How dare you enjoy your own culture

nicki-minaj-tour

Remember that one time when Nicki Minaj wore a feathered headdress to announce her PinkPrint tour? A lot of people said, “Whoa, girl, why are you wearing a Native American headdress? Not cool, that’s not yours.”

Then other people said, “Simmer down, that’s not Native American, that’s a carnival headdress; it’s cool because she was born in Trinidad.”

It’s the Tumblr trap of trying to stop cultural appropriation in its tracks — but accidentally giving people flack for enjoying their own culture.

Now, I think Tumblr is usually pretty damn eye-opening when it comes to social issues. But I’ve also seen lots of Tumblr peeps get angry at someone for cultural appropriation, only to be told, “Um, hey, Tumblr, I just don’t look like my culture. Can I still be proud of it? That okay with you?”

I’ve totally fallen into the Tumblr trap.

On Offbeat Bride, we look through a lot of wedding photography, and some people still haven’t got the message that it’s not okay to fill their wedding with cultural elements that don’t belong to them or their partner. We try our best to politely filter those out.

But every once in a while, I catch myself getting ready to dismiss a wedding based on the photos (“Cultural appropriation! Begone, foul fiend!”) and remember to, oh yeah, read the text. Oh. That bride’s actually half Indian? And then I have an awkward moment of silence for my SJW-self.

But then I have another dilemma. You may have noticed that the internet is fueled largely by images these days. *Gets out old lady voice* People just don’t read like they used to. Case in point, I just admitted that I myself suck at reading sometimes before jumping to my own conclusions. So my question is: Am I still helping representation by showcasing an ethnic wedding that doesn’t fit the cultural mold at first glance?

Stay with me here. You saw Big Hero 6, right? Remember Honey Lemon, the chemist with a purse that produced balls of brightly colored, weaponized powder? Did you pick up on the fact that she was Latina? Not many people did. She’s super tall, super thin, and blonde. Some people were excited that a Latina was represented at all (her voice actress is Latina as well). But a lot of people were pissed — “Really? You finally animate a Latina character, and that’s what you made her look like?”

Honey Lemon from Big Hero 6

So in that case, was the representation enough? Sure, there are tall, thin, blonde people in just about every ethnicity. Genetics does what it does. But if a group of people aren’t generally represented in media anyway, is it really a great idea to represent them with a genetic outlier when they finally get some screen time? But on the other hand, ideally everyone would have representation in media because breaking the mold is kind of the whole fucking point. So, yes, get the pale Latina on screen too.

It is at this point that I freely admit that I am not going to get representation right all the time. I can only draw on my own cultural background (white, Midwest, American) while trying very hard to keep my eyes and brain as wide open as I can. I have to keep giving space for the experiences of others, even (especially!) if they don’t fit whatever image I’ve got in my brain for it.

You have the floor. Has someone ever tried to keep you from honoring your own culture because cultural-appropriation-how-dare-you?

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  1. yeah… but what if somebody just really likes that culture? i knew lots of people who were lovingly obsessed with japanese culture, and one of them even spent a year teaching there. even if they're white, why shouldn't they be able to represent in some way a culture that they feel closer to than white, Midwest American? They're not making a mockery of it. They're honoring it.

    I kind of fit into this category myself. I am white European mix but grew up with many Latinas. My high school was very diverse. I fell in love with the holiday Dia de los Muertos and my apartment is decorated with paraphernalia of the holiday. I am not Latina, but I love the concept of a joyful, colorful, fun holiday of remembrance and celebration, rather than the sad, mournful, how-dare-you-laugh-at-a-funeral upbringing I had. Am I not allowed to have this because it doesn't fit the mold? Again, this isn't a mockery. It's seeing that other cultures actually fit my own worldview better than the one I was raised with.

    92 agree
    • I agree. There's nothing wrong with cultural appropriation. Enjoy the things that you like and ignore the things that you don't like. What cultural elements you prefer is nobody's business but your own.

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      • Exactly! Isn't this what the whole offbeat empire is about? You like what you like, we'll like what we like, and we'll all like each other enjoying whatever they like? Articles like this seem contradictory to the whole ethos and make offbeat bridal seem a lot more like the judgey mcjudgerson wedding blog sites I was trying to avoid in the first place

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        • Agreed. I was really disappointed to read this:

          "On Offbeat Bride, we look through a lot of wedding photography, and some people still haven’t got the message that it’s not okay to fill their wedding with cultural elements that don’t belong to them or their partner. We try our best to politely filter those out. "

          And it's not even accurate or consistent. The amount of non-pagan weddings using handfasting ceremonies on OBB are very contradictory to this statement.

          19 agree
          • That line "…some people still havent got the message that its not ok.." knife through my offbeat heart man!

            Me and my other half have the same culture but have very different backgrounds. When it comes to what wedding traditions to follow theres very few wee agree on. However, we find mutal ground when looking at other ceremonies from other cultures. For other people to decide we arent allowed to use these rituals to express our love and commitment to each other (THE VERY THING ThESE RITUALS ARE MEANT FOR!!) because we are 'stealing heritage' is just truely ridiculous!!

            Again, I thought this site was to express how you feel in a place without judgment and predjuice, and importantly, without having to explain yourself to people! To then start dishing out articles telling us how we should be doing this is just so disappointing. (especially as it coincides with articles on how we should ignore other peoples expectations and how wedding etiquette is evil!!

            Starting to think the whole point of the article is more to drum up a debate…

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        • I would like to–kindly!–refer to this comment Ariel left on this article: http://offbeatbride.com/2011/11/cultural-appropriation when someone brought up this same issue:

          "I think it's unfair to say that having a discussion about cultural sensitivity suddenly makes us The Knot.

          This site supports brides being thoughtful in their wedding choices. Thoughtful doesn't mean you have to bow to etiquette or make the same decisions as anyone else, but it *does* mean you think through the impact of your nontraditional choices — and cultural insensitivity can have a big impact."

          24 agree
      • I think you meant appreciation. Cultural appreciation is just fine. Sure, come out to a pow wow. Enjoy the vendors, eat some food, watch the dancers and listen to the drum groups. That's cultural appreciation.

        Cultural appropriation is when someone from a dominant group steals something from another group and distorts is. Don't take sacred headdresses that not even I'm allowed to wear. I haven't earned the right to wear even a single feather. Most hipsters I'd guess haven't either. It's not for a music festival.

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      • You're kidding, right? "There's nothing wrong with cultural appropriation"? Perhaps this is an issue of semantics and you just don't understand what cultural appropriation actually means. "The dangers of cultural appropriation go beyond offending people, appropriation continues patterns of disempowering groups that are already marginalized." What the OP is talking about (with regards to El Dia de los Muertos) is cultural appreciation. Big difference. Appropriation is a white girl wearing a Native American headdress to Coachella. Appreciation is someone folding 1000 origami cranes for the altar at her wedding because s/he's done research into the meaning of the cranes and what they represent in japanese culture.

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        • There's the rub, though. You just decided based on your own perceptions what was incorrect use of another culture. Maybe someone just likes paper cranes and knows nothing about their significance, meaning, history, etc. They could have just thought they looked pretty. Maybe that hipster doesn't look indigenous, is mixed-race, or has actually spent enough time in indigenous culture to wear those feathers properly. Or, maybe those feathers just look like something from another culture, but mean something to that person's own culture that most people won't know/see/understand. You've just gone and judged people without being inside their heads or hearts.

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    • You're right. There's a huge difference between a predominately white high school appropriating Native American sacred dances for the pleasure of their sports teams and someone who really, really loves another's culture. As a white, American woman, I envy the culture everyone else has because a lot of us white people in the USA don't have that. As long as someone is being respectful, why not let them enjoy something they love?

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      • except that white people *do* have a culture, with cultural traditions, dances, clothes, music, ceremonies, coming-of-age rituals, food, art, holidays, language, etc – we just don't notice because white culture in the west is so incredibly dominant.

        The problem with cultural appropriation is that usually people who are doing it are not being respectful – wearing an important, sacred religious object as a fashion accessory, treating a traditional holiday as an opportunity to partyyyy, getting a "tribal" tattoo without being a member of that tribe, using an actual, real culture as a costume.

        It is also totally possible to appropriate cultures from your own heritage – see the way St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in the U.S. by "Oirish-Americans", for example.

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        • While I agree with much of what you wrote….the problem comes up when multiple heritages share the same styles. While braids and dreads were used by Celtics, vikings, etc, very few people acknowledge that and then when anyone who looks Caucasian wears their hair in those styles, they are accused of cultural appropriation.

