Wednesday, May 14

me and mine

several weeks ago I had my students read and respond to these two online pieces: Stop Worrying and Learn to Love Cultural Appropriation by (which also has a part two) and But Why Can't I Wear a Hipster Headdress?

each puts up a different perspective on how the average consumer might consider and deal with instances where culture seems not to belong to the people who are making use of it. where it seems like these colorful, textural, symbolic wrappers we wrap our identities in get stolen. or at least thoughtlessly borrowed. to be bought and sold.

the boundaries between cultures and subcultures and groups are complicated. the beginning to a recently reposted episode of This American Life includes an interview with Jared Diamond (who incidentally is the author of a short essay my Texas Tech students had the option of writing about a whole year and a half ago) on the subject of groups and the costs of inclusion. and exclusion. no man is an island and all, so this stuff is important. belonging and contributing are both important.

the value of these things isn't exactly quantifiable. it's hard to measure all the tradeoffs and sacrifices and perks that get thrown around in any arrangement of human beings (or any living organism, come to that). these things don't have price tags, usually.

this fashion piece does. so do memberships to things and applications for citizenship.

membership and belonging don't seem quite the same though. and monetary costs are not the only kind. does wearing a fancy headdress make you a member of a certain group? or do a certain lifestyle and certain shopping habits even moreso? paperwork and legal distinctions might hold lots of weight, but can those things reflect the essence or core of any nationality?

belonging could be a matter of action rather than of paperwork or decree. yeah? but then I want to ask whether acting and being are the same. impostors and decoys and spies say of course not. Jared Diamond's bit explains that well enough.

so my next idea is that belonging, being included, is a relationship. nobody can belong anywhere without both action on their part plus a reaction of some sort on the part of the group. this of course seems pretty fundamental--a group defines itself through such relationships. members of a group have to be related somehow, even if only spatially or by the colors of their shirts. but I don't only mean that kind of relationship. we're all related some way or another through such abstractions. that's too easy.

the groups that seem to matter more are groups that make us negotiate our way into them. they ask things of us. they have conditions.

in a few hours, I'm going to join the group of people (how many are there, I wonder?) who are currently hanging out in the state of Utah. when I get there I'll sleep for a bit before being stolen away for a star-gazing camping trip down in the canyony, National-Park-ridden southern bits of the state. I have plenty of more thoughts to spin out about groups and requirements and ownership, but the conditions of my getting to Utah include getting in line to board an airplane just about now. we'll continue this blogpost somehow later on...


Chris said...


I'm never sure where to draw the line with what counts and doesn't count as problematic appropriation, but that Ilya Yefremov article is pretty irritating. Phrasing the problem, for example, as 'putting too many feathers on their models' seems like a willful, conveniently omissive mischaracterisation of the objection--which obviously isn't about just the feathers, but about the culturally identifiable headdress.

Also, how she doesn't connect her hand-wavey penultimate paragraph in the second part with most of the examples she gives, I do not know.

Chris said...

Oh, or he, even.

amelia chesley said...

subjectivity! isn't it marvelous? but we do so like to draw lines, even if they don't end up being very useful...