A Handy Guide to What Is and Isn’t Cultural Appropriation

alwayslabellavita:

What isn’t cultural appropration:

• Trying/eating/making a culture’s food
• Listening to that culture’s music
• Watching that culture’s movies
• Reading that culture’s books
• Appreciating that culture’s art
• Wearing that culture’s clothing IF in a setting where that culture is prevalent and IF people are okay with it and/or it is necessary to fit in and not stand out weirdly (i.e. If you visit Pakistan, you can wear a shalwar kameez so you don’t stand out as an American tourist. Or if you visit a specific temple or religious setting, you may need to/want to adhere to specific dress forms. Or if you’re invited to a wedding and they allow/invite you to wear their cultural dress to participate in the festivities).
• Using that culture’s dance/physical traditions in specific settings (i.e. taking belly-dancing classes, or going to an Indian wedding and trying to dance with them).

What is cultural appropriation:

• Wearing specific items of clothing that may (and probably do) have deeper meaning as a costume. Like on Halloween.
• Wearing specific items of clothing to be trendy or fashionable.
• Trying to imitate their natural beauty standards and possible makeup/markings (i.e dreadlocks and bindis and mehndi/henna).
• Taking their rituals, old-as-hell traditions, and dances and turning them into cheap, tacky everyday garbage for you to have “fun” with (i.e. smoking sheesha. Y’all turned it into this janky nonsense that looks so trashy and stupid).
• Taking spiritual/religious ideas and traditions and subscribing to them to be trendy or unique
• Trying to act like you’re an expert in their food, music, or art, and that you can do it BETTER than them
• Basically trying to WEAR that culture’s skin, clothing, & beauty traditions as a costume/trend and turn old traditions into cheap garbage

And WHY is this wrong? Because, in our society, white people or non-POC can get away with wearing another culture’s clothes and identities and it will be “cute”, “indie”, “bohemian”, “trendy”, and “exotic.” BUT when a POC who actually belongs to that culture wears their own culture’s clothing, styles of beauty, or does things that are specific to their culture, they’re looked down upon, made fun of, sneered at, told to “Go home, get out of this country, we don’t do that here,” and laughed at. The few times I wore a shalwar kameez in public—and I’m Pakistani—people gave me weird looks, like I had a disease. And yet if a white person (or, heck, even a different POC, because POC don’t have the right to appropriate other cultures either) wears a shalwar kameez, people will call her exotic and cute. Seriously? Do you see a problem? I do. Want some proof? When Selena Gomez and Katy Perry use other cultures as costumes in their music videos and stuff, they were thought to be creative and fun. But when an Indian American woman with brown skin won Miss America, there was a huge racist backlash and people said, “We don’t look like that here, we don’t need a curry muncher here, get out of this country.” So I guess Indian culture is only okay if Selena Gomez is stealing it, right? But not if an actual Indian woman is displaying it? Another example: white people with dreadlocks are seen as “soft grunge” and “hippie”, but black people with dreadlocks are looked down upon and seen as dirty and lazy for having them, even though they know how to take care of their dreadlocks way better. 

Respect the fact that we are different. You don’t need to be culturally BLIND because that is just as ignorant. Trying to ignore cultures means you’re trying to erase peoples’ identities. You can appreciate/like/admire other cultures without trying to steal them, use them, cheapen them, and wear them as costumes. You weren’t born into it, so know your limits. And YES. There will ALWAYS be those people who say, “But my Chinese friends don’t care if ____!” and “I’m Mexican and I don’t care if people ____,” but they do not speak for all people of that culture and just because THEY don’t mind doesn’t mean other people don’t. Plenty of POC get harassed/taunted/degraded/fetishized over their own cultures WHILE people not of that culture are called “free-spirited”, “bohemian”, “quirky” and “trendy” for imitating the SAME culture—so yes, the people who oppose cultural appropriation do it based on actual microaggressions and bigotry they may have faced and it is NOT your job to try and convince then that they don’t have a right to their own culture or that the oppression against them should mean nothing.

Think about this. There are some women okay with sexism. Some POC okay with racist jokes. Some Jewish people don’t care about anti-Semitic jokes. And your friend might be one of these people. But suddenly that makes it okay for you to behave foolishly, immaturely, and ignorantly? 

Wise up. It’s 2014. There is no excuse to be ignorant.

And if you ever need to explain to someone what cultural appropriation is, show them this post (credit me if you post it elsewhere). It’s a good starter and I think it encompasses the basics of what cultural appropriation is and isn’t. 