          While there are legitimate issues with true appropriation, there seem to be far to many SJWs making accusations against instances of shared heritage traits and cultural appreciation. It's so often presented as white people trying to steal black culture, but maybe we'd all be better off if we stopped defining people by how they look. It gets even more ridiculous when it's about current fashion…hip-hop fashion going mainstream should be seen as progress, not appropriation. The inclusion of full lips and a round booty as ideal means that as a culture, we are shifting our view of beauty beyond what has been traditionally desired Caucasian traits.

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          • Also, this isn't hypothetical. Despite loving her hair, a friend of mine cut off her dreads after growing weary of being harassed by SJWs.

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    • Yes and no. It's a very fine line, and more often than not, people of that particular culture see these silly white people taking bits and pieces of their culture to "represent"…usually just the "pretty" stuff or the "cool" stuff. Is that honouring it? Or are we cherry-picking?

      Sure, you can love whatever cultures you want that are different from your own; but there starts to be a problem when you want to represent that culture…and you aren't a part of it. Mainly because you don't understand what it's like to be a part of that culture (sure you can teach/study in Japan for many years…but you're still that white person from North America, and will never be Japanese – whether you feel closer to that culture or not). You don't understand the hardships, the stereotypes, the inner-workings, the social confines/structures, the symbolic meanings, etc etc. Yes you can learn about them, but as an outsider you will never live them or understand them in a way that a person of that culture already does. And while a person may feel like they're honouring it, a person from that culture may feel like you are mocking it.

      But then again, a person of that culture may feel you are doing it justice! Who knows? My point is, sometimes it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to cultural appropriation. I love many cultures, including Japan, First Nations, Maori, French, Irish, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Indian, Thai, and more. I have visited many of these culture's countries (and numerous times), I eat their food, admire their art/dance/costume, their historical places etc. But that's from afar, as a visitor and a person genuinely curious about their world…I don't go around toting like I know the joint.

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      • " I eat their food, admire their art/dance/costume, their historical places etc. But that's from afar, as a visitor and a person genuinely curious about their world…" I don't know that this is really all that different from what some people consider cultural appropriation.

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        • Except that's not cultural appropriation. Wearing their costume/imitating their art/dance and passing it off as my own is cultural appropriation. Eating food isn't. Nor is visiting historical sites open to the public.

          Cultural appropriation is:
          "A term used to describe the taking over of creative or artistic forms, themes, or practices by one cultural group from another. It is in general used to describe Western appropriations of non‐Western or non‐white forms, and carries connotations of exploitation and dominance." (Oxford Reference definition)

          28 agree
          • However, all of this being said…people can do what they want. If they feel exceptionally strong about a culture (that isn't their own), relates to it, and wants to celebrate it. Then by all means, go ahead.

            I'm just saying that I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to these things, since being a white girl from Canada I am a dominant culture…so I don't want to offend anyone by mistake. This area isn't black and white, so something I think might be totally okay is actually super offensive.

            But I'm also never going to call someone out on cultural appropriation (unless it's turning racist in nature), because it's not my culture to police.
            (Unless someone starts mocking Canadians, then I'll be all up in your grill…lol)

            9 agree
      • So to post on the Offbeat websites we need to provide a full family background? We need to provide verification that we are 'allowed' to use anything that might be deemed cultural or stray from this 'generic white American culture' whatever that is, as I am not American I wouldn't know?

        All of this smacks strongly of judging a book by it's cover. You cannot tell by looking at someone what their heritage is, what their religion is, what experiences they have had or where they have lived. People are taking this cultural appropriation thing to far for exactly those reasons. You cannot possibly know everything about a person by looking at them, you may even think you know a lot about a close friend and still be surprised. This is the problem with arguments about what a person is and is not "allowed" to do, because you do not know.

        My partner is part Chinese, not that you would ever know by looking at him, so if we got married using Chinese elements would we have to include a disclosure? I get asked quite frequently if I am eastern European when I am not, so could I have a celebration with traditional Russian elements in it and not have to provide a disclosure thanks to my smooth skin, cheekbones and green eyes?

        Edit: Annnd this posted in the wrong spot. Sorry.

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        • And what about people who are adopted into a different culture? My DH was adopted at birth and although he looks as though he could actually be biologically related to some of his relatives, there are those who look nothing like their adopted family. If he had been raised by parents of another culture, I can bet that he would have adopted that culture's traditions and values etc. I appreciate that there are those who are culturally unsophisticated and would not know the history behind a tradition and choose to adopt it as their own, and probably also use the non-politically correct names for persons from other cultures as well. They either claim ignorance or don't care. But I love seeing the way that true multicultural events blend together so seamlessly, and incorporate things you may have never seen put together before. Awesome!

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        • That's what the author was getting at, though–you can't tell just by looking at someone whether they really "belong" to a certain culture or tradition, and it can get tricky even when you're trying to err on the side of respect.

          Those of us on high alert for cultural appropriation might wrongly assume that someone is using elements from another culture without fully understanding their meaning, and then it turns out WE'RE the ones being unfairly judgy.

          Mistakes happen, but in the time I've been reading the Offbeat sites, I think they've done an amazing job of striking the right balance.

          5 agree
    • There is a lot wrong with cultural appropriation when you are appropriating from a culture already marginalized by white society as in the Native Americans, It is not cool it is insulting and I do not understand why people seem to think it is okay to do that, I see people taking things from a heritage that they were not born into and using things they have absolutely no right to use, For instance a war bonnet, Every feather on a true war bonnet is earned, Someone who is not entitled to wear it is like going around wearing a purple heart when they have never been in the military, I don't know why people cannot just be who they are and be happy with that instead of thinking they are being cool at someone else's expense,

      22 agree
  2. Well to answer Katie above me I think (and can only speak for myself) due to the fact that Caucasians can take aspects of a culture on or off at whim and never have to deal with the negative aspects of belong to a minority such being Native American, Latino or in my case Creole that individuals belonging to said groups can feel protective of it.

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    • I support this view. A Native American activist died in police custody just this week. I tend to err on the side of responding to what appears to be cultural appropriation, and having that discussion, and then if it was a case of mistaken identity, backing off. It doesn't have to be spewn vitriol, but I do think we have a responsibility to help defend the integrity of other peoples' cultures, especially so long as they keep being cherrypicked in an otherwise hostile environment.

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      • I think when we've sunk to policing others' expression without knowing them — which, as near as I can tell, is the only way one can create a case of "mistaken identity" here — we've gone too far.

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        • There's a big difference between policing others and trying to raise awareness of marginalized cultures' rights to their own self determination and heritage. So, perhaps the space between those two things is where the answer lies.

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  3. I think if you're taking something on because it's fashionable or hip, then that is cultural appropriation. If you're doing it because of these reasons, it's not honoring the culture.
    If you do have, however, some tie to the culture–even if you are not biologically that culture, I don't have a problem with you honoring it. Example: you've spent the last year of your life immersed in a different culture, and now you want to use some of the traditions as your own? That, to me, can help preserve the culture. I have a friend that was born in Canada, but spent part of his childhood in Singapore, and now lives in the U.S. To me, it's OK if he wants to incorporate aspects of Singaporean culture into his wedding, since his time there helped to form the person he is today.

    28 agree
  4. I find it interesting how people don't complain about other cultures appropriating American culture. No one screams "cultural appropriation" when Chinese people wear blue jeans or when European children eat McDonald's sandwiches. Is it cultural appropriation when a New Yorker drinks sweet tea? Or when people wear vintage clothes? Or when a cheerleader shops at Hot Topic?

    Every country, region, time, and stereotype of people has their own culture. Saying, "No, this is theirs, not yours"–ESPECIALLY when you don't really know what "yours" is–is asinine. People are more than their background, and trying to force a person to conform to someone else's idea of what their background is is just as offensive as telling children born in the projects that they should stay there because that's what their culture is.

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    • I am by no means an expert on this, but the issue with cultural appropriation is not anyone taking from just anyone else's culture; it's when someone of a majority culture takes from a minority culture. So in other words, a white person wearing a headdress "because it's fashionable" is entirely different from a Native American person wearing jeans for the same reason — because they're fashionable.

      The former person has a choice of "whose" culture they can pick and choose from, whereas the latter has had their culture stripped from them, sometimes in violent ways, and "choosing" American culture is a matter of assimilation, not choice per se. It's a matter of power and being empowered to make certain choices.

      71 agree
    • ehhhh…. I think the issue is that for many/most of these cultures, they are slowly disappearing, dissolving into a generic, initially American culture. I think the reason people get upset at cultural appropriation (but not at American culture appropriation) is because it's happening from a more privileged culture and it is very often not respected. Basically, saying people shouldn't get upset at cultural appropriation when you're in a privileged position in that argument isn't really beneficial. The people whose culture is being appropriated should be able to have a say in how they feel about it, since only they understand the potential issues with it.

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    • Assimilation into the status quo and appropriation are two different things. And denim, historically, is Italian. And please…no one has any type of cultural, religious, or spiritual ties to blue jeans or McDonalds. False equivalency.

