Advice

On cultural appropriation

In light of the baby name discussion–what are your thoughts on baby names with no link to the parent(s)’s cultural/linguistic background? Like, is a white, non-Hindu couple naming their white, non-Hindu baby Krishna (because they like the name, the meaning, etc.) crossing a cultural appropriation line?

 

I know all you social justice warriors have been trained to salivate at the slightest whiff of cultural appropriation, but please, have some chill.

Not all cultural appropriation is bad. Some of it’s just worthy of a shoulder shrug, and some of it is actually good. There’s a trick here that I want you all to learn, and it involves a deep understanding of context. It requires that you analyze cultural appropriation from a situation based rather than a rules based perspective.

There are instances where a white, non-Hindu couple naming their white, non-Hindu baby Krishna isn’t as culturally appropriative as you might think. They could be Buddhist or Bahai, or if they’re Californians with super hippy parents, Krishna could very easily be a family name. Again, context is key.

Of course, they could also be thoughtless white trash fruitcakes with no personal connection to the name Krishna who simply couldn’t decide between Kesha and Kristy, so they decided to split the difference.

Odds are, a couple like the one you’re describing fall somewhere in the middle of this culturally appropriative spectrum. Maybe they’re assholes. Maybe they’re not. You have to look at each situation and make that call rather than apply a hard and fast set of rules.

Sometimes it’s easy. All those ignorant dirt squirrels who still wear native headdresses to Coachella are privileged little shits showing blatant disrespect for a culture that suffered a forgotten genocide. They’re fair game. The various on-stage appropriations of African-American and Asian culture by Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry are also fair game. That shit is exploitation, pure and simple.

Then again, sometimes it’s hard. I recently had a woman write to me privately about a dress she wanted to buy that was made in Nigeria and featured a fabric with a bold African print. She literally wanted me to give her permission to buy the dress for fear she was being culturally appropriate. I told her to chill, that yes, it was a skirt from Africa, but that it wasn’t traditional African dress. (I also fell in love with this piece from the same designer.) I mean, come on you guys. Blending of cultures is often a good thing, and that’s clearly one of those times.

When it comes to cultural appropriation, analyze the situation. Look for willful ignorance, thoughtless disrespect, or exploitation for profit. Those are the litmus tests for the ugly stuff that deserves to be called out. On the other hand, if what you’re seeing is a blending of cultures based on understanding, respect, and mutual benefit, then get your ‘one love’ on and let that shit go.

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151 thoughts on “On cultural appropriation

  1. Courtney says:

    I just want to say I’ve been a longtime reader and I deeply appreciate your voice of reason, wisdom and empathy. You inspire me to call shit out when it’s deserved, but also when to tell myself to chill the fuck out. You rock and deserve to hear it every day, all the time.

  2. Chris says:

    This is so refreshing to read. I’m increasingly skeptical of the “CULTURAL APPROPRIATION = 100% ALWAYS AWFUL AND WE MUST CRUCIFY THIS PERSON” mindsets, especially since it seems to be fueling a lot of clickbait these days. It’s great to see somebody with an actually nuanced perspective on it.

  3. Lindsay says:

    I think what you’re describing is the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. One is exploitative and often done with no understanding (or desire to understand) the context and history of object (name, dress, whatever). The other is appreciation and celebration of another’s culture. Usually people who get the context, who are not being exploitative, can tell preettty quickly if something is appropriative or not.

    A coupla good articles explaining the difference: http://interruptmag.com/article/appropriation-vs-appreciation
    http://everydayfeminism.com/2013/09/cultural-exchange-and-cultural-appropriation/

    • Ann says:

      Well, appropriation means “to take”, but it’s just a descriptive, morally neutral word. To rename the instances of cultural appropriation that you like or approve of “appreciation” therefore seems a bit pointless, but also ascribes an agenda or moral value to the terms, which makes it harder to have a conversation about what is okay and what isn’t. Let’s use the right words; it’s all appropriation, and appropriation can be exploitation.

      • Rainbowpony says:

        I don’t think the term appropriation avoids moral implication. Flinging the term “cultural appropriation” at some one very much accuses them of moral misdeed.

        • Ann says:

          Sure it does, but that’s part of the ridiculous-ness. You can accuse someone of cultural appropriation all you want, but that doesn’t make an coherent argument. If everyone who cared so much about appropriation was talking about imperialism and exploitation instead, things would be better. Adding “appreciation” to the mix doesn’t help – that’s what the people in Native American headdresses say they’re doing.

  4. Parensynthesis says:

    My understanding of cultural appropriation is that if there’s an element of exploitation and a lack of respect, it’s appropriation. If not, it’s cultural appreciation. That being said, I staunchly refuse to get my boxers in a twist over, say, dreadlocks. And definitely not over peoples’ names.

    • Brynn says:

      I love using dreads as an example of appropriation, though, because the dreads are such a tiny part of them problem. It’s all about the people and how they cherry-pick the context that justifies their use of dreads, and a complete ignorance as to what dreads symbolize to people other than themselves. Add on the juicy layer of drama that comes about from all the white people attacking dreads just because they think white people with dreads look dirty, accidentally highlighting the whole class issue that helped depopularize dreads in the first place!

  5. Rina says:

    My favorite example of cultural blending is Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Identité Nationale AW 2010/11 collection. It

  6. Rina says:

    My favorite example of cultural blending is Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Identité Nationale AW 2010/11 collection. It’s a gorgeous hot mess cultural hodge podge and a big fuck you to the Sarkozy government that pushed for a ministry of National Identity (to supposedly reassert the *real* meaning of Frenchness).