“WHY DO THEY ALWAYS SLICE THEIR PALM TO GET BLOOD. do you know how many nerve endings are in your hand?!?! why don’t they ever cut the back of their arm or their leg or something omfg”

~

me everytime a character in a movie has to get a few drops of their blood for some ritual bullshit  (via jtoday)

WHILE WE’RE AT IT, why do people try to cross those skinny bridges over lava/chasms/whatever by walking upright. IT’S CALLED CENTER OF GRAVITY. get on your hands and knees and crawl across that thing. HUG IT. SCOOT YOUR BUTT ACROSS. “but i look stupid!” lalalala but we’ll avoid that ~dramatic moment~ where you almost fall over and die because your damn fucking self wanted to look COOL

(via jtoday)

and stop yanking IV lines out of your arms the minute you wake up in the hospital 

(via panconkiwi)

That is a broadsword, why are you fencing with it

(via gallifrey-feels)

There is a freaking door right there. Stop smashing through windows, damn it.

(via intheforestofthenight)

yes, mr. action hero, I am aware that running dramatically from the baddies at breakneck speed is important, but know what else is important? NOT GETTING SHOT. RUN IN A FUCKING ZIGZAG PATTERN ON THE OFF CHANCE THAT THE MOOKS WERE NOT COACHED IN MARKSMANSHIP BY THE IMPERIAL STORMTROOPERS.

(via pterriblepterodactyls)

Oh, hey, you there, sneaky hero-type breaking into any place for any reason? WEAR SOME FUCKING GLOVES. They’re called fingerprints, dumbass. You have them and you’re putting them all over the fucking place.

(via dawnpuppet)

If something really fucking huge is falling on you, don’t FUCKING RUN ALONG THE LENGTH JUST TAKE LIKE TWO FUCKING STEPS TO THE SIDE

(via takshammy)

wEAR A FUCKING HELMET OBERYN YOU LITTLE SHIT

(via brigwife)

And for god’s sake, PUT PRESSURE ON THAT WOUND, DON’T SIT THERE AND WATCH THEM BLEED OUT. I’m talking to you, TV cops.

(via fixyourwritinghabits)

(via fixyourwritinghabits)

iamladyloin:

snailchimera:

jocularwitticism:

deskgirl:

nonbinaryviola:

talk street magic to me

drawing power from the metro lines

illusionists busking illegally, shimmering lights disintegrating as they run

plant mages tending tiny rooftop and windowbox gardens

elementary school kids learning basic sigils on the playground

wixen taking a while to key into the magic in new cities when they move

alchemists dealing on the side to support their experiments

middle schoolers making friendship talismans and amulets for everyone

numerologists who’ll do your math homework for $5 or divine your fortune for $10

kids mass-texting luck and speed spells when their parties get broken up by the cops

Hell yeah, let’s talk about magic.

Like elementary kids learning silly (or inappropriate) charms from each other on the bus, the same way we learned our first swear words. Clapping games across the bus aisle, but with spells instead of rhymes.

Worrying that your friend is getting into dark magic, but not knowing how to talk to them about it. Intervention programs for kids abusing hexes and runes, because magic has given them control over something for once in their life, and they’re starting to make some dangerous choices.

Psychic teachers knowing when you’re cheating. Knowing when you’re having trouble with homework. Or at home. Knowing when you need tutoring or an AP course because you’re just not being challenged or a different teaching method because you can’t process what you’re learning in class no matter how hard you try, and the teacher tells you it’s okay, they know. They know.

Magic graffiti. Graffiti in wild places, and graffiti that vanishes when certain people roll by like the police. Or graffiti that only appears when the police walk by to insult them. Murals. Swirling, living murals on the sides of buildings. Murals that—if you listen closely—can be heard, not just seen.

In the evenings, kids hiding out in someone’s backyard or an alley passing around a joint and casting minor illusions to watch while high.

Chalk artists making works that are so realistic, they come to life off of the sidewalk.

One man bands in the park, with instruments floating around playing themselves.

Punk concerts in empty lots with amped out music and lights, but noise-cancelling spells and illusion hide them in plain sight from anyone outside of the lot.

Mediums predicting people in need, and making sure to be there at just the right moment to lend them a helping hand. “You seem upset, do you need to talk?” “Oh, you’re a dollar short? No, don’t put the milk back; I’ll cover you.” “You really ought to try taking your resume to this store. Trust me.”

Necromancers in forensics speaking with the dead to solve homicides and cold cases. Living lie detectors as beat cops and detectives and DEA agents.

Strangely cheap five star food diners that bake actual love into their apple pie, and they always know your dietary restrictions without being told.