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      • I agree with your first statement about assimilation and appropriation, but blue jeans/Levi's came out of the California Gold Rush of 1849, not Italy.

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        • I believe that NoOneImportant is referring to the fabric itself, not the pants made from it. Denim and jean fabric date back to at least the 16th century.

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          • The word "denim" is derived from "de Nimes" – as in Nimes, France. Not Italy and certainly not California!

            (I am from California, ethnically French, and am really getting sick of books that promise to teach the reader how to "become French." Guess what? We're a culture/ethnicity. You can't join us like we're a country club.)

            5 agree
          • Responding to myself since I'm not able to reply to you, Anna.

            Denim may come from "de Nimes" but the term "jean" comes from Genoa, Italy. It seems that French denim and Genoese jean were actually slightly different fabrics and made of different materials with denim being more durable and expensive than jean. /fabric geeking

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    • The issue is that assimilation into the cultural majority is fundamentally different than cultural appropriation. The difference between the two has to do with who has the power in the situation.

      Assimilation into a majority culture is encouraged and sometimes even required to be recognized as a member of that culture. For example, if you started working for a company where everyone wore suits, in order to be taken seriously and succeed at your job you would probably wear a suit.

      Appropriation involves taking cultural elements out of their context frequently without understanding what the item is or how it is used. It is often done without permission of the minority culture.

      10 agree
    • I think a break pump is in order here.

      Appropriation is more about invitation than anything else, from my understanding.

      If a cheerleader wants to shop at Hot Topic (to use your example), that's fine. They carry products for wide public consumption and hir carrying those items isn't going to be to-the-core offensive to anyone with enough maturity (high school is weird, I admit).

      Who knows, maybe the cheerleader listens to Slipknot but just really loves the athleticism involved in cheer. They don't have to be apart from one another.

      An appropriated item would be if I were to start just making Zuni fetish carvings. They would be frauds because I am not Zuni. The Zuni have not trained me in the ways of their carving, like how to determine the animal within the stone for an example. I would be appropriating because I took this cornerstone way of Zuni expressing their own culture and just started doing it my way because I thought it was cool or I could make a profit or lord knows what else.

      Are there Zuni fetish on the commercial market? sure there are. That doesn't mean (1)they aren't made for the tourist/art market and (2)I am totally free to just start doing it without specific tribal training and permissions.

      (in case you've never heard of the Zuni people, here's their website: http://www.ashiwi.org/ I have an ex who specialized in Zuni art for trade. He did a lot of work with Zuni artists and moved a lot of hand-carved fetish)

      10 agree
      • I actually collect Zuni fetish, but I go through a First Nations dealer who works specifically with three Zuni carver families. I love them, even though I am not Zuni nor do I know much of Zuni culture outside of them, because of their artistic value and use in the ancient hunter/gatherer cultural practices.

        And although I've never thought of the very commercialized non-traditional-animal carvings labeled as Zuni to be Cultural Appropriation- some ARE done by members of the Zuni tribe, outside of tradition in order to appeal to a wider commercial base- I find them tacky. 🙂

        1 agrees
        • I still have a bear from when we were together. 🙂 I also have a stacked turtle one. I think they're beautiful, as well. The mass-market ones (i.e. not bought on Res and distrubted) are definitely different if you know what you're looking at.

          The tourist-trade ones haven't been "blessed" (rough term, not 100% right, but close). You can tell a stolen, living fetish from a tourist trade Zuni carved fetish because the stolen ones are adorned in a feathered mane around the central sinew binding*.

          I know there is a rift between the Zuni doing the carvings and the Diné doing Zuni-style carving due to long-standing intercultural conflict going way, way, way back to the Diné arrival to the Desert Southwest.

          (*here's an example from a quick Yahoo search of the binding I mean: https://www.camerontradingpost.com/fe304-zuni-hand-carved-frog-fetish.html )

          1 agrees
          • Ah! Not all of mind have that, but many do. I'm sorry if that means my money supported non-Zuni….but then, I should just give the Quandelacey family all my money anyway, since 80% of my fetishes are carved by them (not my design, I just find myself drawn to their style of carving).
            Thanks for shedding some light on that!

      • So, telling someone what art they're allowed to enjoy based on the color of their skin is okay? "Sorry, this is a whites-only museum" is exactly the same as what you're saying here, but just excluding a different culture. Last I checked, that falls under racism. To say, "Whites are only allowed to enjoy xyz because abc isn't theirs, but it's okay for non-whites to enjoy xyz because they're getting back at the man who's been keeping them down" is pretty darn racist. Anyone that thinks cultural appropriation is a problem is just being a socially acceptable racist. The whole concept of cultural appropriation rests on the assumptions that whites are inherently evil, ignorant, classless jerks. The example given in the main article is a rare exception to the rule that only white folks are accused of appropriation.

        If I like Zuni animal carvings and decide to be artistically inclined enough to recreate them because they look pretty, you telling me that because I'm Chinese, or Latina, or Zulu, or French, or *gasp* GENERIC WHITE AMERICAN, I'm not allowed to do that is just wrong. Nobody can tell anybody else what to enjoy. Unless I decide that I have to murder a Zuni person every time I make a Zuni animal carving, "appropriating" culture doesn't do anybody any harm. If anything, it is a catalyst for more people to know about and potentially learn about Zuni culture. And if all they learn is that "Zunis make neat animal carvings" then heck, that's fine too, because that's still more than they used to know.

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        • Cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural exchange, which you describe in your post. Cultural appropriation goes much deeper than that into exploitation and power differentials between cultural groups. You claim that "The whole concept of cultural appropriation rests on the assumptions that whites are inherently evil, ignorant, classless jerks," which is incorrect. Cultural appropriation rests on the fact that in the United States, people with fair skin have privilege. The counterargument is always that there's poor white people and that socioeconomic status/class are the real problems, but within every class, it is better to be fair skinned than dark skinned. I'm not going to go into all the statistics and data–they are well-established–but I will say that this trend holds true even within racial groups. Fair-skinned blacks are often more privileged than their darker counterparts.

          That said, with white privilege comes white responsibility, which means that, no, you cannot do whatever you want. I am half black and half white. And while I identify more strongly with my colored roots because of my family structure, I recognize that my skin color does in fact determine my rights and responsibilities in this country. I have the right to get pulled over and given a ticket without a gun being pulled on me (which has happened to many of my relatives, always without cause) and I have the responsibility to not use the N* word when singing a song that says it, even though I am black, because if I do it, then other white people can do it, including those who actually are evil, ignorant, classless jerks.

          You also said that "Nobody can tell anyone else what to enjoy," which is an attitude reserved for the majority culture. Much of African American culture began because the white majority told slaves, then servants, then second-class citizens what they can enjoy. This is especially true of many dance forms. Black slaves in the Untied States were forbidden from enjoying the art of dance, which then was defined as movement that involved crossing the legs. Black dance styles emerged from having to dance without crossing the legs. In Brazil, slaves were told that they could not enjoy martial arts–thus the birth of capoeira, a form of martial art disguised as dance.

          To go back to the beginning, enjoying these cultural aspects, is cultural exchange, not cultural appropriation. But the line between the two is often blurred. Members of majority groups do have to act responsibly while enjoying aspects of minority culture. The enjoyment can not be exploitive in any way, including indirect ways. Every time a white person buys music of a black rapper talking about ghettos, guns, and drug dealing contributes to the success of that rapper. This reinforces that very dangerous stereotype that says to the black students I teach every day that "this is the version of you that will be accepted. this is the only way you can be successful, by being in a gang, killing each other, and making music about it." And that is dangerous. So please be mindfully anti-racist with everything that you do.

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          • Yes, I can, in fact, do whatever I want. And so can you. Unless it involves ACTUALLY hurting people. Do I personally think "gangsta rap" is stupid and reinforces bad stereotypes and blah, blah, blah? Yes. But I'm not about to tell somebody, white, black, hispanic, asian, or other, that they can't buy it or listen to it. You just did. You also said that it's not okay for white people to say "nigger" or any variant thereof, but that implies that it's okay for black people to say it. It's not. Stating or thinking otherwise is just another form of socially acceptable racism.

            Yes, yes, lots of art forms were created to be within the confines of things that were and were not allowed at the time. Was it wrong for those things to be denied to groups of people because of their race?
            Absolutely. But it is just as wrong to do the same thing in this day and age, and worse, for everybody to think it's okay because the minority group is the one being racist. By not allowing other races to enjoy something that your race created, you are deepening the racial divide. Let the white people rap! Let the black people learn martial arts! Let the native americans make tacos! Let the asians wear feathers! Let everyone do everything! That is the only way groups of people are going to understand each other, appreciate each other, and get along.

