When I hear the word appropriation this comes to mind:
Its titled The Liberation of Aunt Jemima and it was done by Betye Saar- one of the my personal favorite contemporary artists. When I think of this image I see the bad and the good that has come from appropriation- more-like the good as a result of the bad. You see the cliche Aunt Jemima image- a fat black nanny. I don’t think I need to tell you guys how stereotypical and terrible that generalization was and is of black women. So there’s the negative. The positive is that in this artwork Betye Saar takes back that image for black women. She changes the fat black nanny to a warrior- because people always listen to others with a weapon. She has reclaimed the image, changed how we view Aunt Jemima, changed how we think of black women. Appropriation is actually an artistic term as well. She appropriates the images of Aunt Jemima that you can see along the back panel of the piece. This means she did not make them, she took them, and incorporated them into her piece. So there’s the positive side of appropriating- the bad side is that she had to do that in the first place.
Appropriation, cultural appropriation in specific, is defined as the adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture.
The definition itself clarifies how crappy the whole thing is.
The mixing of cultures can be beautiful. Cultures can live side by side influencing each other and exchanging respectfully cultural aspects from the other. However, most of the time that isn’t the case. Most of the time its like the definition says- a dominant culture adopting elements from an oppressed culture. The whole idea doesn’t make sense to me- if the dominant culture was oppressing another culture, why would the dominant culture want to adopt elements that make them more like the oppressed culture? Now I’m not saying that oppressed cultures are lesser. Dominant cultures usually think they are better than others, and it doesn’t make sense to adopt aspects that would make you “lesser”.
Anyways, appropriation has occurred for all of time. But nowadays, its completely obvious when you look around. If you live in the United States, you can see clear references to Native American culture. People wear headdresses for the heck of it, the patterns and symbols of that culture are found on clothing, and there’s even a baseball team called the “Redskins”- I won’t even get into how messed up that is. Maybe I will in another post. But white Europeans conquered these people, calling them savages, and then adopted certain aspects of their life. The impact is obvious- we still see these elements from Native American culture today. Its not just Native Americans, however. White Americans have adopted black culture. From rap to cornrows to hip-hop dancing to baggy pants. The adoption of these elements has led to racial stereotyping- just like the Aunt Jemima image.
Today, however, I want to point out something in relation to yesterday’s date- May 5th. White Americans have appropriated the holiday of Cinco de Mayo. We have taken a day from those across the border who we excessively try to prevent to cross it. It’s okay for their culture to cross it, but not the people themselves? Hypocrisy. Now, its known that I’m a supporter of easier immigration and path to citizenship (Go Hillary for announcing that recently!!). So I may be biased on the topic, but I’d prefer to say educated. You can support tighter border security, if you aren’t throwing on sombreros, drinking tequila, and hanging out in “Mexican” restaurants the day of May 5th. We claim that if Mexican immigrants are going to come to the United States, they have to learn our language, take part in our culture.
Yet on Cinco de Mayo, White America is mispronouncing the holiday’s name itself and none of us truly know what this holiday means. We butcher their language, yet want them to take part in ours. We exploit their holiday, language, culture, and expect them to be okay with it as they enter into our “correct” culture. How do we believe that our culture is correct yet we still adopt aspects from the culture we try to keep out of our country? HYPOCRISY. Cinco de Mayo is a holiday where Mexicans commemorate the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Pueblaon May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. Mexican Americans often use it to celebrate their nationality- to be proud of their heritage. Americans participate in this as an excuse to chug down margaritas not understanding what it really means. We are not aware of the deep cultural significance we take part in and we don’t care because we are the privileged, the dominant culture, the appropriators.
Stop before you appropriate. That’s all folks. Something to think about.
p.s. the intermingling of cultures in not a bad thing. it becomes bad when you cross the line from cultural exchange to cultural appropriation.