Service golems in various sizes and shapes, making sure their magic users aren’t crowded, get medical attention, go where they need to, etc. They don’t get distracted, they can be hollow to hold things like medications, and in rare instances, they seem to develop loving attachment to their users despite not being alive.

Little old landladies who dabble in witchcraft brewing homeopathic remedies for people in their apartment complex.

Street magic is an amazing concept.

Heck yes.

Cars with paintjobs covered in sigils, protecting them and others from harm.

Churches that are literal sanctuary, backed up with wards to prevent violence being done within their walls.

Practitioners of Sympathetic Magic using company logos to invoke the associated concepts - a nike tattoo makes you faster, something stamped with “Nokia” is more durable.

The old leylines don’t work, but the highways, train lines, water mains and high-tension cables do the trick.

Magic Conventions.

just. Magic Conventions.

All of this please.

Oh man. Cops facing the Rule of Returns Parrot familiars that learn new languages faster them their witches. Grocery stores that alter prices based on what can be afforded. Carnies that are so used to traveling that being on one line makes them itch.

cheesemelody

(Source: cpk4709, via characterandwritinghelp)

Offensive Mistakes Well-Intentioned Writers Make

Food-Colored Skin

Not only is purple prose obnoxious; sometimes it’s downright racist. For some reason, writers have a fondness for describing dark complexions as “chocolate” or somesuch.

But wait, people like chocolate! What’s so bad about likening a skintone to something almost everyone likes?

The problem is that food-colored skin is a phenomenon mostly limited to dark-colored complexions. And it’s more than just a little creepy when strangers keep likening your skintone to an inanimate edible object. Plus, in some places “chocolate bar” is a playground taunt used to goad black children.

Not a very tasteful choice in similitudes at all.

Skin Color Only Described When Not White

In many stories, the color of a character’s skin will only be described when the character doesn’t have a fair complexion. This typically happens because the writer is white and subconsciously thinks of xir own skin color as the default and everyone else’s as the outliers. Even JK Rowling, whose books frequently focus on tolerance and equality, is guilty of this.

The solution is simple - just describe everyone’s complexion, and all will be well.

Written Accents

Written accents are offensive because they essentially tell the group whose accent is being written that “your way of talking is weird; my way is normal.”

Not only are written accents offensive to the group being represented, but they’re offensive to read because you have to spend extra time trying to sort out what the writer was trying to say.

If you want to write a character who is supposed to have an accent, use grammar and slang associated with people who have that accent. You could also just mention that they have an accent. But don’t butcher the spellings of the words. “He’s got himself in a right pickle, he has” is fine, but “‘E’s got ‘imself in a right pickle, ‘e ‘as” is not.

Things Appropriated From Other Cultures

Many new writers are bound and determined to make sure their characters have meaningful and unique names. I see many people who have clearly scoured the bowels of online baby name sites to find the perfect Vedic/Japanese/Aztec name for their white character.

This sort of thing is a form of cultural appropriation, which is a pretty huge faux pas. For the uninformed, cultural appropriation is when a member of a dominant culture takes something from an oppressed/minority culture and uses it in a shallow, trendy, or superficial way - and there’s really nothing more shallow or superficial than trying to make your character stand out by giving xir an “exotic” name instead of giving xir a memorable personality and story.

Likewise, people give their characters katanas and throw youkai into their stories for no other reason than “it’s more interesting” than Western culture. Throwing things from another culture into your story for no other reason than you think it’s “more interesting” reduces that culture to a cheap gimmick, which is pretty rude and offensive.

“Harmless” Stereotypes

The Japanese plant-lover. The wise Native American. The sexy Latina. There’s nothing bad about loving plants or being wise or sexy, so why would anyone find these offensive?

For one thing, it can create unrealistic expectations and assumptions about these people. Many Asian-Americans find themselves having to explain to people that no, they don’t know squat about gardening, really. Many Latinas would rather people didn’t expect them to be hot and spicy lovers based on their race. And contrary to what some think, Native Americans aren’t really born with a magical connection to the Earth and tend to find assumptions that they are quite irritating.

The Supercrip

There are two varieties of supercrips: the first is a disabled person who is treated as a hero just for doing everyday things that most people take for granted. It’s quite frankly condescending, and many disabled people would thank you to knock it off.

The second type is the character who has amazing skills or abilities because or in spite of xir disability. While a writer might be trying to say “just because a person has a disability, doesn’t mean they can’t be amazing!”, what the audience hears is “disabled people often have amazing abilities to make up for their disability,” which unfortunately isn’t true.

