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Thread: Canada and cultural appropriation?

  1. #21
    Member KHK's Avatar
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    Coming from the natural sciences background, I often find terms in Sociology (and many other Humanities disciplines) too vaguely defined and imprecise. Their existence saws so much confusion, ambiguity - and yes, even discord - that in some cases it looks like the discourse would have been better off without a certain term having been coined at all.

    "Cultural appropriation" appears to be one such. In this thread alone, several vastly different definitions have already been provided.
    And in my opinion - yes, again, formed by the sanctity of the scientific method, reproducibility of experimental results, etc. - whenever a term means multiple things, it means nothing, because it cannot be accurately used. Instead, when used, rather than clarifying the subject of the discussion, it only further muddies it.

    There does seem to be a certain core consensus in this thread. This may come as a surprise to some of its participants, but I do wholeheartedly subscribe to it too.
    As I see it, it boils down to:
    1. Authenticity;
    2. Accuracy;
    3. Doing your research;
    4. Not stereotyping (or maligning) any demographic;
    5. Most importantly (and that's the overarching sentiment, guiding and covering all of the above), basic human decency, as Bayview so aptly put it.


    If you read the above carefully, you may observe that none of this has anything to do with any kind of appropriation.
    Cultural sensitivity? Yes, very much so.
    Intellectual honesty? Yes.
    Thoroughly researching what you're writing about? Yes, always a good idea.
    Being a decent human being? Hell, yes. Amen to that!
    But appropriation? That's clearly a misnomer. The only appropriation I see in this thread is of the "adult" demographic by luckyscars.

    Now, to the kneejerk reaction part.
    It is that, indeed.
    And the reason is that many of such terms, originally coined with the best intentions but, as I point out above, largely imprecise and lacking a solid scope or definition, have been coopted by a vocal minority that is ready and willing to use those terms (most of the time, incorrectly, out of their proper context, and with the shallowest possible reading on their originally intended meaning) to shout down any dissent. Case in point (and just one example of many): yoga class shut down in the University of Ottawa due to "concerns about cultural appropriation" (read, only people in/from India are allowed to practice yoga because anyone else would lack the cultural and spiritual aspects of this tradition).

    I would also like to point out this aspect in the Topic Starter's question:
    Quote Originally Posted by MichelD View Post
    Considering the current political climate though, as a non First Nations person I'm cautious about even submitting my work to publishers.
    This illustrates my point exactly. I am 100% sure that MichelD does everything to avoid unfairly portraying or otherwise offending the First Nations, so this isn't meant as any kind of criticism. What I'd like to point out is that the concern expressed in the quoted text is about the political climate, and about how publishing houses may even be leery to accept any manuscripts touching on the First Nations subject, for fear of being ostracized.

    This is not a healthy atmosphere in general, and in particular it is not conducive of creativity. Hence the kneejerk reaction to the term.

    P.S. For the sake of fostering productive dialog, my New Year's resolution will be to henceforth refrain from using the term SJW
    Last edited by KHK; January 9th, 2020 at 03:49 AM.

  2. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by Bayview View Post
    Is "pickaninny" the word you meant to use? In terms of distraction, it seems like a humdinger. (ETA: I'm wondering if you meant picayune?)

    On the topic as a whole - I agree that there's no black and white, here. When writing about someone else's culture, especially when that culture has been attacked and minimized and shit on as much as the First Nations culture in Canada has been, I think it's important to take care. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it at all, but I think you have a responsibility to make sure you do it right.

    And, no, this isn't in order to avoid being unfairly criticized or because of "PC crap" or whatever else; it's because it's an asshole move to look at a group of people who've already been kicked around for generations and then kick them some more. IF you're going to write about them, make sure your writing isn't kicking them. That just seems like basic human decency to me.
    I think you've got me entirely wrong, Bayview. I am Irish, English, and Crow Indian, by heritage. I probably dwell closest to my Irish roots, given my upbringing. I agree that if one is going to write about another culture, or one of their main characters is of a certain heritage or ethnicity, then the same rules apply as with writing about any other topic: Do your homework; do your research. Like LuckyScars said, "Do it right."

    Thank you for ridiculing my use of the word pickaninny.

    Came for the writing, stayed for the ridicule. /shrug
    Sometimes, I wrestle with my demons. Other times, we just snuggle.

  3. #23
    As for special treatment; "Endowment of the Arts," to certain ethnic groups, I think that if certain scholarships are made available, then that's a good thing. I know that if someone is going to claim to be Native American on job/school/military applications, then they have to produce a tribal affiliation card, or some equivalent. I agree that the Native Americans/First Nations people have been systematically crapped on for two hundred years. I don't know that anything the government does is any kind of solution. After all, it was the government that created the mess in the first place. I don't know what the solution is, but I know the sociology-based PC guilty naval-gazing is about as useless as six teats on a boar.
    Sometimes, I wrestle with my demons. Other times, we just snuggle.

  4. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by Amnesiac View Post

    Thank you for ridiculing my use of the word pickaninny.

    Came for the writing, stayed for the ridicule. /shrug
    Sorry, I didn't mean to make it seem like ridicule, I was just... well, I saw you using a word that's generally seen as a racist slur and came up with the most favourable interpretation I could think of.

