Appropriate Appropriation

part 1 / part 2 / part 3 / part 4 / part 5 / part 6 / part 7 / part 8

“I really think that white people are from another planet because when we came to America, it was so nice. It was just Indians. And they weren’t even Indians. We called them that by accident. And we still call them that. We knew in a month that it wasn’t Indians but we just don’t give a shit. We never correct it.” Louis CK

At a certain point, it becomes very difficult to tell where cultural appropriation is benign and where it turns malicious.

When bratty fratty college students dress like “pimps & hos” or Mexican banditos or American Indians to ridicule those groups, it is always with the deliberate intent to denigrate the groups portrayed.

If they are ridiculed, then they are not worthy of respect; if they are not worthy of respect, they can be safely ignored.

But again, one extreme is not the entirety of the story.

For every drunken college student trying to prove they are one of the entitled masters of the universe, there are thousands of young girls from all cultures and backgrounds who think Disney’s Mulan is the Greatest Heroine EVER and can’t wait to dress up like her for Halloween.[1]

And it doesn’t matter if Disney’s version is too…too…Disneyfied or not accurate or not the best telling of the story: The fact remains they want to dress like / assume the mantle of someone they genuinely admire.

Take a look at the picture below.

Traditional Korean Costumes

Look at the big dumb ugly migook wearing a Korean king’s costume. Why would that schmuck[2] do such a thing?

See the beautiful Korean woman standing beside him? That’s his wife.what does she see in him

They were visiting family in Korea.

They went to the Korean folk village to see historical Korean houses and costumes and recreations of thousands of years worth of culture.

She wanted to get their pictures taken in traditional Korean costumes.

It made her happy.

He’s big and dumb and stupid but he’s not that stupid.[3]

He got his picture taken with her.[4]

Every week thousands of people show up at science fiction and comic book conventions dressed as their favorite characters from comics and manga and TV shows and movies and video games and books from around the world.

Cultural barriers are annihilated!

They dress and cross dress and vault cultural boundaries in delight, not to denigrate and ridicule, but to genuinely celebrate symbols and characters that mean something to them, that resonate with them.

When you see some bearded guy at a comic con dressed as Sailor Moon, it’s not because he is ridiculing Japanese culture.[5]

It’s because he has found something in that specific sub-set of Japanese culture -- a sub-set that now transcends its country/ies and has come home full circle -- that speaks to him.

Yeah, it’s funny.

Yeah, it’s ridiculous.

Yeah, it means something to him.

He wouldn’t go to all that trouble of emulating the character’s costume as closely as possible if he didn’t think it was worthy of respect.

If he was just some drunken college kid shovelin’ shit on his perceived inferiors, he would just throw together a costume that matches his preconceptions of what he's ridiculing.

You only go to that much trouble when you love something.

Apply this across the board to a thousand and one -- a million and one!  a billion and one! -- interfaces between people of one culture and another.

There’s no need to hoard our experiences: Sharing them with others will not diminish them in our lives.

There’s no need to fear contamination from other cultures: We will not be lessened if we acknowledge other people have ideas we find useful.

We don’t have to pretend.

We can simply be.

So what’s the punchline to the Rachel Dolezal story?

I don’t know.

I wish I had one.

She did a dumb thing.

But it was a dumb thing we can learn from.

We are far from home on the matter of race -- and class -- in this country.

We’re entering into a perilous time not only for this nation but the entire world.

We can choose to live in fear, or we can choose to live in respect.

We can choose to live unjustly, or we can choose to live justly.

We can choose to constantly strive to win, to dominate, to rule, to denigrate, to lord over…

…or we can choose to live in peace with one another.

We don’t need any grand new plans.

The instruction books are very simple and very clear.

As Daryl Cunningham observed: “There is no them or us. There’s only us.

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[9/1]  There’s another cultural appropriation!

[9/2]  And another!

[9/3]  There’s a reason they’ve been married 40+ years.

[9/4]  And, damn, but I make one fine lookin’ king.

[9/5]  Which, in the specific case of manga and anime, is a Japanese cultural appropriation of Walt Disney’s style of drawing.

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