            6 agree
    • Except Levi's and McDonald's are actively being advertised and pushed on people in other regions by the corporations who created them, which is quite different, in both power and intent, than appropriating — the act of appropriation starts with the individual *taking* something, not *receiving* it.

      And it is entirely feasible to appreciate a culture without appropriating from it.

      11 agree
    • Blue jeans are not the same as traditional garments like war bonnets, kimonos, bunads, buckskins, saris, etc.

      Blue jeans and McDonalds are American consumer products that we have exported for a high profit, and do not actually have a cultural significance (pop culture doesn't count!). No, it is not cultural appropriation for a New Yorker to drink sweet tea, nor is it cultural appropriation for any American to drink boba tea. However, if I were to open a boba shop, ignore all the traditional recipes, change the tapioca pearls to gelatin balls, accessorize my business with stock photos of asian people, and then call it "authentic", I would be committing cultural appropriation.

      I call "vintage" clothes "hand me downs", and I wouldn't call 25 to 50 years ago a different culture.

      A cheerleader or preppy shopping at Hot Topic – actually pretty ironic you chose HT, because they were known for appropriating punk and goth culture and repackaging it for mass consumption, completely counter to the punk ethos. Not nearly as damaging as appropriation from other countries/ethnicities, but actually a very good way to illustrate cultural appropriation – nothing says punk rock like a $6 anarchy patch made in a sweatshop overseas!

      When a culture is telling you to please stop abusing their significant objects and traditions because they do not belong to you, it's asinine to deny that there is a problem and keep doing it.

      How do you think a child born in "the projects" would feel about having something they created be stolen and made fake by rich, white, suburban teens who've never set foot in the city?

      9 agree
    • But it's not like if I take a trip to McDonald's or get some Starbucks in my baseball cap. If I were to do those things I'm taking part in a culture that's both marketed towards anyone who wants to participate in it, and it doesn't need to be enjoyed within the restrictions of the culture it originated in to be appreciated properly, it works well on it's own.

      A better equivalent would be if I, as a non-Christian started drinking holy water or altar whine with a pack of oblate because I thought it tasted nice. To me it wouldn't matter, but I would, according to most of Christianity, be committing sacrilege. In the same manner I'm getting more and more annoyed at people "borrowing" from my Norse religion/philosophy and heritage because of the Marvel universe, and are using things like the religious symbol of Thor's Hammer as if it's interchangeable with movie-Mjolnir.

      A lot of people don't even know that they're doing it, a lot of appropriation has been going on for a long time, like using the war bonnet from NA culture as a Halloween costume, but it's infuriating to see something that's meant to be sacred, special or is meant to be appreciated WITHIN the culture or heritage it's from just picked apart. If you don't know your heritage you can make up your own traditions, or you can go digging for info, but taking something that's intrinsic to a lot of peoples sense of self and connection to their heritage just because you don't have one yourself is hurtful and can be damaging, especially if its a culture it's happened to a lot already.

      6 agree
  5. I really don't think there's anything wrong with cultural appropriation as long as its done respectfully and doesn't trivialise the thing you like or really take it out of context in an offensive way. My fiancee and I love ancient history and mythology and are naming the tables at our upcoming wedding after ancient Greek Gods to reflect our interests. Its not meant to be disrespectful to anyone, its meant to show a collective interest we both share and reflect our geekyness.

    It also works the other way. I'm half English and half Arabic and don't have a single modern Arabic element in my upcoming wedding beyond the guest list, because having been raised in Britain I'm not really part of that culture in the way that other members of my family are. I don't believe your genetic makeup should affect your tastes and identity. Surely your experiences in life, the sort of culture you grow up in and what you're naturally drawn to have more sway?

    23 agree
  6. I have this same problem all the time. My grandfather is Filipino, born and raised. His wife, my grandma, is 100% Midwestern girl. My mother and her siblings look like my grandma, and therefore I do too. I am blonde haired and blue eyed and so very proud of my Filipino heritage. I get accused of lying about my family's background all the time and constantly feel like I have to explain my entire family tree to complete strangers. "You have Filipino features I guess," they say, "if your skin and hair were darker, I could see it."
    I think culture should be embraced by everyone and anyone that loves it. The issue, in my opinion, lies in not being educated about the culture and embracing it for the wrong reasons. If you genuinely understand and celebrate a culture, whether you look like you should or not, then good for you!

    35 agree
  7. I struggle with this. My grandfather and mother (as a child) were both adopted by a Native American tribe (Omaha Sioux) back in the early 60s. The Sioux (generally speaking as a Nation) have always prized the individuals they have adopted, regardless of ethnicity, as these individuals choose to be a part of the tribe and had to prove that they wanted this family. It is a matter of great shame within the tribes that the federal government denied them this right when establishing "guidelines" of what constitutes a tribe and tribe member and what did not. Things are done differently now but it was a definitive way for the government to wipe out the tribes and the Nations.

    Because of the adoptions, and the fact that I grew up around a great many different tribal members, not just from the Omaha Sioux as well as from other tribes and that I am blood related to several others who have married in (and another from my first marriage that I divorced), I am not only intimately familiar with tribal histories and culture but I am more familiar with it than I am being a white, blonde with green eyes, typical American female. But I have gotten the privilege of also being able to "walk away" and not have to deal with the physical ramifications (at least not while physically in the vicinity of my first husband who was frequently treated like dirt in front of me). I never know what to do. I don't enjoy the fact that my cultural background lies so heavily within the Sioux nation so I get all the "positives" and none of the "negatives". I do the only thing I can, I speak out against it. It's amazing what happens when an unlikely identifiable individual speaks up to protect those who can't. But I still struggle to call it my culture since it isn't so apparent that it is. And that is the part that was difficult to illustrate during my first wedding and anything done since.

    16 agree
    • I am an enrolled member of the Omaha tribe. Omaha and Lakota (Sioux) are 2 different tribes, unless you are saying you're both. Different traditions and locations altogether.

      1 agrees
      • I don't believe the original commenter said they were both Lakota and Omaha Sioux.

        Cultural appropriation policing does work both ways and pulling the "I'm more [insert culture here] knowledgeable than you" lines seems iffy to me

        8 agree
        • I believe Tahesha is asking for clarification whether the poster is Omaha AND Sioux or simply mistyped and is a different Sioux tribe like Oglala Sioux, since there is no officially recognized tribe called the Omaha Sioux. The Omaha are a different nation.

          It's like someone saying they are an Ashkenaz Spanish Jew. While there are certainly ways in which this is possible, the first assumption is that they misspoke. And if they didn't, finding out how they came to be both is probably an interesting story.

          6 agree
  8. You may want to change the blurb accompanying this article's picture on the main page. You pair the term 'Indian', which in the true context of the piece refers to Asian Indians with a picture of a First Nations (rip off) headdress. I originally came here to admonish the use of the term Indian for First Nations people until I realized it was just poorly matched.

    2 agree
    • Hi, gemjay! Ah, you're talking about the excerpt that appears on our home page? I see what you're saying… yes, that's an excerpt from the story that's making another point. I can see how the photo isn't representative of the excerpt — I'll fix that.
      I appreciate that you read the post to find the discrepancy!

      4 agree
    • "I originally came here to admonish the use of the term Indian for First Nations people…"

      This is the problem with trying to decide for others what is culturally appropriate. I live a few miles from a reservation. Here in the Inland Northwest, all of the tribal members I know refer to themselves as "Indian" and are proud of it. In addition to that, many members of the coastal tribes have blonde or red hair and blue eyes – a result of intermarriage with French & Russian traders. Should people only be allowed to celebrate the ancestry that appears in their skin, hair and eye color? Shall we call them on their behavior until they prove to us their bloodlines?

      Some of the comments suggest it is better to err by calling people on inappropriate behavior because we need to take up for people who cannot defend themselves. I have a friend who is a tribal member who I have heard take great offense at this idea. She says that the notion that she is not in a position to speak for herself is in itself paternalistic and racist. On the other hand, if this conversation were taking place solely among local tribal members, I expect there would be just as much diversity in the comments as there is here. I suspect that even they might not reach a full consensus on what is inappropriate.

      In less than 30 years I have seen the PC movement go from a position of "Celebrate Diversity" to judging who, when and how people may celebrate their own and other cultures. Personally, I'd like us to be able to just accept and enjoy each other & our cultures, flaws and all. I suppose that won't happen until enough generations have intermarried so that most people understand you can't tell a person's heritage by their appearance.

      19 agree
      • You are correct that this a regional preference, however most Nations I've found prefer being called by the actual nation's name. Where I'm from this term is considered fairly racist and is out of common usage. I'm apart of the Metis nation and prefer that term in reference to myself.

        I'm not sure that the rest of your comment was aimed at me so I won't reply to that.

