Since the Halsteadian/Atheist wars are at an end (or at least a cease fire) I find myself with much less to talk about lately. Not that this is a bad thing, perhaps. I can focus more on my religion and gaming, not have to constantly come up with new tactics and logic to refute anti-theist rhetoric. But I have to say, I’ve enjoyed writing more than I was, it was nice to have a cause, and I like giving my readers something to enjoy.
As I said though, the lack of writing has freed me up and I am looking at creating my own oracle deck! I’m going to try and design and build it, and then decide if I want to keep it for myself or move towards publication for it. If this one goes well, I may look into doing it for others. What makes this one different from most oracle decks (and hence why I had to make it myself?) It’s specific to a single God (Goddess in this case). But more on that in another post.
What we’re going to talk about today is while trying to find something to write about, I came across a couple posts talking about cultural appropriation from back when there was that big blow up between Halstead, Krasskova, Dawson, Swiss, and myself. And as usually happens with Cultural Appropriation discussions…well, you’ll see from the articles I’m going to be writing about.
We’re going to start with Cultural Appropriation and Lines in the Sand by Molly Khan. Fair warning, I can’t promise I’ve read or remembered anything written by her before, so we’re just going on the logic and impressions without dragging in past stuff here.
Let me just state upfront: I absolutely believe cultural appropriation is A Thing. It happens, it’s bad, and I think Paganism would be a better umbrella without it. But I also believe there are some distinctions that are worth teasing out within the big Cultural Appropriation label that help get to the heart of what it’s really about.
So far, all well and good. I don’t think cultural appropriation is a thing (I believe in cultural exchange) and I agree with Swiss’s pointing out about cultural appropriation being. “And the term becomes even more ironic when we consider its literal meaning. According to the Wiktionary, “to appropriate” means “[t]o take to oneself; to claim or use, especially as by an exclusive right” or “[t]o set apart for, or assign to, a particular person or use, especially in exclusion of all others; with to or for”. So if anything, it is those who are claiming that bits of culture are the exclusive right of a certain group who are practicing appropriation.”
So that’s just me, and Swiss. But at Khan is willing to tease out the particulars rather than just toss the whole basket. That’s good.
That being said, Paganism is an “umbrella” so claiming that Paganism has “cultural appropriation” issues isn’t exactly true. Given that at it’s broadest, Paganism simply means any non-Abrahamic religion, which includes pretty much every other religion on the planet from every group of people out there. Hard to appropriate what is already, by definition, a part of you.
Just to be perfectly clear: I am a white woman. Though I grew up with some vestiges of German culture from my grandparents and great-grandparents, I am entirely a product of Midwestern America and its culture. Also, I’m not an expert on cultural appropriation – please consider the voices of people of color and other marginalized groups before considering my own.
Oh Bloody Hela.
I should have known this was coming. Nearly sixty years since the Civil Rights Movement and we’re still going on about race. “I’m white, they’re black, our voices have different values.” Oh sure, the game has flipped and supposedly now black has more value than white but still. Khan, you’re a human being, no better or worse in inherent value than anyone else. Your voice is as valuable to the discussion as any black persons.
The argument I keep seeing against cultural appropriation, most recently put forth by fellow Patheos blogger Tom Swiss, is the idea that people (or apparently, cultures) can’t own ideas, styles of clothing, hairstyles, or even religious rituals or beliefs. And of course, in many ways this is true. Cultural exchange happens, ideas and thoughts get swapped back and forth, and in many ways this is how cultures grow and become more sophisticated.
Sooo…good job everyone, let’s pack up and go home? Cultural appropriation isn’t a problem, it doesn’t exist, we’re all just trading things. Black people speak English, White people praise the Loa. Everyone wears pants, except for the Scottish, because they refuse to give up the kilts.
Unfortunately, this completely ignores the power dynamics of cultural relationships. Just like inter-personal relationships, where power dynamics are often considered by society – take for example statutory rape, where an underage person is legally incapable of giving consent to an older person because of the imbalance of power in the relationship – they must also be considered on the larger, cultural scale.
Oh Juno’s C*nt!
Khan, you just admitted Cultural Appropriation doesn’t really exist, that it’s really cultural exchange, where people from both groups take something from the other they like and mimic it (if not recreate it entirely as it was originally). Why are you pulling this bs here? It doesn’t exist, so you have to come up with some way to justify it “existing?”
And did you really just equate someone using a dream catcher or worshiping the Loa to statutory rape? Really? You know, I was completely willing to give you an equal value to your voice regardless of your race. Do not make me decide not to based on your intelligence.
Are you saying that the Loa (pretty fearsome beings by any rights) cannot give their consent to being worshiped by “white” people?” That “white worship” is the equivalent of statutory rape? Because that is the logic of your statement here.
And what is this power dynamic stuff here? I’m presuming that some how, white pagans (a tiny group smaller than Jews) is supposed to have sooo much cultural power vs non-white pagans that…and I can’t even finish that sentience. The level of blind ignorance is beyond me, not to mention that level of racism.