The Mighty Whitey

The Mighty Whitey is a white person (if not physically, then culturally) who finds xirself faced with the task of saving a marginalized group (often as not from other white people). The character is usually male and ends up becoming the leader of the people he just liberated, and he usually ends up with a hot ethnic-looking gal to boink. (Think Jake Sulley fromAvatar, and you’ve got the Mighty Whitey in a nutshell.) The Mighty Whitey will learn the ways of an ethnic group, and xe will become even better at them than the people who have been studying them all their lives.

What makes this trope so horrendous is the attitude of white supremacy: it implies that non-white people cannot solve their problems without a white person to help or even lead them, and that white people will always be better at everything.

Also, becoming a leader of a people whose culture you have only known/studied for a few months - or even a few years - is one of the most ridiculously puerile fantasies in existence.

Getting Mental Illnesses & Different Neurologies Wrong

Want to create a chilling plot twist? Just the killer the hero’s evil alternate personality! That’s called schizophrenia… right?

Wrong. And this type of thing is incredibly insensitive and offensive.

Aside from the fact that schizophrenia does not create multiple personalities, most people with schizophrenia and multiple personalities are quite harmless. Yet thanks to their portrayal in fiction, many people expect them to be dangerous, which makes their already-difficult lives even more difficult.

Occasionally, some people go the other direction and portray these people as innocent or even mystical. That’s positive discrimination, and that’s also bad because it creates unrealistic expectations.

Whether it’s schizophrenia, multiple personlities, autism, Asperger’s, psychopathy, sociopathy, or anything else, you’re going to use a mental disorder or alternate neurology of any kind, make sure you research it. And whatever you do,NEVER give your character a mental illness just to make xir more “interesting,” because that’s ableism.

Trying to Create an Aesop About Discrimination Without Actually Understanding the Discrimination in Question

Most people think they have a pretty good bead on what racism is all about - it’s about segregation, ugly slurs, and pointy white hats. Same goes with sexism - women can get jobs and vote now, so it must be over, right? Ha, if only.

In real life, these people are very rarely overt - in fact, most racism is extremely subtle, so subtle that the offender doesn’t even realize that what they’ve said or done is offensive or hurtful and will vehemently deny the possiblity that what they said or did could have been offensive. (A common response from these people is “I can’t be an X-ist! I have X friends!” Yeah, if only.)

Some examples of subtle discrimination:

  • Telling rowdy children to “stop running around like a bunch of wild Indians!”
  • Describing a non-white character or person as “exotic.”
  • Dressing up in Halloween costumes depicting ethnic stereotypes.
  • Insisting that a woman who does not want children right now will “change her mind” in the future.
  • Asking a woman why she’s still single if she’s so attractive.
  • Asing a woman who is angry about something if she’s on her period.
  • Insulting males who don’t live up to expectations of perceived masculinity by accusing them of acting “girly” or calling them gay.

If you want to learn more about what real discrimination of all kinds look and feel like, I recommend readingMicroaggressions. (Language warning.) Also, check out this handy-dandy list of links to privilege checklists so you can check your own privilege before writing off into the sunset.

Trying to Satirize a Thing Without Understanding Why it’s a Thing

The film Death Becomes Her satirizes the perceived vanity of performers who spend mind-blowing amounts of money on beauty products and plastic surgeries to stay young. Funny film? Yes. But it’s rather sexist in that it treats this perceived vanity as something that just happens to some women for no real reason. It ignores the fact that we live in a society obsessed with youth and that our consumerist culture has commodified it and tries to make us feel inferior every day for not buying it from them. It ignores the fact that the men in control of the entertainment industry constantly pressure women into getting plastic surgery and enhancements, even flat-out refusing to hire women who don’t meet their exact standards of beauty, regardless of their talent.

Killing Off LGBT Characters to Make an Allegedly Non-Hateful Point

There’s this thing that some writers do - they introduce an LGBT character, try to build some some sympathy for xir, and before you know it they’ve killed off this character in a manner that’s reminiscent of that old and noxious “too good for this sinful Earth” trope that pervaded Puritan literature.

This sends an absolutely terrible message to LGBT people - that the only way they can escape the shame and the hate that so often comes with being LGBT is if they die. LGBT youth are at a higher risk of committing suicide already - clearly, this is not a message we want to be sending.

Forgetting Women of Color in Female-Oriented Entertainment

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Charmed. Pan Am. Sex in the City. All of these female-aimed shows exhibit distinctly monochrome casting choices. Sure, Charmed was sort of justified in that the three leads were supposed to be sisters. But Pan Am has no excuse - and there were plenty of non-white stewardesses in the 60’s.

