I imagine this article will prove controversial, but it is one of the few articles I’ve ever read in a mainstream magazine to talk about the reality of white supremacy in America and how it affects Obama.
Thank you, of-praxis, for reblogging gardant’s great response.
I am an Anthropology/Archaeology student, and I get really mad when others get angry about “cultural appropriation.” In fact, I get annoyed when people use the term “cultural appreciation” too.
Yes, there are some ignorant people out there who take aspects of other cultures out of context. Yes,…
I agree that cultural exchange is a good thing, and that we benefit from learning about and from one another. The problem is that cultural exchange is very different from cultural (mis)appropriation. You mention displacement from context, which is part of the trouble. But to me the core problem (and what distinguishes it from innocuous exchange) is the mentality of entitlement that characterizes appropriation.
The theft of cultural property from a people cannot be minimized as the actions of a few douchebags. Moreover, it doesn’t just affect a few, overly-sensitive individuals, but entire communities who have every right to be angry.
Let’s start with the material impact. There are ways to respectfully engage with, and acquire items/knowledge from a culture. In fact, many communities must now rely on such products in order to scrape by. But when a company like Urban Outfitters decides it’s acceptable to use Native designs and market them themselves, they are not simply out-competing a rival company. They are stealing and exploiting from a culture, hindering a Native economy, and thereby endangering the livelihoods of many people. And you’ll excuse me if I don’t think capitalism should be the new social Darwinism.
Protecting your culture isn’t pettiness. Especially when you need your culture to help put food on the table. People who oppose appropriation are not jealously holding their entire culture for ransom. They are trying to take back what has already been stolen from them. They have been put in a position where they have to fight in order to manage and benefit from their own property.
As I mentioned, there are plenty of goods that are being sold by legitimate indigenous craftspeople, goods that won’t impinge on their people’s cultural/spiritual integrity. Still, appropriators often act indignant when they are told what objects they can and can’t have (see entitlement, privilege, colonialism). Apparently, appropriators have the right to trample all over another culture, but indigenous people don’t have a right to protect their own traditions.
But hey, what about the random headdress wearing hipsters? Surely they can’t be as harmful as those nasty corporations?
As individuals, yes, they are tiny, unimportant imbeciles. But they do make up a collective of consumers, people who can wave a dollar, encouraging and enabling corporations to perpetrate economic injustices. And while cultural theft has already been normalized and trivialized in mainstream Western society (“ethnic” Halloween costumes, for example), this recent hipster trend is now glorifying it.
Perhaps they didn’t create the system of exploitation, but they are perpetuating it, and expanding it, believing that they can distance themselves from problematic histories by covering their eyes. But from the perspective of affected communities, appropriators are just the tail end of that same systematic violence, people who have willingly inherited the whip and the scalper’s knife, and are learning to use them in new ways.
And for what? Really, somebody explain to me why it’s so crucial for people to have access to indigenous culture in this vein. Erasing centuries of meaning isn’t conducive to “cultural exchange,” and is in fact quite the opposite.There is no learning, no sharing of knowledge (unless we count getting four “likes” on an instagrammed Facebook profile picture as spiritual growth).
“But what’s the big deal?” The Hipster asks. “It’s just a photo/costume/hat/etc.!” Many appropriators will trivialize the issue in this way, will wonder why they should have to put down the headdress—well, please, can they give a good explanation for why they should have it in the first place? And if they really care so little, if it’s really just a game to these hipsters, then why is it so problematic to comply with the requests of indigenous people?
While I don’t want to abuse historical analogy, nor make false equivalencies, this carelessness brings to mind these lines from Pity for Poor Africans, an 18th century satirical poem by William Cowper:
What I hear of their hardships, their tortures, and groans
Is almost enough to draw pity from stones.
I pity them greatly, but I must be mum,
For how could we do without sugar and rum?
Especially sugar, so needful we see?
What? give up our desserts, our coffee, and tea!
Of course, cultural (mis)appropriation does not compare to the Triangle Trade. But it does amount to economic inequality, to the caricature of native peoples and traditions. And it uses a related logic of entitlement (ah, that word again). And it assures that when these injustices continue, most people will not fight, but accept that this is simply how the world works.
Really, it boils down to a certain worldview. A worldview that dictates that one can ignore an entire culture, can ignore a history of violence, exploitation, and theft (not to mention rape, murder, genocide, etc.). All of that can disappear, as long as you can point at something and say, “I want it.” (Again, see entitlement, privilege, colonialism.)
