cultural appropriation

PSA: Yes, “Spirit Animals” Are Cultural Appropriation- That Means You

Posted on

Another important topic has been bought up on my dash, and that is the use of “spirit animals”. Having an animal guide or an animal familiar or an animal you really like is not the same as a spirit animal: and for those of you who are confused, here are several Tumblr posts to help you understand:

 

poorlifechoicesblog:

[NB: if you (like me) are non-Native and you reblogged agentotter’s commentary PLEASE read sofriel’s refutation below. “Spirit Animal” as a non-Native phrase is SUPER FUCKED UP.]

sofriel:

fralusans-ana-marein:

thekal:

agentotter:

exploitationiscontagious:

Petition to start using “patronus” instead of “spirit animal” because not being appropriative is pretty rad.

Okay let’s go through this one more time. Deep breath.

If you think the concept of “spirit animals” comes from Native American religious practices, you are wrong. Also, you’re probably basing your ideas about Native American spiritualism on movies that are incredibly, extremely, offensively wrong. (Spoiler alert: You cannot actually paint with all the colors of the wind.) You’re also failing to understand that Native American and First Nations people are not a homogeneous group, that they do not now and have never existed as a single people with a single set of beliefs. In short, what I’m saying is that just this once, calling this appropriation is actually the thing that is offensive.

If you think the concept of “spirit animals” is specific to any one cultural or religious practice, you are wrong. This idea of animal guides and related ones — like shape-shifting, people possessed by the spirits of animals, particular interpretations of animal dreams, a certain attitude toward the hunting of animals, etc etc — have roots in all sorts of ancient religions, including eastern Shamanic religions, Celtic religions, really religions of of every description… I could go on. Essentially it’s animism, which is common to the whole of human experience, because there isn’t a culture on this planet that doesn’t have a complex, deep-rooted relationship of some kind with animals. But “spirit animals” as most of us understand the concept? Is a made-up thing. Just like Harry Potter’s patronus. Just like His Dark Materials’ daemons. Just like basically any other “inoffensive” alternative on offer.

Essentially, “spirit animal” is a trope. I happen to fucking love that trope. I think it’s fun and interesting. It’s not a real concept, except possibly for Wiccans and New Agers, both of whom appropriated the concept from — guess what! — their completely wrong ideas about Native spiritual practices. I’m willing to bet that everything you’ve ever learned about Native religions came from a white person. I’m willing to bet that it’s wrong.

For all these people who want to be sensitive to Native culture, you can do a lot better than defending their honor from a concept that isn’t theirs in the first place. (You can start by acknowledging that it’s New Age, not Native. AT ALL.) There are so many ways you can learn about Native culture and the problems that tribes face directly from the people themselves. You could start small. Read some Sherman Alexie. Watch Reel Injun orIncident at Oglala on Netflix. Read up on why exactly casting Johnny Depp as Tonto is fucking horrible. Try actually learning something about what they’re going through (basically a never-ending shitstorm of oppression and erasure) and you can help just by being more informed. Become a social justice crusader foractual social justice issues. Still not sure about the spirit animal thing? These Natives would be happy to tell you all about it. And these ones. And this one. (tl;dr: They’re sick of your bullshit.)

This information about “spirit animals” not being a thing makes sense, but I’m not really clear on how referencing a stereotypical, New-Age misinterpretation of Native American religion is that much less offensive/appropriative than improperly referencing an actual Native American religious concept? Doesn’t appropriation usually involve portraying the original culture(s)/religion(s) inaccurately?

that makes sense to me, and I’ve definitely also read things by Native folks here writing against using the term “spirit animal”, although I can’t find any of them just now. perhaps sofriel or moniquill (or others, I’m not sure who else follows me) might have more input.

No. Nooooooooooooooo. No. God, I would like to make a rule where non-Natives are not allowed to make any sort of statements on the appropriativeness or non-appropriativeness of “spirit animals” ever again. 

Fact 1: I am Native. So-called “spirit animals” are part of my spiritual tradition, which is Metis-Anishinaabe. They’re usually called by the Anishinaabe word, which I am not putting on the internet, or “spirit/dream helpers” in English. Natives in fact are not, gasp, homogeneous, and omg some of us have different spiritual traditions than others! (look, I can do the obnoxious patronizing voice too!) And so just because you point to three Native people from cultures that don’t have such a tradition doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist! This tradition is a VERY sacred one, and thanks to colonization it is being forgotten in huge amounts, to the extent that most young Natives don’t even really know much about it—a situation exacerbated by the popular appropriation of “spirit animals.”

