As Terrible As (Boo! Hiss!) Cultural Appropriation Is, Should We Be Mad?
White people wearing bindis make me mad.
White people wearing feather headdresses make me mad, too.
White people who eat mild Indian food make me mad as well.
White people who do Yoga make me…mad?
White people who drink tea make me mad???
It’s easy to despise cultural appropriation, particularly when one belongs to a minority group, even more so when said cultures have been subjected to imperialism, slave trade and exploitation.
However, as much as every inch of my being is repulsed by someone wearing a bindi or obviously Native American paraphernalia, I have to remember that as a Muslim woman of South Asian heritage, I have adopted or “appropriated” their culture too. I wear jeans and watch repugnant reality television shows, and much of my youth revolved around Kurt Cobain. I live in bloody America. And you could argue that, yes, “White” people have repressed minorities for centuries and such acts of cultural appropriation are insensitive and hit too close to home. But, it would be hypocritical or (stupid) of minority groups to adopt the culture and customs of their former oppressors. There’s a thing called globalization now. Some of it we like and some of it we loathe. If you’re prepared to renounce your jeans, then the White girls in bindis will go.
It would be a tad irrational for disliking someone for drinking tea. How much does a twenty year girl at Coachella, whose biggest source of information comes from pop culture, know about the significance of the feather headdress atop her head, and of those who took great pride in it and of their heritage? Unfortunately, not as much as one would hope. So we could criticize all we please, but it’s better to educate than to admonish?
> But there is absolutely no equivalence between “a Muslim woman of South Asian heritage” in jeans and a white American woman sporting a indigenous headdress at Coachella. To suggest otherwise is to completely dehistoricize both cases, to imply that each occurs within a vacuum. The “hipster headdress” is possible as a phenomenon due to the violent history of settler colonialism in the United States, in which indigenous practices, languages, epistemologies, and peoples were systematically delegitimized and in many cases even eradicated by Euro-Americans. This legacy has rendered the values of indigenous peoples illegitimate in the eyes of most non-indigenous Americans, and therefore not worthy of knowing. Even the most rudimentary of Google searches would uncover how indigenous headdresses often serve religious functions, but many people—Lana Del Rey, for instance—clearly do not care, and this is no coincidence. The contemporary appropriation of “Indian”-looking paraphernalia as a fashion statement makes sense within a history of cultural and literal genocide. The cultural currency of jeans, reality TV shows, or Kurt Cobain, can hardly boast such a charged signification. There is a marked difference between the ways in which the practices and signifiers of Eurocentric American culture are adopted by and/or systematically imposed upon racial minorities—you use the word “appropriated”, but I argue that it does not apply in this case—and the ways in which Euro-Americans decontextualize the practices and signifiers of colonized cultures. The degree of power held by each of these “appropriating” parties is wildly uneven. I feel like what you are trying to justify is hybridity (about which there is a vast body of literature of the postcolonial variety)—which, fair enough. But not all instances of cross-cultural “borrowing” are made equal, and certainly not all of them are okay. “Globalization” is a weak excuse for the continued perpetuation of colonial projects.
I WON A SSHRC
I’M GOING TO THROW UP
That telling wetness.Eileen Myles, “The Face,” from Not Me (1991)
Let her treat you like a criminal
So you can treat her like a priest
You’re moving to the UK tonight. Ten months ago, I was up at 3 AM packing for my first-ever trip to the same place, listening to this song on repeat because it encapsulated precisely what I felt at the time: a stupid, staggering sense of potential. Incidentally, you were the first to introduce me to this dumb song: you made me watch the music video on one of the giant iMacs at the gallery we were both working at. You thought it was funny that the “hot” (to you, not to me—just to make it clear) guy in the narrative turned out to be gay, because don’t the guys we tend to be interested in always turn out to be gay?
We haven’t lived in the same city for almost a year now, but I still miss working at that gallery with you. I miss the vague, ineffable sense of the unwholesome that never failed to descend upon us whenever we went to an opening—I miss how we both registered it. I miss telling each other secrets at the Tim Horton’s on the corner of Main and Broadway because it was the only place in the neighbourhood where we were safe from the terrible people in our lives (all of them hipsters). I miss scoffing at Gene together. I miss going to Lucy’s for milkshakes.
In the past couple of months, the neighbourhood has changed. The store where I would go to stroke hundred-dollar nautical tees is gone. The porno theatre is shutting down. Rhizome is closing in July. VIVO, where we first worked and met each other, has been evicted from their space on Main and 5th. And now, you’ll be gone, too. I’m posting this song to remind you first, to be brave; and second, that you can’t forge the life you want without taking any scary chances. If you never ask the boy out, or move across the Atlantic, how could you possibly know whether it would have worked out?
Vancouver I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down
“‘No Fun City’ has long been Vanouver’s bad inside joke, told equally by punks and cynics, club kids and teens. But now the label has become a nightmare not even the mayor or a contrite Sean Heather can shake. Take a stroll down Water or Carrall Streets and you’ll forget the name of three-quarters of the cafés you see, each boasting indistinguishable, bewildering names like Catch 122, Nelson the Seagull, or, er, Fetch. Every establishment seeking the same brand of faux-elite cachet, each securing only the elegant banality of the nonpareil.
“This is especially ironic given the chief objection raised whenever Downtown Eastsiders ask to determine the direction of their own neighbourhood: you’ll turn it into a ghetto. How this is inferior to a series of cloned Portlandia caricatures I can’t tell. Even the notorious Pidgin pickle plate seemed so emblematic not because of its uniqueness; but on the contrary, because it was such a perfect stand-in for any amuse bouche in any anonymous Gastown travesty.”