Friday, April 29, 2016

Why the question "Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation" is the wrong one

This morning I read Monica Edinger's post, titled Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation? about the "Hindu festival of Holi being taken and reconfigured by a company of white Germans into a hipster event in Brooklyn and abroad." 

Reading the links she provided, and thinking about all the examples in which people or characters in books or movies dress up in feathers and fringe, I realized that the question she and many others ask ("is it Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation") can lead us down the wrong path. Here's why.

Dance, for example, as defined by the mainstream (white European or European American) is seen as a cultural expression. The image to the right reflects several different kinds of dance. (The image is from Gender Roles in the Art of Dance.)

For some peoples, dance is religious, not cultural. Some of their festivals are religious in nature. 

If we step away from the phrase "Cultural" and ask if what we're viewing or thinking about doing is religious, might that help people step away from doing things that are, in fact, sacrilegious


Unknown said...

For me, the issue of appropriation cannot be separated from power. Appropriation happens when members of a powerful group use cultures of a group less powerful. But even when appropriation is not about religion--say, when white people put cornrows in their hair--it is about power.

I think that sacrilegious acts can be very important when directed by less powerful groups, or members of a dominant religious group at a dominant religion that holds power (I'm thinking of Sinead O'Connor tearing up the photograph of the Pope all those years ago).

Just my two cents.


Unknown said...

Another thing I really struggle with is the Western privileging of [certain] religions over other forms of belief. Why, for instance, should respect for religious belief be considered more important than respect for my father's Marxism, a dearly held belief of his that has shaped his life? Marxism has been responsible for many atrocities and deaths--but so has Christianity. Marxism has shaped my father's life, his relationships with others, in drastic ways. Why shouldn't his beliefs be granted the same respect as Christianity? Or, more relevant to me, why should I respect Christian beliefs any more than I respect my father's Marxism?

I realize I'm an outlier in that I don't automatically accord religious belief more respect than cultural practices--in fact, personally, I'm more likely to respect non-religious cultural practices more than religious belief and practice. My sense of respect is based more on power dynamics and relations--as well as history of harm done.


Debbie Reese said...


Your comments always add to the conversations here on AICL. And they push my thinking, too.

I want to think about whether or not I automatically give religious belief more respect than cultural practices. I think I don't, but I think that many (most?) people understand the concept of sacrilege and use that thinking to help them see the problems that occur when they fail to recognize the religions of Native peoples.

Unknown said...

You're very, very kind!

I should have been clearer that the deference many people give to religion is only to some religions, and that due to racism and settler-colonialism, respect and deference to Native peoples' religions has never been the default on the part of US people and culture, which is all the more reason, in my opinion, why non-Native people need to be extra careful to accord respect to those religions now. The sacrilege I was thinking of in a positive way was more about marginalized groups pushing back against dominant religious ideologies that harm them.

So I was more thinking out loud than anything else, and in a way that may not have been relevant, strictly speaking. So I thank you again for your tolerance and kindness.