Controversy: Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by another culture, and it is generally viewed in a negative light. There’s usually a pretty strong overtone of the minority whose culture is being adopted in some fashion having problems with the oppression of the majority delighting in those customs.

Now, there are a lot of Pagans out there who will shout out loud with a lot of other minority groups that cultural appropriation is bad. The quickest reference that comes to mind is the Thor movies – practically none of the mythology in those movies is accurate.

It would be easy to see the Thor movies as cultural appropriation – there goes Marvel, borrowing from an ancient people’s faith and twisting the identity of the Gods to suit their purposes. Yeah, let’s get mad at Marvel for creating the Thor movies when Loki’s personality is pretty spot-on. So Marvel changed the background a bit, making Loki and Thor brothers – the personality of the Gods is still pretty accurate (at least as far as Loki is concerned. I’m honestly not comfortable saying that about Thor, as I’m not close to Him).

Now, I could get up in arms about how inaccurate the mythology that they are using is, but I honestly don’t care. You could say that Marvel is using the Gods for their gain, but it would be just as easy to say that the Gods are using Marvel in order to get the exposure They need in order to gain more followers. It can work both ways, and people tend to forget how powerful the Gods are.

Anyway, that’s the easiest case. Now, for a different case I’ve heard of recently: Someone wrote an email to an instructor at Ottawa University complaining about how teaching yoga at a school is cultural appropriation. In response to this email, the school decided to stop offering yoga classes.

Now, my question about this case is – if the culture from whence yoga came is completely fine with the way yoga has spread from the East to the West, is it truly cultural appropriation?

Some people will say yes, and I will call them morons. If a culture doesn’t feel that their way of life is being threatened, then it’s not cultural appropriation. Yoga is Hindu in origin, and, in general, Hindus are okay with Westerners practicing Yoga.

I’ve read articles about black women finding it offensive and a type of cultural appropriation for white women to wear cornrows in their hair. The argument made here is that black women will often be forbidden to wear their hair up in cornrows while working in businesses, while famous white singers or movie stars can get away with using the hairstyle that they would prefer, and one that is more natural.

Now, to be fair, the problem I see here is ignorance on the part of the businesses that don’t allow women to wear their hair in cornrows. It’s not fair to tell a black woman that she can’t wear her hair in cornrows but then let a white women working at the same business wear her hair in cornrows – if that was happening, then I would flash the racist card, not the cultural appropriation card.

I will say that it is the responsibility of the majority culture to learn more about what is natural for the minorities that exist and accommodate those differences. As a white woman, I had no idea that cornrows felt more natural to a black woman – we tend to assume similarities instead of differences because our society attempts to be colorblind (as often as it fails, it does at least attempt it).

At the same time, however, a person can’t cry: “Treat me like I’m equal to you!” and at the same time yell: “But give me special privileges because of my race!” Like, we’re either all human and equal and should all adhere to the same rules in the workplace, or we’re all different and, by default, not equal.

A lot of people like to argue that reverse discrimination doesn’t exist, and I call bullshit. I’ve seen women bully men and blacks bully whites. Just because the opposite happened in the past does not give you the right to reverse the sides and seek revenge on someone in the present who has done you no harm based on gender or race.

I’m sure that I’m going to piss a lot of people off with this post – I can’t help it, though, because this is something that I feel pretty strongly about due to my ties with Loki.

Of all the Gods I work with, Loki deals the most with marginalized groups of people, with minorities, and He doesn’t view cultural appropriation in a negative light. From the way that He has explained things to me, cultural appropriation is a way to bridge the divides between the majority and minority.

Going back to the example with the cornrows – a black woman getting upset over a white woman wearing cornrows could instead choose to take pride in how influential the black culture is. Assuming the two women knew each other (which they don’t, but in a different but similar situation with two women who do know each other), then the two could become friends by bonding over what they share.

Now, if that white woman with cornrows was going around talking about how she was black because she had cornrows and should be treated the same way as all other black women, then that would be cultural appropriation that could actually be harmful to society as a whole.

