mfioretti: cultural appropriation*

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  1. interests are assumed to be determined by their membership in groups, particularly their sex, race, sexual orientation, and disability status. Its signature is the tic of preceding a statement with “As a,” as if that bore on the cogency of what was to follow. Identity politics originated with the fact that members of certain groups really were disadvantaged by their group membership, which forged them into a coalition with common interests: Jews really did have a reason to form the Anti-Defamation League.

    But when it spreads beyond the target of combatting discrimination and oppression, it is an enemy of reason and Enlightenment values, including, ironically, the pursuit of justice for oppressed groups. For one thing, reason depends on there being an objective reality and universal standards of logic. As Chekhov said, there is no national multiplication table, and there is no racial or LGBT one either.

    This isn’t just a matter of keeping our science and politics in touch with reality; it gives force to the very movements for moral improvement that originally inspired identity politics. The slave trade and the Holocaust are not group-bonding myths; they objectively happened, and their evil is something that all people, regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation, must acknowledge and work to prevent in the future.

    Even the aspect of identity politics with a grain of justification—that a man cannot truly experience what it is like to be a woman, or a white person an African American—can subvert the cause of equality and harmony if it is taken too far, because it undermines one of the greatest epiphanies of the Enlightenment: that people are equipped with a capacity for sympathetic imagination, which allows them to appreciate the suffering of sentient beings unlike them. In this regard nothing could be more asinine than outrage against “cultural appropriation”—as if it’s a bad thing, rather than a good thing, for a white writer to try to convey the experiences of a black person, or vice versa.

    To be sure, empathy is not enough. But another Enlightenment principle is that people can appreciate principles of universal rights that can bridge even the gaps that empathy cannot span. Any hopes for human improvement are better served by encouraging a recognition of universal human interests than by pitting group against group in zero-sum competition.

    How high are the stakes in universities? Should we worry?

    SP: Yes, for three reasons. One is that scholars can’t hope to understand the world (particularly the social world) if some hypotheses are given a free pass and others are unmentionable. As John Stuart Mill noted, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” In The Blank Slate I argued that leftist politics had distorted the study of human nature, including sex, violence, gender, childrearing, personality, and intelligence. The second is that people who suddenly discover forbidden facts outside the crucible of reasoned debate (which is what universities should be) can take them to dangerous conclusions, such as that differences between the sexes imply that we should discriminate against women (this kind of fallacy has fueled the alt-right movement). The third problem is that illiberal antics of the hard left are discrediting the rest of academia, including the large swaths of moderates and open-minded scholars who keep their politics out of their research.!
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  2. There will be no economic or political justice for the poor, people of color, women or workers within the framework of global, corporate capitalism. Corporate capitalism, which uses identity politics, multiculturalism and racial justice to masquerade as politics, will never halt the rising social inequality, unchecked militarism, evisceration of civil liberties and omnipotence of the organs of security and surveillance. Corporate capitalism cannot be reformed, despite its continually rebranding itself. The longer the self-identified left and liberal class seek to work within a system that the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism,” the more the noose will be tightened around our necks. If we do not rise up to bring government and financial systems under public control—which includes nationalizing banks, the fossil fuel industry and the arms industry—we will continue to be victims.

    Corporate capitalism is supranational. It owes no loyalty to any nation-state. It uses the projection of military power by the United States to protect and advance its economic interests but at the same time cannibalizes the U.S., dismantling its democratic institutions, allowing its infrastructure to decay and deindustrializing its factory centers to ship manufacturing abroad to regions where workers are treated as serfs.

    Dividing everyone up on the basis of race, gender, sexual preference fails to address the major problem.

    the left lost its universalizing character. It no longer dealt with the intersection of all these issues within the context of a militarized, capitalist, hegemonic American empire. It treated politics as siloed group identity problems. Women had glass ceilings. Same with blacks. Same with gays.”

    The loss of this intersectionality was deadly. Instead of focusing on the plight of all of the oppressed, oppressed groups began to seek representation for their own members within capitalist structures.

    “When you bring politics down to simply about helping your group get a piece of the pie, you lose that systemic analysis,” he said. “You’re fragmented. You don’t have natural connections or solidarity with other groups. You don’t see the larger systemic context. By saying I want, as a gay person, to fight in the military, in a funny way you’re legitimating the American empire. If you were living in Nazi Germany, would you say I want the right of a gay person to fight in combat with the Nazi soldiers?”

    “I don’t want to say we should eliminate all identity politics,” he said. “But any identity politics has to be done within the framework of understanding the larger political economy. That’s been stripped away and erased. Even on the left, you cannot find a deep conversation about capitalism and militarized capitalism. It’s just been erased. That’s why Trump came in.
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  3. Nothing should be absolute and without reasonable boundaries, not even freedom. In light of this, there are three observable, identifiable ways in which this latest fad of intersectionality is taking advantage of and destroying the rational enlightenment roots of Western academia from within. The approaches are, namely, infiltration, subversion, and coercion.

