The Djao'Mor'Terra Collective (fayanora) wrote,
The Djao'Mor'Terra Collective

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Cultural appropriation

I want to talk about cultural appropriation, because it is not an easy concept, and yet it is SO easy. So I'm going to try to simplify things for those who don't understand.

Cultural appropriation means to take something from another culture that is not your own and use it against the will of the culture in question, especially if done in a mocking way. But even things used respectfully can be cultural appropriation. It's like consent in sex, a little. If the culture says no, if enough people in that culture don't like you doing that thing that is theirs, then it is cultural appropriation.

Even converting to another religion can be cultural appropriation, under the right circumstances. For instance, modern Zoroastrianism does not take converts. You are either born into the religion or you are not, and there is no coming into Zoroastrianism if you are a convert. If someone tells you they have converted to Zoroastrianism, they are lying whether they know it or not, and you should probably inform them that claiming to be a convert to a religion that does not take converts is cultural appropriation.

Furthermore, converting to a religion that does take converts can still be cultural appropriation if their religion either requires or strongly suggests the convert have a guide who is already a member of the religion to teach them their ways. You can't, for example, just toss a skullcap on your head and call yourself a Jew, because there are too many rules you have to know, and the best people to learn these rules from are Jews themselves. If you convert to Judaism without another Jew to help you, you 1. Are not really a convert anyway. and 2. Are committing cultural appropriation.

One form of cultural appropriation that applies to the religion thing as well to other things from different cultures, is done via unintentional mockery. Your intentions can be completely respectful, but if you don't know what you are doing, you will not only make a fool of yourself, but also make unintentional mock of whatever culture you've appropriated. For instance, the "Judaism self-convert" who eats pork and wears the skullcap incorrectly, or the "wigger" who thinks he's being cool and honoring Black culture by becoming a caricature of one small aspect of that culture.

Side note: Some people do not understand why cultural appropriation is bad. But consider something... imagine you are a devout Christian, and some fool comes along from a country where Christianity is a minority; he knows little about Christianity, but tries to convert himself to it. His attempt has him wearing the cross upside down, getting Jesus's name terribly wrong, going to "church" on the wrong day, and he can't even tell you any of the 10 commandments or any of Jesus's teachings, but goes around dressed like a cartoonish mockery of Jesus, snacking on communion wafers and canned cheese. Even if some people find this very funny, a lot more will be VERY pissed off. Even if his intentions were pure, he is making unintentional mock of someone else's culture. [ End side note ]

But it can go the other way, too. I've seen a lot, lately, of people saying things are cultural appropriation which are not. People saying that having spirit animals is cultural appropriation is one example. They've got this notion that spirit animals are only from First Nations culture, which they view as a monoculture, without realizing that spirit animals come from shamanism, which is a blanket term for practices that exist in thousands of cultures the world over and in the past. They forget that there is shamanism in their own ancestry, and therefore having a spirit animal cannot be cultural appropriation unless they're claiming it as part of something else, like if the person is claiming to be a member of First Nations spirituality when they aren't. If you are not part of a First Nation/Native American tribe, as recognized by the tribal leaders, then you cannot be a member of their religion. If you want to go into shamanism, fine; shamanism is not tied to a specific culture and everyone's cultures can trace back to shamanistic roots, so being a shaman is fine. Just don't try to be a shaman of a culture that is not your own.

So, in essence, before you adopt a practice into your life, do some research, and ask yourself the following questions first:
* Is it something tied to a specific culture?
* Are you doing this thing properly?
* Are you doing this thing respectfully?
* Have you done research first (and I mean real research, not just 5 or 20 minutes Googling it)?
* If it is tied to a specific culture, do you have permission from the leadership of that culture to do it?
* If any members of that culture told you to stop doing that, do they still tell you to stop after being shown proof that their leadership is okay with it? ("Leadership approves" clause does not apply to cultures with no recognized hierarchical leaders, and therefore if more than a handful of people in that culture disapprove, you should stop doing it.)

If you answer "No" to any of those questions, you should probably not do the thing. Though admittedly, as evidenced by that last question, things are not always so cut and dry. Like I said at the beginning, it is both an easy concept and a difficult one. Even moreso than consent in sex, because you're not just dealing with the consent of one person, in cultural appropriation.

But ultimately, the point trying to be made by calls of cultural appropriation is that people just want to be treated with dignity and respect, and that means treating their culture with dignity and respect. It isn't always easy to know how to go about doing this, especially if something from their culture exerts a strong pull on your soul, but the point is to try, to ask the people who are already in that culture, and to LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY. Because if you don't, then you're just being an asshole.

This was cross-posted from
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Tags: cultural appropriation, racism, religion, spirituality, thought of the day
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