  7. Nick says:

    There is a difference between cultural appropriation and acculturation. And that difference has to do with benefits and profits.

  8. Richard says:

    Can’t also having a “foreign” name help normalize it for white people? Having a bunch of white kids running around named Krishna would make the Indians named Krishna seem less other for white people who still have a reflex reaction to names.

    I have to explain the difference between appropriation and racist appropriation all the time (which I can do in large part because of Coquette). It comes up in drag and LGBT circles quite a bit.

    • GOAT says:

      Dude, what? Seriously? If a white person if having an averse reaction to “foreign” names, then that’s their fucking problem. Ugh.

      • Richard says:

        No no. I don’t mean we do it just to help nurture the white people. I’m saying that giving kids foreign sounding names has the added benefit of normalizing them.

        Sorry if I didn’t communicate that well. But a white person’s racism is definitely the fault of that white person.

      • Strangely Rational says:

        So you think white people like that aren’t going to make it a problem for the “foreigners” through the use of discrimination?

        What if it’s a hiring manager going through resumes? Whose problem is it if they hold your name against you – theirs or yours?

  9. Rainbowpony says:

    A thousand times yes. Thanks coke. I wish I could hand out this post to all sorts of people. As always, you’ve brought clarity to this idea.

    The point you are making is relevant beyond cultural appropriation. Having liberal secular values is more than a new set of rights and wrongs, it’s a movement away from dogmatic thinking toward critical thinking. I wish I could sit down all the hyper SJWs of the world and let them know it’s not just what you think, its also about thought processes. That is, it’s also a not a liberal value to think dogmatically. I do not want a future of liberal secular values if they are applied dogmatically.

    • Strangely Rational says:

      “That is, it’s also a not a liberal value to think dogmatically. I do not want a future of liberal secular values if they are applied dogmatically.”

      *slow clap*

  10. Gaybeard says:

    It’s ironic that fear of cultural appropriation would have kept someone from buying a dress with an African print made by an African designer who is trying to make enough money making dresses to quit her job as a software developer to focus on fashion full time.

    • Richard says:

      Yeah the bad kind of appropriation is usually when the exploiting culture profits from the exploited culture. In this case it’s very much the African profiting from the white person so it’s like…the opposite of appropriation.

      • J Lynn says:

        Indeed. It’s cultural promotion! Both in the object itself, and in the sense that its purchase is putting money into the hands of a member of that group who will probably circulate at least some of it to other group members (either directly, to a notions store or sewing machine repair shop in her town, or to her babysitter, or her neighborhood grocery or takeout place, or simply by supporting her own family). Supporting a different culture’s small businesses is almost always a useful thing.

        (The only example I can think of that might be clearly exploitative might be an importer buying handcrafts wholesale at the lowest possible price in a developing country and selling at some huge greedy profit in a rich country. In that case, it seems the decent thing to do would be to share more profits with the makers, in the spirit of fair trade. But that’s a very different scenario than an individual just buying a dress from another individual.)

  11. Chops says:

    So much of the social justice warrior hype around cultural appropriation rings hollow as is. It always seems to me like it’s less about defending the sacred rites and symbols of other cultures and more about a bunch of white people trying to score points in the Most Woke White Person In The Room game.

  12. Dina says:

    This is so perfectly appropriate to something I’ve been struggling to articulate it’s not even funny. Thank you for this.

  13. AmishCyborg says:

    I still don’t get it.
    If there are no ill intentions, then why is this a problem? Yes, dressing up in another culture’s clothes is tacky, but where are we trying to go with this? Nobody will give a shit about cultural appropriation in five years.

    • Livvid says:

      Intent has never and will never matter. CQ put it well on her twitter: “The road to hell (AKA pretty much all human suffering) is paved with well-intentioned whiteness.”

      The discussion surrounding cultural appropriation is an important one because it carries weight as a discussion ultimately about history, hegemony and power. I agree with CQ that we need more nuance and to resist the knee-jerk reactions that have been characteristic of the SJW corner of the internet, but it very much matters. As for where we’re trying to go with this? As a society we need to continue to confront the very extent effects of imperialism and its legacy. Cultural appropriation is a banal facet of that.

  14. Strangely Rational says:

    Coquette, I’m curious how you would categorize willful acts of religious blasphemy as a form of protest? For example, using a sacred symbol in a way that would be taken as offensive by members of that religion.

    I understand that this would be subject to analysis of the context as well, but what would you consider in determining whether it’s justified or not?

    Would it be based on how mainstream a religion is? How much damage it has historically caused to individuals/other groups/society at large? How respectful they are of differing beliefs? Whether the person doing it is a victim of trauma or just someone who disagrees with the teachings? Whether the blasphemy is done for profit? Joking or not joking?

    I’m torn on it, because I tend to believe that “sacred” is in the eye of the beholder, and I don’t like the idea of people being expected to treat objects or symbols with reverence just because someone else believes they need to be. On the other hand, I have trouble stomaching something if it’s causing extra pain to an oppressed group.

    • Pamela says:

      I love your question, and I would love to read ppl’s answers to it. I don’t have an answer, because I feel the same as you do.

    • Gaybeard says:

      What’s achieved by doing something dramatic with a “sacred” object that couldn’t be achieved in another way through protest?