        2 agree
        • Although I quoted you, I did not mean it to come off as an attack on you. The point I was trying to make is that there is a great deal of diversity within any particular "group". It is difficult for any group (racial, cultural, political, religious, family) to reach a full consensus regarding all aspects of the group identity. In that respect, only an individual member of a group can tell you what is meaningful or appropriate to her/him or if you have offended him/her. That requires really getting to know a person. Unfortunately, as a society we seem to spend a great deal of time challenging others based on appearances without getting to know who a person really is.

          I realize an internet forum is limited. We cannot really get to know each other personally in this format. However, on a website that is centered around people who are happily different from the mainstream, I have been surprised at the amount of judgment and criticism of others that comes out in the comments, even with the "no drama" policy. Although there is a lot of kindness and support here, I am also finding a lot of expressions of "I'm right & you/they aren't" (again, not aimed at you personally). This is actually why I don't post very often. Most of the time, I try to just think about what is said and be open to other views. I generally only comment when something touches me personally or someone I am close to. I also try to be very careful about not making my remarks personal to anyone in particular unless I am offering support. I am sorry I failed on that point this time and made you feel that you were a target.

          4 agree
  9. I love the other comments here! Ever since my wedding in 2012, which was actually featured on Offbeat Bride, I've wondered if I'll be judged harshly for having included a hand fasting. Worrying, what if people call "cultural appropriation" on me? My mother's background is mostly Celtic, and I'm Pagan (though I wasn't out of the broom closet at the time of my wedding so at the time I wouldn't have really wanted to put that out there), but I'm also Hispanic with medium-dark coloring and grew up Catholic in the Midwest.

    I don't know. Is there a line that we draw? I agree with many of the above comments. It's one thing for someone to be planning a Pinterest wedding and think it's a good idea to hang dreamcatchers everywhere because it's "cute." But if someone is doing such a thing respectfully and they understand its background and its value I don't see a reason to deny them that. Especially if they've actually spent time in the country/culture that they see themselves as honoring.

    9 agree
    • I think paganism comes from many ethnic and historical backgrounds, and is a pretty big umbrella for many different groups – norse paganism, celtic paganism, wiccan, nature/green paganism, santeria, brujeria, voodoo, etc. – and the broader pagan community seems very accepting of people of all backgrounds, as long as they are willing to make a serious study of the religion.

      1 agrees
    • We had a handfasting at our wedding and it literally never occurred to me this could be seen as cultural appropriation. Normally I'm quite up on these issues so this wasn't a case of straight up naivety. Maybe this is because I'm Scottish (as in born, bred and living here – not North American of Scottish decent variety) and it was a tradition that existing here for hundreds of years, sometimes in a pagan context but sometimes not. So geographically at least it handfasting traditions are part of my cultural heritage.

      In fact various handfasting traditions have existed all over nothern Europe – I don't really think of it as belonging exclusively to pagans. And as the commenter below points our even the term pagan can be seen as an umbrella for a lot of different traditions. To say a non-pagan handfasting is cultural appropriation to me seems a bit like saying it's offensive to Christians to have a wedding ceremony that has a lot of traditional Western elements but is not overtly Christian. I know it's not exactly the same (with Christianity still in many ways the dominant culture, even if its in steady decline) but I think there are parallels.

      4 agree
  10. I love that cultural appropriation police article because of one comment that says,

    "If you are not part of a culture, but have appointed yourself the guardian of that culture, you have committed the greatest appropriation of all. You've taken that culture as your own, for the purposes of moderating its use. That is a show of power over the culture itself, and implies that the people within the culture need your help. We do not, or we will ask. If you see racism, by all means, say something- but do not take it upon yourself to police all use of culture as racism. These are different-but-related concepts, and the lines get blurred. All I ask is that people make more of an effort to curtail the cultural lording, because you are taking our culture itself away from us, not just our outfits and traditions."

    "Slam, bam, thank you ma'am," as my sociology professor used to say.

    45 agree
  11. As a blonde haired/blue eyed registered Native American (Choctaw Nation represent!), so much this. I grew up with tribal decorations in our home and stories of my grandmother's life growing up on the reservation, but have been largely discouraged from celebrating my cultural heritage outside my home because I don't "look" like one. (and actually, if you look past my odd coloring, the eye shape/bone structure is all there. I can't tell you the joy I felt when someone in college finally looked hard at me and said "You're not all white, are you?")

    In general, I think shaming people for "cultural appropriation" isn't going to have a positive influence on society. If anything, I think we should be putting a positive spin on these instances and using them as an educational opportunity (hey! did you know that headdress is used in marriage ceremonies and is usually red and green?) rather than saying "you can't do that." So many traditions die because they're not remembered, and shutting down any representation of that culture isn't going to slow that process down.

    53 agree
    • This is literally the greatest thing I've ever read on the topic of cultural appropriation. Thank you for this!

      7 agree
  12. Soooo, What I get from all the comments is :
    It's Ok, if you put a lot of effort, time and care into your appropriation; It's not Ok, if you just want to look pretty.
    Got it. Simple/

    Also, you never know if someone is appropriating or just not looking like their assigned culture, so maybe put your social justice handcuffs away and enjoy the art.
    Maybe?
    I totally get it. Don't wear military awards if you didn't earn them, but I'm just a white girl with no culture of her own and I just want to wear that pretty skirt ( and drink mango lassi)- don't shoot me.

    12 agree
    • Your identity isn't just 'white' though, you had to have come from somewhere, your family didn't just spring up from the ground fully-formed.

      Drink mango lassi (it's delicious for everyone!) and wear a pretty skirt and sequinned slippers (but beware – those slippers hurt!) but be aware that you can take those things off and you will always be in the majority and always have white privilege, but brown girls will never gain privilege by wearing western clothes and actually lose privilege in society by wearing our cultural clothes rich in symbolism.

      White European cultures are so interesting – Scottish music, Irish dances, Welsh poetry and art, Norwegian textiles, the Swedish jule goat! German festivals! If you're white, these are your people, this is your culture. Celebrate it, love it, embrace it, make it a part of your life – but on that note, please be respectful of people who live in these countries and celebrate these things themselves. Be open and honest and happy to learn and you will find your culture.

      7 agree
      • "If you're white, these are your people, this is your culture. "

        As a red-headed, fair-skinned, very white American, I have to disagree with this. Yea, I obviously look like I could be Scottish or Irish. I am of Irish/Scottish/English descent. But to suddenly start pulling traditional aspects of these cultures into my life (which I don't know a LICK about) would be to me, cultural appropriation. I know these are not minority cultures, but they're still not mine.

        My culture is American. That's it. My family has been here since before the Civil War, and we have retained nothing from whatever "old country" people like to talk about. Some people embrace their heritage: that's cool. But to call that their culture if they have no actual link to it (no relatives, active research, traditions handed down, etc.) seems very incorrect and kind of damaging to me.

        I think at the heart of much cultural appropriation is this whole situation. I can't speak for other countries, but I think the lack of culture in America that isn't consumer-generated makes many European blender mixes feel very lost, and also makes them feel that, like their consumer culture that is exported, they can import other cultures to fill that void.

        5 agree
        • We need to redefine culture here. The culture of a person does not have clearly defined boundaries. Everyone has multiple cultures and they overlap and change through time. White Americans can not say that they have no culture, yet it seems to be a common comment here. Maybe you have the culture of being a woman, of homosexuality, of your occupation, of your hobbies, of your race, of your language, of experiences that you've had, music you like. I could go on forever. The term "culture" can not be used as a synonym for "anything that's non-white." It's simply incorrect and a racist use of the term.

          Cultural appropriation should not be censored on OBB because as another poster eloquently described, it's a springboard for education. That said, cultural appropriation is an issue for systemic racism, which is a system that maintains or encourages the power of the majority as a group over the minority as a group. However, the biggest aspect of systemic racism is that White Americans do not need to assimilate or code-switch or live in two worlds like those in the minority do. In my opinion, that's a major source of power in America (after financially, politically, etc). When cultural appropriation takes place, as terrible as it is, it's better than ignoring a minority culture or demeaning it. Cultural appropriation usually starts with ignorant appreciation. Look at Zumba: an aspect of Latin culture was appropriated to help the majority get/stay fit. But people who do it like Latin dancing and that can be used to get them to relinquish the power and come down to the level so-to-speak, and go to Latin dance where Latin people are and learn about Latin culture and how Latin dancing fits in. And hopefully that person will learn how to not just be not racist, but also to be anti-racist and become a majority advocate for the minority.

