you and agree more with your own.

Obviously, not everyone reads this way.

Unimportant
04-24-2014, 01:48 AM
Why do you feel you're as qualified when it takes everything I have to convince myself I have the right to even try?
To come back to the original mindset question: maybe it just boils down to 'ignorance is bliss'. You know the responsibility you have to your culture -- to get it right, to respect its strengths and weaknesses, to maintain privacy -- whereas a clueless outsider can merrily blither through it willy-nilly without a qualm, because they simply don't know any better.

You've noted that you expect other authors to do their best, and to acknowledge their mistakes. You don't expect them to be perfect. Give yourself the same permission!

Lillith1991
04-24-2014, 04:02 AM
Given the number of agents deliberately looking for such books, I doubt that the "snub" is racially motivated.

Agents don't care as much about an author as they care that the book is good. Any number of offensive, rude, socially inept authors nonetheless write good books; agents and editors know this.

I don't think it's a deliberate thing, not now at least. In the past it probably was deliberate, very much so most likely. I think part of it is book quality and marketablity, but some is that people don't want to be forced to let go of misconceptions. They want the romanticized western version of the Native American, or Indians etc. So when a book that comes along challenges that, they're more likely to reject it.

Hapax Legomenon
04-24-2014, 06:46 AM
If I can say something that might be picked apart:

I think that fiction does not really reflect reality. I think when people write what they see in fiction they are not thinking about real life much. They are thinking about fiction. I think this may be why in the US people who aren't white and exposed nearly exclusively to stories about white people will write about white people until they realize what they're doing. I think in the minds of readers and writers stories to a good extent exist in a sort of "fairyland" where X or Y thing is acceptable or essential in them even though X or Y is nowhere in real life.

Despite this fiction is important and what people learn in fiction can affect them in real life blah blah blah blah we all know this part.

I think a good part of it is that with a lot of groups people do not know how they want to be represented or at least have not built their own representation yet.

A group may have built their own stories and create a persona of how things "should be written" in it and if you abide by these rules and do it well people are unlikely to be offended or even notice that it was made by someone "different." However I think a significant number of groups in the US have had external tropes pushed upon them which are not acceptable to that group and do not reflect how that group wishes to be portrayed. These tropes need to be built internally, I think.

So I don't really think that white people (or face it any external person) trying to write "sensitively" is necessarily the solution. I mean it might work for now but that's not really... it's oversimplified? maybe? And not permanent.

kuwisdelu
04-24-2014, 06:57 AM
So I don't really think that white people (or face it any external person) trying to write "sensitively" is necessarily the solution. I mean it might work for now but that's not really... it's oversimplified? maybe? And not permanent.

Of course not. But it's not like we aren't telling our own stories.

While these conversations are always coming back to outsiders arguing for a right to tell them.

When the conversation was never supposed to be about that in the first place.

...

And no, you do not have that right.

But you can have that privilege if you are willing to carry the responsibility that comes with it.

Hapax Legomenon
04-24-2014, 07:01 AM
I'm confused, I never discussed rights.

kuwisdelu
04-24-2014, 07:07 AM
I'm confused, I never discussed rights.

I know. I was jumping off from your point. To comment on how these conversations always get bogged down in convincing people there's a problem in the first place.

I was addressing people who claim the right to tell other people's stories.


And no, you do not have that right.

But you can have that privilege if you are willing to carry the responsibility that comes with it.

snafu1056
04-24-2014, 11:44 AM
Like I mean I have been looking at a project that would be steampunk Ottoman Empire based. I've heard so many people begging for non-European steampunk and whenever they see this idea they get really excited. But I have no idea how to go about it, particularly with the "offensiveness" because while the ethnic groups still exist there is no Ottoman Empire anymore, and, being an empire, has a significant amount of nasty history.

Do it and take the flack. The way people jump from one outrage to the next these days youll be forgotten inside of a week. Even sooner if the story doesnt contain any actual racism. The proof is always in the pudding. Its ridiculous that people back down from things just because of the possibility of being CALLED a racist. As if the mere accusation makes it so.

Have more confidence in yourself and your work. Are you a racist? Do you intend to insert racism into your story? If not, then screw em. The burden of proof is on the accusers. Defy them to find the racism. Dont wave a white flag at the very uttering of the word.

Putputt
04-24-2014, 12:05 PM
The bad news is he said, as kindly as he could that beyond that culture, he didn't see a market for it. Just starting to get it out there but we'll see if he's right.

Hmm, as a big fan of Hosseini's books, I really hope your professor's wrong. :D

Cathy C
04-24-2014, 03:05 PM
Given the number of agents deliberately looking for such books, I doubt that the "snub" is racially motivated.

Agents don't care as much about an author as they care that the book is good. Any number of offensive, rude, socially inept authors nonetheless write good books; agents and editors know this.

QFT. I'm trying to think of a time when my agent or editor asked whether I was white, or how old I was, or my heritage. I didn't meet them in person until I'd worked with them for over a year, and they didn't have a photograph of me until the first book was nearing final printing. (Pre-twitter/blog/forum era). I remember the closest they got to asking my age was whether I could legally sign a contract.

The only reason I can see that an agent or editor would be concerned about a topic is whether it will sell to enough people to make the publication of it worth the money--IOW, will it resonate with enough people to get word of mouth reputation. Something I've noticed (and this is just my own personal analysis) is that some "ethnic/written from the inside of the culture" books rely on a reader's knowledge of the culture that they may not have, while some "ethnic/written from outsider looking in" books capitalize on the reader having no knowledge and therefore go into more detailed explanation of the unique cultural logic that helps the reader center themselves. One example are the Tony Hillerman mysteries featuring Navajo policeman Jim Chee. I loved those books, not just for the mystery involved, but the detailed explanation of the logic behind the characters' decisions. He commented in an interview once that it was it was the fact he grew up on a reservation as a white child that gave him the outsider's insights into the culture that he could explain to others. I have no idea how they were viewed by the actual tribal members--whether they were lauded as excellent representations, or loathed as crap. But as a reader, the mindset of the character in solving not just "who" committed the crime, but the all-important "why" was fascinating to me, because often the crime (when perpetrated by a tribal member) was for an entirely different reason than I expected. On the other hand, the Walter Moseley mysteries were written from a more insider view, but with that strong outsider feel that delved into logic from outside the window, in that Easy Rawlins' world was unique to both his race and the era, so the logic of the characters was of that time and place, but Moseley explained it in a way that acknowledged a reader's lack of knowledge of the MC's world. But what if Moseley had been white? Would that somehow make the books any less? James Patterson writes the Alex Cross thriller novels. Is he wrong to try to write an African-American MC? Patterson actually talks about writing a black male, for which he has been both lauded and loathed (http://www.examiner.com/article/james-patterson-talks-alex-cross-and-being-squeamish) and why he decided to do so. I also love those books, and the race of the character has no bearing on whether I purchase it. Would it make any difference if Patterson was black, or Asian? Not to me as a reader. :Shrug: But do I know whether the portrayal is accurate? No. I don't. I read books for the plot first, and later come to love the character on how they handle the plot and will buy a sequel. The race doesn't matter to me.

But some character logic is just too foreign for my plot expectations. Despite the critical acclaim, I HATED The No. 1 Women's Detective Agency stories. Not because it was set in Africa, and not because the characters were of a different race, but the logic made no sense to me. It may well be that the insider perspective was too inside so that it required a knowledge I didn't have. More than once I put down the book, shaking my head, only to pick it up later and try again. I never did make it to the end. What made it different? I honestly don't know.

RichardGarfinkle
04-24-2014, 03:56 PM
Do it and take the flack. The way people jump from one outrage to the next these days youll be forgotten inside of a week. Even sooner if the story doesnt contain any actual racism. The proof is always in the pudding. Its ridiculous that people back down from things just because of the possibility of being CALLED a racist. As if the mere accusation makes it so.

Have more confidence in yourself and your work. Are you a racist? Do you intend to insert racism into your story? If not, then screw em. The burden of proof is on the accusers. Defy them to find the racism. Dont wave a white flag at the very uttering of the word.

And suppose one were to take this, no doubt, dramatic and self-satisfying advice?

Suppose one simply made up stuff about a people one had not bothered to do any research about. Well, if one can't be bothered to look into such things one might as well do things the quick way, combine ones own ideas with whatever's running around in the culture about those people. No problem, hey presto, there's the book. No let them find racism in it. Let them do the work.

Suppose someone does. Suppose, someone goes through and demonstrates that, yes, this is racist. What should the author say then?

I had confidence in myself and my ideas about how those people think and live. Confidence is a substitute for research, don't you know? I wasn't going to be scared of being called a racist, so I didn't learn about the people and their lives, I had my imagination and common knowledge to go on. Does acting toward those other people are like based on what I imagine they're like combined with cultural stereotypes make me a racist?

Dropping the sarcasm for a moment. In all seriousness, the cavalier attitude toward other people's lives and cultures does in fact create and perpetuate stereotypes. To refuse to research and to respect is to glorify ignorance and contempt for others.

A story, a book, is worth the research time and effort. And characters built out of respect are more human, more realistic, more three-dimensional, than characters built out of what-everybody-knows-those-people-are-like.

Lillith1991
04-24-2014, 04:13 PM
Do it and take the flack. The way people jump from one outrage to the next these days youll be forgotten inside of a week. Even sooner if the story doesnt contain any actual racism. The proof is always in the pudding. Its ridiculous that people back down from things just because of the possibility of being CALLED a racist. As if the mere accusation makes it so.

Have more confidence in yourself and your work. Are you a racist? Do you intend to insert racism into your story? If not, then screw em. The burden of proof is on the accusers. Defy them to find the racism. Dont wave a white flag at the very uttering of the word.

Oh, good lord. This post right here, so many things to dispute but they all consolidate into one thing. A peoples culture is their baby! If you write about a culture you better have a damn sight more than just "common knowledge" and a desire to write a story. You have to treat the people you're writing about with respect!

You don't have the right to write whatever you damn well please about them! You can however have the privilage as long as you approach the topic with care, and compassion. As long as you portray a story that would resonate with the people it's about, not just a white audience or one of other ethnic groups.

Wilde_at_heart
04-24-2014, 05:56 PM
Of course not. But it's not like we aren't telling our own stories.

While these conversations are always coming back to outsiders arguing for a right to tell them.

When the conversation was never supposed to be about that in the first place.

...

And no, you do not have that right.

But you can have that privilege if you are willing to carry the responsibility that comes with it.

I have to admit that I was long-reluctant to crack open Life of Pi because it was written by a non-Indian. I'm not interested myself in writing 'other people's stories' as such, and as a reader I'm not terribly keen on them either. Even if they are well-researched, unless that person is already familiar with the culture via other means - they grew up nearby, know a lot of people who belong to it, etc. - there's still something (like some of the tweeness in LoP) that feels a bit off.

I don't take that to mean I can't write about someone else's culture (and in that sense I don't think anyone 'owns' it) but do think that if a person who doesn't 'belong' to a particular group is trying to write a story from the perspective of someone within that culture then the standard for research, etc. needs to be very high.

Even among professional anthropologists, ethnographers consider that one cannot properly study another culture without being immersed in it for a significant length of time. And these days, unfortunately, 'research' has a very broad definition. It's a skill in and of itself.
ETA: However the larger and more diverse a 'culture' is, the more leeway a writer has. Considering Cathy's point above, 'African-American' covers a wide range of people. And an American author is still going to be closer to his subject matter than if he was from, say, Northern Italy or Saskatoon.

snafu1056
04-25-2014, 03:07 AM
So then all historical fiction is out because none of us has ever been to the past. It should probably just be left to the historians. History belongs to them, and dopey fiction writers have no right to write about stuff they dont understand.

Wilde_at_heart
04-25-2014, 03:25 AM
So then all historical fiction is out because none of us has ever been to the past. It should probably just be left to the historians. History belongs to them, and dopey fiction writers have no right to write about stuff they dont understand.

Hist fic is one of those things where if you don't do your research to where you can show you're reasonably familiar with the era, the people who read a lot of that stuff will think you're an idiot. Same with medical thrillers, police procedurals, etc.

Lillith1991
04-25-2014, 03:42 AM
Hist fic is one of those things where if you don't do your research to where you can show you're reasonably familiar with the era, the people who read a lot of that stuff will think you're an idiot. Same with medical thrillers, police procedurals, etc.

And with things having to do with culture as well. You tell me something about khmer culture I know isn't right, and use just the monolith of asia slapping the name Cambodia on it. Me, yiey(my cousins grandma), and my cousins are all going wonder what idiot wrote this.

Same with things written about African Americans for me. Or Jamaican culture for my sisters best friend, Haitian culture for my nieces dad. We're all some variation of black, but the culture is different because of our histories.

kuwisdelu
04-25-2014, 04:00 AM
So then all historical fiction is out because none of us has ever been to the past. It should probably just be left to the historians. History belongs to them, and dopey fiction writers have no right to write about stuff they dont understand.

Did you actually read the thread? And try to understand what was being said rather than make assumptions?

Sunflowerrei
04-25-2014, 05:01 AM
I came across this blog post today on Twitter, written by YA author Malinda Lo. Seemed relevant to this thread: Should white people write about people of color? (http://www.malindalo.com/2014/04/should-white-people-write-about-people-of-color/)

Hapax Legomenon
04-25-2014, 06:35 AM
I came across this blog post today on Twitter, written by YA author Malinda Lo. Seemed relevant to this thread: Should white people write about people of color? (http://www.malindalo.com/2014/04/should-white-people-write-about-people-of-color/)

hmm...


On the other hand, if you’re terrified of writing outside your culture, you don’t have to.

Interesting.

Roxxsmom
04-27-2014, 02:39 AM
So then all historical fiction is out because none of us has ever been to the past. It should probably just be left to the historians. History belongs to them, and dopey fiction writers have no right to write about stuff they dont understand.