      All you say by doing that is that you basically shit on everything a group of people believe is sacred. Not a good way to start a dialogue in my opinion, even if your target is the institution and not the people who are part of it.

      • Strangely Rational says:

        It’s the quickest way to get their attention. It’s also a form of expression that could be meaningful or cathartic.

        • Gaybeard says:

          It seems to me like there are any number of other ways to get attention.

          What’s meaningful or cathartic about doing it as a public protest? If it’s a personal repudiation that has meaning and catharsis for the individual then it’s a private matter. If you want to break with a group publicly there are ways of doing it that don’t involve desecrating the things they consider holy.

          • WhoAmI says:

            It’s always good to publicly remind people who sacralize stuff that they’re full of shit for doing it.

          • Gaybeard says:

            No, that’s just hurting people’s feelings for selfish reasons. It doesn’t remind anybody of anything, it just antagonizes them.

          • WhoAmI says:

            ho no, people getting their feelings hurt, where are the powerpuff girls when we need’em

          • Strangely Rational says:

            Question: do you believe that ALL protests are wrong if they hurt people’s feelings?

            Including issues you personally feel strongly about?

        • Gaybeard says:

          No, hurting people’s feelings is not the main criteria for whether or not to protest.

          However, if the only effect and/or purpose of your “protest” is to hurt other people’s feelings because you personally dislike something, then I think you shouldn’t do it, if for no other reason than it’s really stupid.

          • Gaybeard says:

            The answer I failed to get is how destroying what other people consider sacred achieves anything but hurt feelings and misunderstanding.

            If you want to argue that it’s effective to do this, then it’s on you to prove how, or how another form of protest wouldn’t deliver the same point without taking a shit on people who end up just being caught in the crossfire between the angry person and the institution they want to protest against.

          • Gaybeard says:

            The answer I failed to get is how destroying what other people consider sacred achieves anything but hurt feelings and misunderstanding.

            If you want to argue that it’s effective to do this, then it’s on you to prove how, or how another form of protest wouldn’t deliver the same point without taking a shit on people who end up just being caught in the crossfire between the angry person and the institution they want to protest against.

    • J Lynn says:

      This is a great question to consider philosophically from all angles. If I may, I’ll share my first thoughts with the caveat that they’re only just that. Overall, I think willful blasphemy either as protest OR as artistic expression, or even just to be a crank are pretty much fine, whether it’s against the One True Church (aka Roman Catholic) or against syncretic santería of poor people in the Caribbean (a generally sympathetic group) or Islam or Ben Carson’s 7th Day Adventism or the Book of Mormon or etc. Free speech et al.

      However, there is some blasphemy that’s more likely to earn sympathy (or at least serious consideration) from 3rd party observers than other blasphemy. Shock value alone doesn’t impress me much, that falls under the category of blasphemy to be a brat, with no deeper thought. I think the two categories from your question that would make a difference in this 3rd party’s (ie MY) evaluation are:

      – How much damage it has historically caused to individuals/other groups/society at large?
      – Whether the person doing it is a victim of trauma or just someone who disagrees with the teachings?

      None of the other questions would be relevant one way or another to me. The blasphemer should implicitly or explicitly make the case that the blasphemy is deserved in some way. Most people like an underdog, and if there’s personal or historical harm the blasphemer can be that underdog.

      Sympathetic blasphemers, IMO, whom I admire and who fit in above two categories:
      Sinead O’Conner
      Jim Carroll (Basketball Diaries and general punk rock guy)
      George Carlin
      Mark Twain

      • Strangely Rational says:

        You mean her response to the person who vandalized the church? Sorry, but I don’t see how that relates to what I’m talking about. This has nothing to do with damaging other people’s property or any other criminal behavior.

  15. J says:

    Damn coke, I love that dress and am jealous that your fashion budget is much more impressive than mine.
    I still wish you’d at least do one post on wardrobe essentials, and include which are critical to go high-end and which can be cheap.

  16. Jackie says:

    Over the years I’ve found her weakest arguments are on issues dealing with race. She comes from a place not of minorit understanding and it’s so clear sometimes it irks me.

      • Jackie says:

        It’s kind of strange you’d hit back with some petty and snippy shit. But okay. Solidifies my point that you are most likely not as enlightened in racial issues as you would assert. That’s fine, I tend to think that level only comes from actually being a member of a minority group. Maybe I’m being presumptuous, but it feels pretty correct.

        • The Coquette says:

          You are being presumptuous. (It’s fine for you to disagree with me. I encourage that shit, but when you make wrong-headed assumptions about where I come from and what I’ve been through, I tend to bristle.)

        • WhoAmI says:

          Maybe she tempers her statements on race BECAUSE she isn’t from a minority and is well aware of it. Coquette giving a nuanced and situational answer, could you imagine that ?

        • Jackie says:

          I think you misunderstood what I said a bit. I said you most likely don’t come from a minority background. Being a person of color doesn’t equate to location or life experience. You may have some shit that makes you an awesome ally, which I think you have been sometimes but I’ve noticed this tin ear to some racial issues that demonstrates a lack of understanding in just that area.

          • The Coquette says:

            I understand that you said I most likely don’t come from a minority background, and again, you are being presumptuous. What you call a tin ear is actually just a thicker skin, and what you call a lack of understanding is merely a difference in perspective. It’s insulting. Feel free to disagree with my positions, but stop making assumptions about background.

          • TC says:

            I just took it as someone bitching that because of your privilege you can never understand them or be a quality advocate.