Multi-Racial Groups Always With a White at the Helm

This wouldn’t be a problem if it didn’t keep happening all the time. But invariably, whenever there’s a multi-racial group or team of some kind, the leader will invariably be white. The implication is that while non-whites are good enough to have on a team, they still aren’t leadership material.

The Fairytale Gypsy

You know the character type - they live in wagons, wear colorful clothing, read fortunes, and play a mean fiddle.

The trouble is, what you see in fiction is a romanticized version of a very ugly reality: “Gypsy” is actually a racial slur for the Roma and Dom people. The reason they’re nomads is because racists have a habit of routing them out whenever they try to settle down, and their eclectic fashion comes from having to wear whatever they can get. Also, they’re no more magical than you or me.

Their portrayal in many fantasies perpetuates the myth that these people are fairytale creatures who vanished along with Long Ago And Far Away, rather than real people who suffer systemic oppression today.

(Source: officialactiiigirl, via characterandwritinghelp)

iamladyloin:

snailchimera:

jocularwitticism:

deskgirl:

nonbinaryviola:

talk street magic to me

drawing power from the metro lines

illusionists busking illegally, shimmering lights disintegrating as they run

plant mages tending tiny rooftop and windowbox gardens

elementary school kids learning basic sigils on the playground

wixen taking a while to key into the magic in new cities when they move

alchemists dealing on the side to support their experiments

middle schoolers making friendship talismans and amulets for everyone

numerologists who’ll do your math homework for $5 or divine your fortune for $10

kids mass-texting luck and speed spells when their parties get broken up by the cops

Hell yeah, let’s talk about magic.

Like elementary kids learning silly (or inappropriate) charms from each other on the bus, the same way we learned our first swear words. Clapping games across the bus aisle, but with spells instead of rhymes.

Worrying that your friend is getting into dark magic, but not knowing how to talk to them about it. Intervention programs for kids abusing hexes and runes, because magic has given them control over something for once in their life, and they’re starting to make some dangerous choices.

Psychic teachers knowing when you’re cheating. Knowing when you’re having trouble with homework. Or at home. Knowing when you need tutoring or an AP course because you’re just not being challenged or a different teaching method because you can’t process what you’re learning in class no matter how hard you try, and the teacher tells you it’s okay, they know. They know.

Magic graffiti. Graffiti in wild places, and graffiti that vanishes when certain people roll by like the police. Or graffiti that only appears when the police walk by to insult them. Murals. Swirling, living murals on the sides of buildings. Murals that—if you listen closely—can be heard, not just seen.

In the evenings, kids hiding out in someone’s backyard or an alley passing around a joint and casting minor illusions to watch while high.

Chalk artists making works that are so realistic, they come to life off of the sidewalk.

One man bands in the park, with instruments floating around playing themselves.

Punk concerts in empty lots with amped out music and lights, but noise-cancelling spells and illusion hide them in plain sight from anyone outside of the lot.

Mediums predicting people in need, and making sure to be there at just the right moment to lend them a helping hand. “You seem upset, do you need to talk?” “Oh, you’re a dollar short? No, don’t put the milk back; I’ll cover you.” “You really ought to try taking your resume to this store. Trust me.”

Necromancers in forensics speaking with the dead to solve homicides and cold cases. Living lie detectors as beat cops and detectives and DEA agents.

Strangely cheap five star food diners that bake actual love into their apple pie, and they always know your dietary restrictions without being told.

Service golems in various sizes and shapes, making sure their magic users aren’t crowded, get medical attention, go where they need to, etc. They don’t get distracted, they can be hollow to hold things like medications, and in rare instances, they seem to develop loving attachment to their users despite not being alive.

Little old landladies who dabble in witchcraft brewing homeopathic remedies for people in their apartment complex.

Street magic is an amazing concept.

Heck yes.

Cars with paintjobs covered in sigils, protecting them and others from harm.

Churches that are literal sanctuary, backed up with wards to prevent violence being done within their walls.

Practitioners of Sympathetic Magic using company logos to invoke the associated concepts - a nike tattoo makes you faster, something stamped with “Nokia” is more durable.

The old leylines don’t work, but the highways, train lines, water mains and high-tension cables do the trick.

Magic Conventions.

just. Magic Conventions.

All of this please.

Oh man. Cops facing the Rule of Returns Parrot familiars that learn new languages faster them their witches. Grocery stores that alter prices based on what can be afforded. Carnies that are so used to traveling that being on one line makes them itch.

cheesemelody

(Source: cpk4709, via characterandwritinghelp)

actual causes of the civil war (part 2)

(x x x x x x x x x x)

(via osointricate)

Happy 35th birthday to Hermione Jean Granger, the brightest witch of her age!

(Source: dailypotter, via thepottercurse)