I think there's a difference when you're trying to portray an extant culture and you mess up royally than in writing a historic novel where you get some details wrong. Consider that members of minority groups within a country like the US, or members of non-western cultures, are often stereotyped and misunderstood, when they're acknowledged to exist at all. It hurts to see something that's integral to your values or experience made light of or misrepresented, especially when said misrepresentations have been used (or are still being used) as a justification for lowering your status. I don't think historians feel the same kind of pain when someone portrays medieval European eating potatoes and smoking tobacco. Annoyance or bemusement, perhaps, but not pain.

No one in this thread has said one shouldn't write other cultures, simply that they should do the appropriate research and run it by readers who personally understand that culture. And of course to learn from any negative feedback they receive. I find the specter of getting things wrong frightening too. I write secondary world fantasy, so I make up my cultures. I'd like to say it's from scratch, but that would be a lie, as my perceptions of real-world cultures drive my choices consciously and subconsciously.

Ken
04-27-2014, 04:04 AM
Avril Lavigne's new video, "Hello Kitty."
Goes with the topic under discussion of appropriation:

http://www.tmz.com/2014/04/25/japan-embassy-avril-lavigne-music-video-hello-kitty/

J.S.F.
04-27-2014, 07:09 AM
Avril Lavigne's new video, "Hello Kitty."
Goes with the topic under discussion of appropriation:

http://www.tmz.com/2014/04/25/japan-embassy-avril-lavigne-music-video-hello-kitty/

---

Well, that's three minutes and twenty-two seconds of my life that I'll never get back. The song itself isn't racist. In my opinion, it's dumb as all get out, but I don't think it's racist. (Not saying that you said so, Ken, just saying in general).

Is it appropriation? Whatever, singers are going to take from other cultures and use them. So are writers and artists and so on. No one really bitched about it when Paul Simon released Graceland. That's because it was good and that's the whole point. If it were shit, if what others 'take' and subsequently shit on, then yes, outrage should be shown. But if it's done with with good intent and results, then I'm in favor of it.

Lillith1991
04-27-2014, 10:54 AM
The only way to do that would be to show respect for the culture you're portraying, and write them accurately. Without romancing them and turning them into stereotypes. To not treat them as monoliths of just Native American, Middle Eastern, Asian etc.

And that's the problem with a lot of appropriation. It treats such groups like monoliths. Assumes Sioux culture and Navajo are the same. That a black woman from Jamaica has the same one as someone that's descended from slaves freed after the civil war in the US. Not all African Americans are Nigerian, but all US citizens with Nigerian ancestry are technically African American.

crunchyblanket
04-27-2014, 03:07 PM
Our rites of passage and initiation into a kiva is an example of this category. I can't describe what happens. Yet if I'm writing a coming-of-age novel based on my experience, that experience is going to be part of it. So I have to find a respectful way to incorporate it while writing around the ceremonies themselves, which I can't describe.

...

Anyone who wants to accuse me to racism or elitism or saying white people can't write about certain things should try to understand just how terrified I am of accidentally writing my own culture disrespectfully.

And how long it's taken me to feel confident enough to try at all.


Romani culture is the same. There's a real difficulty among Romani writers in knowing just how much information to give away. Historically and culturally, mistrust of gadje (non-Romani) is absolutely ingrained into the culture, for good reason, but the outcome is that talking about Romani culture and revealing details to outsiders is a bit of a taboo.

I'm part-Roma, and raised outside of the culture - I have no Romanipen, therefore I don't truly believe I have the right to write from a Romani perspective (and, being an insular culture, most Roma would agree with me.) This being so, I'd imagine that a lot of Roma would be quite cross with a gadje writer presuming to represent them.

(That's not to say it should never be done. But the Roma are a very misunderstood, marginalised group of people, and the sheer amount of sensitivity and knowledge required to write properly and accurately would be a lot to ask.)

Ken
04-27-2014, 03:40 PM
Well, that's three minutes and twenty-two seconds of my life that I'll never get back.

The MC of my next project is going to be Japanese. Slowly working up to that by doing research here and there. This video was perhaps not the best start. lol ;-)

Still kinda enjoyed the video. Uncomfortable scenes in the video, aside, it's neat when two cultures are intertwined making for good vibes and a better world.

Plus, I like Hello Kitty ^..^

Maze Runner
04-27-2014, 07:26 PM
QFT. I'm trying to think of a time when my agent or editor asked whether I was white, or how old I was, or my heritage. I didn't meet them in person until I'd worked with them for over a year, and they didn't have a photograph of me until the first book was nearing final printing. (Pre-twitter/blog/forum era). I remember the closest they got to asking my age was whether I could legally sign a contract.

The only reason I can see that an agent or editor would be concerned about a topic is whether it will sell to enough people to make the publication of it worth the money--IOW, will it resonate with enough people to get word of mouth reputation. Something I've noticed (and this is just my own personal analysis) is that some "ethnic/written from the inside of the culture" books rely on a reader's knowledge of the culture that they may not have, while some "ethnic/written from outsider looking in" books capitalize on the reader having no knowledge and therefore go into more detailed explanation of the unique cultural logic that helps the reader center themselves. One example are the Tony Hillerman mysteries featuring Navajo policeman Jim Chee. I loved those books, not just for the mystery involved, but the detailed explanation of the logic behind the characters' decisions. He commented in an interview once that it was it was the fact he grew up on a reservation as a white child that gave him the outsider's insights into the culture that he could explain to others. I have no idea how they were viewed by the actual tribal members--whether they were lauded as excellent representations, or loathed as crap. But as a reader, the mindset of the character in solving not just "who" committed the crime, but the all-important "why" was fascinating to me, because often the crime (when perpetrated by a tribal member) was for an entirely different reason than I expected. On the other hand, the Walter Moseley mysteries were written from a more insider view, but with that strong outsider feel that delved into logic from outside the window, in that Easy Rawlins' world was unique to both his race and the era, so the logic of the characters was of that time and place, but Moseley explained it in a way that acknowledged a reader's lack of knowledge of the MC's world. But what if Moseley had been white? Would that somehow make the books any less? James Patterson writes the Alex Cross thriller novels. Is he wrong to try to write an African-American MC? Patterson actually talks about writing a black male, for which he has been both lauded and loathed (http://www.examiner.com/article/james-patterson-talks-alex-cross-and-being-squeamish) and why he decided to do so. I also love those books, and the race of the character has no bearing on whether I purchase it. Would it make any difference if Patterson was black, or Asian? Not to me as a reader. :Shrug: But do I know whether the portrayal is accurate? No. I don't. I read books for the plot first, and later come to love the character on how they handle the plot and will buy a sequel. The race doesn't matter to me.

But some character logic is just too foreign for my plot expectations. Despite the critical acclaim, I HATED The No. 1 Women's Detective Agency stories. Not because it was set in Africa, and not because the characters were of a different race, but the logic made no sense to me. It may well be that the insider perspective was too inside so that it required a knowledge I didn't have. More than once I put down the book, shaking my head, only to pick it up later and try again. I never did make it to the end. What made it different? I honestly don't know.

Really an instructive and provocative post. Maybe that useful distance you speak of can be effective as long as it presents itself as just what it is. A lot to think about here...

Pup
04-27-2014, 08:56 PM
Been reading this thread with interest. I'm not sure how to comment, because personally, the idea of culture as a positive thing seems strange to me. Growing up, I felt like it consisted of more powerful people saying: think this way and do it this way or else, whether it's logical or not. Why? Because you won't be accepted by our group if you don't.

The lesson I learned was not: it's important to do things the way others do, in order to be accepted. Instead, I learned: It's important not to need acceptance by any group, otherwise you'll have to give up your identity to belong.

And yet, of course, I have a culture to some extent. I'm a white American, so I speak English, wear typical American clothes, eat typical American food, etc. Yet it seems whatever more specific "culture" I might try to be part of--regional, religious, political, social, etc.--I'm missing such a large chunk that the members would never accept me.

It makes me wonder: are some people just lucky that they naturally happen to want to do what others do? Or are they more easily able to change and go along with what others are doing?

So, on the one hand, it feels like I'm hopelessly exoticizing others if I claim: "Oh, those , they have such a strong culture, with their religion and songs and worldview that they all share in common..." Because surely there are many individuals in any group who feel like me, even if they superficially look like part of the culture from the outside.

But on the other hand, it feels like I must be hopelessly blind to how much cultural pressure has shaped me, even if I can't put a finger on one culture that I identify with, because someone from a vastly different culture would consider [I]me part of that exotic white American culture, even if I'm painfully aware of far I am from sharing enough cultural attributes with other white Americans to even carry on basic small talk about sports or music or TV.

Maze Runner
04-27-2014, 10:05 PM
It makes me wonder: are some people just lucky that they naturally happen to want to do what others do? Or are they more easily able to change and go along with what others are doing?



Lucky, in that their family/cultural lives are probably less contentious. Some go along for that reason, some don't think a contrary view worth the aggravation and possible ostracization, some just don't have many views contrary to the group they were born into. I had some pressure from the more ethnic side of my families to think a certain way, live a certain way. But I always tried to understand things for myself, and make the life choices that I truly believed in. By the way, that exotic white American culture that you speak of, to me, is just that- exotic. I see images of argyle sweaters and blazing brick fireplaces, sweet tobacco smoke flowing from an heirloom wooden pipe, all set in a sea of calm; But it's what lies underneath that is interesting, where the truth lies.

You also said: "And yet, of course, I have a culture to some extent. I'm a white American, so I speak English, wear typical American clothes, eat typical American food, etc. Yet it seems whatever more specific "culture" I might try to be part of--regional, religious, political, social, etc.--I'm missing such a large chunk that the members would never accept me."

You're right, not fully anyway, and not immediately. But neither would your culture accept me as an equal member; and why should they? I am not of that culture, I don't have the same experiences, my understanding of that life would be surface; as is evidenced by my above summation of it. But I think I understand where you're coming from??? With all the "attention" paid to minority cultures in America- not saying we shouldn't- most subcultures have had to endure quite a bit of oppression before they're acknowledged and celebrated, if they ever are- but I can easily see where a white American, who's maybe fifth or sixth or tenth or eleventh generation would feel a bit culturally short-changed in an ethnic mosaic as rich as ours. But just know that there is a price to it. There's always a price, to everything. Just look at the two groups that have been most mistreated here, I believe, Native Americans and African Americans. For all that rich culture that grew out of it, they paid, are paying a lot of dues.

kuwisdelu
04-27-2014, 11:07 PM
Been reading this thread with interest. I'm not sure how to comment, because personally, the idea of culture as a positive thing seems strange to me. Growing up, I felt like it consisted of more powerful people saying: think this way and do it this way or else, whether it's logical or not. Why? Because you won't be accepted by our group if you don't.

The lesson I learned was not: it's important to do things the way others do, in order to be accepted. Instead, I learned: It's important not to need acceptance by any group, otherwise you'll have to give up your identity to belong.

Individualism is definitely a very strong part of American culture, so much so that many Americans struggle with the idea that individualism is a distinctly American thing, and not a universally-held philosophy.

Individualism is part of the American identity to the extent that most Americans don't even realize it's part of American culture; it's simply "good"; it's simply the way things should be; any challenge to individualism is bad, and any culture that doesn't emphasize it is backward.

Not all cultures are this way, though. Native American cultures and Asian cultures tend to see standing out as a bad thing, and the community as having greater importance than the self.

As a Euro-American outsider, this can seem like a bad thing or a backward thing, but that's looking at those cultures through the lens of American values, which are not universal. Our values are different.

Another example of different values that may be easier to understand is how we evaluate someone's worth as a person. In American culture, strong emphasis is placed on material wealth, and we tend to value people with wealth more. (You may not individually, but as a culture this is very true.) Whereas in Native American cultures and Asian cultures, more worth is placed on knowledge and wisdom than material wealth (traditionally... the exportation of American culture has changed this).


And yet, of course, I have a culture to some extent. I'm a white American, so I speak English, wear typical American clothes, eat typical American food, etc. Yet it seems whatever more specific "culture" I might try to be part of--regional, religious, political, social, etc.--I'm missing such a large chunk that the members would never accept me.

America definitely has its own culture, and it has been exported around the world.

And it has its own rules for acceptance, too, but if you've fit into American culture from birth, it may be hard to see them.

The simplest example is the way we talk. American culture will reject you if you sound too "ethnic". (Southern and European accents are fine; just don't sound too Black or too Indian.)


It makes me wonder: are some people just lucky that they naturally happen to want to do what others do? Or are they more easily able to change and go along with what others are doing?

I don't think that really has anything to do with it.

Do you watch Star Wars because other people watch it, or do you watch it because you like the story?

It's the same with culture. It speaks to us, and we internalize it.

And it's not like anyone likes every single part of their own culture.

In Zuni, we have an observance called deshkwi, which is a lot like the Christian observance of lent. Depending on the time of year, it might just be that we can't buy or sell. During winter solstice, we're shi-deshkwi, which means we also can't eat meat or greasy things. In modern times, there are disagreements on the "correct" way to interpret this, and my family has stricter rules than most — in my family, "greasy" includes cooking with any kind of oil, including those made from plants.

It's a bit annoying, but I do it anyway, at least when I'm in Zuni. (On my own, I tend to screw it up at some point.)

For a sillier example, when I was young, I always found it incredibly aggravating and irritating whenever one of my aunts would say "shhhh" to get my attention (because it was usually to scold me). Yet now that I'm in college and I don't get the chance to go home as often as I'd like, and I'm thousands of miles away from other Zunis (except my mother), I was delighted to discover apparently Navajos do the same thing, and just the other day at the native center on campus, one of my Navajo friends called me "sshhh" to get my attention. It just felt like a tiny part of home.


