General Cultural Borrowing Is Great; The Problem Is Disrespect

Discussion in 'Convert's Corner' started by Ishna, Sep 4, 2018.

  1. Ishna

    Ishna Enthusiast Writer SPNer

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    Who owns yoga—or ‘talking black’ or Samurai regalia? No one, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to use them in ways that ridicule or exploit the cultures they come from.
    By Kwame Anthony Appiah (Source)

    Should we be tying ourselves in knots over the growing popularity of yoga? Some think so, charging its Western enthusiasts with “cultural appropriation”—that is, the borrowing by a dominant group of the cultural ideas or practices of a weaker group. In one notable case a couple of years ago, sensitivity to the issue led to the cancellation of a free weekly yoga class at the University of Ottawa. A member of the student federation explained to the white woman who taught it that yoga had been taken from “cultures that have experienced oppression, cultural genocide and diasporas due to colonialism and Western supremacy.”

    But the arguments over cultural appropriation have become notoriously twisty, and people of color aren’t exempt from the charge. The Asian-American actress and rap artist Awkwafina has faced accusations of cultural appropriation for, essentially, “talking black” in her role as the heroine’s brassy sidekick in the new film “Crazy Rich Asians.” In the other direction, various black rap artists have been accused of cultural appropriation for borrowing markers of Asian culture: Samurai regalia, kimonos, geisha fans.

    It is tempting to dismiss such complaints because so many of them seem exaggerated or wrongheaded. But it’s important to make distinctions in these cases: Sometimes cultural hackles are raised for good reason.

    Why doesn’t cultural appropriation define the offense? For one thing, the fluidity of power can make it tricky to establish who’s got the upper hand. How should we assess the power dynamic when black American performers help themselves to sartorial signage from Japan, one of the richest nations on the planet?

    Consider, for that matter, how eager India’s ruling elite has been to assert yoga as a national possession. Prime Minister Narendra Modi established a separate ministry to develop and propagate yoga and other traditional health-related practices. “There is little doubt about yoga being an Indian art form,” the yoga minister has said. Baba Ramdev, a hugely popular guru who has helped bring Mr. Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party to power, records videos of yoga poses and movements that are watched by millions.

    ‘Cultural practices and objects are mobile; they like to spread.’

    Baba Ramdev does a terrific downward-facing-dog—he says it triggers hair growth—but in India, Hindu nationalists like him are the top dogs. Swami Ramdev himself controls a multibillion-dollar corporation. So try explaining to a low-caste Dalit or a Muslim in the subcontinent that the people they consider their overlords are really an oppressed, marginalized and subordinated group. “One person’s center is another’s periphery,” as the scholar of Hinduism Wendy Doniger has observed.

    Which brings up the larger issue of boundaries. All cultural practices and objects are mobile; they like to spread, and they are themselves usually products of intermixture. Kente cloth, a famed product of the Asante region of southern Ghana, was originally made with dyed silk thread imported from Asia. My Asante forebears took something produced by others and made it their own. Or rather, weavers in an Asante village named Bonwire did. Today’s putative cultural owners may be a previous era’s cultural appropriators.

    The real problem is that ownership is the wrong model. The arts flourished in the world’s traditional cultures without being conceptualized as “intellectual property,” and the traditional products and practices of a group—its songs and stories, even its secrets—are not made more useful by being tethered to their supposed origins. But vigorous corporate lobbying has helped the idea of intellectual property to conquer the world. To accept the notion of cultural appropriation is ultimately to buy into a regime where corporate entities, acting as cultural guardians, “own” a treasury of intellectual property and extract a toll when others make use of it.

    Still, the charge of cultural appropriation does sometimes point to a real offense. Typically, this involves forms of disrespect, which can indeed have to do with inequalities of power. If you’re a Sioux, you recognize that your people are being ridiculed when some fraternity boys don a parody of the headdress of your ancestors and make whooping noises. But disrespect isn’t best met with a charge of theft.

    Suppose Kanye West made a music video in which he used the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, to mourn a Maserati he’d totaled. Here, again, the offense wouldn’t be appropriation; it would be the insult of trivializing something another group holds sacred.