Fact 2: Yes, people around the world have and had similar traditions of spirit helpers, who are frequently animals. HOWEVER, the concept of spirit animals in popular culture came from anthropologists’ descriptions of Native American religions (see Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of Religious Life). It doesn’t matter if the ancient Celts had similar practices, because spirit animals are associated in the popular imagination with Natives, not Celts. I and other Natives regularly get asked, “Can you tell me what my spirit animal is??” Irish people, for instance, do not. And “it’s not Native, it’s New Age” my ass.Where the hell do you think the New Agers got it from? They got it from anthropology textbooks and from the hippies who went to the reservations in the 60s seeking Noble Savage enlightenment.

Fact 3: The fact that spirit animals in popular culture are a bastardized form of Native traditions does not mean they are not appropriative or harmful. Why? Because the popular idea of it comes to supersede the original meaning, infantilizing our traditions.Non-Natives start to think that they understand our traditions, and that they are primitive, rather than actually consulting and trying to understand. This gets bad when those non-Natives are the ones with control over our legal ability to practice our religion. Non-Native appropriation of the sweatlodge incorrectly done and causing death, for example, has resulted in greater restrictions on Native sweatlodges, because the non-Native interpretation was assumed to be representative. 

Fact 4: Appropriation is a part of Native oppression, not a decoy issue, good lord. This attitude of popular ownership of Native traditions causes people to deny Natives the right to practice our religion, which is tied to the colonization and denial of access to our landbase since our practices are often linked to specific places, which is tied to the situation on reservations. It’s tied to the psychological state of our people, because you try growing up with having everyone making an utter mockery of your religion and see how your self-esteem comes out.

And yeah, I will also say, if calling out appropriation is the only thing you’re doing to help Native people, if you are just shouting “Don’t wear headdresses!” and don’t actually get why it’s a problem, then yes, you’re kinda failing as an ally. But appropriation is part of the violence being done to indigenous people. 

You did get one thing right though, we are sick of your bullshit. Very, very sick of it.

Important!!

I see a lot of ppl on my dash reblogging the post where someone else says that “spirit animal” is not a racist or culturally appropriative term because it’s “New Age” and not Native—but that doesn’t erase the v v smart and true response that sofriel explains above: where did the New Agers get that stereotype and how are you acting in concert with their racism???

 

Please stop with your weak attempts to justify your appropriation. PSA over

Advertisements

Why Katy Perry’s AMA “Performance” is Racist

Posted on Updated on

Well, no doubt many of you are scratching your heads or shaking them with disbelief over Perry’s AMA performance. Most likely, however, you’re confused as to  why so many people are getting their panties into a knot over it. What’s wrong with it? Wasn’t she just dressing up? Why are people so sensitive about race? It’s just a costume.

Exactly.

She’s dressing up- using someone else’s culture as the costume and a bunch of random Asian props as her background.

For those of you who don’t seem to understand, the East has long been plagued by exotification and appropriation of it’s many diverse cultures. Many Asian women-especially Asian American women- are turned into sex objects, as stereotypes of the sexy, submissive, stereotypical Asian girlfriend/lover plagues the mind of many men.

Also is the tendency to ignore the fact that Asia is not limited to just China and Korea and Japan- it is also made up India, Vietnam, and Thailand, just to name a few. These are all different countries, each with their own individual cultures, food, and ways of life.

So the very fact that one privileged white pop singer feels as if she has the right to get up on stage and ignore the cultural diversity of an entire continent is extremely disrespectful. Picking a bunch of “Asian Inspired” clothing and props is disrespectful to those people who you are stealing from especially since homogenization of Asian cultures is extremely prevalent in the United States.

Taking a “kimono” and sexing it up for your viewers also plays into the “sexy Geisha” stereotype that America can’t seem to get enough of. Geisha led very complicated lives, and yet people still believe that Geisha’s were prostitutes or some type of  sex workers (not that there is anything wrong with being a sex worker). By dressing up and pretending to be one, what you are doing is playing into harmful assumptions and stereotypes that many people still believe, reinforcing the image of sexy, exotic Asian women.

Also important to note is that when members of a particular race practice cultural activities, they are met with scorn, distrust, disgust, and racism. Because of white privilege, it is always okay for a white person to practice a cultural activity belonging to a certain culture, but when a person of said race does it, it is no longer okay.

For those of you wailing, here is a list of examples:

  • Black women who wear braids are seen as ghetto, white women who do it are seen as edgy or stylish.
  • Indian women who wear Indian clothing are seen as “too ethnic” and unwilling to except white American culture, white women who do it are seen as fashionable or exotic.
  • Black women who twerk are seen as ghetto and un-classy,white women who twerk are seen as just dancing or even as sexy.
  • Native Americans who dress in their respective traditional clothing are seen as being old fashioned, unwilling to “give it up” and just accept white American culture- white people who dress up as stereotypical, homogenized versions of Native Americans, complete with random ass paint markings and feathers are seen as (by a lot of people) edgy, boho, unique, alternative

The list goes on and on.