          • Freida says:

            So when you make assumptions on the race and gender of people here on the basis of a single sentence, THAT’s based on careful analysis and pattern-coding, but when readers do it based on years worth of your responses, THAT’s presumptuous? Give us a fucking break, Coke.

          • Rainbowpony says:

            Also dude, if you are gonna disagree bring something to the table as an argument. Don’t just point at Coke and say, “you aren’t woke enough.”

            Critical thinking people, critical thinking.

          • Diggin says:

            I’ve rarely met a privileged white person with a deep understanding of race, inequality, hegemony and power. Over the years of reading Coke, I’ve always thought that insight of her’s can only derive from a deep sense of injustice which has been personally felt.

          • Chi says:

            Pretty sure she once posted a picture of her somewhere. Girl wasn’t white. She had Alicia Key’s skin tone and the same body type. I peg her as either mixed, Latina or from sonewhere in the Mediterranean.

            Also, if her arguments on race are weak, you could offer a stronger one? I’m assuming you’re black when I say this: my arguments on race relations are weak because I don’t have the same background as the Black Americans coming from Africa and spending time in a town with a 6% black population and in schools where I usually was the only non-white( the barrier to entry was money). So, coupled with my attitude of “you’re the only person keeping yourself down” and living in what I now term a sheltered existence, I’ve never had the experience of the race issues a lot of black people experience. On the other hand, my LGBT activism and sexual minority experience are on par with most activists out there because I experience that almost daily.

            Go easy on her and stop assuming. You don’t know her ethnicity. Even if her arguments are weak, she is an ally. As someone LGBT+, I can tell you the community won’t have achieved so much without the support of allies.

      • Brynn says:

        So is anyone going to make an argument here, or should I just stop checking back in on this thread?

        I strongly agree with Coke’s answer here, and appreciate the nuance with which she addresses racial issues. I wouldn’t call any of it liberal white racism. It does seem that she writes with the assumption her subscribers are intelligent enough to grapple with the grey area, which tends to be a big no no in online discourse, and I can understand how that makes hardliners uncomfortable. But racism? I’m not buying that without a proper argument.

    • J Lynn says:

      Jackie,
      You say (indirectly) that this post is one of Coquette’s “weakest arguments.” If it’s weak, it should be easy to refute. Yet you offer no counterpoint, only ad hominem criticism.

      It wouldn’t even have to be a parliamentary point-by-point rebuttal. It could simply be a different personal perspective, as in “From my point of view, these specific behaviors still feel exploitative and here’s why I feel that way … ”

      Of course you don’t HAVE to articulate a disagreement. In fact, you don’t have to do anything at all except eat, poop and pay taxes (if you are 18+). If you really are a POC, no, of course, it’s not your JOB to educate people, etc, etc. But without at least one specified personal or logical disagreement, your comments aren’t persuasive.

      Finally, making vague, ad hominem complaints about Coquette, a woman who’s hosting this site with her own money and offering up her heart and brain for free, I think amounts to being a poor guest. Without asserting a point, it just reads like drive-by spite.

    • Zig says:

      Oh thank fuck, Jackie. Yes. But then I guess most black people I know who come here just skip right over the white feminism bits. You can always tell when they’re coming.

      • Encee says:

        “You can always tell when they’re coming.” 100%

        Wow, Coquette, I strongly disagree with you here. I have yet to meet anyone who does this and doesn’t have totally backwards racist ideas simmering within their minds.

        You said it was ok, and you got a wave of relieved sighs from people who now don’t feel like they have to sweat it. But people, keep sweating it! Keep asking yourself where this impulse to “appreciate” (by taking from) other cultures originates. Ask yourself if the playing field is level. Because the world isn’t a giant Anthro store for white folks to pick and choose at random spiritual traditions, religious names, clothing, costumes or hairstyles. These are major in group identity markers. Other cultures aren’t your flair.

        Speaking to the example provided in the question, I am a light skinned Hindu Indian American woman, and it would honestly give me flashbacks to my anxious and marginalized childhood to meet a white person wanting to name their kid Krishna. It makes my stomach turn just to think about.

        And, along that vein, I am watchful that I don’t adorn my body in the jewelry or clothes of more rural Indians or lay claim to the experience of racism that brown skinned Indian people face. That would be so wrong.

        It is 2016 and the effects of colonialist violence are REAL, CRUSHING and PERSISTENT. It is the barest nod of respect to not appropriate other cultural traditions. Like, honestly and truly, it’s the least an individual can do to respect their fellow human beings who suffer from generations of complex, multi-faceted oppression.

        • Seema says:

          Thank you, Encee. THANK YOU. This entire post showed me that the only thing worse than people asking an anonymous stranger on the internet about approaprating from other cultures, is that person then answering for many cultures. Literally that sort of hubris is so white. Please don’t speak for cultures that aren’t your own. Also “Krishna could very easily be a family name” made me laugh out loud.

          • Encee says:

            LOL, Seema, I knoooowwwwww. The only difference between a Californian with super hippy parents and “thoughtless ‘white trash’ fruitcakes” (???!) is a thousand sun salutations and an “om is where the heart is” t-shirt. The oblivious and casual entitlement is the same.

        • WhoAmI says:

          Most if not all of southern and eastern asia has been doing the same thing with black american culture (especially rap subculture) for like 30 years. Sit down and chill for a second or two, your discourse need some serious dose of pluralism.