So, on the one hand, it feels like I'm hopelessly exoticizing others if I claim: "Oh, those [insert group], they have such a strong culture, with their religion and songs and worldview that they all share in common..." Because surely there are many individuals in any group who feel like me, even if they superficially look like part of the culture from the outside.

Did you miss the whole incredibly complex identity struggle I have over being half?

I know I've mentioned it earlier in the thread.

kuwisdelu
04-27-2014, 11:15 PM
Lucky, in that their family/cultural lives are probably less contentious.

Not in the least! :)


Some go along for that reason, some don't think a contrary view worth the aggravation and possible ostracization, some just don't have many views contrary to the group they were born into.

There is plenty of contention and differences of views within a culture, too.

Just look at how many Christians disagree over how to interpret their own religion!

My own family has always been a little bit contrarian. People from my family were more willing to speak to anthropologists and ethnographers than most, and — especially at that time — that level of openness with outsiders was something you Just Don't Do. The identities of informants were usually kept hidden, because of the backlash those individuals could face from the community. Did that make them any less Zuni? Of course not!


There's always a price, to everything. Just look at the two groups that have been most mistreated here, I believe, Native Americans and African Americans. For all that rich culture that grew out of it, they paid, are paying a lot of dues.

Our culture did not "grow out of" mistreatment. It has always existed.

It persevered, despite repeated attempts to erase it.

Unimportant
04-27-2014, 11:24 PM
Native American cultures and Asian cultures tend to see standing out as a bad thing, and the community as having greater importance than the self.

Kuwisdelu, am I correct in thinking that part of why Native Americans cling to their cultures and defend it against misappropriation is that for so many years it was banned from them? They weren't allowed to speak their native language, practice their religion, etc. It's what I've been told is true for the Maori in New Zealand.

kuwisdelu
04-27-2014, 11:25 PM
Avril Lavigne's new video, "Hello Kitty."
Goes with the topic under discussion of appropriation:

http://www.tmz.com/2014/04/25/japan-embassy-avril-lavigne-music-video-hello-kitty/

A few thoughts...

1. Pop culture is designed to be exported. That makes it pretty hard to appropriate Hello Kitty.

2. Japanese people in Japan know their own culture; they're surrounded by it all the time. They are the intended audience. (I don't think the song has even been released in the US?) It's not like they're going to get the wrong idea about their own culture from this music video.

3. If the music video were made for American audiences, I could see ways in which it might be appropriative. If nothing else, if I were a Japanese-American, I'd get annoyed if all people knew about Japanese culture was Hello Kitty and sushi and candy shops and assumed I loved all of those things and that they define me.

Just like I'm sure many Japanese-Americans are probably annoyed by weeaboos who come up and try to talk to them about anime.


That a black woman from Jamaica has the same one as someone that's descended from slaves freed after the civil war in the US. Not all African Americans are Nigerian, but all US citizens with Nigerian ancestry are technically African American.

That's why it was a conscious choice to name the BCC at my college the "Black Cultural Center" and not the "African American Cultural Center". We're still trying to figure out how best to rename our LGBT center.

kuwisdelu
04-27-2014, 11:30 PM
Kuwisdelu, am I correct in thinking that part of why Native Americans cling to their cultures and defend it against misappropriation is that for so many years it was banned from them? They weren't allowed to speak their native language, practice their religion, etc. It's what I've been told is true for the Maori in New Zealand.

"Cling to their cultures" sounds so... not right to me.

We don't cling to our cultures. We have them. Simple.

As for the attempts to "kill the Indian; save the man"... I don't think it's a huge reason for why we want to defend our cultures from appropriation, but it does add insult to injury when it happens.

There are enough reasons why appropriation is harmful now.

Did you know I grew up thinking I was less Indian because white authors always describe Indians as "black-eyed" and I have brown eyes? It's not even possible to have truly black eyes...

Do you know how embarrassing it is to describe a Native American story or tradition I learned in a book as a child, only to later learn the white author made it up or got it completely wrong?

And don't get me started on Halloween costumes and sports mascots...

Maze Runner
04-28-2014, 12:01 AM
There is plenty of contention and differences of views within a culture, too.

Just look at how many Christians disagree over how to interpret their own religion!

My own family has always been a little bit contrarian. People from my family were more willing to speak to anthropologists and ethnographers than most, and — especially at that time — that level of openness with outsiders was something you Just Don't Do. The identities of informants were usually kept hidden, because of the backlash those individuals could face from the community. Did that make them any less Zuni? Of course not!



Our culture did not "grow out of" mistreatment. It has always existed.

It persevered, despite repeated attempts to erase it.

Christianity is a culture? Do New York City Catholics belong to the same culture as Southern Baptists, or Evangelical Christians with other ethnic backgrounds, and from other parts of the country?

Didn't say contrary beliefs or actions would make anyone less ______, but that it could lead to friction within their culture, which is what you seem to be saying through your example of your family doing something that you Just Don't Do.

kuwisdelu
04-28-2014, 12:06 AM
Christianity is a culture? Do New York City Catholics belong to the same culture as Southern Baptists, or Evangelical Christians with other ethnic backgrounds, and from other parts of the country?

It's many cultures. Since they share a holy text, I was using it as an example of how disagreement is still possible even when you have a common set of "rules".


Didn't say contrary beliefs or actions would make anyone less ______, but that it could lead to friction within their culture, which is what you seem to be saying through your example of your family doing something that you Just Don't Do.

Yeah, but that's something that will always exist in any society.

Ken
04-28-2014, 12:08 AM
(I don't think the song has even been released in the US?)

Important point I hadn't considered.

Lillith1991
04-28-2014, 12:15 AM
Did you miss the whole incredibly complex identity struggle I have over being half?

I know I've mentioned it earlier in the thread.

And me, and other mixed people in this thread have as well. I know me and you certainly mentioned it.



That's why it was a conscious choice to name the BCC at my college the "Black Cultural Center" and not the "African American Cultural Center". We're still trying to figure out how best to rename our LGBT center. I like your college a lot for this. It's a progressive step towards not seeing black culture as just African American culture.


Did you know I grew up thinking I was less Indian because white authors always describe Indians as "black-eyed" and I have brown eyes? It's not even possible to have truly black eyes...

Do you know how embarrassing it is to describe a Native American story or tradition I learned in a book as a child, only to later learn the white author made it up or got it completely wrong?

And don't get me started on Halloween costumes and sports mascots...

I imagine it's equally as embarassing as reading about folk tales important to the black community, and telling an elder to show them what you learned. Only to find out the author got the story wrong when your aunt tells you it the way it was meant to be told. Or thinking the book about Frederick Douglas or Harriette Tubman was great only to find out a lot was glossed over or just plain wrong. Humilliation doesn't even begin to describe it.

kuwisdelu
04-28-2014, 12:25 AM
Important point I hadn't considered.

Yeah, I think audience is an important factor, particularly when you're considering race internationally.

Here are some reactions from Japanese fans (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/25/avril-lavigne-japanese-fans_n_5214572.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment).

I remember people in the US were upset when white actors played Asian characters in Cloud Atlas, but this didn't seem to bother audiences in Asia. Because audiences in Asia are used to seeing Asian actors starring in Asian movies — but Asian Americans are not used to seeing Asian Americans starring in Hollywood movies, so there is a strong desire for more diverse castings in Hollywood films.

With "Hello Kitty," I think it's reasonable to expect that Japanese people in Japan, and Japanese Americans (and Japanese Canadians), might feel differently about it. From one perspective, it is problematic, and from another perspective, there's nothing wrong with it. I think both of those perspectives are valid.

But I think it's always best to assume good intentions until proven otherwise.

kuwisdelu
04-28-2014, 12:28 AM
I like your college a lot for this. It's a progressive step towards not seeing black culture as just African American culture.

Any thoughts on the LGBT center? I don't like the alphabet soup approach, and neither does the current director. I think his own idea was something along the lines of "Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity", which I like.


I imagine it's equally as embarassing as reading about folk tales important to the black community, and telling an elder to show them what you learned. Only to find out the author got the story wrong when your aunt tells you it the way it was meant to be told. Or thinking the book about Frederick Douglas or Harriette Tubman was great only to find out a lot was glossed over or just plain wrong. Humilliation doesn't even begin to describe it.

Yup.

My favorite Disney movie is The Lion King. I won't even watch Pocahontas.

(And even The Lion King has its problematic hyenas....)

Lillith1991
04-28-2014, 12:48 AM
Any thoughts on the LGBT center? I don't like the alphabet soup approach, and neither does the current director. I think his own idea was something along the lines of "Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity", which I like. I like that name. It's very inclusive. I personally would go with that one.




Yup.

My favorite Disney movie is The Lion King. I won't even watch Pocahontas.

(And even The Lion King has its problematic hyenas....)

My mother greatly dislikes the movie Pocahontas. She thinks it's one of the most racist movies she's ever had the displeasure of having come across, and regrets letting me and my sister watch it as children. Never mind how much she dislikes books like Brother Eagle, Sister Sky, or classics like Last of The Mohicans.

When we were little she had a hard time finding better books, but she hates them now that we're grown and she doesn't have to tolerate the flaws.

Contrast that with my sister who doesn't care if her kids watch Pocahontas, and whoes half Khmer sons have never been taken to the Khmer temple near our house to be blessed, or half Haitian daughter barely speaks any creol at 6. It's amazing to think the two are related.

kuwisdelu
04-28-2014, 01:28 AM
Or thinking the book about Frederick Douglas or Harriette Tubman was great only to find out a lot was glossed over or just plain wrong. Humilliation doesn't even begin to describe it.

Another thought: along with all the other lies about Thanksgiving, they don't teach you in school that Tisquantum (Squanto) is regarded by his tribe as an untrustworthy opportunist and a traitor to his people.

Pup
04-28-2014, 01:51 AM
Did you miss the whole incredibly complex identity struggle I have over being half?

I know I've mentioned it earlier in the thread.

That's in part what intrigued me. It seems the strongest yearning to be part of a culture comes from those who feel they're not fully part of it.

Are there people who feel they are completely, centrally accepted by and immersed in a culture? Or is culture something that seems strongest from the outside looking in, but to insiders, it's more fractured, with exceptions and subgroups and changes and disagreements? Like for example what bookmaker wrote:


Christianity is a culture? Do New York City Catholics belong to the same culture as Southern Baptists, or Evangelical Christians with other ethnic backgrounds, and from other parts of the country?

If there are those who do feel they're centrally immersed in a culture, I wonder if they have a strong need to feel that way and therefore interpret the world to suit that need, seeing themselves as a "true" member of [insert culture] while others are variations of that culture: a real-life "no true Scotsman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman)" worldview.

Lillith1991
04-28-2014, 01:56 AM
Another thought: along with all the other lies about Thanksgiving, they don't teach you in school that Tisquantum (Squanto) is regarded by his tribe as an untrustworthy opportunist and a traitor to his people.

Yes! The thankgiving story has always frustrated me.

kuwisdelu
04-28-2014, 02:25 AM
That's in part what intrigued me. It seems the strongest yearning to be part of a culture comes from those who feel they're not fully part of it.

Or not part of it at all.

I don't know why non-Indians feel so compelled to "play Indian".

I like Japanese culture, but I don't put on a kimono and "play Japanese".

(I went to a Bon festival with a Japanese friend last summer, and I joked about finding a yukata to wear. I was surprised at how many white people actually did come dressed in yukata. Okay. But what was just plain offensive was how many white people came dressed like ninjas and anime characters. Now I love cosplay, but there's a time and a place for it, and Obon is not it.)

I wouldn't say I yearn to be part of Zuni culture.

I am part of it. But yes, my relationship to it is complex and conflicted.


Are there people who feel they are completely, centrally accepted by and immersed in a culture? Or is culture something that seems strongest from the outside looking in, but to insiders, it's more fractured, with exceptions and subgroups and changes and disagreements?

I'm struggling here, because we can only have this conversation at all due to colonialism and imperialism.

If I were born several hundred years ago, what we are calling "culture" now would just be "everyday life".

Even today, so much of what people call "culture" is just "everyday life". It's the stories we grew up with. It's the things we know are sacred. It's the way we think about things.

The thanksgiving myth is ingrained in American culture. The revolutionary war is our creation story. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are among our sacred texts. Individualism is among our greatest moral values.

These are culture, too, that you probably never really bother thinking about, because you're immersed in it. How strong does it seem to you?


If there are those who do feel they're centrally immersed in a culture, I wonder if they have a strong need to feel that way and therefore interpret the world to suit that need, seeing themselves as a "true" member of [insert culture] while others are variations of that culture: a real-life "no true Scotsman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_true_Scotsman)" worldview.

Well, that certainly happens, but it's really just a by-product of colonialism, an after-effect of imperialism.

If you're part of a culture, it's usually not because you have a strong "need" to feel that way. It's just what you are. You don't interpret the world to "suit that need". It does affect how you see the world, because our identities always affect how we see the world. Whether that's man or woman or race or whatever.

Perhaps gender is a good analogy. If you're cis, born male or female, do you have a strong need to feel male or female and therefore interpret the world to suit that need?

These questions don't quite make sense, unless you're born trans, and then they take on a different kind of meaning, a troublesome kind of meaning.

Ken
04-28-2014, 05:00 AM
Yeah, I think audience is an important factor, particularly when you're considering race internationally.

Here are some reactions from Japanese fans (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/25/avril-lavigne-japanese-fans_n_5214572.html?utm_hp_ref=entertainment).

I remember people in the US were upset when white actors played Asian characters in Cloud Atlas, but this didn't seem to bother audiences in Asia. Because audiences in Asia are used to seeing Asian actors starring in Asian movies — but Asian Americans are not used to seeing Asian Americans starring in Hollywood movies, so there is a strong desire for more diverse castings in Hollywood films.