Apparently some people haven’t heard of affirmative action… being white HURTS your chances of getting into college and getting a job… That’s not an opinion its a law.
“Applicants with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with African-American-sounding names. Applicants with white names need to send about 10 resumes to get one callback, whereas applicants with African-American names need to send about 15 resumes to achieve the same result.
In addition, race greatly affects how much applicants benefit from having more experience and credentials. White job applicants with higher-quality resumes received 30 percent more callbacks than whites with lower-quality resumes. Having a higher-quality resume has a much smaller impact on African-American applicants, who experienced only 9 percent more callbacks for the same improvement in their credentials. This disparity suggests that in the current state of the labor market, African-Americans may not have strong individual incentives to build better resumes.”
»Racial Bias in Hiring“The effect of race in these findings is strikingly large. Among blacks without criminal records,only 14% received callbacks, relative to 34% of white noncriminals. In fact, even whites with criminal records received more favorable treatment (17%) than blacks without criminal records (14%). The rank ordering of groups in this graph is painfully revealing of employer preferences: race continues to play a dominant role in shaping employment opportunities, equal to or greater than the impact of a criminal record.”
“Over the past 30 years, a large body of research has shown that four factors consistently influence student achievement: all else equal, students perform better if they are educated in smaller schools where they are well known (300 to 500 students is optimal), have smaller class sizes (especially at the elementary level), receive a challenging curriculum, and have more highly qualified teachers.
Minority students are much less likely than white children to have any of these resources. In predominantly minority schools, which most students of color attend, schools are large (on average, more than twice as large as predominantly white schools and reaching 3,000 students or more in most cities); on average, class sizes are 15 percent larger overall (80 percent larger for non-special education classes); curriculum offerings and materials are lower in quality; and teachers are much less qualified in terms of levels of education, certification, and training in the fields they teach. And in integrated schools, as UCLA professor Jeannie Oakes described in the 1980s and Harvard professor Gary Orfield’s research has recently confirmed, most minority students are segregated in lower-track classes with larger class sizes, less qualified teachers, and lower-quality curriculum.”
“In terms of impact, affirmative action and discrimination against people of color are completely different. Discrimination against people of color, historically and today, deprives those people of color of the right to equal consideration for various opportunities on equitable terms. While some may think affirmative action does the same thing to whites, in fact this is untrue. Affirmative action programs only deprive whites, in effect, of the ability to continue banking our extra consideration, and the credentials and advantages we have accumulated under a system of unfairness, which afforded us more-than-equal opportunities. There is no moral entitlement to the use of such advantages, since they have not come about in a free and fair competition. History — and ongoing racial bias against people of color — have served as “thumbs on the scale” for whites, so to speak. Or even more so, as the equivalent of a “Warp Speed” button on a video game. Merely removing one’s finger from the warp speed button cannot address the head start accumulated over many generations, nor the mentality that developed as a justification for that head start: a mentality that has sought to rationalize and legitimize the resulting inequities passed down through the generations. So affirmative action is tantamount to hitting a warp speed button for people of color, in an attempt to even out those unearned head starts, and allow everyone to compete on as level a playing field as possible. To not do so would be to cement the head start that has been obtained by whites, and especially white men, in the economic and educational realms. It would be like having an 8-lap relay race, in which one runner has had a 5-lap head start, and instead of placing the second runner at the same point as the first, so as to see who really is faster, we were to merely proclaim the race fair and implore the runner who had been held back to “run faster” and try harder, fairness be damned.
Finally, discrimination against people of color, historically, has had the real social impact of creating profound imbalances, inequities and disparities in life chances between whites and people of color. In other words, the consequences of that history have been visible: it has led to wealth gaps of more than 10:1 between whites and blacks, for instance (and 8:1 between whites and Latinos). It has led to major disparities in occupational status, educational attainment, poverty rates, earnings ratios, and rates of home ownership. Affirmative action has barely made a dent in these structural inequities, in large part because the programs and policies have been so weakly enforced, scattershot, and pared back over the past twenty years. So despite affirmative action, whites continue (as I document in my books, Colorblind, and Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White) to receive over 90 percent of government contracts, to hold over 90 percent of tenured faculty positions, to hold over 85 percent of management level jobs in the private sector workforce, to be half as likely as blacks to be unemployed (even when only comparing whites and blacks with college degrees), and to get into their college of first choice at higher rates than African Americans or Latinos.”