          • Margo says:

            Dude pluralism is never the answer, and the historical relationship and economic/cultural power dynamics between black America and Southeast Asia has never been comparable to the relationship between white western power and Southeast Asia, or white america and black America. Further, the only purpose this sort of argument serves is to terminate a critical discussion. Also the only reason Southeast Asia has been able to culturally absorb black American culture is because they were colonized and remain under the economic domination of western capitalist globalization, and black American culture has been appropriated, exploited, packaged, and sold at immense profit by the American capitalist culture machine.

          • WhoAmI says:

            Yeah, no, that’s why I said southern and eastern asia, not southeast.
            Even inside southeast asia countries, america didn’t, like, plummet them and then shove its culture down all of their throats (remember when vietnam kicked america’s ass repetitively ? yeah)
            Please don’t treat asian countries as passive transmittors for US of A radio, they’ve got their own, old as balls, history of oppression between each other (not unlike some african ethnicities), and toward other parts of the world and are just as capable of tackiness, exotism and appropriation as white americans are. Historically so.
            Globalisation gave a lot of visibility to north american cultures, but it’s not like you can remotly command people to appropriate black american culture like they’re a hive mind or something, please (not yet).
            Don’t act as if rich indian boys dressing up in US rap paraphernalia and calling each other dog, trying to be thugs, isn’t just as independantly dirty as white american girls wearing amerindian headdresses to coachella and trying to find out their “spirit animal”.
            You’re talking as if those countries were little to nothing until America came along and curbstomped them, and are to this day nothing but empty shells filled with americana like some pinatas full to the brim with stars and stripes. That’s extremly americanocentrist of you, and stealthily so.

          • Margo says:

            Yes I am saying that the relationship between rich indian teenagers and black americans is different from the relationship between white american women and native americans/plains tribes.

            No I am not saying that previously colonized countries have nothing other than american cultural exports or were nothing before colonization, I’m pointing at specific historical, economic, and cultural relations of power to explain why these ‘appropriations’ are not comparable.

            Even if they were comparable, what’s your point? What is the objective in widening the conversation this way?

          • Margo says:

            Whoops pretend I wrote southern and eastern Asia everywhere I said Southeast Asia there… Slip of the thumbs.

        • Brynn says:

          So if someone were deciding between buying moccasins from some major footwear brand, moccasins made with the intent to sell to the general populous with a certificate authenticity from a Native American reservation, and no moccasins at all, you would tell them not to buy moccasins because wearing them is an act of cultural appropriation?

          The appreciation and consumption of crafts from other cultures is a way to directly improve the economic status of a minority person. Is their willingness to sell their crafts a result of centuries of oppression? In part, maybe – in general, certainly. But they are still making an active and informed decision to create a product using their skills for general consumption. It would be nice if we lived in a society where people were not economically coerced to sell their culturally derived skills to people who don’t appreciate them, but we don’t.

          What do you expect people to do with that information? Boycott minority-made goods until wealth is sensibly redistributed?

          You won’t wear the jewelry crafted by rural Indians, so how is your economic position being used to benefit them? Do you buy their goods and keep them in a drawer somewhere? Or do you use free days to protest with the hope that in a few generations, a politician might push policies that directly improve their lives?

          It is sad that the primary means of cultural blending is economically coerced, and that imperial nations and their respectively privileged cultures have the dominant position in that arrangement.

          But what do we do with the reality? Blending is integral to the peaceful and productive coexistence of two disparate cultures. And as long as capitalism is king, we are all bound to the economic contracts that system imposes on us.

          • Encee says:

            Oh, Brynn. Sweet, soft-haired, light-eyed Brynn. I want you to metaphorically take my hand in yours, admire the frizzy coarse hair that forms a divine corona around my head, and look deeply into my sparkling brown eyes, because I am going to give you something for free today, honey. And that is an illuminating life lesson.

            One: In response to your fun little multiple choice pop quiz, which was delightful and not simplistic at all, you are correct. I would of course choose C. “Dear kind hearted White People of America! You may no longer buy moccasins from Native Americans. If your local Woke SJW has not pedantically informed you yet, wearing moccasins would be Cultural Appropriation, and that is Wrong. Instead, you must let the Native American’s small business economy wither and die, and you must roam the earth, shoe less and barefoot, walking until you get tetanus and gangrene and maybe ringworm or whatever, idrc, I’ve moved on.” C, duh! ah, Hahhahaha… u know me 2 well brynn,, u know me 2 well

            Two: Am I expecting that, with this information, people boycott minority-made goods until wealth is sensibly distributed? LOL, no. Absolutely not. If I were to do that, you would find me perched on my bedside dresser, naked and shivering, in a dark room with next to nothing in it. Almost every single object in my house, outside of my American-made bedside dresser, has passed through the hands of the global poor. As you know, that’s called outsourcing manufacturing, and there is no turning back. I cannot cleanly excise myself from global capitalism unless I want to live way, way off the grid, and that is, for a number of reasons, impossible for me, as it is for most Americans. So, no, my answer to question number two is no.

            Three: Which brings me to your main misunderstanding. I am not saying that I refuse to wear the jewelry crafted by rural Indians because I am imposing a one-woman economic sanction against them because of my loft principles. I already take so much from them. As I said in answer two, if I was to reject all the consumer goods manufactured by rural and urban South Asians, East Asians, Southeast Asians, Latin Americans and Africans, then I would be sitting alone in an empty house, wearing nothing, doing nothing. From furniture to clothing to toothbrushes, the unfairly compensated labor of the global poor supports my every need. Like, how the fuck would I make a toothbrush?