With "Hello Kitty," I think it's reasonable to expect that Japanese people in Japan, and Japanese Americans (and Japanese Canadians), might feel differently about it. From one perspective, it is problematic, and from another perspective, there's nothing wrong with it. I think both of those perspectives are valid.

But I think it's always best to assume good intentions until proven otherwise.

That's gotta be very flattering for an artist to be appreciated in another country. Especially one they're personally into. Avril, "spends half her time in Tokyo." I agree with assuming good intent, though that's sometimes easier said than done for me. I also have a sense of camaraderie with artists of all sorts. So even when they mess up at times and do something wrong I still will hesitate to condemn them for it. Writing, etc, is difficult too. There are so many ways you can mess up. And the reading public will be scrutinizing every word you write trying to find something faulty. Today it's Avril. Tomorrow it's one of us. But of course there are lines that shouldn't be crossed. Having genuine good intent is a definite plus.

Unimportant
04-28-2014, 06:09 AM
"Cling to their cultures" sounds so... not right to me.

We don't cling to our cultures. We have them. Simple.
Yes, thanks for the correction. That was poor word choice on my part. I think I meant more "feel a sense of ownership" that the average white person doesn't experience to the same degree, since theirs is the mainstream and has always been accepted.

kuwisdelu
04-28-2014, 06:22 AM
Yes, thanks for the correction. That was poor word choice on my part. I think I meant more "feel a sense of ownership" that the average white person doesn't experience to the same degree, since theirs is the mainstream and has always been accepted.

For me at least, that it was historically taken away from us, just adds insult to injury.

I think what matters most is how it still impacts us today. The "Stories about Historical Inaccuracy and Racism" and "Stories about Popular Media and Racism" on this page (http://www.oyate.org/index.php/resources/45-resources/living-stories) really show how fiction can continue to harm us.

Roxxsmom
04-28-2014, 10:39 AM
And yet, of course, I have a culture to some extent. I'm a white American, so I speak English, wear typical American clothes, eat typical American food, etc. Yet it seems whatever more specific "culture" I might try to be part of--regional, religious, political, social, etc.--I'm missing such a large chunk that the members would never accept me.

It makes me wonder: are some people just lucky that they naturally happen to want to do what others do? Or are they more easily able to change and go along with what others are doing?

So, on the one hand, it feels like I'm hopelessly exoticizing others if I claim: "Oh, those , they have such a strong culture, with their religion and songs and worldview that they all share in common..." Because surely there are many individuals in any group who feel like me, even if they superficially look like part of the culture from the outside.

But on the other hand, it feels like I must be hopelessly blind to how much cultural pressure has shaped me, even if I can't put a finger on one culture that I identify with, because someone from a vastly different culture would consider [I]me part of that exotic white American culture, even if I'm painfully aware of far I am from sharing enough cultural attributes with other white Americans to even carry on basic small talk about sports or music or TV.

I'm an nth generation white American--mix of British and German background, but absolutely no real connection with those cultures or anyone back in the mother countries, and I know exactly how you feel. I don't really feel like I have a culture or people, exactly. I'm not even religious, and my life has been defined more by marching to the beat of my own drummer and by affiliating with people based on mutual interests and hobbies, not the actual cultural background they come from. I actually take pride in being outside of mainstream US culture (whatever that is) in many ways.

I maintain contact with the family members with whom I get along and limit my contact with the ones with whom I don't. I don't have any strong desire or feel any strong pressure to associate with someone I don't like just because they're my family, let alone simply because they share my heritage.

I know my white Anglo-Saxon/Germanic Protestantness has still shaped me in many ways, but I can't say exactly what those ways are. I don't even speak German and can't tell an authentic Oktoberfest celebration from a culturally appropriated excuse to gorge on beer and pretzels. I know a bit more about British culture, but that's mainly because we have some friends of the family who are English and I've been over there a few times. But I have no idea what parts of England and Scotland my ancestors came from. I don't even have my ancestry in the US traced all the way back to whenever the various people showed up.

But I'm thinking that maybe forgetting one's roots is different when you're a product (and beneficiary) of that dominant culture and the privileges it confers to people like me with white skin and Germanic or British sounding surnames. And I'm pretty sure the loss of my roots, so to speak, was at least partially a choice on the part of my ancestors, not because someone took them from their home or stole their land or forced them to go to a school where they were punished for practicing their own faith etc.

Pup
04-28-2014, 12:18 PM
If I were born several hundred years ago, what we are calling "culture" now would just be "everyday life".

Even today, so much of what people call "culture" is just "everyday life". It's the stories we grew up with. It's the things we know are sacred. It's the way we think about things.

The thanksgiving myth is ingrained in American culture. The revolutionary war is our creation story. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are among our sacred texts. Individualism is among our greatest moral values.

These are culture, too, that you probably never really bother thinking about, because you're immersed in it. How strong does it seem to you?

If culture is everyday life (and I do think it is), then it raises the question, how can anything beyond the invisible stuff be culture? In other words, each person is what they are. Any conscious desire to be a part of something else is part of one's culture--white people wanting to adopt or appropriate parts of Indian or Japanese is "cool" in some segments of modern American white culture, for example. The wanting is part of the culture.

It's ironic you mention the specific things above, because I do spend a lot of time thinking about those things--literally hours a day. I was discussing the changing white attitudes toward slavery between the Declaration of Independence and the 1830s, and the moral and economic motives for those changes, just yesterday. I'm probably going to offend some people this weekend because I'm not going to spin history to make white people look good.


If you're part of a culture, it's usually not because you have a strong "need" to feel that way. It's just what you are. You don't interpret the world to "suit that need". It does affect how you see the world, because our identities always affect how we see the world. Whether that's man or woman or race or whatever.

Perhaps gender is a good analogy. If you're cis, born male or female, do you have a strong need to feel male or female and therefore interpret the world to suit that need?

These questions don't quite make sense, unless you're born trans, and then they take on a different kind of meaning, a troublesome kind of meaning.

Actually, I think those questions do make sense. I live in a redneck area, where men are expected to act like men. It may be changing among the younger generation, but I expect that the older generation, at least, wants to believe that all the non-manly-men are out in San Francisco or someplace, because there are certainly none around here. And if there are, well, they're not true representatives of this area.

That's how I picture culture being enforced. As long as such people can hold sway, the non-manly-men either act as the "leaders" want, to fit in, or leave. In a totally different way, my grandmother was from a superstitious back-in-the-hills culture and she tried to instill superstitions in me. There were some things you didn't dare do for no logical reason other than because she said so, and to the extent she had social dominance, she could enforce that people not do those things, in the same way those things had been enforced on her.


I'm an nth generation white American--mix of British and German background, but absolutely no real connection with those cultures or anyone back in the mother countries, and I know exactly how you feel.

Yep.


But I'm thinking that maybe forgetting one's roots is different when you're a product (and beneficiary) of that dominant culture and the privileges it confers to people like me with white skin and Germanic or British sounding surnames. And I'm pretty sure the loss of my roots, so to speak, was at least partially a choice on the part of my ancestors, not because someone took them from their home or stole their land or forced them to go to a school where they were punished for practicing their own faith etc.

I agree. Though if culture is the invisible things, can a voluntary choice to "lose" one's culture really be a loss? One still has all those invisible things, except they're just different, but they'd be different if one remained at home, too. If English families chose to come to America and form a unique culture here, it's not like they could return to England a hundred years later and find nothing changed there. Culture would have been changing in England too, but in different ways.

Obviously that doesn't apply to having one's culture involuntarily taken away.

That brings up the question: how does culture change voluntarily, in a positive way? Which really does bring it sort of back on topic: Who owns culture, to be able to say it should or shouldn't change voluntarily?

People have a tendency to look back at the old days and assume everything was static in some vague "back then" period, yet whenever I've studied a period in detail, it seems to have been changing as much as ever. So I'm skeptical when people say that there's a certain [insert region or ethnic group] culture, as if it's a monolithic static thing.

Again, that's a different circumstance from when one group deliberately dominates another to change them against their will.

kuwisdelu
04-28-2014, 12:51 PM
If culture is everyday life (and I do think it is), then it raises the question, how can anything beyond the invisible stuff be culture?

I don't know what you mean by "the invisible stuff".


That brings up the question: how does culture change voluntarily, in a positive way?

When a culture changes of its own accord, I don't think it can really be called positive or negative. Change just is. We are always in the process of becoming.


Which really does bring it sort of back on topic: Who owns culture, to be able to say it should or shouldn't change voluntarily?

The people who are of the culture own the culture.

Do you feel comfortable calling a culture yours? Truly?

If not, then it probably isn't.


People have a tendency to look back at the old days and assume everything was static in some vague "back then" period, yet whenever I've studied a period in detail, it seems to have been changing as much as ever. So I'm skeptical when people say that there's a certain [insert region or ethnic group] culture, as if it's a monolithic static thing.

I think this is particularly a problem for Native Americans and other aboriginal peoples, since the dominant culture tends to relegate us to history. Many people still find it difficult to believe we exist in the here and now, and will continue exist into the future.

Lillith1991
04-28-2014, 01:10 PM
I think this is particularly a problem for Native Americans and other aboriginal peoples, since the dominant culture tends to relegate us to history. Many people still find it difficult to believe we exist in the here and now, and will continue exist into the future.

Yup! Deffinitly a problem. But it's a problem perpetuated by ignorance, some lf it willful in nature. People refuse to see what's in front of them. Thinking native cultures magically went poof at the turn of the 20th century if not sooner.

Cathy C
04-28-2014, 02:34 PM
I don't know what you mean by "the invisible stuff".

The invisible stuff that I think Pup is referring to is the, for want of a better term, "spiritual" aspect of a culture. Not religion, per se, but that's part of it. So, using the Zuni culture as an example, let's say two siblings of Zuni heritage were born to parents who had actively distanced themselves from the family, moved to an urban area, never taught the language and never taught the children anything of their heritage. One child grew up with no desire to reconnect with that side of his lineage. They married outside the tribe and have fully assimilated into the urban American experience happily. The other also married outside the tribe but their non-Zuni spouse encouraged them to get in touch with their heritage. So the two of them learned the language as best they could, got in touch with family members living on the ancestral tribal lands, bought the house where one of the parents grew up (but never moved there), researched the religion and adopted as many of the mannerisms that they could while still living in suburbia.

In your mind, is either child part of the Zuni culture?


When a culture changes of its own accord, I don't think it can really be called positive or negative. Change just is. We are always in the process of becoming.

True enough.



The people who are of the culture own the culture.


Do you feel comfortable calling a culture yours? Truly?

If not, then it probably isn't.

Hence my question above. This is where I struggle with a culture being more than desire to belong.


I think this is particularly a problem for Native Americans and other aboriginal peoples, since the dominant culture tends to relegate us to history. Many people still find it difficult to believe we exist in the here and now, and will continue exist into the future.

The reason for this, in my mind, is two-fold: First is that much of the here-and-now activity occurs on lands mostly closed to casual observation. We, as non-tribal members, simply don't see everyday life. Second is tourism. What we do see are festival activities, museums and shops that highlight the past, rather than the present. It's a revenue stream for the tribe, to be sure, but it does provide a higher emphasis on the flashy aspect--so that's all many visitors know exists. :Shrug:

Pup
04-28-2014, 07:57 PM
I don't know what you mean by "the invisible stuff".

I meant the same kinds of things you were referring to: "These are culture, too, that you probably never really bother thinking about, because you're immersed in it." In my case it wouldn't be the particular things you named, but more like... it's hard to name things because of course they're things one doesn't think of... but the style of clothes I wear (T shirt and jeans), the food I eat (easy-to-find "American" versions of foods), etc. I mean all the everyday stuff one takes for granted.


When a culture changes of its own accord, I don't think it can really be called positive or negative. Change just is. We are always in the process of becoming.

I agree. I used "positive" to distinguish it from the negative experience that occurs when one culture forces another to change. But neutral is better, because for any change, some members of a culture will say it's better, some will say it's worse, and some will adopt it so naturally they won't even notice.


The people who are of the culture own the culture.

Do you feel comfortable calling a culture yours? Truly?

If not, then it probably isn't.

I think that's a good way to sum it up, because it covers both angles. Some people will be bolder about claiming a culture as theirs, and some people will be more central to a culture, so any given person might not call a culture theirs for any combination of those two reasons.

I score low on both points, so I wouldn't claim any culture to be mine, though others might assign me a culture, looking from the outside.


I think this is particularly a problem for Native Americans and other aboriginal peoples, since the dominant culture tends to relegate us to history. Many people still find it difficult to believe we exist in the here and now, and will continue exist into the future.

And the problem is further compounded by even the concept of historical culture being a mishmash of different eras. Traditional culture of 1700 was different from 1400 was different from 1900.

kuwisdelu
04-28-2014, 11:19 PM
The invisible stuff that I think Pup is referring to is the, for want of a better term, "spiritual" aspect of a culture. Not religion, per se, but that's part of it. So, using the Zuni culture as an example, let's say two siblings of Zuni heritage were born to parents who had actively distanced themselves from the family, moved to an urban area, never taught the language and never taught the children anything of their heritage. One child grew up with no desire to reconnect with that side of his lineage. They married outside the tribe and have fully assimilated into the urban American experience happily. The other also married outside the tribe but their non-Zuni spouse encouraged them to get in touch with their heritage. So the two of them learned the language as best they could, got in touch with family members living on the ancestral tribal lands, bought the house where one of the parents grew up (but never moved there), researched the religion and adopted as many of the mannerisms that they could while still living in suburbia.

In your mind, is either child part of the Zuni culture?

I honestly can't answer that.

It's impossible to say what's in the heart based on hypotheticals.

They both could be.

But blood is neither enough to include nor exclude you, IMO.

