(cont.) but i’m still very much of the opinion that nothing should be done to protect people from offending the people who actually adhere to the sects that hold these things ‘holy’. i don’t think there’s anything wrong with stereotypes, AS LONG as people are educated to know that stereotypes are just that. i very much agree that people should really buy the native american crafts from native americans (cont.)
(cont.) and not from huge morally indefensible companies like f21, who don’t give a shit about the people they take the inspiration for these things from. but just because one group of people consider something sacred doesn’t make it so. people should be allowed to desecrate whatever they want, as long as they never harm any humans, or destroy other people’s work (e.g. churches, burial grounds, temples etc.). i’m open to have my mind changed on this, though.
Okay. To start, I think two things are getting mixed up in all of this:
1) cultural appropriation
2) ‘costumes’, ‘dress up’ and other forms of engaging in perpetrating stereotypes
Both piss me off, but they are not both cultural appropriation. I’m not going to discuss the second point, just the first, because I think that’s where most of the ambivalence is in people who are just starting to think about this. Most people already understand why playing ‘dress up’ using racist stereotypes is wrong…and if they don’t, I basically write them off as not worth the time.
Okay. So, cultural appropriation. I see two errors with your argument so far:
a) the appeal to common practice: people culturally appropriate all the time, thus cultural appropriation is okay and;
b) a misunderstanding of what ‘restricted’ means.
On the first issue, when cultural appropriation is taking place (as in, restricted symbols are being used/taken without permission), you cannot rely on the fact that it happens to justify it happening. What I mean is, I’m arguing it’s wrong, and I’m not saying it’s just wrong when it’s native restricted symbols. The fact that people do it anyway does not change a wrong into a right. You would have to make an argument about why these symbols cannot be legitimately restricted in the first place. What doesn’t pass the muster is saying, “well it’s wrong but other people do it so it’s okay for me to do it too”. That’s the “he did it first!” defence that doesn’t save us as children either :D
Which brings us to b. A lot of the things you discuss fall under the ‘costume’ category in 2, so we weed those out right away. They aren’t cultural appropriation per se, and their level of offensiveness depends on the context (i.e. whether they perpetuate harmful stereotypes that are used to justify continuing oppression against a people).
However, while you may not be arrested for claiming to hold restricted qualifications (having an MD etc), you are nonetheless committing a fraud. Most common law and civil law countries have specific Acts controlling certain types of professions…doctors, lawyers, architects, and so on. These legislative regimes define who is eligible to become a member of these professions, what qualifications they must have, what obligations and duties apply and so forth. Thus, not everyone can practice medicine, or law etc. You can pretend to have these qualifications and you might even get away with it, but what you are doing is still probably illegal.
Now you can argue that anyone should be able to do these things and the restrictions are invalid…but I doubt you will. There is a reason these restrictions are in place and most people can come up with good reasons for that without delving into the legislative history.
What you can’t do, is convincingly argue that because people are committing fraud by actually impersonating police officers (i.e. not just dressing up as a costume), lawyers, medical doctors and so forth, that this makes violating those restrictions ‘okay’. That wouldn’t make any logical sense, if you actually understand and support why those restrictions exist.
Analogies are of limited use, unfortunately. I gave analogies within western culture that would be understandable to settlers. They are not equivalents to native cultural restrictions. We don’t write elaborate Acts regulating who can be a warrior, and who can wear a headdress, and who can practice medicine. Our cultural restrictions are expressed in other ways, and it’s not really that important for you to understand exactly how that works. Not for this discussion.
It is important, however, to understand that these restrictions exist, and that they are not unimportant merely because you do not come from the culture, and do not understand the reasoning behind them. An immigrant to Canada, coming from a nation where anyone can practice medicine (I doubt such a place actually exists though) cannot use this lack of restriction in his or home country to justify practicing medicine in Canada. It would not be allowed.
And here is where analogies just aren’t adequate. You aren’t living in a First Nation community, and I am not saying that you have to in order for these restrictions to apply to you. I think they apply outside our communities too, and not just because these lands are originally ours. Our own people are not allowed to access certain symbols because within our culture they are restricted. Merely living outside our culture should not extinguish the restrictions and open up the floodgates to non-natives, on precisely the basis that they aren’t us. That is basically saying that the restricted cultural symbols of all other cultures you are not a member of are open to you (but not to the people in the culture). And frankly, that would be fucked up.
It renders the symbol meaningless, stripping it of all its cultural context…while at the same time, the people using it claim an affinity with the culture they are taking it from. I’m sorry, but you can’t have it both ways. Steal our restricted shit, and don’t care…but don’t pretend that it honours us or that it is anything less than theft. (I say this in general, I’m not directing it at you).
And like I say in the longer article, don’t get hung up on the word ‘sacred’:
I do not care if you are religious, spiritual, or atheist. These are choices you make, and I respect them. However, because of the turbulent history of religion in western settler philosophy (and in many other parts of the world, from whence Canadians come), the translation of terms from our languages into the word ‘sacred’ can sometimes cause trouble. Let’s talk about that for a second.
I feel that when other cultures discuss ‘sacred’ things, some people feel obligated to reject or elevate those things because of how they feel about their own religious traditions, or their atheism. The issue gets confused as being about ‘religion’, when that is not necessarily what is going on.
Usually when we say ‘sacred’, there are more complex terms in our own language that apply…all of which basically mean to impart that the thing in question is ‘important and meaningful in a specific way’. When you see the term ‘sacred’, please remember that.
Also, desecration of the restricted symbols of oppressed peoples is inherently harmful, as it bolsters already institutionalised systems that continue to oppress us. For many years, we were denied our cultural practices and our symbols by law. We were punished for wearing these items, practicing our ceremonies, speaking our languages and so on. That has changed, but now we see these things used against us in new ways. Used to stereotype us as all being the same, fitting into ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ caricatures, erasing our actual traditions and culture. Our symbols and ceremonies are being taken up by people who feel that they do not have to abide by the restrictions, and so these people (being much more numerous than those within our cultures who are allowed to wear/do these things) get to basically define what the symbols/ceremonies mean. That is cultural erasure and it continues the process of cultural genocide.
I’m not talking about moccasins or feather earrings. There are many items within our cultures that are not restricted and can be used by non-natives. That does not mean it is all up for grabs, and it certainly does not mean that taking restricted things is not harmful, or somehow an exercise of some noble human right.
I hope that clarifies things more for you, whether you end up agreeing or not. Also, you might consider this….oppressed peoples, colonised peoples, do not have the institutional power to do what you claim should be done freely. We cannot appropriate the restricted symbols of settler culture, because we would be punished for this. I don’t want us to have some ‘equal right’ to do this mind, you, but the power imbalance involved should not be forgotten.