            Anyways, what I was talking about was the original topic of cultural appropriation. As a South Asian woman born and raised in the West, I will not be appropriating the clothing, jewelry, tattoos, piercings, makeup, hairstyles, dialect, slang, or local religious practices that are unique to the large population of ethnically diverse rural Indians. I will not be using their major cultural signifiers to assuage the deep seated angst and discomfort that I have with my ABCDness or to express my yearning for an uncomplicated Indian identity via my freshly bought “””rural ethnic””” costume. My family is from the urban areas of India, so that would be gross, weird and cluelessly disrespectful of me. Abstaining from cultural appropriation is, as I said in my original comment, THE LEAST I CAN DO. Considering my staggering amount of privilege, it is the bare minimum. It is a passive practice of social non-violence. Ahimsa, my friend.

            Four, it is not just sad, IT IS WRONG that the primary means of cultural “blending” is economically coerced. Economically coercing people is WRONG. And this is not blending! Blending, like all true unions, is something that is done freely and voluntarily amongst equals. This is more like…. hmmmmmm, pillaging? Looting? Stealing? Taking? APPROPRIATING?

            This is the essence of colonialism. Be upset about it.

            Five: I am tired now, so setting aside my bitchy sarcasm, I will address your most important question, what do we do with the reality? Not to be glib, but we do our best. We treat other human beings with respect and like the equals that they are. We don’t take, take, take from others. We keep history present in our mind to help contextualize our interactions. We use our thoughts and feelings to understand and communicate. We give back, politically, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, artistically. We read literature so our brains can practice empathy, and we listen to one another. We create complex systems of governance so we can create a semblance of justice out of a totally random world. We do not hoard resources. We do not relegate people to the bottom layer of the kyrarchy, so far down that they are effectively unseen and unheard except for the occasional moments that we notice and covet their clothes. Instead, we see, we hear, we feel, we trust and we let the energy flow freely between us. I really think we are built for it.

            I’m sorry I can’t give you a more concrete answer. As you know, it’s not black and white and static; it is in color and dynamic, always changing. Cultural appropriation is just the tip top of the iceberg, and even that gets fuzzy when you start to ask about hypothetical Native Americans selling you shoes. If it helps, I would have chosen option B in your pop quiz. Go ahead, buy the moccasins, and keep thinking deeply about the lives of others.

          • Strangely Rational says:

            So many words, so much condescension and sarcasm, so much contradiction and disorganization, to get around to answering the fucking question.

            You may have some good points buried in there, but your tone is such a huge turn-off that I doubt that the people you want to hear your message are going to wade in very far after your first paragraph.

            At best, you may get a cheer from people who already agree with whatever the hell point you’re trying to make.

          • Brynn says:

            Okay, I get it now. I did misunderstand. You’re in general agreement with coke’s post, but she wasn’t angry enough for you.

            On the surface, it appears that coke was putting more effort into connecting with the letter writer than fighting for minorities.

            That’s heresy.

          • Margo says:

            this was a delight to read, especially the paragraph beginning with ‘Five’. I feel like one of the big disconnects between woke culture (?) and sleep culture (??) is the understanding that there are no Answers, we’re all just muddling through this together, trying to treat other people and with justice* and compassion, and that it’s hard work. Like with all things, there’s no substitute for hard work… unless you farm it out to someone else… maybe someone browner?

            *and that justice is necessarily a contextual concept aka look at history first.

          • Gaybeard says:

            Yawn.

            I understand the critique you’re making but I’m so tired of the moralistic tone with which anti-colonial, anti-imperialist arguments are made, as if white people invented conquest and exploitation, and as if power relationships can be changed by making people more aware of their role in power relations with a geopolitical scale.

            “white people shouldn’t be taking over anything”

            Come on, now. Every day, in every part of the world, powerful groups are taking over things that are sacred to another, less powerful group. Humans don’t do this because of some moral fault, but because we have structural power relationships with other groups. Our species takes what it wants, when it wants, because it can. Those with delusions of grandeur who have felt above adoption of other people’s cultures and technologies like 19th century China, have fallen into ruin.

            I’m all for having a conversation about how inappropriate and stupid it is to wear the sacred items of a people your ancestors conquered and systematically destroyed as a music festival fashion accessory, but if the conversation is going to degenerate into applying morality to seismic shifts in geopolitics and culture, then it seems like we’re losing the thread and just taking another opportunity to shake a finger at The West. Not to mention how patronizing and paternal it is to assume that formerly colonized countries and people who produce textiles and other products influenced by their traditional cultures aren’t fully aware of what they’re doing and who they’re selling to.

          • Encee says:

            *Yaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwnnnnnnnn*

            Aw, Gaybeard, it is actually my bedtime and my brain is shutting down.

            Before I go, let me clarify that I am not saying white people invented conquest and power. Of course not, we are all human. (BTW, have you heard of the caste system??? So wild.) And yet, I still like to take every opportunity to shake my finger at The West.

          • Margo says:

            Are you saying morality isn’t applicable to the behavior of people in groups? Like when you say that domination (“power taking from less power”) isn’t a moral fault… what is morality then?
            I’m not trying to be hostile fwiw, I’m genuinely interested in your conceptualization of this because it’s something I’ve been thinking a LOT about recently – social justice as moral framework.

