I just can’t shake this, I know. However, it has been coming up as the subject of blogs I follow very regularly, so it’s top of mind.
I have discovered that there’s a sliding scale of opinion, with two extremes: yay, who cares and hell no. In the middle is the opinion that it mostly sucks, but if you’re doing it while making an effort to change people’s thinking, to create a place where minority communities can be themselves without fear of discrimination, then that’s an appropriate occasion for adopting parts of a culture that is not your own.
It’s fairly repulsive. Apparently it was intended as a humor column, and surprised both its author and TIME magazine by receiving a massive negative response. I’m surprised that they didn’t anticipate that. The response came because it’s commodification at its worst – using the stereotypical view of an ethnic group for humor. It’s something that minority comedians can use effectively, because they’ve experienced the reality behind the laughs, but a white comedian can’t really go there, because there’s no shared experience.
I agree with most of what’s there, even if it does slip occasionally into dense academic language. It’s a good look at another scale of absolutes, contrasting insensitive appropriation with cultural nationalism, something that oftentimes is guilty of the same things it’s attempting to combat.
And finally, this short documentary on appropriation:
I found it to be quite insightful. I understand now why certain people are so against any white person wearing bindis, saris, whatever. My experience is not at all the same, but I was not popular growing up. I have a hard time being around people. Most of the time I was teased daily – for liking science fiction, for not having the same “cool” clothes as everyone else, for being interested in school, for not shaving my legs. Ultimately, these were all things I could change, except for the clothes.
And then at the end of the video, its author says something very insightful – if you’re doing it because it’s “cool” or the “trend,” and you aren’t making an effort to stand up for the culture it comes from, it’s not acceptable. However, if you’re making an effort to learn and be an advocate, then that’s a respectful thing, and that’s how you should go about it.
Modern consumer culture commodifies things indiscriminately. It’s up to us to make sure that the people who own those cultures can be as free expressing themselves as we appropriators are. I can’t make up for those of my skin color who don’t treat minorities fairly, but I can, as Gandhi put it, “be the change [I] wish to see in the world.”