Cultural Appropriation or Emulation: Does it Matter?

  
Published in the Mindful Word, please enjoy an article I contributed to the ongoing conversation about Rachel Dolezal, cultural appropriation and social media. 

For those of us who grew up in a Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, or Nepali household, our struggles to fit in are vastly different in magnitude, but the solidarity exists. So that’s why we are upset when someone wakes up one day and decides to exploit our turbulent identities as a disposable fashion—and by doing so be rewarded as a paragon of globalization and cultural acceptance. How dare they regard Indian fashion as effortlessly cool and chic while we make it look “fobby,” or a stubborn adherence to our culture that purports us to be “fresh off the boat.”


How dare they have a crush when we spent our entire lives trying to love.

Read more here.

Peace, 

Gaze

Is Sylvia Plath a cultural appropriator?

image

Daddy

BY SYLVIA PLATH

You do not do, you do not do   

Any more, black shoe

In which I have lived like a foot   

For thirty years, poor and white,   

Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.   

You died before I had time——

Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,   

Ghastly statue with one gray toe   

Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic   

Where it pours bean green over blue   

In the waters off beautiful Nauset.   

I used to pray to recover you.

Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town   

Scraped flat by the roller

Of wars, wars, wars.

But the name of the town is common.   

My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.   

So I never could tell where you   

Put your foot, your root,

I never could talk to you.

The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.   

Ich, ich, ich, ich,

I could hardly speak.

I thought every German was you.   

And the language obscene

An engine, an engine

Chuffing me off like a Jew.

A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.   

I began to talk like a Jew.

I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna   

Are not very pure or true.

With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck   

And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack

I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,

With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.   

And your neat mustache

And your Aryan eye, bright blue.

Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You——

Not God but a swastika

So black no sky could squeak through.   

Every woman adores a Fascist,   

The boot in the face, the brute   

Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,   

In the picture I have of you,

A cleft in your chin instead of your foot   

But no less a devil for that, no not   

Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.

I was ten when they buried you.   

At twenty I tried to die

And get back, back, back to you.

I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,   

And they stuck me together with glue.   

And then I knew what to do.

I made a model of you,

A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.   

And I said I do, I do.

So daddy, I’m finally through.

The black telephone’s off at the root,   

The voices just can’t worm through.

If I’ve killed one man, I’ve killed two——

The vampire who said he was you   

And drank my blood for a year,

Seven years, if you want to know.

Daddy, you can lie back now.

There’s a stake in your fat black heart   

And the villagers never liked you.

They are dancing and stamping on you.   

They always knew it was you.

Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.

Sylvia Plath, “Daddy” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1960, 1965, 1971, 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Editorial matter copyright © 1981 by Ted Hughes. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Irving Howe charged that “there is something monstrous, utterly disproportionate, when tangled emotions about one’s father are deliberately compared with the historical fate of the European Jews.” Susan Gubar wrote similarly that using the Holocaust as metaphor diminishes the Jewish experience,  the real of it, personalizing and fictionalizing it.

Is that a form of cultural appropriation?

Mindfulness: Culturally Diverse not Divisive

  
My Eagle (Eastern Washington University Eagle) and I speak most days about her training, school, roommates and life in the Northwest. Her pre-season schedule keeps her wickedly busy, but yesterday we ended the day unwinding to the news of her day and mine. 

After reminding me of her class schedule, one class being African American studies, we began a discussion about cultural appropriation, having referenced the class that Rachel Dolezal (former professor at EWU and President of the NCAA who made the news recently by her parents outing her as white) would have taught. 

Not surprisingly, she and I differed. She thought social media had gotten it right this time. People should not be consuming cultural artifacts as if unattached to the people who suffered or strove through the badges, persecution or honors of and by those cultural expressional effects. 

One example she insisted on was the appropriation of “clueless white girls” adorning themselves with henna though they do not care a whit for Indian culture or people. In fact, she claims, these same young white girls actively discriminate and ridicule cultures different from their own (if whiteness is a culture as well as a position of privilege and power?), including Indians.

Admittedly, my most played role as devil’s advocate annoys my children. But this time I was not baiting. I countered with labeling and generalizing as liable to injure as much as the lack of consciousness of some consumerists. Not all cultural appropriations spell disrespect. 

We live in a multicultural world, America being one of the most diversely populated. Adapting the behaviors, clothing, styles and language of other cultures organically arises from living among others. What matters–the same always–are words and actions consciously spoken and taken. 

To love another culture so much as to adapt it is not uncommon. People move to other countries more suitable to their natures. Look at Cat Stevens, who left American fame and fortune to live in a culture more nourishing to his spirit. One can question his or anyone’s motives for “abandoning” his or her birthright, but why, what’s the point?

The people my daughter–and her social network–criticize, live inauthentically and thereby injure others, I suspect. To affect the style of another group is an act of honoring, blind imitation, or malicious mockery, depending on the intentions of the adapter. 

But all behavior may be measured as moral, immoral or amoral, depending upon the degree to which the actor moves beyond him or herself toward another–and with a conscious intention of producing good or ill will.

Mindfulness is an overused term, quickly turning trite. But in truth, to bring mind to bear on everything we do matters most. Morality is another term that gets maligned in its use, overuse and abuse. But the morality that the philosophers hypothesize about in classrooms, bars and libraries through time immemorial informs the morality I believe defines mindfulness:  an ethics of right behavior toward others, which is situationally switched on by a mind and heart likewise opened and active.

I am not foolhearty enough to believe in a “correct” behavior for every situation, but the footpath toward morality starts with a consciousness of the causes and effects of what we do, otherwise known as awareness. Thinking awake and remembering that we belong to a community are two steps in the right direction on that path.

At the conclusion of our call, I asked her what I should write about next, after plastic bags and waterless urinals. She offered sex work and cam girls. Um….wait, what?
 

credit: socialwork.simmons.edu