          • Gaybeard says:

            but why??? I’m not trying to be a dick or push an agenda at you. I have no skin in the game.

            What do you expect as a response when you say things like “white people shouldn’t take over anything?” Like, ok, but who the fuck cares? Really. You’re just making an argument to a bunch of white liberals who have a misplaced sense of guilt and are predisposed to self-flagellation and faux concern. None of the shits who put on headdresses or bindis read anything like this. They. don’t. give. a. fuck. So what’s the point? Are you just venting? If so, great, I’m with you. Fuck capitalism, fuck privileged white people, fuck racism, fuck class systems, fuck kings and queens and guillotines. But if you’re trying to say something beyond “fuck this bullshit”, it’s not getting through.

            I just read your response to Brynn, and I’m getting a better picture of what you’re trying to say, and you say it in a very entertaining and intelligent way that does credit to your empathy and conscientiousness. However, it just seems like a competition to see who can cut more finely with a semantic ginsu knife. Should every act of cultural exchange by accompanied by a disclaimer about our privilege? Maybe I should write up a short essay for every piece of my furniture, print it out, and paste it on to them as a notice to any houseguests properly acknowledging how privileged I am and how my position in life is in no way earned and how many multitudes suffer for my advantage? You want equality in exchange? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t exist. Good dealing is born out of either the buyer or the seller being at a disadvantage, while trading is predicated on both parties having something the other wants, and making an exchange that profits both and leaves a remainder of the original good for both parties. Both kinds of transaction are necessary for a successful market.

          • Encee says:

            Hi Gaybeard, you are correct, I was venting. It was a flippant response to someone’s random interjected comment about white people and yoga.

            I am not trying to incite guilt in white people, as it usually renders them frozen, defensive and ineffective, lol. (Just teasing, ofc, some of my best friends are white.)

            I am trying to communicate my understanding of my own privilege, which is that I did not earn my privilege and that my privilege is not my fault. This is how I cope with it.

            I really liked your comment about dealing versus trading. I don’t know anything about economics, but would love to learn. Do you have any websites or books that you’d suggest?

            Anyways, I am tripping balls from tiredness, so good night for real.

            [Emoji!]

        • Gaybeard says:

          Where does cultural exchange and commerce come into this story of colonialism and oppression?

          I appreciate the argument being made, but I don’t understand the desire to maintain separate silos between groups.

    • Monica says:

      I agree with you. Regardless of her background, her posts on race are usually pretty weak. Just an observation, not like she’s losing any readership over it.

  17. definitely not batman says:

    I was putting off reading the comments because I expected more controversy, and to my (pleasant) surprise, came to find there is none. Obviously needs more cats.

  18. B says:

    People, focus. The real issue at hand is that fabulous dress. If you insist on making this about something it’s not, considering the maker and the sourcing of materials the buyer is expressing their taste while supporting a much more deserving economy than several name brand designers. Coke’s right, it has to be an individual, not blanket judgement.

  19. Nerdlinger says:

    Would the average person of whatever nationality or religion you’re borrowing from frown upon on it, or go “sweet, more money/exposure for us”? I keep being reminded of that kimono controversy a while back as a sort of litmus test for what counts and doesn’t count: http://japaneseamericaninboston.blogspot.nl/2015/07/protests-continue-at-mfa.html

    Some of the native Japanese reactions that this sort of kerfuffle is typically American also show the small spheres in which these concepts travel. A woke libarts degree is a sign of cultural borrowing and blending in and of itself (Orientalism as a concept was coined by Said to describe specifically Western perspectives on the MENA region, after all). On the other hand, a native person doesn’t really experience the negative shit someone from the diaspora goes through, so using the opinions of the former to dismiss the latter is also silly. Shit’s complex, but that’s what makes it so interesting.

  20. Seema says:

    And who exactly is supposed to make the call on whether something is “willful ignorance, thoughtless disrespect, or exploitation for profit”? The white person? Are you serious? Some woman trying to ‘appreciate’ my culture by wearing a bindi and mehendi does fine, while my 64-year-old mother gets ‘randomly chosen’ and felt up, yelled at, and humiliated by TSA every fucking time we fly? From the bottom of my heart, fuck you, Coke, and fuck all you relieved white people.

    • The Coquette says:

      A white girl wearing a bindi because she thinks it’s cool is both willfully ignorant and thoughtlessly disrespectful. That’s not “appreciation” (a word I never used, by the way.) That’s straight up appropriation, and yeah, fuck her. Absolutely fuck her. We aren’t in disagreement, Seema. Not one bit. And you’re right, who gets to make the call is of critical importance, and in Western society, it’s not the white person. They’re the ones obligated to pay attention, be respectful, and obey the call made by members of the other culture in any given situation. That’s the whole fucking point. Maybe that wasn’t clear enough in my original answer, but that shit kinda goes without saying. As for your anger, I know all too well where it comes from, so I’ll let your “fuck you” slide, but from the bottom of my heart, watch what kind of assumptions you make about who I am and what my experiences are with this kind of thing.

      • Seema says:

        I made exactly zero assumptions about who you are or what your experiences are. My comment was about your response alone. Your race or ethnicity, or the number of times you might have been held up the TSA does not matter here, because of one very simple fact: you have chosen to run an anonymous blog.
        So my responses are not based on or tempered by my guesses about your identity, because they’d be utterly meaningless; they are only to the political or social ideas you share with us.

      • Encee says:

        Dear Coquette! Wow, I’m a little star struck.