Because that’s what it is. “Since person is of X race, they shall not be allowed to have/do these things. Should they attempt to have/do these things, they are to be punished because X people are forbidden to have/do them and thus they are evil for doing it.” That is text book racism right there.
Imagine a Midwestern American like myself travels to Britain, takes a few culinary courses, and then returns home to Nebraska to open what he touts as an ‘authentic British pub’. Is he being dishonest in his advertising? Probably, and that’s not awesome. But is he damaging the cultural identity of British people? Are people likely to take this image of British cuisine and use it to perpetuate false ideas about the British people that will affect and harm them every day? It doesn’t seem likely.
That depends, is he using authentic British recopies and authentic British ingredients? Because if he is…I don’t see the false advertising. But that’s just me. And if the man is of British lineage himself, claiming that his doing these things is not honest, well…that’s kinda like saying every American Heathen is not a true heathen because they weren’t born and raise in Scandinavia, isn’t it?
But to answer the question, no, he’s not damaging the identity of British people.
Now think about all the false images we are bombarded with about, for example, Native Americans. This isn’t just one guy opening a misrepresented restaurant – this is a culture-wide saturation of stereotypes that are hurtful and wrong. Disney’s Pocahontas was one of my favorite movies when I was a child, presenting me with this lovely image of a magical culture so in-tune with nature and the world around them, living in perfect harmony with the world.
Can you give an example?
I mean, how Native Americans are represented in the media is…pretty diverse, when you think about it. Some are heroic, some are lazy, some are good, some are evil, some are very in tune with nature (and that’s not a stereotype) and some of them aren’t. If the closest you can give to me as an example though is a Disney cartoon… I think you’re argument is about to have more problems.
After all, I could point you to say “Last of the Mohicans.”
Generally, it portrays the Englishmen in a much worse light, but white children didn’t grow up thinking all Englishmen were ridiculously greedy and hated nature – because these children were white, and they knew many white people of varied personalities, so of course not all white people are like that. But generally these children did not know many Native Americans, were not presented with diverse stories of Native American people and their lives, and so it became simple to accept Pocahontas‘s stereotypes as accurate portrayals of all Native peoples.
Judging by modern day college campuses…I’m going to have to dispute that whole “white children didn’t grow up thinking the English were universally evil” thing. In fact, I’m getting the impression from most liberal arts colleges that every child watched that movie, and ones like it, and now believes that white people are universally oppressive and evil. Heck, Ms Khan…you’re showing elements of that yourself.
Also, while it has been a while since I watched Pocahantis, I don’t recall that all the English guys were shown as that bad. I think it was just the main villain. Then again, everyone likes to point out how “racist” the English were in the song Savages, while ignoring the fact that the Natives were saying literally the same racist stuff.
But hey, they were talking about white people. I guess that makes it correct?
But let’s take a moment, Khan is basically saying that the representation of Native American’s in Pocahantis is unrealistic, stereotyped, and an example of racism. But…the English were just as stereotyped in that movie. I’d actually say it was pretty balanced in showing the good and evil of both sides. But, Hel, we can extend this logic even further.
Beauty and the Beast showed as distorted a view of French people as Pocahantis did of Natives and English.
Oh yes, completely accurate to the French.
So according to Khan, Pocahantis was the only media of Native Americans that children got, is horribly racist for stereotyping (by which standard all Disney movies are not racist propaganda against every nationality out there), and Native Americans never were, never are, and never will be like that.
I believe this is what people call a strawman argument.
Khan…step up the example game. Disney cartoons alone are not going to prove anything. 😛
This is cultural appropriation. When you take a culture, portray it inaccurately or even one-dimensionally, and there are too few people or their voices are too silenced to be heard, then you are creating a false image of that culture that is damaging – whether you think the portrayal is positive or not. This is what happens when the Pagan community takes over a term like ‘shamanism’ – that word has a meaning, a context within its original Siberian Tungus culture, but so few people know what that even is! The word has been taken and packaged and applied to practices and cultures that have nothing to do with its original use. Even more alarmingly it has been applied to practices of other cultures, like those of some Native American groups, who also don’t have the ability to speak loud enough to protest this mis-labeling of their spiritual practices.
That is “Stereotyping.” When you strip a cultural identity down to a few “tropes” and then use it, that is a stereotype. Here, I’ll explain the difference.
Stereotype: “All Spaniards are horny.”
PC Cultural Appropriation: Irish people worshiping the Santa Muerta, a Hispanic Saint.
Actual Cultural Appropriation: Insisting that Irish people cannot pray to the Santa Muerta because they’re not Hispanic.
See, major, major differences.
As for the word Shaman as an example, since you seem to have forgotten the story, I will tell it again. European Academics studied the Tengus culture, learned of their shaman, and found that the rest of the world had similar practices, so they decided to just use the word shaman to describe them all. Much like how ever culture practiced some form of medicine and they ended up being all called Doctors, despite every culture having a different name for them. This is a good example of cultural exchange, the Tengus had a word to describe a concept which the original European word had been lost for, so they used it.