Using images of the Gods of other faiths, unless you are doing it in bad faith and in an attempt to discredit or undermine the validity of the source of that faith, is not cultural appropriation. As an immediate example, if an arctypist pagan wants to use the faces of certain Gods from different pantheons to represent his or her “Archetype Gods,” then he or she is free to do so, as long as there is a modicum of respect in the way those images are used.

Cultural appropriation has started to replace cultural exchange in everyday language, and the next thing we know, the cultural appropriation movement (if it can be called that) will be getting so out of hand that it will be considered cultural appropriation for a citizen of the United States to drive a Japanese-made car.

Like, there’s a limit to how ridiculous people can be. And if someone wears a Halloween costume to a party that offends someone, then the person who takes offense is the idiot. I mean, seriously, it’s a costume. Let’s draw a line in the sand somewhere.

Also, to explain a little more in-depth what I meant when I mentioned how Loki ties into this – Loki is everywhere. Seriously, I find Loki in some of the weirdest places. There are the Thor movies, of course, but then he also pops up in the anime “Kamigami no Asobi,” and he also pops up in Orson Scott Card’s “Lost Gate” series. Loki is also a shapeshifter, and I’ve encountered Him in human form, dog form, and spider form (not that the animal forms have anything to do with cultural appropriation).

Of all the Gods, Loki is the most fluid. He is the most capable of crossing divides between cultures and assimilates Himself into those cultures. Is Loki performing cultural appropriation when He does that? Not even close. Sure, it’s different in a way because Loki is a God – He can literally take on the appearance of any race He wishes. That doesn’t make Him part of that race, however – He is always a God, and therefore always separate from the mortal plane.

The real problem with cultural appropriation, when it isn’t truly damaging (there are some cases where it is damaging, such as the problem the Indians are having with the name of the Redskins – that’s damaging, and it needs to be addressed), is that it’s divisive. Damaging incidents, like the one I mentioned, aren’t the kinds of cultural appropriation I’m talking about – issues like that are serious, have potential to cause extreme emotional trauma, and need to be fixed.

The type of cultural appropriation I’m discrediting is the kind that says that teaching yoga is inappropriate even though the culture where it originates encourages the spread of yoga. That’s not cultural appropriation, and it shouldn’t be treated that way.

When a person engages in an activity favored by another culture out of respect and admiration, that isn’t cultural appropriation, but it gets viewed that way. Those are the incidents that could allow for connection, but cause division instead. Those are the incidents where the bridges are burnt before they ever get a chance to be laid down.

As an example for myself, I watch tons of anime – I watch almost no other type of television. Because I’m a citizen of the United States, does that mean it’s cultural appropriation for me to enjoy Japanese anime? No, absolutely not. I’m watching the anime because I respect and admire the Japanese people, not because I somehow want to steal their culture.

Humans, as a whole, typically only emulate others when we admire them. And if we are mistreated because we admire someone else, told that we are thieves of the worst order because of our admiration, that causes resentment to build and division to grow. On the other hand, if the people we admire find it respectable for us to admire them, we can build common ground.

The Lokean connection may not be clear, but from what I understand, Loki is a catalytic God. Without connections between people, there is no catalyst for Loki to work with. It’s impossible to induce anger in someone who is already angry, just as it’s impossible to induce peace in someone who is already peaceful. The same can be said for controversy for the same of controversy – there’s no catalytic potential for Loki to work with, and Loki thrives on controversy.

If I need to talk more in-depth about what I meant about incidents of cultural appropriation that do need to be dealt with, let me know in the comments. I didn’t discuss them here because I felt they should be obvious, but I could be wrong  (Also, let me know if you need me to discuss why it is I disagree with the very concept of being politically correct and policing my speech. I’m willing to do either).