          2 agree
        • I don't think that it's so much a void that needs to be filled as being constantly judged for being white. Don't think that's the case? Go be the only white person in a room sometime. You will be overtly judged. Now, go be a white person surrounded by white people. You will be covertly judged by "your own people". One of the first things to come up will be black lives mattering or how they're the farthest thing from a racist, like it's something they have to prove because everyone automatically assumes that they hate people of another color. They're so desperate to be anything but generic "white", because "white people" are the ones who got written down in the books for doing all the bad things. "White people" went around conquering the world, and now anyone who looks like they might have been a conqueror a few hundred years ago wants to distance themselves from a history that may not even be theirs. Someone who came to this country during the Industrial Revolution has jack-all to do with slavery, but they still get lumped in with slave-owners, because of the shared skin color. Heck, even direct descendants of slave-owners have jack-all to do with slavery, because it's not a thing anymore. Nobody in America has a cotton plantation run by black slave labor. But we can't move on, as a country. So of course "generic white" people aren't proud to be American. They go dig up some ancient part of their heritage that they don't know anything about, or else they go find some other thing to incorporate into their lives. And then everyone gets mad at them for that.

          4 agree
        • 'I am of Irish/Scottish/English descent. But to suddenly start pulling traditional aspects of these cultures into my life (which I don't know a LICK about) would be to me, cultural appropriation. I know these are not minority cultures, but they're still not mine.'

          From a born-and-bred Scot, thank you! I wish there was more of this attitude. I now live in New Zealand, and the number of people who say to me 'I'm as Scottish as you are – I just don't have the accent' is unreal.

          I remember being invited to contribute to a 'cultural' shared meal at my old workplace. I was asked to 'make a haggis'. I calmly said that I'd never made a haggis from scratch in my life and didn't know anyone who had – we bought ours from the butcher like everyone else. Good haggis takes time and skill to make and I wasn't going to throw together some approximation of it to be the token Scot. I instead made cranachan, a traditional Scottish dessert with cream, raspberries, honey, whisky and oatmeal. I welcomed the opportunity to show that my country's cuisine is more than one dish. Then somebody whose husband's great-great-grandfather was from Scotland (she didn't know which part) brought along some manufactured 'haggis sausages' she'd bought from the supermarket and my gesture was lost.

          Of course I benefit from this kind of attitude as well. I'm not considered an 'immigrant' or a 'foreigner' here in NZ, despite the fact that I arrived here four years ago from the other side of the world – racism is reserved solely for brown people. Including Maori of course, who were here long before white New Zealanders. The idea that I'm 'one of us' means that I don't get the kind of abuse that's regularly hurled at 'them', and I realise how lucky I am. But it doesn't stop it smarting when people assume my heritage is theirs for the taking.

          1 agrees
  13. I was raised as the youngest generation of a large family of Native American descent (my mom's whole side of the family). I was taught to respect the culture and honor it by incorporating it into my life, because many of our traditions are going extinct and being lost forever. I am native "enough" that I have am an enrolled member with a registration number and the tribe I descend from embraces me. Yet, on Facebook in the comment thread for this story – I am being called a "selfish white person" because I see the value in preserving these cultural elements through (respectfully) sharing them -and I don't have dark hair and eyes like many of my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmother (so my argument in invalid obv) lol… So I suppose I should never wear or utilize anything from my heritage lest someone mistakenly thinks I'm appropraiting my own culture because of the color of my eyes and skin.

    12 agree
  14. "Don't wear military awards if you didn't earn them"

    I think that is the greatest corollary I have seen in the context of this debate. Think about how soldiers feel about Stolen Glory. That's how minority cultures feel about appropriation. And the "test" can be similar. I've watched soldiers, under the guise of comradarie, question someone claiming to be a veteran to establish their bonafides. They never accuse them of lying until/unless they catch them getting something simple blatantly wrong. If the person "passes" then all the comradarie was genuine and continues with buying each other beers, etc.

    *I* am not a soldier. I would never presume to question someone's claim of military service because I don't know enough to prove it. Not being a soldier, I would never wear military awards even as a costume, however, I wouldn't feel bad wearing an army issue jacket for warmth (it's intended purpose) nor would I feel bad wearing an army costume that is obviously a costume and does not imply rank.

    If you don't know enough about a culture to know what implies rank (feather headress) and what doesn't just don't wear it. If you don't know enough about a culture to be able to subtly ask leading questions of someone claiming to be part of it to verify or disprove with out being confrontational, then don't try to police it. If you aren't part of a culture, but feel like it still helped shape you as a person (like an army wife or girlfriend who never served herself, but understands life on base) then feel free to represent – just don't overstep what you, yourself, have earned.

    31 agree
  15. Did you know? Sofía Vergara is a natural blonde. Especially early in her career, she was often asked to dye her hair brown to better "fit" the roles she played.
    Somehow, Sofía Vergara wasn't "reading" Latina/Columbian.

    Representation in a media-saturated culture is apparently real harrrd. People will always manage to misunderstand. Like a third grade spelling bee, all you can do is study up and do your very best.

    11 agree
    • I had no idea she was blonde! I know she gets a lot of grief over whether or not her accent is real. In an interview she said that the accent is very much her own (after many years of unsuccessfully trying to train it away) but that for her character on Modern Family she plays up some of the word mix-ups.

      2 agree
        • One of my mom's best friends is Colombian, been in the USA for 35 years, and still has an accent as strong as Sofia Vergara's. (She's also a dark blonde.)

  16. Here's the problem that I see a lot of people making– they are making instant judgments about a person based on their exterior.

    People see me on the street and think I'm "just another white girl." The thing is, I am Semitic and didn't grow up with the standard "white experience" at home. When I was little I didn't look like all the WASPy kids at school and they picked up on it and I got bullied for having different eyes, frizzy hair, and a different nose. While the other kids were eating lunch on Wonderbread, every sandwich I ever ate (including PB&J) was on rye bread or challah. Trust me, you get singled out for that as a kid. There were other things, but these are just basic examples.

    My fiancé is also Semitic, but he is Sephardic, so he has Mediterranean features. People on the street see him and make assumptions that he is either Muslim or (because this is California) Mexican. He is neither. His bullying experience was way worse than mine (burning crosses on their lawn, etc.)

    Here's the point– you can't judge people's life experience or appropriate culture choices for their wedding based on just their photos.
    Please stop.

    17 agree
  17. Sometimes it really pays to STFU and MYOB when you know nothing about the individual, their race, creed, color, religion, upbringing or background. All of us are too quick to judge regardless of our stance.

    Which brings me to this gem. While art directing on of my designers, our client chimed in if we could make the people in the Photo more "hispanic". When we asked that they clarify, they responded with you know. "latino." We asked if what they meant was to tint the models with the affectations people wrongly associated with stereotypes of Hispanic or Latino culture — they said, "Yes, you know – smarmy and dark-skinned."

    Apparently the client had never been to nor exposed to people from South America or Spain. To make matters worse, they didn't realize that my designer was Brazillian. Awkward.

    10 agree
  18. What I've struggled with regarding cultural appropriation is that my family is adoptive and transracial in origin. My (adoptive) parents are belgian/european, but I'm scandinavian, my sister is latina/native american and my brother is russian-romani born. We've been called out on cultural appropriation when we are trying to connect with the cultural heritages that are so broadly represented by our family. It can be very difficult because we don't necessarily fit the expected look of any one culture and most people don't stick around long enough for us to explain that no, we aren't appropriating culture. Besides, we don't want to keep explaining our detailed family history, because it really isn't anyone's business.

    The hardest part is sometimes we feel we can't, as a family, celebrate an aspect of one single family members' culture with being struck down as Most Terrible Cultural Appropriators. We feel that our family culture should include the individual cultures of all its' members, but we can't often make that work in public.

    9 agree
  19. The biggest two things about this conversation: don't judge and don't assume. You shouldn't put your assumptions on someone else's identity. There could be lots of reasons that someone's cultural connections don't match what you can see from the outside, but if they feel like it is part of them and they are honoring that culture, that's what matters. Why should any of us have to apologize or justify why we feel like having salsa music is important at our wedding? I agree that people should be sensitive about historical and cultural misappropriation, but if my Latino friends who are at the wedding don't have a problem with my longtime study and appreciation of their culture/history/politics, why should it matter to some random person online? I just think it's important to give people the benefit of the doubt that they may have a legitimate reason to include that aspect in their wedding, rather than assuming the worst intentions.

    11 agree
  20. I suffer from the opposite: I'm mixed race (of many things), so apparently I HAVE no culture. Sure, I'm 1/16th Cherokee, but totally disconnected from that side of the family (they all died before I was born). And I've got some German in me, but my grandfather's German family emigrated at a time when they needed to drop everything German about themselves, so there wasn't even a thread of that culture by the time I was born. By dint of being a 33 year old American woman, I'm apparently ethnic-less and culture-less. I would love to have a culture and community I could identify with and use as a touchstone, but I can't even reach out for it because it makes me a Bad Person (appropriation, and all that). I'd be lying if I said it doesn't often feel like a punishment, this lack of identity.