But here’s the thing, it was used by Europeans. Native Americans can and do still have their own term for what they call their stuff. It’s not mislabeling anything. Europeans use the word “shaman” for the concept and other people use a different word. It’s called translation, not appropriation.
Oh why do I even try. I’m arguing with someone whose definition of cultural appropriation means Beauty and the Beast is a racist screed against French people.
This concept of power dynamics is what also makes it impossible to appropriate from Heathenry or Germanic cultures. First of all, despite what some Heathens would like to believe, modern Heathenry is not a culture in the way that the Saami or Pakistanis are. We are a religious group, with rather loose affiliations at that. Black people, people of Asian descent, anyone can call on the Nordic Gods because the culture that gave rise to those deities is effectively dead, having been evolving for over a thousand years.
You can’t culturally appropriate from white people, because those are dead cultures.
So what you’re saying here, Khan, is that while it is morally objectionable for a white person to worship the Loa, it is okay for a black person to worship the Aesir because “white culture so dead yo, you can’t take it away from them.”
I’m sorry, Heathenry isn’t a culture in the same way that the Saami or Pakistani are? Huh, well, let’s see.
- The arts, customs, lifestyles, background, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation. [quotations ▼]
- The beliefs, values, behaviour and material objects that constitute a people’s way of life. [quotations ▼]
- (anthropology) Any knowledge passed from one generation to the next, not necessarily with respect to human beings.
- A culture is the combination of the language that you speak and the geographical location you belong to. It also includes the way you represent dates, times and currencies.
I’m sorry, it doesn’t make a difference if it’s “living or dead!” A Culture is a Culture. And Modern Heathenry (however loosely affiliated) meets all those standards!
And if you wanna pull this “power dynamics” bullshit about “people not having a voice” well then how do you justify the power dynamics of taking shit from a “dead culture” who has “no voice” by living people of a different “race” who just want to do whatever they want with it?
Your argument has turned into hypocritical bullshit. “It is wrong to take things from cultures whose voices are silenced” but “these cultures here are “dead” (silenced) so it’s okay to take things from them.”
And the only difference is the “race” of that culture. Bad if from “Colored” but Good if from “White.”
Yes, sometimes people use runes without knowing much about their historical and cultural background. Yes, sometimes people call on Odhin and Poseidon together in a ritual. By and large, the people doing these things are white Americans, products of American culture – and generally, the Heathens who complain that their culture is being appropriated are also white Americans. These people are part of the same culture, have the same power dynamic between them.
What? No, you’re pulling this shit out of left field. This was no part of your argument before this. You weren’t talking about people calling on Norse and Roman gods as the same time as cultural appropriation. You were talking about white people taking shit from colored people.
Keep to you own damn argument and case!
None of the cultural appropriation discussion I’ve seen was ever about “white” people calling on Roman and Norse gods at the same time (which is in fact its own religion, the Cultus Deorum Germanica, it’s starting up). You can’t just change the topic, or say that “that’s fair because the power dynamics are the same.”
There were completely different power dynamics between Romans and Germanic peoples, Khan! You’re being a dumbass. And claiming that all white people have an equal power dynamic is so blatantly “white washing” of history as to be practically a hate crime. Have you never heard of the Irish? The Scots? The Poles? Hel, even the Germans, Norwegians, and nearly every other European race has had a shit time of it from “white” and “Colored” peoples. The English were a conquered people for ages, and the Spanish lived for 700 years under Islamic tyranny. But no, I guess Khan can’t think of those power dynamics. It would ruin the narrative.
In the end, I can’t say that any culture owns an idea or a style or a religious ceremony. It comes down to respect. Do you respect the struggle of marginalized peoples? Then don’t take their things.
Ha ha ha…no.
If a culture cannot own an idea or style or religious ceremony, than they are not “their things” and no amount of disrespect or respect will change that. If black people do not own the Loa (which they don’t, that would be divine slavery) then white people can worship the Loa, because they’re not taking anything that these PoC own. And I’m sorry, when were “white” Pagans not a marginalized people?
Khan is trying to pull so much double think in this article it is laughable (and racist). She also completely destroys her own point, by trying to say that both sides are right. It’s like that scene in Fiddler on the Roof.
But there you have it. Remember kids, do not take the things from people who don’t own those things either, because cartoons are racist appropriations and dead white cultures can be used by anyone. Or else you aren’t respecting marginalized people (of color, whites and European religions don’t count).
You know, during the whole appropriation thing, I have to say that so far, this is the stupidist of the articles. Halstead was an ass, but he at least had freedom of expression on his side. Krasskova and Dawson were effectively culturally appropriating, but at least they were attempting to say “respect the gods from which this comes.” Swiss frankly had the sanest response. But Khan…Khan just goes off the deep end into being a bloody racist, saying people can and can’t have/do things based on their skin color alone. She can dress it up in whatever pretty/intellectual language she wants to, but at the end of the day she’s only justifying hate and racism, essentially in the name of “racial/cultural purity”. And that’s not okay.