 

 

 

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7 comments on “Controversy: Cultural Appropriation

  1. Yes to all of this. I have been too afraid to express my thoughts on cultural appropriation, glad that someone is willing to speak for the other side. My take on it is that all cultures, especially in this globalized world can trace their customs back to various cultures other than their own. There is always beginning to a custom and it’s not always, or even often spontaneously derived in isolation. Humans are social and curious and we have always incorporated what we admire in others into our own lives and communities. Except for the notable exceptions you mention, when indeed it is a damaging situation, it would be absurd to try and sustain a world of distinct isolated cultures who never borrow from one another. Some of the arguments maintain that a majority or privileged group borrows without full understanding of what they are borrowing or otherwise misinterpret the purpose. Of course we should be open to learning whenever possible, but cultures change and grow precisely because borrowed customs are modified from their original sources to be adapted into new cultures. This isn’t a bad thing at all imo.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. While I’ve read the lore, done lots of reading on UPG’s relating to Loki, I am unaware of any personal dealings with him. Coyote however….and Spider. These are Native American Gods that seem particularly related (for lack of a better word) to Loki.

    I was not quite sure of the meaning when you talked about controversy for the sake of controversy in your last sentence. Do you mean Loki is all about that? Or that he isn’t interested in promoting controversy for controversy’s sake? I know a few people who like to stir up $h!t just because they like watching the fall out. I personally think they are horrible people, snakes in human flesh. I sincerely hope Loki is not a God like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I meant that Loki isn’t interested in controversy for the sake of controversy – that’s boring. While He enjoys controversy, there’s generally got to be some point to it. It can be considered controversial to take on the role of “devil’s advocate” inside a conversation, pointing out flaws in the other person’s argument – that is the type of controversy that Loki delights in.

      Despite Loki’s reputation as the God of lies, He is more apt to tell the truth in such a point-blank blunt way that it can be hard to handle. While Loki delights in playing pranks on people, He doesn’t set out to hurt or harm anyone.

      The two Gods you mentioned, Coyote and Spider, are very similar to Loki, and He to Them. Most trickster Gods fill very similar roles within Their pantheons, so it wouldn’t be wrong to say that They have similar personalities.

      Loki tends to side with minority groups because He is always the God on the fringes of things – He is probably the most misunderstood God of the Norse pantheon, so He tends to find the most kinship with minority groups. Even in minority groups, however, there’s a line that needs to be drawn. If every single issue that comes up, even if it’s something as minor as the way someone styles their hair, is turned into a huge problem, then that group is not going to be taken seriously for long.

      I guess the best way to say is that Loki hates whining, and He also hates the truth being twisted. Anyone who follows Loki will tell you that the one thing Loki won’t let you get away with is lying to Him or to yourself – that’s a pretty good way to drive Him away, if you don’t piss Him off in the process (and no one wants an angry Loki on their hands).

      The thing is, it’s really hard to explain Loki to someone who isn’t Lokean or hasn’t had personal dealings with Him because there are so many facets of Him. Loki can and will stir up problems to make things interesting, and even if you don’t understand the underlying reason for it, He always has one.

      I suppose to put it in more concrete terms, you could consider the two following situations:

      Roommate 1 yells at Roommate 2 for not paying the bills on time. Loki will get popcorn and watch the two fight, but He won’t interfere with the fight, assuming that the fight is only about the bills.

      Now, say Roommate 1 has a grudge against Roommate 2 because Roommate 2 is dating Roommate 1’s best friend and has also not paid the bills on time. Roommate 1 yells at Roommate 2, but this time Loki interferes and causes the argument to shift to the real problem – the grudge Roommate 1 has against Roommate 2 – and the two roommates work everything out eventually.

      In both situations, Loki’s going to pull out some popcorn and enjoy the fight – He is the God of chaos, so of course he likes to see chaos happen. But He only interferes when adding fuel to a fire will help put it out because He is also a God of connection.

      For Loki, a God who was abandoned by most of the other Gods, connection is sacred. Connection is sacred to all the Gods, but for Loki, for whom it is so sparse, it is perhaps the most vital piece of who He is.

      I’ve tried to explain multiple facets of Loki in other posts I’ve written on this blog, but it is really hard to convey accurately how Loki is both a God of amazing warmth and also of destruction. He has both facets, and those who can’t appreciate and understand that about Loki may never be able to truly understand Him.

      I think the best mundane connection to make with Loki is wildfire. Even though wildfire can be incredibly destructive, it can also heal. Those who follow Loki are able to see the beauty even in the aftermath of a wildfire. In a way, wildfires are nature’s attempts to cauterize the wounds made by humanity, and that is where the beauty of destruction can be found.