Not to mention the overt racism that also happened when Psy, an actual Asian- get’s up on stage, que the racist ass chanting.

So basically the lesson is that it’s okay for white people to take the pretty parts of other people’s culture, but it’s not okay for people of that culture to do them. Because everyone knows that white people just do everything better.

Why I Don’t Want to Hear Your White Opinions on Race

Posted on Updated on

Another thing that often sickens me whenever talk about race and racism is involved is when white people attempt to have any sort of dialogue on it. Why? Because most of the time they cannot see past their own prejudice, white privilege and white guilt to truly see the matter- these things distort their perception of events, and they often try to take race out of things because the topics of race and white privilege in general makes them uncomfortable.

Whether it’s Lily Allen or Miley, it seems as if white critiquers always manage to divert attention from the actual problem in facor on focusing away from racial conversations. The very fact that white people believe they have the right to tell PoC what is and is not cultural appropriation and theft is white privilege. The fact that Miley’s sexuality will be applauded while Beyonce’s will be demonized is because of white privilege and the constant demonization/fetishization of WoC by society.

This is why most PoC tell whites that their opinions are not needed or wanted- because their opinions often attempt to derail conversations away from race and thus away from any feelings of white guilt.

Your guilt is not my problem. I don’t care what you thought about Lily Allen’s video, because I know that you will just assume that I’m overaccting, “bringing race into it”, being a “race-baiter” ect. This is why your opinions on topics are not wanted in PoC spaces- like this blog.

Because while in most other places (minus a select few) you will be assured that race and cultural appropriation had nothing to do with it, thus soothing any anxiety you feel when the subject of race comes up. It will not happen here.

What I will say is that most comments on race by white people range from blatenly ignorent to downright disgusting, whether it’s about racial crime (it’s not about race!) racial discrimination (that’s just the race card) cultural appropriation (I’m just appreciating the culture!) or what the fuck ever.

Pagans: Please Stop Stealing Hoodoo

Posted on Updated on

A reoccurring them I seem to be realizing through many of the Pagan books I’m reading is the tendency to take traditional Hoodoo formulas and then relabel them as a generic “magickal” formula. Lets dig deep into this, for those of you who are confused.

Hoodoo, also called rootworking, is an African American spiritual practice that came into being via  slaves brought over from Africa into the Americas. By mixing not only each other’s beliefs, but also those of Native Americans and Europeans, the system of “Hoodoo” was created. Let me repeat: although Hoodoo is a spiritual practice that anyone can practice, it is an African American one. I have seen many books that seem to feel uncomfortable with this fact and will often drop the African American part and simply address it as a spiritual practice that anyone can do of apparently mysterious origins.  Recognize  the system as what it is- a system rooted in African American culture.

This is problematic because the common trend in modern, eclectic Paganism where said Pagans will decide that they enjoy/want a particular aspect of a culture and will take from it without doing further research, by attempting to sever this new system/practice from it’s traditional  structure  and repackage it as if it never belonged to a system to begin with (i.e.- chakras, yoga, the Elder Futhark) because it suits their need to incorporate an element into their personal practice without having to sacrifice the work, effort, and energy to study said system in it’s original context, feeling that their own interpretations are good enough to suffice for authenticity.

Hoodoo is a very specific system- it is not just general “magick” or magickal herbalism- it is unique in that not only herbs and stones are used, but also animal parts, soil, body fluids, and the like. The individual meanings and how each element is incorporated into a trick or working is specific to Hoodoo- when you redefine the meanings of formulas,candle colors, or herbs, it is no longer hoodoo.

Also there  is the tendency for some to look down at Hoodoo because unlike other modern magical systems, hexes and curses, called crossing, are also used as a part of the system. While many individual root workers may choose not to practice such things, favoring other practices instead, there is often a break in history where people forget why they were used in the first place.

It is because African Americans in the past faced (and yes, still do, although in a much different, non-institutionalized form) oppression and racism that was  constant threat to not only their well-being, but the well-being of their loved ones and communities as a whole.

When having an enemy can mean danger to your family, or when racist cops are quick to find offenses to get you in trouble over, you don’t give a shit as to whether or not your actions are harming someone else. Your concern is the safety of your own- your family, your community, and your people.