    And when an American pop star makes a mint from riffing on Mbaqanga music from South Africa, you can wonder if the rich American gave the much poorer Africans who taught it to him their fair share of the proceeds. If he didn’t, the problem is not cultural theft but exploitation. People who p{censored} such transgressions in terms of ownership have accepted a commercial system that is alien to the traditions they aim to protect.

    Yoga turns out to be an illuminating case study here. The religious-studies scholar Andrea Jain has looked at how major figures in the establishment of modern yoga, like K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar, sought to emphasize its putatively ancient roots, while also claiming biomedical authority. (Today, Swami Ramdev says yoga can cure cancer; also, homosexuality.)

    In reality, what most people know today as yoga—postures, breathing exercises—has little precedent in premodern sources. You’ll search the ancient Yoga Sutras in vain for the downward-facing dog or the other famous poses. The story of their origins is, in part, the story of Western physical-culture manuals devoted to calisthenics and gymnastics. In fact, the scholar Mark Singleton has detailed specific similarities between yoga and a Danish gymnastics system that was taken up in the early years of the 20th century by the British and others.

    To think that the hybrid origins of modern yoga render it inauthentic is to miss the point of this scholarship. “There is no ‘legitimate,’ ‘authentic,’ ‘orthodox,’ or original tradition,” as Prof. Jain explains, “only contextualized ideas and practices organized around the term yoga”—a term that has had no fixed meaning over the centuries. Well-meaning Westerners can thus find themselves colluding with right-wing Hindu nationalists who are intent on claiming ownership over complex, dynamic and adaptive practices. A little wokeness is a dangerous thing.

    Disrespect and exploitation are worthy targets of our disapproval, but the idea of cultural appropriation is ripe for the wastebasket. Even when it’s applied to a real problem, the diagnosis only invites confusion. The harder task will be to give up the ideology of cultural ownership, to resist the temptation to cast every practice as a piece of intellectual property and every affront as a property crime. The rhetoric of ownership is alluring and potent, but when we’re describing the quicksilver complexities of culture, it just isn’t appropriate.

    —This essay is adapted from Mr. Appiah’s new book, “The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity,” published by Liveright. He is a professor of philosophy and law at New York University.
     
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  3. sukhsingh

    sukhsingh Writer SPNer

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    This is key if a little clumsy in understanding 'power relationships'
     
  4. Ishna

    Ishna Enthusiast Writer SPNer

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    Can you elaborate?
     
  5. sukhsingh

    sukhsingh Writer SPNer

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    Power relationships as he begins by exploring the the issue isn't about people having the upper hand.. I'm being a pedant but in such discourse we have to be careful . Overall I feel what he is saying
     
  6. RD1

    RD1 Writer SPNer

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    This whole topic is quite sticky and sensitive. With all the colonization that has gone on in the world for 1000s of years, and ongoing - in more obvious or subtler assimilative ways - perhaps all cultures that have ever existed and exist today have been at least partly stolen, borrowed, or enforced.

    I do get the issue though - and I think the main thing is when one group disrespects or trivializes or profits off of something that is very particular to another group. Sharing of cultures is what is needed - a way to learn and grow from each other. Can it be mutually beneficial though some how?
     
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  7. sukhsingh

    sukhsingh Writer SPNer

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    Identity is not a fixed thing.. We like to believe that we have a sense of self but it is totally constructed and imaginary..

    Cultural appropriation is a very unique phenomenon which is easily misconstrued.. Cultural appropriation isn't when people use symbols or artifacts of 'other' cultures.. It happens within structures of power.. That doesn't mean that those who culturally appropriate are consciously appropriating.

    Let's consider this example for discussion.. :
    When panjabi kids of a sikh background where a kara for instance or are chauvinistic in articulating a sikh identity but have very little understanding of the symbolism and 'value' of said expression are they also not appropriating?
    We all do it..
    If we were to walk down the road and see a turbaned singh smoking most of us would be {censored}ed off because we would feel the article is appropriated.
     