I'm saying if you're "part", then immerse yourself until you're confident enough to call it your own. Don't settle for being "part" anything. Be full. No matter what the quantums say.

(There are some issues I have about the realism of that particular description, but I won't bother getting into that unless you're curious.)


The reason for this, in my mind, is two-fold: First is that much of the here-and-now activity occurs on lands mostly closed to casual observation. We, as non-tribal members, simply don't see everyday life. Second is tourism. What we do see are festival activities, museums and shops that highlight the past, rather than the present. It's a revenue stream for the tribe, to be sure, but it does provide a higher emphasis on the flashy aspect--so that's all many visitors know exists. :Shrug:

I'm not sure I understand: those "flashy" aspects such as our religious events and festivals are not part of the "past". They're part of now. They came to us from the past, but they're part of the present. We don't do them for tourists. We allow tourists to participate.

Native American authors such as Sherman Alexie tend to write contemporary fiction. They're there for anyone who wants to read. Native Americans filmmakers such as Sterlin Harjo tend to make contemporary films. They're there for anyone who wants to watch. It's the white authors and the white film makers who tend to place us in the past.

Unimportant
04-28-2014, 11:37 PM
Do you feel comfortable calling a culture yours? Truly?

If not, then it probably isn't.
I wonder if this is, in part, where the problem of clueless misappropriation can stem from? Given the fact that, by definition, half the people in this world are of below averge intelligence, there may be people who become fascinated with the 'trappings' of a culture, and hang a dreamcatcher in their window and get a feather tattooed on their butt and buy a painting of a guy sitting on a paint pony, and think it is now their culture -- and that it's okay for them to write about it.

Lillith1991
04-28-2014, 11:51 PM
I wonder if this is, in part, where the problem of clueless misappropriation can stem from? Given the fact that, by definition, half the people in this world are of below averge intelligence, there may be people who become fascinated with the 'trappings' of a culture, and hang a dreamcatcher in their window and get a feather tattooed on their butt and buy a painting of a guy sitting on a paint pony, and think it is now their culture -- and that it's okay for them to write about it.

This may be it. At least for the larger public. For the ones that know better, I'm likely to say they're just jackasses. That doesn't excuse it though, because it should be obvious they aren't a part of that culture. No matter how much a white man may like black or native culture, he will not magically become black or native. No more than I'm going to magically become white or having half-Khmer and full blooded Khmer family makes me Cambodian.

I'm more familiar with the culture than you are probably, but I don't have an automatic right to write about the culture. My ming (aunt) or cousins who are Khmer have an automatic right though, and I'm perfectly fine with that. It's part of them, not me.

Unimportant
04-28-2014, 11:56 PM
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and makes it easy to romanticize or condemn a culture -- and then use it, thinly veiled, in fiction. It's an easy trap to fall into, particularly for beginning writers who are so engaged in writing a story they themselves love that they forget -- or are unaware of -- the wider ramifications and the responsibilities that storytellers have.

kuwisdelu
04-29-2014, 12:04 AM
Hence the title of this thread. I think by and large most people know if they're writing about another culture. I think they figure "no one owns culture" and therefore they have no responsibility to respect the people who do, in fact, own it.

Unimportant
04-29-2014, 06:14 AM
Hence the title of this thread. I think by and large most people know if they're writing about another culture. I think they figure "no one owns culture" and therefore they have no responsibility to respect the people who do, in fact, own it.
I think there is also room for the existence of a subset of writers who know they are writing about another culture but who figure "the people of that culture own their culture but so do I. Because I love/admire their culture so much, I feel like I'm kind of part of it,so therefore I am sure they would give me special dispensation to write about it. In fact I'm so sure I don't even need to ask them."

sciencewarrior
04-29-2014, 06:31 PM
I used to share this kind of ethical concern, but the reason I dislike using another culture's trappings as window dressing nowadays is just that it leads to poor fiction. Cultural interchange in itself is extremely positive. We don't berate a cook for "appropriating" foreign spices, or a musician for "appropriating" traditional instruments; we judge them by how well they use these elements.

kuwisdelu
04-30-2014, 12:16 AM
We don't berate a cook for "appropriating" foreign spices, or a musician for "appropriating" traditional instruments; we judge them by how well they use these elements.

Actually, I know quite a lot of people who get upset when they're served "ethnic" food that is misrepresented as authentic when it isn't.

Specifics spices? No, probably not. But I think you can certainly appropriate cuisine. Cuisine is part of culture, too.

Not food or music, but it is actually illegal to sell inauthentic American Indian arts and crafts. (http://www.iacb.doi.gov/act.html)


The Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian Tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States. For a first time violation of the Act, an individual can face civil or criminal penalties up to a $250,000 fine or a 5-year prison term, or both. If a business violates the Act, it can face civil penalties or can be prosecuted and fined up to $1,000,000.

Under the Act, an Indian is defined as a member of any federally or officially State recognized Indian Tribe, or an individual certified as an Indian artisan by an Indian Tribe.

The law covers all Indian and Indian-style traditional and contemporary arts and crafts produced after 1935. The Act broadly applies to the marketing of arts and crafts by any person in the United States. Some traditional items frequently copied by non-Indians include Indian-style jewelry, pottery, baskets, carved stone fetishes, woven rugs, kachina dolls, and clothing.

All products must be marketed truthfully regarding the Indian heritage and tribal affiliation of the producers, so as not to mislead the consumer. It is illegal to market an art or craft item using the name of a tribe if a member, or certified Indian artisan, of that tribe did not actually create the art or craft item.

I believe in "cultural copyright". That doesn't mean you can't write about cultures that aren't yours. (In case I haven't repeated it enough.)

Just as there are exceptions to copyright in IP law in terms of Fair Use, I think there are exceptions to cultural copyright in terms of "respectful use".

It's just that writing about other cultures comes with responsibilities.

Lillith1991
04-30-2014, 01:25 AM
Actually, I know quite a lot of people who get upset when they're served "ethnic" food that is misrepresented as authentic when it isn't.

Add me to the list Kuwis. I also tend to get annoyed when people try to tell me I'm wrong about where a food comes from. You tell me something Thai is Khmer I will chew you out for it.




I believe in "cultural copyright". That doesn't mean you can't write about cultures that aren't yours. (In case I haven't repeated it enough.)

Just as there are exceptions to copyright in IP law in terms of Fair Use, I think there are exceptions to cultural copyright in terms of "respectful use".

It's just that writing about other cultures comes with responsibilities.

I underlined the bolded bit for emphasis, because I agree completely with this sentiment. The mentality that "no one owns culture," absolves the writer of responsibility. The responsibility to not only write well, but portray the culture with respect. It's an excuse often used to write junk fixed with a little research.

sciencewarrior
04-30-2014, 02:42 AM
I was writing a long reply about how the Indian Arts and Crafts Act is about commercial and not cultural concerns, and how problematic creating and enforcing "cultural copyright" and "respectful use" would be, but I realized they were deviating from my actual point, which is that even poor, watered-down, "disrespectful" renditions are actually beneficial.

The first contact the average person has with another culture will be through these lazy stereotypes. And for a member of that culture, that would be infuriating at times, but that will be an opportunity to start a dialogue. From that first contact, some people will try to learn more, and that's when they will have a chance to correct misconceptions.

RichardGarfinkle
04-30-2014, 02:54 AM
I was writing a long reply about how the Indian Arts and Crafts Act is about commercial and not cultural concerns, and how problematic creating and enforcing "cultural copyright" and "respectful use" would be, but I realized they were deviating from my actual point, which is that even poor, watered-down, "disrespectful" renditions are actually beneficial.

The first contact the average person has with another culture will be through these lazy stereotypes. And for a member of that culture, that would be infuriating at times, but that will be an opportunity to start a dialogue. From that first contact, some people will try to learn more, and that's when they will have a chance to correct misconceptions.

Most stereotypes aren't just lazy. They're usually dismissive and denigrating. They often make it harder for many people to see the depicted culture and its people. Rather than starting a dialogue, they make discussion more difficult.

It's better to be a total unknown than to have people think they know all about you and be insultingly wrong.

kuwisdelu
04-30-2014, 04:35 AM
even poor, watered-down, "disrespectful" renditions are actually beneficial.

No. No they are not. They are actively harmful.

I'm on my phone now and will have to respond later but oh dear god no.

You couldn't be more wrong.

Lillith1991
04-30-2014, 04:50 AM
No. No they are not. They are actively harmful.

I'm on my phone now and will have to respond later but oh dear god no.

You couldn't be more wrong.

This this this! Activly harmful doesn't even begin to describe it.

I will be adding more later, but this is my most basic feelings on the matter.

sciencewarrior
04-30-2014, 06:46 AM
Most stereotypes aren't just lazy. They're usually dismissive and denigrating. They often make it harder for many people to see the depicted culture and its people. Rather than starting a dialogue, they make discussion more difficult.

It's better to be a total unknown than to have people think they know all about you and be insultingly wrong.

If you let yourself be insulted by well-intentioned but ignorant people, then I can see how these representations can be a huge problem. But you don't have to. You can fight the instinct to fall into a defensive posture, ask questions, discover what is the source of their misconceptions, explain why it is wrong, and at that point have people that are grateful to you for teaching something about your group.

Does it work all the time? Of course not. Some people are born jerks, and will die jerks. Some are too proud to admit they are wrong. But in my experience, most people are genuinely curious and more open-minded than you'd expect them to be.

Edit: More cultures disappear by falling into obscurity than by losing their identity. This is why I think a forced insularity isn't good for anyone. Better misunderstood, than unknown and forgotten.

slhuang
04-30-2014, 08:21 AM
If you let yourself be insulted by well-intentioned but ignorant people, then I can see how these representations can be a huge problem. But you don't have to. You can fight the instinct to fall into a defensive posture, ask questions, discover what is the source of their misconceptions, explain why it is wrong, and at that point have people that are grateful to you for teaching something about your group.

Does it work all the time? Of course not. Some people are born jerks, and will die jerks. Some are too proud to admit they are wrong. But in my experience, most people are genuinely curious and more open-minded than you'd expect them to be.


Your suggestion reads like this to me:

"Oh hey there, people who constantly get poked by sharp sticks day in and day out until you bleed because other people are ignorant that sharp sticks will hurt you. You know, if you let yourself be upset by well-intentioned but ignorant people, then I can see how that stick-poking can be a huge problem. But you don't have to. You can fight the instinct to fall into a defensive posture, ask questions, discover what is the source of their misconceptions, explain why it is wrong, and cheerfully bandage up your oozing wounds, and at that point have people that are grateful to you for teaching something about why stick-poking is painful for you and why it's bad to stab people until they bleed.

Does it work all the time? Of course not. Some people are born jerks, and will die jerks, and they'll just poke you HARDER with sticks, IN THE FACE, if you try to open a dialogue. Some are too proud to admit they are wrong. But in my experience, most people are genuinely curious and more open-minded than you'd expect them to be."

. . . can you see why this reasonable-to-you suggestion falls into the realm of "not reasonable at all" for many of the rest of us?

kuwisdelu
04-30-2014, 09:03 AM
If you let yourself be insulted by well-intentioned but ignorant people, then I can see how these representations can be a huge problem. But you don't have to. You can fight the instinct to fall into a defensive posture, ask questions, discover what is the source of their misconceptions, explain why it is wrong, and at that point have people that are grateful to you for teaching something about your group.

What do you think the source of their misconceptions are?

It's the people who feel entitled to write about us however the hell the way they want without regard to accuracy or respect. People who think like you do, they're honoring us by portraying us at all.

Guess what? No. It is not honoring us to see stereotypes of our culture. It is hurting us.


As part of my college coursework, I was in my daughter's classroom, correcting papers in the back of the room. The class was reading The Courage of Sarah Noble, and I saw my daughter squirming in her seat. So I picked up the book and saw why. As she was heading out for recess, she started to cry and told me that the kids were making fun of her and no one wanted to play with her because she was Indian. I remember she said, "Mom, the other kids won't play with me. They think what they read in the book is the way Indians are." She said they were making fun of her, saying, "Oh, she's an Indian, she's gonna scalp us and peel our skin off like the Indians in the book." All I could do was hold my daughter. I remembered reading books like this when I was her age, and I remembered my own pain....
...
Our children don't heal from this. It hurts. It doesn't stop hurting. I noticed in her art, when she would draw pictures of herself, my daughter would draw someone with blue eyes instead of someone with brown eyes. She was trying to make herself less Indian and more white. This has scarred her. My daughter's in high school now, and she still feels insecure and "less than" because she's not white. This has hurt my children and it's hurt me. It's never-ending, it's ongoing, it's continual, it's generational. It's always.

Source. (http://www.oyate.org/index.php/resources/45-resources/living-stories#parent-story)

I would far rather correct people's harmless ignorance (by not knowing anything about us at all) than their actively harmful ignorance (by "knowing" lies and fabrications about us).


Does it work all the time? Of course not. Some people are born jerks, and will die jerks. Some are too proud to admit they are wrong. But in my experience, most people are genuinely curious and more open-minded than you'd expect them to be.

Unfortunately, that's not my experience. That's not our experience.

Do we get defensive? Of course we get defensive. Because we are the ones being assaulted by harmful stereotypes that degrade us into non-humans.

What do we get when we try to tell our story? What do we get when we try to say "no, you're hurting us, please stop hurting us"?

We get told we're not important. We get told they don't want to make white people feel bad about themselves. We get told these are still important stories because even though they hurt us.


It was an insult to the culture. It was a stereotype. It made me feel insulted. And I wish that I had never told her I was Indian. I mean, I’m proud of my culture and everything. The whole school knew I was an Indian when I came into the school. I feel fine with my teachers and everything but I didn’t feel comfortable with this.

I started crying, just because I wanted to get her to stop.