You’re not concerned over whether or not the white man at work whose sexually harassing you is harmed, or whether or not your  nosy, snitch neighbor develops a disease and moves away- as long as he’s gone and your shit is safe, that’s all that matters.

Hoodoo is a practice born out of desperation of a people with the desire to live and prosper under horrifying circumstances-not some gentle, herbal practice that those with no appreciation for the it can just go buy on Etsy without even understanding the circumstances of it’s creation.

This is not to say that no rootworker-then or now -has ever used it for unjustified malicious purposes- because yes, it was common at one point in time.

What I’m saying is that many Pagans today have no or little understanding of what it means to be truly desperate.

There is also a long standing history of whites appropriating from black culture while giving no credit to the culture they appropriated from. Keep this in mind when traditional (black) rootworkers become offensed over your taking of their shit.

If you want to work or practice Hoodoo- do some research. Until then, quit stealing our formulas because the idea of having tons of magical formulas entices you, or because you like the way the packaging looks, or because it’s so versatile, or whatever bullshit excuses you’ll try to give for being too lazy to learn shit about the culture you’re stealing from.

The versatile, Earth-based practices of Hoodoo- floor washes, Mojo hands, powders,incense, bath crystals, handwashes, candles, and perfumes make it an easy target for those who are interested in new ways to incorporate herbs into their practice, but who could care less about the oppressive history of African American culture and spiritual practices, it’s apparent “lack” of ethics, and it’s lexicon of new words.

That will be all.

Cultural Appropriation and the Pagan Community: AKA White Privilege

Posted on Updated on

shadow-m
AKA, how to take a shit on Native American traditions

In my attempts to hunt down and find information about how members of the Pagan community view the topic of cultural appropriation, I stumbled across this thread.

Here we go.

This is very important, because it shows how those who do the cultural appropriating are attempting to define what is and is not classified as appropriation, without even understanding the definition appropriating.

This goes hand in hand with white privilege-because, yes, it does exist- and the fact that even mentioning so will receive outrage and denial from people who refuse to understand and learn from the experiences from PoC.   This plays into the ideology that you somehow have the right to take from other cultures what you wish, without giving any care or concern for those whom you are appropriating from.

Also important to understand is the fact that those members of the cultures who you are appropriating from are telling you no, that you cannot take their practices from them, and yet you are doing it anyway. 

Here and here and here and here are all examples of people telling you that it is not okay to take their shit, and yet you still believe that you have the right to anyway?

And for those of you who do not understand, appropriation is not learning about someone else’s culture, or taking genuine interest in someone else’s religion or spirituality. It is not wanting to worship other deities or incorporating other’s beliefs into your own.

Cultural appropriation is when a person decides to take from another culture without understanding or throwing aside any cultural significance or meaning, instead choosing to re-define it, until it is nothing like it was in the traditional context.

This and this and this and this are all examples of cultural appropriation in the pagan community, as if, somehow, taking something with “good intentions”, even spiritual ones, excuses you from the fact that you are stealing from other cultures. 

Choosing to personalize your practice does not account for laziness and refusal to do your research. Many non-European religions have long-standing traditions and are still practiced, their traditions being upheld by members of spiritual clergy, unlike many European ones, to which are no longer practices by a large community and as such are open to modern interpretation.

I am tired of seeing the same old excuses and stuttering when it comes to topics such as these, and the sad fact is that many people will refuse to admit that they are doing something which oppresses another culture and group of people. It shows the unwillingness of people to give up their privilege-privilege which benefits them very well.

You want to appropriate another person’s culture? Fine. Just don’t get mad when we call you out on bullshit.

Why Do We Still Treat Asian-Americans as Foreigners?

Posted on Updated on

One of the things I have continued to notice is how people seem to constantly look at Asian-Americans as foreigners, ignoring them as American citizens.

Questions such as ‘Where are you from?”, “Where were you born?”, usually come before more racist questions such as ‘Do you eat dog/cat?”, “Did your parents own a Chinese food shop?”, and “Do you like sushi?”

The problem with questions such as these is that people tend to put emphasis on someone else’s Asian ethnicity, completely tossing aside the idea that they may have been born in raised in America, or even that their parents may have been born in America. The idea that if someone is other than white or African American must be a foreigner can have negative repercussions on people, especially those who uphold specific cultures and customs.

For example, Indians who choose to wear traditional Indian clothing, such as saris or kurta-pajama may be looked at as foreigners unwilling to “adapt” to American culture, instead of people who are choosing to wear clothing specific to their ethnicity.