“As many as 15 percent of freshmen at America’s top schools are white students who failed to meet their university’s minimum standards for admission, according to Peter Schmidt, deputy editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education. These kids are “people with a long-standing relationship with the university,” or in other words, the children of faculty, wealthy alumni and politicians. According to Schmidt, these unqualified but privileged kids are nearly twice as common on top campuses as Black and Latino students who had benefited from affirmative action.”
For example, when asked a question about welfare 2 days before the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum replied “I don’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” The problem is that the question didn’t mention blacks at all, and statistically far more whites receive low-income assistance than blacks. But somehow the word “welfare” has become coded as referring to blacks.
In addition to the quote in the comic, Newt Gingrich called Obama “the most successful food stamp president in American history.” I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean, but it sure sounds like someone tossing out red meat to the base.
UPDATE: Here’s some commentary from Jen Sorensen on her comic:
You’d think that decades in politics would knock the racist claptrap out of someone like Newt Gingrich, but, well, this is the GOP we’re talking about. Instead, he just substitutes polite-sounding phrases like “African-American community” and “demand paychecks” for “those lazy blacks.” How does one go about demanding a paycheck, anyway? I’d like to be able to do that, and have one show up. That would be cool.
The dialogue in the third panel refers to Ron Paul’s Paranoid Kook Reports, which contained the theory that the LA riots only came to a halt because everyone went to pick up welfare checks. And right-wing noise machine poopshoveler Brent Bozell said on Fox News that Obama looked like a “skinny ghetto crackhead.” Rick Santorum has also made similar comments to Newt’s.
For data on food stamp usage, I looked at this USDA report (big PDF, via the ThinkProgress article linked above; page 75 has the breakdown) and this, which documents disproportionate rural usage, largely by children.
Tim Wise, Honky Wanna Cracker? Examining the Myth of “Reverse Racism” (via darkjez)
I read this essay a few days ago. It is really good.
Your Not What You Think of the day:
They’re black, he’s not, and he thinks “cracker” is like the worst thing anyone could call anyone, evs.
White guys have it really hard.
[IMAGE DESCRIPTION: The word “whiteness” in the middle of an “anti-symbol,” a red circle with a red line through it, to indicate “anti-whiteness.” In parentheses below, “but NOT anti-‘people who happen to be white.’ Below that, the URL “STFURACISTS.tumblr.com.”]
Read this carefully, white people… then re-blog it. None of it’s new, none of it’s mine alone, none of it’s my original research. It’s just that I’ve just learned from wiser people than myself and I attached a graphic above to get your attention. (And if you’re not white, I’m most likely not reporting anything new to you, but I hope you share this on your blog anyway.)
Whiteness is not a heritage, not a culture. It’s a system of oppression. It’s not anything to be proud of.
It’s fine to be interested in the countries your family tree comes from. Go ahead and be enthusiastic about exploring your background. March in your local St. Patrick’s Day parade, go to the Scottish Highland Games, have some German food and drinks at the next Oktoberfest. That your roots happen to be European, happens to be coded as “white,” does not equate to you being a bad person, not you or other people who would be considered “white.” (You all still could be jerks for other reasons, of course.) The problem isn’t with your “Everyone Loves A(n) [Irish/Italian/German/etc.] Girl” t-shirt. The problem is with the white people asking why “white pride” is criticized as bigotry, not realizing that it’s unavoidably synonymous with “white supremacy.”
Recognize that the reason some people of color express pride in their respective ethnicities is, in part, because they have had to assert their identity, their equality, their humanity. If you’re white, you haven’t been challenged over those things because of your whiteness. (Maybe if you’re a white person who isn’t male, cisgender, heterosexual, etc. But not because you’re white. Even if you were one of the first Irish immigrants and were discriminated against, it was because of your Irishness, not because you were white.)
Pride in whiteness just means you’re proud to have undue privilege, proud of a tradition of oppression and disparity. You’re not getting oppressed for being white. That doesn’t mean you have to be ashamed for being white, it just means it’s nothing to celebrate or defend. It also doesn’t mean you get any points for claiming to be “colorblind” or saying “race doesn’t matter,” because all that means is, “I’m white, so I don’t have to think about race.”
You should think about it. More white people understanding what whiteness is and how it affects the world might just help make things better. Maybe there will even come a time when “whiteness” is so far in the past, that there won’t be such a term as “white people,” just people who would have been described as that a long time ago. But probably not in our lifetime…
… so until then, the very least you can do is be aware.
(If you’re new to reading my posts, start here. If any of my phrasing or word choices is confusing, refer to this and definitely check out that post’s links to others and their writing. Click the links in this post, look around at my blog, and click the tags to find more on each aspect of these subjects.)