She said right after I had stopped and calmed down, she said to the class, “if any of you have questions, just ask Qala.” She meant I was her little project. She was just using me as her little teaching tool. She thought that everything she was doing, she knew all about Indians, everything she was doing was right.

Source. (http://www.oyate.org/index.php/resources/45-resources/living-stories#qala)


The teacher's response was, "I can't believe you're taking this so seriously." She said, "Lighten up, it's only a book." She was acting like she was the professional and I was just a dumb parent. So I asked the principal to allow my daughter to leave the classroom while the class was reading that book. He started hollering at me, said I was implying that his staff was unprofessional, that the book would not be on the state's recommended reading list if it were not acceptable. This was the first time I had ever confronted anyone in school, and I was really intimidated. But I was doing this for my daughter. I went to the Indian parent group. We wrote a petition and gave it to the principal. We wrote a letter to the State Board of Education. But in the end, my daughter had to sit through the rest of the reading of that book in the classroom. They didn't allow her to leave. I didn't know what to do, I didn't have money to hire a lawyer. I just didn't know what else to do.

Source. (http://www.oyate.org/index.php/resources/45-resources/living-stories#parent-story)


Edit: More cultures disappear by falling into obscurity than by losing their identity. This is why I think a forced insularity isn't good for anyone. Better misunderstood, than unknown and forgotten.

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

The US government executed a campaign of genocide against the Native American peoples of this country.


The only good Indian I ever saw was dead

Source. (http://www.trivia-library.com/b/origins-of-sayings-the-only-good-indian-is-a-dead-indian.htm)


Every buffalo dead is an Indian gone.

Source. (http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2011/05/09/genocide-other-means-us-army-slaughtered-buffalo-plains-indian-wars-30798)

This was [I]policy.

When that didn't work, cultural genocide was used.

Our children were stripped away from their parents and sent to boarding schools to turn them into white people. Every piece of their culture was taken away from them. Their language was stolen. They were beaten if they spoke it. Their possessions were taken away from them. Their beliefs were stolen. They were thoroughly stripped of every last fragment of their identity. Don't you fucking tell me that obscurity is a greater threat than having your culture systematically destroyed.


Kill the Indian; save the man.

Source. (http://www.oyate.org/index.php/component/hikashop/product/739-our-spirits-don-t-speak-english-indian-boarding-school?Itemid=177)

When that still didn't work, eugenics was the answer. Our people were the targets of genocide via forced sterilization as recently as the 1960s and 1970s.

Source. (http://cbhd.org/content/forced-sterilization-native-americans-late-twentieth-century-physician-cooperation-national-)

This is but a small glimpse into what my own people have faced. It is but a tiny part of the violently ugly jigsaw puzzle of what many other peoples have faced throughout history, all across the globe. Surely you're familiar with slavery? With the Holocaust?

Today we are erased by ugly stereotypes that still reduce us to beings less than human. In sports mascots. In Halloween costumes. In children's books that still perpetuate the genocidal views that this country would like to pretend never existed.


And so we were reading it and when we got to the second chapter, it said, I’m not sure exactly what it said, that the Native Americans were sneaking around like dogs, and they picked up Caddie Woodlawn by her hair, and they were acting like dogs sniffing a bone. In another part it said that the Native Americans were massacring, murdering and scalping the pioneers and made belts out of their hair and skin. They made the pioneers seem like angels and the Native Americans seem like inhuman monsters. I felt hurt inside, my eyes were watering and I felt like I wanted to cry.

Source. (http://oyate.org/index.php/resources/45-resources/living-stories#liz)

How many times do we have to tell you "no, please, stop it, you're hurting us" before you'll listen?

How many times do we have to be erased before we're gone forever?

How many times do our children have to be inculcated with lies that make them cry and want to change their very skin?

How much pain do we have to suffer before you'll listen to our "no, no, no, no, please no, please, please, please no, please no..."

Dawnstorm
04-30-2014, 10:58 AM
I've tried to reply to this thread many times. There's something that bothers me about the ownership metaphor when it comes to culture. I certainly agree with most of the political implications (e.g. "cultural copyright"), but there's something off about the ownership metaphor.

In simplest terms, it's like this:

"This rock doesn't belong to anyone. Therefore I can pick it up and throw it at you."

The first problem I have is that the ownership metaphor treats cutlure like a thing. But culture isn't a thing. And even if it were, it wouldn't be okay to use it in hurtful ways.

Instead of seeing culture as a thing, I'd rather see it as a living thing. Your culture doesn't belong to you; it belongs with you. It doesn't really matter who picks it up - but if they don't treat it with respect it'll wither and die. If you skin it and disembowel it and feed the good stuff to your own hungry culture, it's gone. If you treat it with respect, it'll grow and learn new things.

And here's the kicker: The people who have been living the culture all along know it best. Is that really so surprising?

I'd prefer an ecological metaphor to a economic one: a culture is a living creature with rights of their own; the people who live with it are part of the ecology, and the people who don't are an invasive species. A few individuals at a time won't make much of a difference. A horde is a different matter altogether.

Cultures imitating each other isn't really a problem as long as there's no conflict of resources.

And so on. I find an organic, ecological metaphor more productive than the economic one. I haven't thought about it enough to say if I find it also more accurate, though.

sciencewarrior
04-30-2014, 04:14 PM
I concede that when I spoke of lazy stereotypes, I wasn't thinking of the "murderous, scalp-taking savage" that crosses the line from simple ignorance into pure hate propaganda, and I am shocked to hear children are still exposed to this at school.

From that perspective, I can see how you don't feel the need to be particularly sympathetic to writers that borrow liberally and out of the proper context. And maybe out of one thousand readers exposed to a Magical Negro from a one-trait culture, only one will decide to learn and reach out. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I think that's still better than complete isolation. It is very easy to live in a cultural and ideological bubble nowadays, and only come into contact with other bubbles to shout past them. It only gets worse if the majority starts believing their bubble is the only one that exists.

RichardGarfinkle
04-30-2014, 04:37 PM
I concede that when I spoke of lazy stereotypes, I wasn't thinking of the "murderous, scalp-taking savage" that crosses the line from simple ignorance into pure hate propaganda, and I am shocked to hear children are still exposed to this at school.

From that perspective, I can see how you don't feel the need to be particularly sympathetic to writers that borrow liberally and out of the proper context. And maybe out of one thousand readers exposed to a Magical Negro from a one-trait culture, only one will decide to learn and reach out. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I think that's still better than complete isolation. It is very easy to live in a cultural and ideological bubble nowadays, and only come into contact with other bubbles to shout past them. It only gets worse if the majority starts believing their bubble is the only one that exists.

One of the elements of a cultural bubble is dismissive (and/or invidious) stereotyping of other cultures. Telling stories of other peoples without learning what they are really like is used to reinforce the attitude of the dominant culture.

These stories are part and parcel of the separation. They create false answers to the question, "What kinds of lives to those people over there live?"

Ignorance can lead to trying to find out. Answers (however false) can shut down inquiry.

Consciousness of ones own ignorance is better than confidence that one already knows because of stories running around ones own culture.

aruna
04-30-2014, 05:14 PM
. And maybe out of one thousand readers exposed to a Magical Negro from a one-trait culture, only one will decide to learn and reach out. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I think that's still better than complete isolation. It is very easy to live in a cultural and ideological bubble nowadays, and only come into contact with other bubbles to shout past them. It only gets worse if the majority starts believing their bubble is the only one that exists.



The "Magical Negro" is a recent phenomenon, more relevant to adult books (I think); and at least the intention, however misled, is usually positive. How about the black stereotypes I grew up with, and most definitely influenced the way I though of myself, made me feel inadequate, unworthy, disposable, ugly, primitive, stupid, and God knows what else?

Here's a post (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=7330839&postcount=1)from a thread I posted some time ago, which shows a comic for children that quite unabashedly demonstrates that stereotype.

As an adult, I am no longer hurt by these things as I now know better and have enough confidence to know that the people who insult me or my race or my culture are the pitiable ones. But children continue to be influenced by such books with such messages; and that is why we must protest whenever we can.

Lillith1991
04-30-2014, 08:35 PM
Ok. I'm back, and ready to tackle this thread. Nap, shower, and copious amounts of chocolate have all been had. The rage monster is momentarily surpressed enough for me to speak, and I do mean rage monster.

Sciencewarrior, you couldn't be more wrong. As Kuwisdelu has illustrated with the many heartbreaking examples he's given, minority groups don't have the luxery of ignoring inaccuracy. Especially as much of it is being taught to children as fact, and the children who were taught the other side shunned. Dismissed as if their peoples true history isn't real, doesn't matter.

The kids reading books that enforce such thinking, become adults that do things like in the examples Kuwisdelu gave. And when it's not blatant disregard it's confusion. "Why is this black parent, native parent etc. making such a fuss about kids books that have stereotypes? I grew up with them and I'm fine."

That isn't ok. Our young know only what we teach them. The majority of the time we teach them stereotypes, hate, or well meaning misconceptions. They hold those beliefs their entire lives, never thinking to challenge them. Because they grew up with it.

And quite frankly I find thinking like yours the problem, more than blatant hate. Because most who aren't a minorty in some way think like you do. I'm not talking about the lovely, inteligent people on this site. I'm talking your average traditionally white John/Jane. That as long as they read Brother Eagle, Sister SKy to their children they're teaching them to love and respect native culture.

Never mind the book is full of falsehood. It's good simply because it uses the venner of being native to teach kids about the enviorment. Yes, it's teaching them Native people no longer exist. But that's ok, they won't ever meet a Native person.

No, just no. Native people, balck people, asian people etc., we deal with this everyday and it starts in childhood. We hurt when the only books the school has stereotype us, and we're ignored when we speak out. And as children we cry, wish our skin and hair was different. It is not that we have been hurt by it, but that children are continuing to be harmed by it.

Jcomp
04-30-2014, 10:38 PM
It's just that writing about other cultures comes with responsibilities.

Truth. It took a lot of pages and posts it seems to get to the simplicity of this statement, but this is what it boils down to.

And with that, I think it has to be acknowledged at times that people don't include other cultures (or other anything) to a sufficient degree in a lot of their work because they're afraid of that responsibility, or know that they aren't up to that responsibility. It's why, for instance, I've seldom been comfortable writing prominent characters who are homosexual. I understand the responsibility of it, and simply don't want to fuck it up.

Hapax Legomenon
05-01-2014, 12:48 AM
What about commercial culture, though?

sciencewarrior
05-01-2014, 08:06 PM
Alright, I believe I know where I got it wrong. When I read this thread, I thought about how my national and my religious identities are sometimes portrayed and misrepresented, and my thought was that, "Hey, it's not so bad. I can live with that." When you mix in race, though, this obviously doesn't hold. Let me say clearly that I don't think racial stereotypes are acceptable, and apologize for pressing buttons that I wouldn't have if I had thought things through before posting.

Now, please correct me again if I'm saying something wrong, but I do see one big difference between race and culture. You can't choose to have a different race from your parents. But to a certain degree, you can choose your culture. You can learn a new language, adopt a new religion, pack your things and move to another country. While there are some very cohesive ethnic groups composed of exactly one race and one culture, many are much more fluid.

Rachel77
05-01-2014, 08:43 PM
Now, please correct me again if I'm saying something wrong, but I do see one big difference between race and culture. You can't choose to have a different race from your parents. But to a certain degree, you can choose your culture. You can learn a new language, adopt a new religion, pack your things and move to another country. While there are some very cohesive ethnic groups composed of exactly one race and one culture, many are much more fluid.

Jewish people have frequently had to pack their things and move to different countries, learn new languages, adopt a new religion. It failed to change anything in terms of how they were treated. As RichardGarfinkle pointed out earlier in the thread (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=8823882&postcount=95), those in a minority culture/religion/race don't always get to choose how they're defined.

sciencewarrior
05-01-2014, 10:12 PM
Jewish people have frequently had to pack their things and move to different countries, learn new languages, adopt a new religion. It failed to change anything in terms of how they were treated.

But the basis of the persecution was still racial, right? As far as I know, even when there was a social or theological pretense, what really mattered was physical appearance and genealogy.

Rachel77
05-01-2014, 10:39 PM
But the basis of the persecution was still racial, right? As far as I know, even when there was a social or theological pretense, what really mattered was physical appearance and genealogy.

Which brings us back to defining race, and who gets to define it. I don't personally think of Jews as a race, mostly because bad things tend to get built off of that concept; I think of Jews strictly as a group of people in the same religion. But those in the minority culture don't always get to define themselves; if people in the majority culture prefer to see Jews as a race, then it doesn't matter what I think.

Physical appearance also tends to be irrelevant where race is concerned. There are some stereotypes about what Jews look like; I don't fit any of them. But again, when others decide that it's important to define Judaism as a race, it tends not to matter what the individual people look like. "Race" becomes whatever the majority group decides it is.

RichardGarfinkle
05-01-2014, 10:41 PM
But the basis of the persecution was still racial, right? As far as I know, even when there was a social or theological pretense, what really mattered was physical appearance and genealogy.

As I pointed out earlier, the two were not separated. The persecution of Jews was motivated by a Religous Role in one telling of the Christian Passion story, but was generally assigned to the Jewish people as a racial group.

However, there were numerous Christian theologians who accepted (and sometimes forced) conversion as a means of removing Jewish people from the category of Jews (in their mythic role). This was in part motivated by another mythic role, the Jew as person who should by choice come over to
Christianity.

The reality is that different kinds of prejudice are not completely separable. Cultural, racial, and religious bigotry blend, and different people have different centers for their biases.

Hapax Legomenon
05-01-2014, 10:43 PM
But the basis of the persecution was still racial, right? As far as I know, even when there was a social or theological pretense, what really mattered was physical appearance and genealogy.