    11 agree
    • Despite the tone of this article and some of the comments on the board I think most people are flattered by people who take a sincere and active interest in their culture. If it comes from having ancestors from that country/tribe then that would seem like a perfectly sound reason. I'd say go for it and don't let one snide person put you off.

      2 agree
    • So you may not identify with one specific ethnicity or heritage, which is true for a lot of people. But: there's probably a region or city that you call home, right? There are holidays you celebrate and/or identify with, a language or two you speak, and traditions that are meaningful to you? Those things are all part of your culture.

      7 agree
  21. I can see both sides of this. While I feel it's harmless if they understand and honour the culture they are displaying, I have a knee-jerk reaction when I see it happening with things I am intimately familiar with.

    I am white as porcelain. My family is Irish and Norse and many traditions are kept alive. I am also disabled, and pagan. While I have absolutely no problem with some things- such as a non-celtic pagan using celtic paganism and honouring the gods- others are offensive. St Patrick's day "Everyone's a little bit Irish!", Orange and green, and various other stupidity bothers me, as do portrayals of Nordic and Viking culture as a fat lady in braids and a horned helmet with breasts the size of a beach ball.

    Similarly, I have nothing against nonpagans wanting to learn about the culture- but I am offended when I see someone wearing a pentacle to be "edgy", or giving themselves a pretentious and offensive craft name. There are always more teenage "Lady Morgana"s or "Ceridwen"s in black clothing and blood red lipstick who proclaim they're also vampires than you can count. That behaviour is obnoxious and offensive.

    In short… be respectful and know what you're doing. Follow those two things, and you should be okay.

    On the other hand… I am raising a child with Native American ancestry, and I am doing so alone. We are both pale- I have red hair and grey eyes, and he is a freckly blonde with green eyes. While I know some people in the local aboriginal community through my mother, and had help to find my animal guide when I was young, and a good understanding of current cultural issues especially in our area… I am still a porcelain white girl with no native blood. I WANT to teach the culture to my son, but I can't do that if I am not allowed to learn it myself.

    As someone disabled… this doesn't happen often with that. I have never seen someone "appropriate" disability. What does happen, is people assuming we are doing so. They may not use the word "appropriation, but the same ideas apply. It's bizarre. The only time I'm uncomfortable with portrayals is in media, where we must always be either waifish sick-girl types,or wheelchair users. Just as someone may not "look" Japanese, Black, Jewish, Native or African… someone may not "look" disabled.

    8 agree
  22. I am half English and half colombian. I was born in england but moved to ireland at age 8 and have been here 20 years. I am light skinned, a spanish speaker, spent 4 years living in spain. Have I had people criticise me for calling myself colombian? Yes. Many times. People consider it showing off or show boating, claiming to be exotic. Am I allowed to consider myself irish? Not really, not while I was born in england and have an English accent. Will I always be appropriating every other culture? Am I ever going to be "allowed" to have a celtic hand fastening or refer to myself as latina? I am "allowed" to be english because people are "comfortable" with that. It fits my skin colour and accent and thats more important to others then how I feel about it. This argument, for me, has gone so far.

    7 agree
  23. I can't speak for every culture but I can speak for mine – I'm half native. I think that if you're going to use something from another culture, be sure you use it correctly. Dream catchers, for example, belong above your bed, not in your car or as earrings. Sweat lodges aren't just souped-up saunas. Vision Quests are a sacred thing so don't just randomly call something a vision quest. And so on.

    I call myself an Indian and in the year that I lived on the Saginaw Chippewa Indian reservation (though I'm Potowatomi – my ex was Chippewa) nearly all the native people I knew called themselves Indian, even the tribal chief.

    So to sum it up: be respectful, know what you're using and what it means and don't pretend to be something you're not.

    8 agree
  24. I am finding this very hard to distinguish wheither it is appropriation or appreciation.

    There are lots of brides and grooms on this portal that take inspiration from other cultures or religions for their wedding. It is a time when we seek meaningfull ways to express our connection to each other, which in many cases comes in the form of a kind of religious and cultural search as well. Until this day, many people have not been concerned about their cultural background or religion but start thinkng about it, when this very important time comes.

    Take handfasting for example? Who is to say that the couple has understood the true meaning that neopagans give to that ceremony? Who is to say that neopagans are not offended in their own religion if someone takes handfasting just because it is a "cooler" version than marriage at the christian altar and have not understood any of the secret meanings behind it? Or maybe they have understood it?

    I also have feelings of ambiguousness when it comes to Dia de los muertos marriages. I feel like many of the brides and grooms just use it as a fun, morbid theme for their wedding and it has nothing to do with the real traditions behind the sugar-skull-masks.

    There are brides that do traditional indian henna on their body and many other wedding traditions are also wandering the planet now due to globalisation and not the least international portals like offbeatbride.
    I just want to say, it is very hard to tell the difference since we mostly do not know their inner feelings and conscience.

    4 agree
  25. I am torn about this. I have studied other cultures all my life, and am well familiar with the anthropological theory that someone studying another culture can be fully absorbed into that culture and still never truly be part of it in the same way as someone who is born into it. That's certainly true with my favourite culture, Japanese, where a "gaijin" (foreigner) can live in Japan their whole lives and never really be considered Japanese by the natives – but, then, that sort of separation is part of Japanese culture in itself, so maybe a gaijin DOES get to fully experience Japanese culture. However, when I was in Japan, I took part in the tea ceremony, I prayed at shrines, I wore kimono, and the Japanese people I met (especially older women) loved it. Similarly, I was at a Sikh wedding recently, and I wore a salwar kameez. After the wedding, the groom's relatives said how nice it was that I was wearing Indian dress and that we all danced "punjabi style".

    My OH is Chinese, but very Westernised and doesn't really celebrate Chinese culture (except the food). I am actively encouraging him to learn more about traditional Chinese culture and incorporate some elements into our wedding. He's begun actually reading about events in his family's history (they're Chinese, but lived in Vietnam and fled to Hong Kong and then Britain after the war) and getting more interested since he met me. His Mum is thrilled that I will be wearing a cheongsam at our wedding reception and that he has started asking questions about his history. He's even visiting China next year, and we're going to Vietnam as part of our honeymoon.

    TL;DR, I don't think there is anything wrong with taking on elements of another culture, providing it is done with understanding and respect. I do think there is a problem if you are appropriating elements for fashion or to make fun of that culture.

    4 agree
  26. The issue of cultural appropriation is so tricky because some of us aren't just living within a "melting pot," but rather we are the melting pot itself. I'm half Irish (with a splash of Native American, French Canadian, and a couple others) and half Jamaican (mostly of African descent with a weak splash of German), and raised in a town in "the South" with an extremely large population of Jewish and Italian retirees among other Northern and Midwesterners and not a single "y'all" or sweet tea to be found. It would have been way less awkward for me to include almost any element of the cultures that I actually grew up with than the ones I am genetically "entitled" to. (Even though I really dig my Irish music and Jamaican food, I still don't feel that they are necessarily "mine" in any way that is more significant than my affinity for Jewish deli fare, for example, or the wide variety of other cultural traditions I experienced growing up in my town), Although I think that for me, it would have felt like appropriation to showcase almost any culturally-specific element in my wedding (other than the usual "mainstream" American stuff) because I was raised in a home that felt (to me) about as 50s American sitcom as life could get, regardless of my parents' cultural background. Imagine my surprise at the #couplesofcolor tag on my Offbeat Bride wedding post. I mean, what color? Isn't everyone a color? Surely when that editorial decision was made, they were considering my German/Irish/Scottish husband's pinkish hue while wearing a suit in the middle of summer. Oh, maybe it was the picture of me being laced into my wedding dress with the rather large and relatively colorful tattoo on my back? No, they missed that tag…I guess it was just my obvious presence of melanin? I know it's important to offer balance, variety, equal representation, etc and we've got a long way to go and all that, but did we need that stamp on there? Does someone truly need to search for a wedding story based on how brown the bride is? (Full disclosure: I'm not actually offended. I was, however, surprised.) This is why it's so hard to pin down. It's complicated. We can all be surprised and offended by what we see others doing with their use and assessment of race and culture, and I don't think there's an absolute answer other than this: dialogue is good and maybe slow down the judgment, on all sides. If we keep thinking about things outside of our own experiences and asking questions and talking about it, we can get a better tack on how to conduct ourselves in ways that will promote the most positivity. Unless positivity isn't your thing, of course, in which case, I understand. We're all individuals here.

