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Author Topic: Can't say the only thing I really think about your tattoo: KEY UPDATE Post 13  (Read 10386 times)

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gellchom

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It is frustrating to read posts that just advise people not to get offended when no offense is intended.

Yes, that's good advice, at least as far as judging others' motives (although many things, such as a bigoted remark, may not be intended to offend yet still be terrifically offensive).  But there is a lot of space between getting offended and finding something inappropriate, insensitive, or ill-advised.  Otherwise, what we are saying is that anything right up to the brink of what would be outright offensive is fine and dandy.  And I think being respectful is more than that minimum.

More to the point, that's advice for the "audience" to the behavior; it isn't useful for someone trying to decide whether to engage in the behavior -- unless you are happy with "Well, I didn't have malicious intent, so if they don't like it, that's their fault, not mine."  But most of us aren't.

Celany

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There is a really good book called Who Owns Culture? by Susan Scafidi if anybody is curious to read about these things from a legal standpoint. It also brings up the idea of communal property law (which is at the heart of a lot of the "if person 1 from This Group says it's OK to do this thing & person 2 from This Group says it's not, how do we handle that?" arguments).

As an artist, I find a lot of the discussions very interesting, especially when it gets into the subject of using culturally appropriated symbols, images, techniques in ways that the original creators never intended. Before I started learning about cultural appropriation, it never occurred to me how problematic that could be. I've definitely modified a lot of my costume choices as now my feelings run strongly towards ideas like, say, there's *never* a way to gracefully and respectful dress up as a Native American for Halloween or a costume party (and if any Native Peoples have any comments contrary to that, I'd love to hear them). Because I participate in a lot of Burner parties/dances, I've started thinking about how the (predominantly white) Burner community could use some learning about cultural appropriation.

My main guiding thought in all of this though is that I want to listen to what other cultures have to say to me about their products and I'd rather err on the side of reducing the number of creative things that I feel comfortable buying/making/identifying with than exploit or give disrespect for another culture.
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AfleetAlex

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This is a really fascinating discussion! I got to wondering about the difference between appropriation and appreciation. Obviously for religious symbols the difference is much clearer, but for other cultural items/songs/jewelry, where is the line for saying, "I found this song very meaningful even if it isn't from my culture"?

I have a few drops of Native American blood but very little. Still, I have Kokopelli articles because he was, in some stories, considered the first journalist, and I have a background in that field. (Then again, I think you can also argue that since the Anasazi are no longer around, and he is an Anasazi spirit, would anyone have a right to be upset? But those better versed in these topics may know a lot more about this than I do.  :) )
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Elisabunny

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there's *never* a way to gracefully and respectful dress up as a Native American for Halloween or a costume party

So a white girl who admires Pocahantas (the real one, not Disney), or Sacajawea, or Jenny of the Tetons is barred from dressing as them for Halloween?  I find that obnoxious, actually.  Are we only allowed to have heroes in our own racial/ethic/gender group?
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Onyx_TKD

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there's *never* a way to gracefully and respectful dress up as a Native American for Halloween or a costume party

So a white girl who admires Pocahantas (the real one, not Disney), or Sacajawea, or Jenny of the Tetons is barred from dressing as them for Halloween?  I find that obnoxious, actually.  Are we only allowed to have heroes in our own racial/ethic/gender group?

I may be wrong, but I thought Celany's post was saying that you can't respectfully use the category "Native American" (or presumably other ethnicities) as your costume, by contrast to other categories of people, such as many professions.

I would interpret that to mean that one could respectfully dress up as Sacajawea, but not as a generic Native American. By contrast, one could respectfully dress up as, e.g., a doctor or a firefighter or an elf or a Klingon, whether one was portraying a specific person/character or just the generic person from that category. (I'm not sure if "respectfully" is the right word for fictional species with no actual members to respect or disrespect, but inoffensively, at least.  ;))

Celany

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there's *never* a way to gracefully and respectful dress up as a Native American for Halloween or a costume party

So a white girl who admires Pocahantas (the real one, not Disney), or Sacajawea, or Jenny of the Tetons is barred from dressing as them for Halloween?  I find that obnoxious, actually.  Are we only allowed to have heroes in our own racial/ethic/gender group?

I'm going to try to say this as respectfully as I can, but I understand that is going to sound very rude. Your finding the above obnoxious is a sign of privilege. Anybody can absolutely admire anybody. But equating admiration with it being permissible to dress up as them for Halloween is...I think, a very large step. Which is not to say that people don't do it, but I don't think it is the reason that most people dress up for Halloween.

But to take your hypothetical girl who admires an actual, historical Native person and wants to dress up as one for Halloween. Does her admiration include finding a Native organization and asking them how they would feel about this (preferably the one that the historical figure came from, if they still exist as a people)? If she has that much admiration for Native people (who are still a living, breathing, evolving community of people who, from what I have read on Native perspectives, dislike being romanticized and treated more as history than a current living society), I would think that she would want to honor their wishes on something like that. If she doesn't feel inclined to do her homework in that way, I would feel suspicious of her admiration. If she did do that & they said no, would she abide by their respects & try to see things from their perspective? Or, would she feel that her desire to be creative in costuming for one day of the year trumps their centuries long struggle to be listened to and respected as a people? If they did OK it, but had specific dos & don'ts for it, would she respect those?

Part of the point of cultural appropriation and privilege is that privileged people have the luxury of deciding that their feeling that something is obnoxious and their right to do what they want trumps the pain that they are causing people with their actions. Many, many people do not have that luxury. If someone wants to have compassion and gain understanding for their fellow people, it's important to pay attention to these things, and to respect the feelings of those cultures.

That's my short answer. There a lot of other angles to look at here (like how one person can't make a judgement call on many things on behalf of their entire race, as well as the problematic idea of a girl from a culture that systematically exterminated and subjugated another culture then dressing up in the marginalized culture's clothing), but I think that covers the basics.

And if any Native Peoples felt like adding their thoughts, I would be curious and grateful to learn what their thoughts would be on Elisabunny's question.
« Last Edit: June 04, 2014, 11:01:11 PM by Celany »
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gellchom

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Cleanly, thank you for taking the time to write that excellent, thoughtful, post.

Eisabunny, I think Onyx's reply is correct: the point is not that you can't admire, or even choose for a costume, a specific person from another group than your own.  But "an Indian" or "a Jew" or "a Mexican" or "a lesbian" would be offensive, and I believe that's what's being discussed. 

Not that the line is always clear, though -- e.g. geisha, Mountie, Valkyrie, rabbi, leprechaun ....

I have an Indian sari but I'm not Indian, Pakistani, etc.  I once wore it to a party where we were supposed to come as a disaster in the previous year.  I was something that had happened in Pakistan (not specifying to avoid politics).  I had a badge saying what it was.  With that group, in that context, it worked.  But just wearing it and saying "I'm a Pakistani" would be different.  And somewhere in the middle if you and a few other friends wear Indian, Japanese, Spanish, Argentinean, etc. clothes and come as the Miss Universe pageant.  And so on and so on ....

I think where the line is will depend on too many factors to make a bright line.  So rather than try to set one, I am just going to keep the issue in mind.  I think that this is yet another thing that is hard to solve in the abstract but much easier in the specific.

Wordgeek

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On that note, thread closed.


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