Other Asian-Americans may have a cluster of inappropriate comments and generalizations made about them, comments that destroy the cultural differences between them. This is why questions such as “Do your parents own a Chinese food shop” can be offensive- it’s not that there is anything wrong with owning a Chinese food shop, or denying that Asians can own Chinese food shops- it’s the idea that you are associating being Asian-American with stereotypes, refusing to see the differences between Asian cultures in favor of a more homogenized view.

On the other side of the spectrum is the exotification and constant “need-to-know”- that is, people who treat Asian-Americans as if their ethnicity is a game, something to guess and figure out. The funny thing is, if someone were to go up to someone white and go “What is your ethnicity? Where are your ancestors from?”, they would receive odd looks.

The exotification and appropriation of Eastern cultures has a long and dirty history, as is plundering from Eastern spiritual practices in order to “spice up” Western ones. Practices such as yoga, Eastern forms of meditation, yoga, and even martial arts have all been appropriated in the West, presented here as a new form of exotic spirituality/ exercise that’s fine for everyone to do! Cultural appropriation benefits only those who are doing the appropriating, as spiritual practices that were once held sacred or of high importance in their original context are now watered down to merely an excercise done by girls in sweats or an after school activity for kids.

The exotification of Eastern countries and people is also a huge problem, as many Asian-Americans face issues regarding those who view Asian women through a hyper-sexualized lense, one in which Asian women serve only as exotic sexual conquests. Men who state how much they love Asian women are only continuing the racism against them the idea that somehow, being Asian is to be one specific type of person, with no distinction between multiple Asian cultures.

And what about those Asian-Americans who don’t practice cultural specific things? A lot of times they have their ethnicity stripped from them, as if now, since they aren’t doing anything to further “alienate” themselves from American culture, that that now makes them fully American? Why does it seem that we expect Asians to always do/ act a specific way, while it is not the same with other cultures and ethnicities? (Most) people understand that not all Black’s eat fried chicken and watermelon before washing it down with orange soda- so why does the idea that all Asian-Americans must always eat rice and fish and wash it down with tea? Why is that they are always expected to maintain stereotypes and assumptions that may Americans still have about them?

Because America still sees Asian-Americans as being  foreign, and the idea that of course a foreigner would just maintain all their foreign cultures instead embracing American culture is a prevalent one. We need to stop seeing Asian-Americans as being any different from any other Americans, while understanding that they may have a different culture from us, wear different clothing, enjoy different foods, or just simply do different things. We need to understand that you can see race and understand and accept their differences without alienating and exotifying them.

No, Not All Deities are the Same

Posted on

Image

Did I catch your attention? I hope so.

I wanted to further talk about cultural appropriation in the pagan community, because I feel as if it is a topic that needs to be stressed and understood. If this were an issue that people recognized and said “Oh! Now I understand! I’ll stop doing it right away and tell all my friends!” I’d be quiet. However, it is ongoing, and so I, in turn, will be vigilant.

The problem I want to talk about is cultural appropriation in terms of lumping all deities together. Whether one believes that all deities are archetypes isn’t really what I’m talking about- what I am talking about is when a person decides to lump all deities together, slap an Archetype on them, and then proceed to honor them in anyway they feel like it, because it feels “natural”, “intuitive”, or the like.

There is nothing wrong with feeling intuitive and inspirational in your practice. However, when a person decides that they don’t care how a religion has been practiced for hundreds or thousands of  years, or decides that an individual deity can be worshiped in the same way as another, ignoring any cultural implications or traditional practices,  it becomes a matter of cultural appropriation.

This also ties into the “shiny, me want” culture. I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to a pagan website, and have them create a ritual for Kali-Ma under the Archetype of “Destroyer”, without even understanding how She is worshiped by actual followers of the Hindu faith. They do not take the time to learn, because they feel as if they can worship the deity  in anyway that they want to.

This is not okay.

This is especially not okay when we are talking about cultures that have been (and continue to be) marginalized, exotified, and trivialized. 

If you love a deity, and feel called to them, how about you actually take the time to learn about them, they’re history, and they’re development? 

Image

The same thing happens in regards for the iChing. How many people can actually tell you a bit about Chinese mythology, or even some history or spiritual practices? Not many. But they still love the iChing! The words are beautiful and poetic, and the symbols are pretty cool too. What could be wrong with that?

Everything, because you are taking something interesting from a culture, and saying fuck the rest. You believe that you have a right to something belonging to another culture, and will kick, scream, and whine when someone tries to tell you otherwise.

The problem with saying that all deities are the same is that when most people say this, they ignore the individual cultural implications any deity has, and then take it upon them selves to make shit up instead of, you know, reading, about something. So the next time you feel the need to trivialize someone else’s spirituality because you think you can, try stepping back and actually learning about it for once. That way, you won’t get offended when someone calls bullshit.