    4 agree
  27. This has been a pretty well discussed topic during my wedding plans. I am Scotch-Irish and Choctaw, my fiance is Scotch-Irish, Welsh, and Eastern European. He is Atheist, I am Atheistic Pagan. Since my Choctow grandmother married an Irishman (if you know the history, Native Americans in general had a special dislike of the Irish) she left the tribe, thus her family has lived as "white." While I may wear something to honor mt grandmother, I do not feel right or comfortable representing the tribe from which she was born. (I do not claim "Native American" on forms,either.) I may wear our family's tartan pattern somehow. My fiance has no heritage connections to his gene pool.

    My son is not Japanese by any stretch of the imagination; however, he follows the Bushido Code and normally dresses in traditional samurai clothing, including carrying a handmade katana. He has gone through training. I feel he has a right to wear tradition clothing .

    For my upcoming wedding, we are planning a sort of a neo-Victorian theme–if the Victorian was more Firefly multi-cultural–and have been wading through what we feel is appropriate. My son wants to wear his Japanese clothes, but is afraid that my choice of restaurant would make his clothing offensive. (We are having dinner rather than an actual reception, and I want Chinese food.)

    Any help?

    1 agrees
    • Neo-Victorian Firefly multicultural is an awesome idea/theme. So much!

      The Japanese outfit with a Chinese restaurant is a tough one. Anyone who knows your family will, I think, know that your son is totally fine and appropriate. But to the outsider? That's where most — if not all — of the cultural appropriation fighting comes from, from someone who doesn't know the actual situation and assumes the worst. Would talking to the staff make it easier, so they know your son isn't just grabbing at East Asian cultures and mixing all together? How big will the dinner be — will the restaurant have other patrons in the same area or will y'all have your own event?

      1 agrees
      • Meg,

        Thanks for responding. The dinner will be small, as our current guest list is less than ten names, and I honestly do not think it is going to get much bigger. I am hoping for a (at least) semi-private area, but depends on how things go. I have asked a few independent booksellers about using their store for our wedding, with hopes that the store will let us hold a small, relatively quiet reception with take away and a cake. If they do not agree, we plan on going to a restaurant, and the accommodations would depend on which store agrees to the use of their space.

        Cultural appropriation is a pretty hot topic for me, but I do see some of it as being perfectly okay. I have a huge issue with Native American caricatures being used to promote sports teams–do not get me started on the deplorable celebration of genocide and war by the "Redskins"–and unearned headdresses as "hip accessories," but I do not have any problem with everybody suddenly being Irish every St. Patrick's day.

        I used to do American tribal belly dance before becoming disabled, so I gained a deep appreciation for Middle Eastern and North African cultures. My love of the dance led to supporting women's groups within those countries, especially those that promote economic independence. Through it, I have acquired some beautiful pieces of art and textiles. Yet, sometimes when I would get dressed for belly dance, I would worry that others would not see that I am aware of the plight many women in these countries face, or that I do not lump Berbers and Khaleeji as being one collective culture. (I am considering wearing Moroccan styled harquus as part of my wedding make up.)

        My son is very mindful of what he does. Because he lives by samurai code and has had intensive study–not to mention that not all samurai were Japanese men–he normally does not feel "wrong" for wearing the traditional clothes; however, he is aware of the past, which is why he is concerned about wearing Japanese clothing into a Chinese restaurant.

        I know this us is the home site and not the bride site, but because of how we live, we want to be sensitive and appropriate in all aspects of our lives, including our wedding. I know how it is to have my family's heritage and culture abused: I do not want to make anyone else feel that way.

  28. I find it so weird white Americans apparently don't perceive themselves as having a culture. I guess it's like the accent thing, where you can't hear your own. I don't know if it applies to other white-majority countries, though, because we have you to compare ourselves to. I grew up with maypole dancing and sunday roasts and football hooliganism and only ever talking to strangers about the weather (and then only under very specific circumstances), and I knew that was part of being culturally English because I didn't see it in US media. You had coffee shops and bars instead of tea shops and pubs, white teeth and neat facial hair and adults wearing baseball caps, casual dating and abstinence-based-sex-ed, sports that go on all day no one else plays, trick-or-treating and thanksgiving, prom and teenagers with cars, big white weddings… And talking to strangers, of course.

    9 agree
    • At least in part, I understand. I am from Canada, but most people you meet will tell you where their great-great-great-great grandfather was from, instead of saying "We're Canadian". Part of it is the multiculturalism. While other white-majority countries have immigrants, it's not to the same extent as countries in the Americas do. Apart from the first nations, everyone here is an immigrant at some point in their history.

      Some of those families preserved the culture. This is most noticeable in my area with Jewish, Italian, and Chinese families; they often immigrated with many others from their own culture, and established neighbourhoods with their restaurants, clothing stores, baked goods, religious buildings, etc. Other cultures that are less represented- or less appreciated- are not as well preserved. It makes sense: a child who goes to a school with most of their own culture, goes to a religious building for their culture, eats the food, and has friends of the culture, will understand and preserve it much more effectively than if you throw one child into a school and community entirely different. Then they grow up, and their children are one step away from that. They can't pass it on if they don't know it themselves.

      Some of the families of other cultures (predominately Irish, in my case) manage to preserve some or many of their foods and traditions. However, those that don't will cling to anything, even if they know nothing about it. Perhaps from outside we seem to have a "culture" in Canada, but from the inside? It's all from other cultures, and we know it well.

      Despite the prevalence of claiming your distant heritage, it's becoming more and more challenged if you actually participate in those traditions- especially if you're not of the more common cultures. It seems to be both a feeling of judgement (Oh no! I'm 1/9999th _____, will they think I'm not good enough?" and thinking the person is pretentious. My family has preserved some things, but not others. I have been challenged for learning my own culture and language. Can you appropriate your own culture?

      Although the majority of ancestors came from England and France, those aren't considered "heritage" or "culture". Mostly everyone here can trace an ancestor to England or France, but most have no ties whatsoever. It's like dumping a bunch of different glitter, and then trying to only pick out the green ones. Almost every handful will have some, in various concentrations.

      5 agree
  29. One of the things I'm noticing most people talk about here are sacred/religious/spiritual elements of culture. I can understand being a bit more hesitant to share those pieces, but that's a small part of any culture. Cultures have elements including: social organization, customs and traditions, religion, language, arts and literature, forms of government, and economic systems. As I said above, every country, region, time period, and stereotype of people have their own culture. Just because I'm an American doesn't make me a Southerner. As a Millennial, I'm not a 70s hippie. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate good biscuits or Joan Baez.

    2 agree
  30. This discussion, while wonderful, has veered from the original post, where @chriswolfgang asks a specific question, "Am I still helping representation by showcasing an ethnic wedding that doesn’t fit the cultural mold at first glance?"

    The original post used an example of a portrayal of a Latina with a more Caucasian complexion. I think the issue here is power (BTW, the definition of racism is a system designed to maintain and increase the power of the majority group while marginalizing the minority group). Anyway, one could argue that the people who designed the character that way were using their power to enforce the ideas that fair skin and hair are the standards of beauty in this country, regardless of ethnicity (which is different from race). Others could argue that the people who designed the character were using their power to showcase a Latina that is different from the stereotype. And, stereotypes really are the definition or view of an ethnicity that the majority group will accept.

    So as an editor of OBB, the answer to your question lies in how you want to use your power. Are you going to use it to reinforce a stereotype? Are you going to use it to judge one's culture (values, traditions, loved ones) based on their race (skin color) or ethnicity (geographical lineage)? Or are you going moderate discussions about it so people can move away from cultural appropriation and toward cultural exchange?

    2 agree
  31. This is a touchy subject with me. I am 100% Hispanic/Latino, as in my mom immigrated from Cuba and my Dad was the first member of his family born in the USA. Latinos run the gammet from Black to blonde haired blue-eyed, and am more European looking. I never learned Spanish, and didn't grow up around my extended family (my Dad was in the army and we lived all over the USA and many places in the Middle East). I don't see myself as White, but other people tend to see me as White (or Arab, or Jewish).

    My whole life I've felt a desire to reconnect with my own heritage, been told by other Hispanics that I am fake, and haven't really been accepted by White people either. I shouldn't have to lay my whole life story on the line, to justify my affinity for something. I shouldn't have to give a DNA sample to be taken seriously in certain conversations or certain circles. While there are legitimate cultural appropriation issues, so much of it just feels like people trying to out "ally" each other. If it's something you personally feel is sacred, and you feel like someone is mocking it, by all means speak up. otherwise, can we stop policing each other?

    The line about "some people still haven’t got the message that it’s not okay to fill their wedding with cultural elements that don’t belong to them," really bugs me because first of all, you feature cultural appropriation all the time. Sugar skulls, hand-fastings, henna, Celtic or Native American elements? What are you saying that some traditions are okay to borrow, but others are too sacred? Secondly, it's not your place to determine someone strangers cultural identity.

    2 agree

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