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  8. Harry Haller

    Harry Haller

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    I think when every starving child has a meal, when every person living in fear is at peace, when rape, war and genocide are a thing of the past, when poverty has been vanquished, then there might be a place for such arguments, no one owns anything, and everything is up for grabs, as much as disrespect and exploitation are deemed worthy targets for our disapproval, such happens every day within the same culture, within the same caste, within the same household, there is so much more to disapprove of in this world than this coffee shop philosophy for bored liberals
     
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  9. sukhsingh

    sukhsingh Writer SPNer

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    I'm not sure characterising people calling out cultural appropriation as a philosophy of bored liberals .. If we are honest most of the debate is usually about people applying critical thinking to appropriation, and then you get a barrage of abuse of people calling them snowflakes or bored liberals even
     
  10. Harry Haller

    Harry Haller

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    critical thinking, shmitical shminking, until some bright spark patents cultural traits, that were probably stolen from another culture anyway, i say take whatever facet or trait that you find useful and use it.

    Its not abuse on my part, simply what I perceive to be true....
     
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  11. sukhsingh

    sukhsingh Writer SPNer

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    The doors of perception...?
     
  12. Harry Haller

    Harry Haller

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    no, my doors of perception, which I do believe I am entitled to.
     
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  13. sukhsingh

    sukhsingh Writer SPNer

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    My doors of perception. Entitled ? Interesting way to express it
     
  14. Harry Haller

    Harry Haller

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    perception
    pəˈsɛpʃ(ə)n/
    noun
    1. 1.
      the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
      "the normal limits to human perception"



    2. 2.
      the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.
      "Hollywood's perception of the tastes of the American public"

    surely personal perception is a right and an entitlement?

    If someone who perceives things differently, someone who say, applies critical thinking to appropriation, then that is their right and entitlement too, the problem we have is that perception can come under the pack effect, sometimes whole swathes of people may succumb to what may be a false perception due to what is fashionable and right on, but that does not always mean that it is correct. All cultures are entwined, all cultures borrow and steal facets, one could say that American culture is a melting pot of every culture that exists, with various facets coming to the front, receding, and then coming back again, depending on the time and the circumstances, personally, I blame the member berries.

     
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  15. sukhsingh

    sukhsingh Writer SPNer

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    People have the right to believe what they believe.. They are entitled to their beliefs.. But that does not mean that you can not challenge and contest their beliefs, based on their perception..

    That is why we apply critical thinking and rational thought. Objective, measurable, structured critical thinking..
    If someone walked into harminder sahib with khalsa Bana smoking a cigarette would you not challenge them ?
     
  16. sukhsingh

    sukhsingh Writer SPNer

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    If madonna was to wear a dastaar in a music video would you be OK with that ?
     
  17. Harry Haller

    Harry Haller

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    nope, I could not care less, in fact, I would find it heartwarming, because you can see clearly the defects in that persons personality, and you can make clear assumptions of what they are. Many people walk into Harminder Sahib in full Khalsa bana that are guilty of much much more than smoking, if this someones only vice was smoking and stupidity, I could live with that, I cannot live with the multitudes that posture and preen themselves in such bana but have the heart of monkeys and the brains of jackals. So where does your rational thought and critical thinking come into that?
     
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  18. Harry Haller

    Harry Haller

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    Why not? I would be proud of it, it would make people ask questions, it would further Sikhi in the media, people would want to know what it was, and then want to know what Sikhi was, Sikhi has no patent on dastaars, such attitudes only make us precious, but then precious seems to be the way the world is going at the moment, but its not my way.
     
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  19. Kanwaljit.Singh

    Kanwaljit.Singh Writer SPNer

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    do you think we control/own these things?
     
  20. RD1

    RD1 Writer SPNer

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    How many people would actually want to know, ask questions, and take the time to research about it? Some may - and this could indeed be a positive thing - but it comes down to how the dastaar is being portrayed. I am pretty sure most would not take the time to research, and they would come to associate dastaars with whatever else is being portrayed in the music video. Conditioning. Media is a big tool which teaches people many things. I think this is what the heart of the cultural appropriation issue is- are items that have a deep/significant meaning to a group being respected/used in appropriate context, or are they being portrayed as a pop-culture fashion statement, a fad.

    There should be no patent on dastaars, but dastaars do have meaning associated to them.
     
  21. RD1

    RD1 Writer SPNer

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    This is a good thing to remember....it isn't always intentional.
     
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