December 2017
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my thoughts on cultural appropriation as it relates to Native Americans


This started as a comment to someone asking for people's thoughts on cultural appropriation, and I've edited it a little to share here.

I think the Native Appropriations blog explains it best. Native Americans have been so terribly abused by the US, and continue to be abused now -- they suffer the worst poverty with the least aid, the US occupies/mines land that by US law belongs to Native peoples, Native women are the most raped group of all US women (with little legal recourse), Native people suffer the most from unemployment when the economy suffers, etc. As a non-Native person, one benefits from that abuse whether they want to or not -- the US government robs from Native peoples to give to "real americans" and if Native peoples lose their jobs first that financially benefits everyone who is non-Native, etc. So wearing "native" dress (in quotes because usually what non-Native people wear is not actually Native dress) highlights one's ignorance about the experiences of Native people and gives the impression (usually correct) that one is ignorant about or ignoring the suffering of Native people. And it is disrespectful to take from someone's culture without understanding the significance of that item, at the very least.

This is not to say that I don't think there is any legitimate way for non-Natives to use/appreciate Native art, or that I think cultures should never mix; I don't believe culture is static or can be truly 'owned.' But I think there is no respectful way to do that WITHOUT self-educating on the suffering that Native peoples face and trying to change that. I do not know what the respectful way would be, but I know the usual way is extremely disrespectful. One cannot say that they are showing respect or honor if they are ignoring the very real, very present suffering of the people they are supposedly "honoring."

where does it end? I think it begins where there is a history of oppression and genocide, especially when that oppression is still very much in practice. Where that is not the case, I don't think there is a clear-cut right and wrong, but the real question is what are you looking for? Are you wanting to see what you can get away with without being scolded by your friends? or are you wanting to know how your actions/dress/etc affect the people from whom you are culturally borrowing? 'cause that's the real question. It is a gross expression of privilege to decide whether or not an oppressed group's objections are legitimate or "silly." It was "pointless/silly" for people of color to want to learn to read and it was "oversensitive" for women to object to sexual harassment, until they had enough of a voice that the dominant class couldn't help but hear. If you can't relate to a group's "silly, oversensitive" objections, educate yourself, listen, stop thinking about what you "should be allowed" to do and start thinking about what your actions mean to groups that do not have your privilege.

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Comments
sidheblessed ══╣╠══
I completely agree with you. You absolutely cannot show respect to Native Americans or their culture without understanding what they've suffered at the hands of those who have the privilege. I think that unless you make the effort to educate yourself, you're actually being disrespectful, sometimes in the extreme.

I do think that some people genuine seek to know and connect with the culture. However, it's one thing to say "I really relate to this aspect of the culture or this teaching" and then spend time with Native American people, listening to their stories and trying to understand the experiences that inform their worldview; it's another thing entirely to go "Ooh, pretty feathers!" and dress up in costume or hang a dreamcatcher in your window, without thought.

You know, what you've said here reminds me a lot of how privileged white people have and still do treat Indigenous Australians. They've suffered since the time Captain Cook first landed here. The stories I've heard about their suffering would make your blood boil. Indigenous Australians weren't even considered people until the 1960s. And this is after they murdered them, stole their children and shafted them off to white families to try and kill their culture and even their people. And that's the sanitised version! Even now, some Indigenous people are living in abject poverty and for most, their life expectancy, health, employment and education outcomes are all less than a white Australian can expect. It's such an obvious disparity. Sadly, so many Indigenous people are more than happy to teach others about their culture and to help people honour it respectfully but so few people take them up on the offer. Then these same people, who didn't want to sit and learn, hang up some Indigenous art and call that respectful. So they've been abused and pushed aside, then have to put up with people who are ignorant of its meaning hanging their art everywhere.

I sincerely wish that more people would acknowledge and examine their privilege and maybe even try to put themselves in another's shoes and feel what it's like for a minute to not have that privilege. They can never really understand in the same way someone who has direct experience of being without that privilege can - heck, I know I can't - but they can learn to have more empathy and be more sensitive and respectful.
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.