  5. #25
    Hrmmm... I've never seen nor heard it as a racial slur, so thanks for letting me know. I would never knowingly do that. Much appreciated.
    Sometimes, I wrestle with my demons. Other times, we just snuggle.

  6. #26
    Meh, nvmd.
    Last edited by Ma'am; January 9th, 2020 at 12:36 AM.











  7. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by CyberWar View Post
    Perhaps, but it happens all the time, and if anything is also an opportunity for the non-dominant culture to educate the broader world about itself and survive in doing so. If it weren't for cultural appropriation, most people even within North America wouldn't even know anything about Amerindian cultures other than that they exist. I get how natives might get upset about elements of their culture being treated as meaningless articles of fashion by outsiders, but there isn't much that can be done about it - people won't stop adopting things from foreign cultures for aesthetic purposes simply because some very vocal folks (most of whom aren't even members of the said culture) decry cultural appropriation. Rather, I think such appropriations are an opportunity to popularize one's culture and educate people about it.
    The biggest flaw with the argument that 'white people being interested = white people caring more = better for Amerindian culture' is that it's demonstrably not true. At the very least, it's inefficient.

    Of all the millions of Americans who hang a dream-catcher in their house, how many of those millions develop a genuine interest, or love for, Native American culture? Very few, I'd suggest. It doesn't matter how many hours a person might spend reading Last Of The Mohicans or attending some boozy pow-wow, there's little real educational value in most of these things. Most of the popularized aspects of 'foreign' cultures aren't very educational, because there isn't much money or even mass-interest, in the educational value of studying Native American culture. My wife is a high school Social Studies teacher and she teaches American History. Which, shocker, includes almost nothing that is pre-Columbian and barely mentions Native Americans post Andrew Jackson. Nobody cares.

    What usually happens is white people cherry-picking particular items they like the look of and incorporate those things into the mass-market culture according to their own preferences and ideas, excluding all the hundreds of Native aspects that are less fashionable. Next thing you know the popular image of Native Americans is something between Grandmother Willow and Chief Wahoo and budget Halloween costumes with plastic head-dresses. And that's what 'cultural appropriation' is.

    (Couple this with the fact that American Natives are still incredibly impoverished and discriminated against compared to almost all other ethnic groups, and I can see why there might be a little bit or justified resentment. With an average income of $10,000 a year, per capita, it's not like much of this 'education' has ever given many of them a pot to piss in. So, it's a little disingenuous and paternalistic IMO to assert this 'interest' is or ever will serve their interests or helping their culture 'survive')
    Last edited by luckyscars; January 9th, 2020 at 09:25 AM.

  8. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by Foxee View Post
    Interesting that on a website devoted to the written word and what words mean, no one seems to be asking if 'cultural appropriation' is a term with a legitimate purpose or a real actual meaning.

    Meanings seem to broadly include (but are not limited to):

    • Unfairly portraying another culture (being insulting in doing so)
    • Being arrogant enough to research, appreciate, and portray another culture but you cannot be considered correct in doing so because you aren't of that culture.
    • 'Unfairly' taking on the aspects of another culture, as though by doing that for any reason it is always a mockery
    • Taking funds from government handouts under criminal pretenses
    It's interesting we talk about 'meanings' without citing where they are coming from. I don't think any thoughtful person describes cultural appropriation as being really any of those examples you gave. Yes they've been mentioned on this thread in connection with the issue, but they're hardly the definition.

    Also, just because a term has multiple meanings in different contexts doesn't invalidate it. If it did, you could strike most of the words out of the dictionary as most words and terms have multiple definitions. That isn't a problem. The relevant point is whether any of those definitions contradict each other. None of the ones you provided do, actually, but also none of them really fit the way the term is used in an academic, or just plain thoughtful, context.

    For example, I don't know anybody who would define 'cultural appropriation' as being 'Being arrogant enough to research, appreciate, and portray another culture but you cannot be considered correct in doing so because you aren't of that culture.'

    In the end we all form our own definitions of abstract concepts. My definition, the only one I use, is really the fundamental dictionary-definition. Appropriation is 'to take something for one's own use without permission'.

    The issue of 'permission' is admittedly dicey, because who gives permission? Clearly it's not an individual, and there's no singular authority for 'culture', so there's no definite way to 'get permission'. So, I interpret the permission/consent issue as going back to the criteria I mentioned earlier: Is the culture being depicted accurately or accurate-in-spirit? Does the context justify the usage (does the story I am writing require this in order to work)? And, most importantly, can I write this without feeling like a jerk? If I can answer 'yes' to all three of those, I consider that permission granted.

  9. #29
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    Interesting, I don't see any reason to assume issues when you can research them with those who know. An interesting exercise in the first place, look through their eyes at yourself as well. Don't not write about them because that is a loss to your story.

  10. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by KHK View Post
    In all honesty, I am sick and tired of hearing about this PC crap.
    Concur.

    Write what you want to write about, and don't worry about anything else. Don't let that PC nonsense dictate what you can and cannot write. To do so would put you inside a tiny little box, and limit your creativity.

    I say this as a writer, and as a Canadian.

    -JJB
    ​"Strong convictions precede great actions....."

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