Not really, no. The basis of prosecution was outwardly that these people "willfully denied Christ" for over a thousand years and slightly more covertly that Jews would not integrate to the dominant society and stayed in their own communities. I believe the "race" thing came later.

Unimportant
05-01-2014, 11:29 PM
Author Jim Hines has an excellent blog post (http://jimhines.livejournal.com/731836.html) about this subject.

He notes:

I do believe stories should reflect the diversity of our world. To do otherwise suggests a lack of imagination, a barren and narrow vision. It’s lazy storytelling.

I absolutely agree. But where does diversity end and appropriation begin? Jim sums it all up neatly in one sentence:

It’s the difference between “I want to include you in my stories” and “I want to tell your stories.”

His post is well worth reading in its entirety, and it also includes links to a number of other (PoC) authors' posts on cultural appropriation.

Unimportant
05-01-2014, 11:37 PM
The reality is that different kinds of prejudice are not completely separable.

Yep. A friend of mine teaches this at university, and uses the term 'intersectionality'. She does an exercise with first year students where she has them list the stereotypical terms that prejudiced people would use to describe fat people versus fit/lean people. Fat people are lazy, stupid, selfish, greedy, unambitious, unattractive, smelly, etc, while lean people are active, smart, focused, attractive, hardworking, etc. Then she crosses off 'fat' and 'lean' and replaces them with 'poor' and 'wealthy'. The same adjectives fit standard prejudices. Then she crosses those words off and replaces them with 'Maori' and 'Pakeha' (it would be black vs white for USA-ers). The descriptors still fit the standard prejudices.

Prejudice breeds prejudice. Prejudice feeds prejudice. Prejudice justifies prejudice.

Roxxsmom
05-02-2014, 12:14 AM
Author Jim Hines has an excellent blog post (http://jimhines.livejournal.com/731836.html) about this subject.

He notes:

I do believe stories should reflect the diversity of our world. To do otherwise suggests a lack of imagination, a barren and narrow vision. It’s lazy storytelling.

I absolutely agree. But where does diversity end and appropriation begin? Jim sums it all up neatly in one sentence:

It’s the difference between “I want to include you in my stories” and “I want to tell your stories.”

His post is well worth reading in its entirety, and it also includes links to a number of other (PoC) authors' posts on cultural appropriation.

I just read Hines's post and came back to this thread to see if anyone had linked it. He had a number of really nice links to other blogs on the topic as well.

RichardGarfinkle
05-02-2014, 12:28 AM
Yep. A friend of mine teaches this at university, and uses the term 'intersectionality'. She does an exercise with first year students where she has them list the stereotypical terms that prejudiced people would use to describe fat people versus fit/lean people. Fat people are lazy, stupid, selfish, greedy, unambitious, unattractive, smelly, etc, while lean people are active, smart, focused, attractive, hardworking, etc. Then she crosses off 'fat' and 'lean' and replaces them with 'poor' and 'wealthy'. The same adjectives fit standard prejudices. Then she crosses those words off and replaces them with 'Maori' and 'Pakeha' (it would be black vs white for USA-ers). The descriptors still fit the standard prejudices.

Prejudice breeds prejudice. Prejudice feeds prejudice. Prejudice justifies prejudice.

In religious prejudice there are three standard accusations that are always leveled in one form or another.

Those evil people
1. Dance naked in the woods. (aka are sexually immoral)
2. Sacrifice babies. (aka corrupt youth)
3. Poison wells. (aka undermine the necessary foundations of society)

calieber
05-03-2014, 10:35 AM
Confession: I skimmed parts. But there are no pages on which I merely skimmed every post.


I have spent years of my life loving India, living there, knowing its people and its culture, understanding it, identifying with it.

This made me really uncomfortable, because of how often one sees people -- and I'm not saying aruna is one -- who say "I love $CULTURE" when what they mean is "I love how exotically Foreign $CULTURE is", as Unimportant said (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=8837365&postcount=189).


So I would say I am qualified to write about India and Indians -- but should any Indian criticize any aspect of my book I'd be sure to take that criticism extremely seriously.

This part largely alleviates my concern, though.


If nobody minds I'd like to talk about the Jewish-American experience, or rather the Jewish-American experience as perceived by a 52-year-old New York-born male with Polish and Russian Jewish ancestry who is by natural inclination an atheist.

That's me in 17 years.

Which brings me to an example of appropriation I've seen. It was a hippie-shit catalog offering an oblong box you put on your door with a scroll inside with something inspirational on it. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mezuzah) And of course no one owns the idea of a box with a scroll in. But it's still, yes, disrespectful to alienate that from its cultural and religious context. As an atheist, I'm hesitant to put one up on my own door, and it is my culture.

(And the whole post speaks to my strong dislike of the term "Judeo-Christian".)

I draw the line at saying food qua food is subject to appropriation. However, there are certainly circumstances in which food can be alienated from its cultural context, and while one can quibble over what it means for a dish to be authentic, there are clear cases of inauthenticity.


I have often thought I should just not write at all because no matter what I wrote, it would somehow, no matter who I wrote about, be horribly racist.

Someone's going to complain. If you want to write something that is absolutely guaranteed to offend no one ... you may be able to get away with baseball box scores. Better to say "I don't want to offend people who are P, or draw criticism Q," which is achievable.

kuwisdelu
05-03-2014, 10:39 AM
This made me really uncomfortable, because of how often one sees people -- and I'm not saying aruna is one -- who say "I love $CULTURE" when what they mean is "I love how exotically Foreign $CULTURE is", as Unimportant said (http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=8837365&postcount=189).

I totally identify with that concern, but in this case, well, aruna is a person I would trust to hold my cultural babies.

nighttimer
05-03-2014, 01:43 PM
The "Magical Negro" is a recent phenomenon, more relevant to adult books (I think); and at least the intention, however misled, is usually positive. How about the black stereotypes I grew up with, and most definitely influenced the way I though of myself, made me feel inadequate, unworthy, disposable, ugly, primitive, stupid, and God knows what else?

(http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=7330839&postcount=1)As an adult, I am no longer hurt by these things as I now know better and have enough confidence to know that the people who insult me or my race or my culture are the pitiable ones.

As an adult, I am no longer hurt by these things, but they still piss me off.

Last month I checked out the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame and found it boring, unimaginative and not all that. However, it did leave one lasting impression upon me and it's this: if nobody owns Black culture that's a really lucky break for a lot of the acts in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame otherwise there would be a lot of checks needed to be scratched for all the borrowing, bastardization, misappropriation, imitating, stealing and thievery going on in there.

J.S.F.
05-05-2014, 02:23 AM
Last month I checked out the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame and found it boring, unimaginative and not all that. However, it did leave one lasting impression upon me and it's this: if nobody owns Black culture that's a really lucky break for a lot of the acts in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame otherwise there would be a lot of checks needed to be scratched for all the borrowing, bastardization, misappropriation, imitating, stealing and thievery going on in there.
---

Yeah, well, if you're gonna steal, steal from the best. (Sorry, for some reason I couldn't get the sarcasm emoticon working, but this post deserved a bit of sarcasm)

When you're writing about another culture and tweaking it to suit your own purposes (i.e. portraying it incorrectly) that's one thing, but to me, music is an ever-evolving, living and hopefully vibrant medium of expression, and saying that no one has the right to tweak--and not twerk (as I'm expecting you'll toss Miley fucking Cyrus into this)--said music to their own sensibilities is somewhere on the other side of ludicrous.

From time immemorial, many composers have stolen from each other and in more modern times, have, shall we say, creatively borrowed from one another. All music from way back when has been bastardized and tweaked and twisted and shaped to another composer's/musician's idea of what would work. I won't deny that black artists have gotten the short end of the stick money-wise in the music industry. That's something that should have been addressed a long time ago and wasn't, and that's a huge wet and messy stain on the powers that be within the music industry.

OTOH, if you hear something cool and think you can improve it, then to me, it's ripe for the picking. Yes, acknowledgment should be given, no question. But hey, when it comes to music and cash, color don't count all that much. I'm willing to bet my meager salary for a month that at least a few non-white music artists and singers have ripped each other off or changed pieces of music without paying due compensation.

Just my tiny wittle thought for the day.

aruna
05-10-2014, 04:16 PM
Wow, Germany's Next Top Model (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/heidi-klum-facing-racism-backlash-over-her-promotion-of-redface-native-americanthemed-germanys-next-top-model-shoot-9251080.html) really went overboard this time!


Heidi Klum’s decision to promote a Native American-themed photoshoot, undertaken by the contestants she mentors on the 2014 series of Germany’s Next Top Model, sparked accusations of racism.
Outraged fans bombarded the gallery post on her official Facebook page, which showed 12 individual, black-and-white editorial shots of the models in training in full ‘redface’ – the name given to those who pose in stereotyped attempts at traditional Native American dress.

I'm sure she "meant well" and isn't really racist (her ex-husband Seal is black (http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/weddings/celebrity-wedding-anniversary-heidi-klum-seal-465491.html)) -- but isn't that always the case?

Lillith1991
05-10-2014, 10:17 PM
Wow, Germany's Next Top Model (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/heidi-klum-facing-racism-backlash-over-her-promotion-of-redface-native-americanthemed-germanys-next-top-model-shoot-9251080.html) really went overboard this time!



I'm sure she "meant well" and isn't really racist (her ex-husband Seal is black (http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/weddings/celebrity-wedding-anniversary-heidi-klum-seal-465491.html)) -- but isn't that always the case?

I think it's funny that being with a black man for eight years, and married to him for seven absolves her of racism in peoples eyes. What's his being black have to do with any racist attitudes she has towards Native Americans? People are idiots, that's my take. Just because you like someone of a certain race doesn't mean you like every other race.

Either way, the shoot was highly offensive and clearly played on extremely harmful stereotypes. It was a caareless, and disgusting move.

aruna
05-10-2014, 11:52 PM
I see it differently... You are looking at this from the POV as an American. I do differentiate between racism and ignorance, and this is a case of ignorance. She would have had no idea whatsoever that doing this is insulting to the culture involved. She is German; there is not this huge sense of sensitivity towards Native Americans as you have in America. In fact, Germans have a sort of idealised love-affair with Indians -- dating back to the novels of Karl May, a German who wrote about 100 very long and much loved stories set in the American Wild West, about an Indian called Winnetou --- and so on. I have not read these books but they are legendary in Germany and are probably full of all horrendous kinds of faux-pas (pl?) -- but Germans go wild over them and enact them and tell stories about them etc etc, and think this is OK because there are practically no Indians here to object in any way. I don't believe she hates NAs. She probably "loves" them, as almost all Germans do. They are highly romanticized here, more so than any other race.
I am sure her apology is sincere and she has learned a lesson -- just as writers on AW who make these mistakes apologize and don't do it again.

kuwisdelu
05-11-2014, 02:10 AM
I see it differently... You are looking at this from the POV as an American. I do differentiate between racism and ignorance, and this is a case of ignorance. She would have had no idea whatsoever that doing this is insulting to the culture involved. She is German; there is not this huge sense of sensitivity towards Native Americans as you have in America. In fact, Germans have a sort of idealised love-affair with Indians -- dating back to the novels of Karl May, a German who wrote about 100 very long and much loved stories set in the American Wild West, about an Indian called Winnetou --- and so on. I have not read these books but they are legendary in Germany and are probably full of all horrendous kinds of faux-pas (pl?) -- but Germans go wild over them and enact them and tell stories about them etc etc, and think this is OK because there are practically no Indians here to object in any way. I don't believe she hates NAs. She probably "loves" them, as almost all Germans do. They are highly romanticized here, more so than any other race.

Actually, that's exactly the same as America.

Ignorance does not make something less racist. It only means it's racism based in ignorance rather than malice. Stereotypes are a kind of racism too, even if they're not intended to harm.

America, too, has a love affair with the noble savage, the war-painted Indian, and overly romanticizes that imagery. Klum is an additional level of disconnect away, but it's basically the same thing as what happens here.

America is no different in this regard.


I am sure her apology is sincere and she has learned a lesson -- just as writers on AW who make these mistakes apologize and don't do it again.

I don't know about that...


"We have nothing but the utmost esteem for the Native American culture and are so sorry if our shoot was offensive to anyone.

"By no means was our intention to insult Native Americans or in any way demean their heritage. We sincerely apologize."

It was a classic non-apology, "sorry you were offended, we love you, really". It shows no understanding of why what she did was offensive, or any real desire to learn from it.

I hope I'm wrong, but that's how it always is.

Edit: This is what a real apology looks like. (http://nativeappropriations.com/2013/06/the-paul-frank-x-native-designers-collaboration-is-here.html)

Medievalist
05-11-2014, 04:10 AM
Germans have a sort of idealised love-affair with Indians -- dating back to the novels of Karl May, a German who wrote about 100 very long and much loved stories set in the American Wild West, about an Indian called Winnetou --- and so on.

Germany is still very much in the James Fenimore Cooper / Noble Savage era.

We're recovering, and I expect they will too.

I just wish it would happen sooner.

It's still surprising to me that people have to be told that they are treating sacred ritual garments like fancy hats—and how offended they are if I ask "So you'd be fine doing that with a Yarmulke?"

Putputt
05-11-2014, 04:46 AM
a real apology looks like. (http://nativeappropriations.com/2013/06/the-paul-frank-x-native-designers-collaboration-is-here.html)

Wow, that is really refreshing to see!

aruna
05-11-2014, 06:35 AM
Yes, it is amazing and fantastic. And I wish HK would do something, personally, in that direction. I don't know her (I don't mean personally -- I mean know in the way people follow the careers of celebs) and I have never watched the show, but I do know it is as hugely popular here as in the US.