        No, to answer your above question, I did not get that that was a joke. I think if what so many of your readers are taking from the conversation is that claims of cultural appropriation are really just a pissing contest for who can be the wokest SJW, then no, that shit does not go without saying. People keep asking these questions because they don’t know. I hope you can give them an even better answer in the future.

        Anyways, my criticisms aside, I’ve been reading you for years, thanks for sharing your wisdom. It truly has had a positive impact on my life.

    • Encee says:

      Ugh, I’m really sorry that happens to your mom. This is white America’s way of reminding POC, using varying degrees of violence depending on the group, that we shouldn’t feel safe here. It really fucking sucks. I have faith, or perhaps delusions, that things will change for the better. We deserve it.

          • Gaybeard says:

            To answer your question above: I’m not saying that morality isn’t applicable to people as groups, I’m saying that it’s irrelevant. I think there’s limited utility in focusing energy on labelling phenomena as “right” or “wrong” because the only effect it has is to clarify for you what you think about the world. Obviously that has huge personal utility because it can help you determine what you think about the world and what your principles are. Personal moral compass aside, it’s useless (and possibly damaging) to try and convince people out of structural power relationships. If you want to break down structural relationships you believe are unjust then you have to decide how much of yourself you’re willing to sacrifice to see it happen, and to analyze the structure of that relationship in detail in order to figure out why it exists and how far it ripples out into society. After that, choose an angle, find a group of like minded individuals, and apply pressure to the system at the points where you think it will cause tension and hope the thing either breaks down or at the very least your little corner does something to ameliorate the lives of those negatively (asymmetrically) impacted by the power structure you’re resisting.

      • Gaybeard says:

        Sorry its taken me so long to reply to your question about economics way up there, but I’ve been pretty busy the last few days.

        I don’t really have any websites handy for understanding economics, but what I know is a combination of what I’ve been taught by my best friend (with econ + political economy degrees), as well as a smattering of readings over the years.

        Two best books I can recommend that are theory oriented are Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” and Georges Bataille’s “Accursed Share.” Hayek is a proto-neoliberal whose conception of liberty informs his economic theory. He’s an economist who dabbled in philosophy and so attempts to to answer the why of economics as well as the how. He follows the fundamental assumption of mainstream economics as the “science of scarcity” – how finite resources are distributed and to whom.

        Bataille’s work on the other hand is pure political theory with a re-conceptualization of economics’ primary conceit. He argues that the problem of economics is not scarcity, but overabundance. He blends practical, scientific and metaphysical concepts to arrive at the idea that all living things must shed the accursed share, our extra portion, in some way. I find this perspective very useful as a tool to contrast and critique mainstream economic analyses, if only for a way to view a situation from a different angle.

    • J Lynn says:

      Seema, I’m also really sorry that your mom has to deal with this injustice while flying. In addition to being unkind and unfair, it seems ignorant. To my knowledge no middle-aged Indian women have been even close to terrorism except as victims (a double injustice).

      I know it may be no consolation at all, but I and everyone I know would regard a white person wearing a bindi or mehendi for fashion as a shallow, obnoxious birdbrain. If it’s a stranger, I may not say anything because maybe she’s the 1 in 100 who has an acceptable reason (perhaps through marriage). Just like I won’t confront someone using a handicap parking space who doesn’t look visibly disabled. But if someone I know IRL or “know” via social media does it, I will very strongly suggest they stop and explain why.

      Of course, that won’t change how the TSA has been treating your mom. I wish after having been through inspections what I presume is several times already, that she could be placed on a hypothetical “DO fly list.” She’s earned it — not that she should have had to! — by now.

    • VeryOff says:

      I am begging you with every fiber of my being.
      I beseech thee in the name of anything anyone has considered holy.
      I request of you in the spirit of quality portmanteau.

      …never say “amazeballs” again…

  21. Paige says:

    Ok, I just want an opinion on this. A couple years ago I decided I wanted dreadlocks. When I went to look into how to find a good place to get them and how to care for them I came upon a post detailing how a white person getting dreadlocks is cultural appropriation. I felt like a terrible person for even thinking about getting them. But what if i had never seen that post and had gotten the dreadlocks? Would that have made me a terrible person? If i didn’t even know about cultural appropriation and just admired the look?

  22. KG says:

    I don’t have much to add about the names issue, but I think the litmus test I tend to use when I worry something I am doing/saying/buying is culturally appropriative is: have I got consent from the people who own this cultural knowledge or practice? (I use the word “own” somewhat loosely, as they may not feel a sense of ownership in the proprietary western sense).

    A good example which springs to mind is Australian Aboriginal artwork. I should flag I am not Aboriginal, but know quite a bit about art law. Having an Aboriginal artwork in your house may not be appropriative, so long as it has been consensually shared. Ie. if it has been created and sold by an Aboriginal person who consents to sharing this artwork with someone outside their tribal group. I would contrast this to sale of artworks that lack consent, say, imitation artworks (well meaning or otherwise), stolen artworks (containing secret information not to be shared with outsiders), or illegal reproductions (where profits do not flow back to the custodians of that cultural information).

    With respect, I don’t think just a good intention or a lack of exploitation is enough to get you over the line. Some cultural knowledge, objects, practices, etc are sacred. The owners of that information, etc have a right to keep it sacred, secret, etc. If they don’t provide active consent, I don’t think it really matters how good your intentions are, or whether money is changing hands.

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