      I don’t know if I’ve answered your question or just made things even more confusing, but at least I can say I tried!

      Like

  3. Pingback: Is Appropriation Ever Appropriate? Part 8 | Son of Hel

  4. I’m always interested when people say Norse!Loki acts like Marvel!Loki, because some years back everyone was saying the exact opposite.

    So for the record, there’s cultural syncretism and then there’s cultural appropriation. Syncretism builds the gap in a mutual way, whereas appropriation creates new racist dynamics. If a cultural aspect causes harm to the race/culture it came from, then it’s racism. Isn’t it interesting that innocent black children are openly being killed by white police during a time when white people are using their hairstyles? When cornrows and dreads started becoming popular, the magazines announced them like they were a completely brand-new style rather than one becoming popular amongst different sorts of folks.

    Reverse discrimination? You mean reverse racism? Right now racism is bring defined as institutionalized racism. That is, a race who holds the most power is racist against the underdog groups. When the underdog bites back, it’s a bias towards a (racial) group that has caused them harm time and time again. I hope I explained it clearly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What’s interesting to me, however, is that what you call cultural syncretism has started being referred to as cultural appropriation, to th point most people won’t recognize the difference. If, within discourse with an average person, the difference isn’t understand, I believe it more appropriate to use the term the way it is used in common language.

      Language changes. And I meant reverse discrimination, which is a misnomer, because it’s really just discrimination all around. Interestingly enough, racism as a word didn’t have an institutional definition until around the 1970s, and the crimes against any person that could be linked to skin color was considered a racist crime.

      The main problem I have is with one person trying to speak for an entire group. There are blacks who don’t give a shit who uses the n word, others who get super offended, and everything in between. There are blacks who hate it when whites wear cornrows or dreads, others that love it, and everything in between.

      The problem here is that nuance is lost. Each person is uniquely individual, and no one has the right to speak for an entire group of people. I can speak for me, and I can speak up about how annoyed it makes me when people speak up for others who may not want that advocacy in order to use them as some sort of political tool.

      An example of this…. I read an article where a museum sponsored a “try on a kimono” day, where people protested that event because it was cultural appropriation. Even though the museum was showcasing Japanese culture, and the Japanese Americans and Japanese who the reporters talked to were completely bewildered by the protest.

      This is the type of “cultural appropriation” that I am personally against. Making assumptions for an entire culture is patently ridiculous. My position is that people use cultural appropriation as a buzzword, forgetting that every culture everywhere appropriates or syncretizes every other culture.

      For example, in Japan, Valentine’s day (which is incidentally completely European in origin) is celebrated with lots and lots of chocolate, but it isn’t considered a romantic holiday. We all know that it started in Europe, but there’s no doubt plenty of Japanese citizens who grew up experiencing Valentine’s day without ever learning the history of it. Does that make me angry? Absolutely not.

      Also, my ancestors were literally exiled because they were feared by the English king, and my Scottish clan had to disappear in order not to be murdered by edicts that promoted the genocide of our clan. The clan had since been reinstated. A lot of culture in terms of clan traditions has been lost, but I still don’t get up in arms if someone decides to wear the clan colors in a kilt if they aren’t ancestrally connected to my clan or understand the clan history. To me, that is a sign that my clan survived after everything that was done to try and destroy them.

      That doesn’t mean every other clan member will feel the same. Some may hate it. But I don’t. To make the assumption that everyone within a particular identity is going to share the same view is ridiculous, and that is why I have problems with the very concept of cultural appropriation.

      Also, while it would be cool for white people who wear dreads to acknowledge where the hairstyle comes from, and them not doing so makes other people angry, that doesn’t mean everyone cares. Most people in the south aren’t away that the major food dishes in the south were originally slave fair, but the food of the south has become a cultural heritage item for blacks and whites alike. Is that really cultural appropriation, or is it the combination of different cultural traditions that gives rise to a true cultural identity? After all, the south is known for its food, and most of the southerners I know are incredibly proud of southern fare.

      Like

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