The thing is that Germany is truly eons beyond America in cultural awareness and sensitivity, simply because is is such an incredibly homogenous country. It also has a "love-affair" with Africa, and you-all would cringe at some of the stuff that comes out. I watch on a regular basis just so I can cringe -- all the movies set in "Africa", with of course white protags and really nice, sweet, positively-portrayed black natives. Occasionally there is a bi-racial love-story -- Germans has one famous black actress, and she invariably gets to play the female love-interest. I don't know of any black German actors, but they do have a black Morning SHow presenter, who is immensely popular, and has done it for the last 30 years or so! Cliches and stereotypes abound about "Africa" -- none of it blatantly racist, in that the intention is "loving".

But living here myself for over 40 years I have become exceedingly patient and understanding. Society and its attitudes does not change in one day or one decade. I can vouch for the fact that Germany has moved forward in leaps and bounds as far as attitudes are concerned. I remember when I first came as a shy and insecure 23 year old, how I stood out (or thought I did) everywhere and how uncomfortable I felt. It's quite different now, as I am fully assimilated. My skin colour doesn't matter. I am not in any way exotic or different. And I like it that way. But it's been an interesting process. Not at all like in a country where there is a significant and very outspoken PoC community. Here, you are virtually on your own.

I don't think we can expect such a radical and sincere apology here. I doubt many Germans are even aware of the kerfuffle -- it would have been kept under the radar; as there is not a huge NA population here I'm not at all sure who did all th protesting. It won't have been regular Germans.
What I am trying to say is that try as we might to hold Germany to the same standards and expectation as America, it won't change except at its own pace.

It's an interesting phenomenon; I might even start a separate thread.

patskywriter
05-11-2014, 07:05 AM
This article is interesting—and timely:

http://www.policymic.com/articles/88941/the-awful-history-behind-why-hipsters-think-it-s-ok-to-wear-headdresses

aruna
05-11-2014, 07:09 AM
What's his being black have to do with any racist attitudes she has towards Native Americans? People are idiots, that's my take. Just because you like someone of a certain race doesn't mean you like every other race.


To me at least, a white racist is a white supremacist. Such a person would not bother to distinguish between races, as in, "I love blacks enough to marry one, but I hate Native Americans." Either you think white is the superior race, and all others are inferior, or you don't -- and, speaking as a mixed-race person who grew up in a multi-racial society with huge racism problems, it is my experience that the blacker you are to a racist, the lower you are in their estimation. In the racist hierarchy, Indians are higher placed than blacks. I personally don't believe that HK makes distinctions along the lines of "I love blacks enough to marry one, but I loathe Indians."

Lillith1991
05-11-2014, 07:32 AM
Actually, that's exactly the same as America.

Ignorance does not make something less racist. It only means it's racism based in ignorance rather than malice. Stereotypes are a kind of racism too, even if they're not intended to harm.

America, too, has a love affair with the noble savage, the war-painted Indian, and overly romanticizes that imagery. Klum is an additional level of disconnect away, but it's basically the same thing as what happens here.

America is no different in that regard

This. There is hatred based racism and ignorance based racism. To me the shoot is quite possibly an example of the later.

patskywriter
05-11-2014, 07:49 AM
… Such a person would not bother to distinguish between races, as in, "I love blacks enough to marry one, but I hate Native Americans." …

You probably already know this, but it is possible to date or marry a black [or whatever] person and still not like anyone else of that race. Sometimes I can discern an attitude of "you're not like the rest" when I'm around whites. Sometimes they go so far as to say, "I don't see you as a black person," thinking that's a compliment when it only shows that they sometimes feel that acknowledging race is the same as being racist.

C.bronco
05-11-2014, 07:56 AM
"I want to develop an understanding of why some people think culture belongs to everyone, and how to address it."

Hi Kuwisdelu!
I think the railing about your post is because it could have been more specific. Writers are always going out of their neighborhoods in the process, and sometimes miss the mark when representing a group, any group ethnic or otherwise.

We all write from our own perspectives, which have been molded by our upbringings and experiences.

It is hard to be wholly accurate when incorporating other cultures, but who am I to tell someone that they should not try it?

Is it possible that I can associate with another's experiences even if their upbringing and beliefs are different than mine? Is it possible to find common ground and communicate with others from different backgrounds?

I wonder if you are upset with unresearched stereotypes, and shouldn't discount the writers who do their homework and come to an understanding of other cultures; I am sure there are at least a few. I understand that it is frustrating to come across writing that is not a true reflection of the subject.

I think if you gave concrete examples, you would probably have everyone on board with your criticism, but most are taking it in a very general way, because it was stated that way.

Anywhoo, it is good to see you!

Lillith1991
05-11-2014, 08:11 AM
"I want to develop an understanding of why some people think culture belongs to everyone, and how to address it."

Hi Kuwisdelu!
I think the railing about your post is because it could have been more specific. Writers are always going out of their neighborhoods in the process, and sometimes miss the mark when representing a group, any group ethnic or otherwise.

We all write from our own perspectives, which have been molded by our upbringings and experiences.

It is hard to be wholly accurate when incorporating other cultures, but who am I to tell someone that they should not try it?

Is it possible that I can associate with another's experiences even if their upbringing and beliefs are different than mine? Is it possible to find common ground and communicate with others from different backgrounds?

I wonder if you are upset with unresearched stereotypes, and shouldn't discount the writers who do their homework and come to an understanding of other cultures; I am sure there are at least a few. I understand that it is frustrating to come across writing that is not a true reflection of the subject.

I think if you gave concrete examples, you would probably have everyone on board with your criticism, but most are taking it in a very general way, because it was stated that way.

Anywhoo, it is good to see you!

Not Kuwis, but I think he meant it in a general way. Every ethnic group has a culture, and no culture is free from being appropriated and used in an insensitive manner. I also don't see most of the people who are ethnic minorities as railing against his post in any way. But that's my take on things. :Shrug:

C.bronco
05-11-2014, 08:26 AM
Most likely. Anyone who writes fiction reaches out of his sphere. Some are accurate, and some aren't. I wouldn't get upset unless the piece in question was hailed as a masterpiece.

Sometimes, however, when making a general statement, it is helpful to have an example of what caused the statement initially. Otherwise, people take it in a number of directions.

kuwisdelu
05-11-2014, 08:37 AM
What I am trying to say is that try as we might to hold Germany to the same standards and expectation as America, it won't change except at its own pace.

I'm still not sure convinced that it makes a difference. If it were the average person on the street, then yes, I would cut them more slack.

But if it's high-profile enough that the person actually responds with an open apology? I'm going to hold that apology to the same standard anywhere on the globe.

In the age of the internet, if you're really sorry and really want to understand why what you did was offensive, it's really not that hard to find out.

If I wrote a novel full of racist stereotypes about Guyana, would you say I shouldn't be held to the same standards because I'm American rather than British?

aruna
05-11-2014, 09:27 AM
I'm saying that while ignorance knows no national boundaries, it's easier to be educated about avoiding ethnic and cultural stereotypes in America than in Germany. To your question: no; I think an American should be as well educated as a Brit on racial matters. In Europe, though, the further east you go, the more homogenously white the societies, the more you will find people thinking in stereotypes. You and I probably would as well, if we grew up, say, in a village in eastern Russia and the only contact we had with non-white people was in TV and movies, and then only in stereotypes. Lack of exposure leads to ignorance. Though I agree that HK can hardly cite lack of exposure as an excuse.

I'm saying that I am not offended or outraged easily. Hardly ever, in fact. If I know the intention was hateful it's to me very different than knowing the intention is ignorance.

I remember when I first came to Germany and my husband-to-anounced we were going to marry. You should have heard the shit that came out of his aunt's mouth (she was the head of the family). She offered money to send me back to Guyana. I was a poor natived just after his money. I was this and that.
I did not get offended and I did not hate her. The first time we met, I walked in her door and gave her a big smile. From that moment on she loved me. Same with my second husband's family, who actually disowned him, cut him out of their will, refused to meet me or our children, for over 20 years, and all because I was black. Then he got ill and I was the one who looked after him and his mother was forced to meet me for the first time. Now she complains to me about the grandson who got all the property even before her death and treats her like dirt, rings me up and begs me to visit.
I believe in being patient, when the cause is ignorance. Education by example. I don't believe in railing against ignorant people helps them to understand or open up.

kuwisdelu
05-11-2014, 10:14 AM
Aruna, it's rarely the initial fuck-ups that bother me. It's the false apologies.

I'm rarely angered by anyone's ignorance, but if someone claims to love and respect a culture, then they ought to do their homework.

I implore you to find me railing against anyone. I started this thread to aim at ignorance rather than malice, to emphasize responsibility.

I don't believe Klum was being hateful. I do believe she was being irresponsible.

And of course, I am going to point that out.

aruna
05-11-2014, 12:15 PM
Of course, and rightly so. I wish I could give her a gentle tap on the shoulder and say, Ms Klum, make this thing right. You messed up and you have a responsibility. This is a chance to educate German viewers.

But it's early days yet. The show has just had its final, or is about to have its final, I think. Maybe she will do something.

Cyia
05-11-2014, 07:51 PM
It's still surprising to me that people have to be told that they are treating sacred ritual garments like fancy hats


I think you'd be hard pressed to find many Americans who realize that the feathers on a headdress actually have a meaning, rather than an ornamental one. Just like, you'd likely have to explain that all tribes don't have the same cultural basis or use the same pieces for the same purpose.

For some reason the "bonnet" part of "war bonnet" seems to serve as a diminutive effect in non-native ears. I suppose it's because in the US bonnets are mainly for infants and children, or for a costume effect.

When we were in elementary school, we made construction paper tipis and popsicle-stick longhouses to go with a lesson about migrant tribes. For Thanksgiving, we made construction paper headbands and feathers, and everyone had to bring a paper bag from home so we could cut it into a fringed jacket to wear the rest of the day. 1st or 2nd grade, we did our school program, and I was assigned the part of Pocahontas (take a look at my profile pic, if you need reference to how weird that one is -- picture that face with a bad, short perm. Despite native heritage on both sides of my family, I looked like Annie.) No one complained; this was done every year and considered both normal and expected.

That, plus movies and maybe a vacation to a pow-wow or reservation where someone's made an "Indian Princess", is the typical extent of most American's knowledge of native culture - and it's sadly often portrayed as mono-culture. I mean, you know it's a bad sign when this episode of Saved By the Bell (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efsRDyF9FSc)is considered socially responsible / culturally honorable. (Pertinent scene is at about the 14 minute mark. Zack comes into class wearing "native garb" to honor his dead friend.)

Stereotypes are easy. Crafts are fun. Explaining the truth is neither of those things, and it's not what parents or kids expect, so therefore it's labelled as "wrong," or "harmless," or (sadly, non-ironically) as "tradition" in many circles. With most portrayals of Native Americans locked into westerns or the occasional film about A.I.M. in the 60's / 70's, the entire concept of a native culture has been shuffled into history as though it no longer exists.

I can tell you the exact moment it clicked in my head that there was something wrong with that line of thinking. I was a kid, and while flipping channels I landed on a Native American stand-up comic (I have no idea what his name was.). During his act, he brought up the subject of kids playing "Cowboys and Indians." It was a longish bit, but the punchline was asking how it would look if kids ran around in a circle and whooping while crossing themselves and "playing Catholic."

Not many laughs, a whole lot of uncomfortable looks, and one ton of bricks' worth of comprehension.

Lillith1991
05-16-2014, 02:02 PM
I thought I would share something I saw on my facebook feed. I can't find the picture, but it was posted by a page about black womens beauty. The picture was titled, "Native Americans, the forgotten ones." The model was wearing "native dress."

I get that the were trying to bring attention to the segments of the black community which has native ancestry, but damn. The image was only slightly better than the top model shoot, and feeds into the desire within the African American community to be something other than "just black."

If I can find that picture again, I will try. And I'm sure there will be an influx of people claiming to have an indian princess as a great grandmother as a result of it. And that title, that title! Come on!

aruna
05-16-2014, 04:58 PM
Kuwi, I just saw this book (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/693208.The_Absolutely_True_Diary_of_a_Part_Time_In dian) on Goodreads, and wondered if you know of it, have read it, what you think of it. I have no idea if it's good/recommendable or not.
It looks good, to me!
The author:

Sherman J. Alexie, Jr., was born in October 1966. A Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, he grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, WA, about 50 miles northwest of Spokane, WA. Alexie has published 18 books to date.

kuwisdelu
05-16-2014, 05:12 PM
Kuwi, I just saw this book (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/693208.The_Absolutely_True_Diary_of_a_Part_Time_In dian) on Goodreads, and wondered if you know of it, have read it, what you think of it. I have no idea if it's good/recommendable or not.
It looks good, to me!

Oh, I have and it's very good. Alexie is the most prominent Native author in America today.

I laughed and I cried and I knew every part of myself in it.

To be honest, it's the only book of his I've read yet, because he's such a glowing figure in Indian country, that I'm afraid my own writing won't compare, and I'm terrified of confirming that.

Utterly silly and embarrassing on my part, I know, I admit, but what can I say? I know I need to get over it of course, because he's a great author, a hero really.

I wish I had his talent for evoking laughter and tears at the same time, but I don't.

aruna
05-16-2014, 05:22 PM
That's fantastic! It's always great to hear of books that hit the spot!

Also, it's great to have literary heroes we feel we can't live up to -- I have quite a few and its why I'm never happy with my books -- but it's a good thing, as it means I always try to improve my writing.

aruna
05-17-2014, 04:57 PM
Particularly grotesque examples of what we are talking about:http://jezebel.com/w-continues-fashions-tradition-of-using-exotic-people-a-1577561262?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_faceboo k&utm_source=jezebel_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

W magazine recently sent fashion photographer Tim Walker and supermodel Edie Campbell to Burma, where they shot an editorial that juxtaposed Campbell (so white! so chic!) against the a background of the nation's "exotic" landmarks and citizens. It's gross and poorly conceived-of in every way that one would expect.