    The dilution of academic fields is not where it ends however. The promotion of transgenderism as settled science and arbitrary pronouns like them/theirs being used in schools and universities are further examples of subversion. In every Western university (including where I research), the casual usage of made up pronouns is being promoted by a small minority of academics and students. One risks being marked as a bigot if one chooses to question or debate such arbitrary policies. Every university has Marxist and feminist reading groups and departments that essentially control events, doctoral training modules that include methods that prefer non-positivist research, and journal publications wherein the chances of one being censored are higher if he or she dares to question groupthink.

    The third approach involves coercion, or simply the tyranny of minority. A handful of students, instigated by a handful of academics, especially from intersectional disciplines and Marxist-feminist-post-colonial and gender studies backgrounds and departments, now attempt to dictate what can or cannot be taught, discussed, or even debated at a university.
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  4. Perhaps this student would have stressed about violating social norms in any era. But in bygone years, the social norms at her school would’ve been clear and static; whatever upset people there would’ve been easy to avoid doing. Today, so many people are declaring so many things problematic on college campuses that the next controversy is almost impossible to predict; it is increasingly common to have done something without any fear of giving offense (say, urging a sushi night in the dining hall) only to subsequently read that the thing you’re on record having done is the object of a huge controversy elsewhere. Does the faraway story portend a future where you’ll be the one in the hot seat?

    No wonder so many students are stressed out by this. And the risk-averse have it especially hard. “I probably hold back 90 percent of the things that I want to say due to fear of being called out,” another student wrote. “People won’t call you out because your opinion is wrong. People will call you out for literally anything.
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  5. lasciare il diritto di raccontare la storia a coloro che possono vedersi riconosciuta una certa etnia non è il modo in cui funziona la conoscenza. La ricerca della verità e della comprensione della storia deve essere aperta a tutti, indipendentemente dalla classe, dall’etnia o dal genere. L’accesso deve essere universale. È così che le questioni possono essere esplorate e le vecchie forme di autorità contestate.

    Si parla spesso del problema delle storie nascoste, invisibili e inedite perché quelle delle donne e delle minoranze sono scritte dalle maggioranze. Ma i musei d’identità sono colpevoli dello stesso peccato di omissione, dato che la cessione dell’autorità di formare le collezioni dei musei alle comunità indigene ostacola la comprensione delle persone che afferma di aiutare. Viene creata una versione idealizzata del passato, che non dà mai spiegazioni perché non può essere messa in discussione.

    L’antropologo statunitense Michael Brown ha osservato come tutti i tipi di informazioni sui popoli indigeni passati, in particolare riguardo la religione, sono considerati oggi “culturalmente sensibili” e inadatti alla discussione pubblica in questi musei, lasciando le questioni tradizionali della religione nativa con poco da dire se non una generica “spiritualità”. Il risultato è stato quello di rendere impossibile la ricerca sulla vita indigena. E, paradossalmente, svuotarla dall’individualità che guadagnava dalla sua distinzione.
    Tags: , by M. Fioretti (2017-06-03)
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  6. To suggest—as SJWs always do—that Mexicans and other minority entrepreneurs can't possibly engage in cultural appropriation because they're people of color, and that we're always the victims, is ignorant and patronizing and robs us of agency. We're no one's victims, and who says we can't beat the wasichu at their game? And who says Mexicans are somehow left in the poor house by white people getting rich off Mexican food? Go ask the Montaños of Mitla how they're doing. Last year, they reopened a long-shuttered banquet hall, and the next generation is introducing new meals and craft beers. They cried about Bell's appropriation of their tacos all the way to the history books.
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  7. How do we engage in work as scholars in the service of northern canons, and, in so doing, can we really admit what took us there? Many of us, operating in homogeneous academic spaces (with some hints of liberal tendencies), conform when that question is bluntly asked.

    As someone who was herself observed and studied under the microscopes by ‘gringos’ in the 1980s, when pedagogues came to ask us what life was like in a war zone in El Salvador, Raquel’s questions especially resonate with me. Both of us have been dispossessed and situated in North American canons that serve particular research agendas. In this sense, we share similar experiences of being ‘read’ according to certain historical criteria.

    Raquel’s voice was impassioned. On that day, we had congregated in the Ruka of Riholi. Facing center and in a circle, we were paying attention to the silence of the elders. Raquel taught us a priceless lesson. After questioning the processes used to realize research projects in Nepal and Jordan, Raquel’s passionate demand introduced a final punch. She showed us that while we may have the outward face of political consciousness, we continued to use an academic discipline to study ‘exotic’ behaviors and, in so doing, were in fact undermining, denigrating and denying lessons of what constitutes cultural exchange from their perspective.

    From these interactions in the field emerge questions that go to the heart of the matter: How do we deal with issues of social compromise in the Humanities? In unlearning? In many cases, academic circles resemble circuses rather than centres of higher learning, wherein a culture of competition based on external pressures to do well motivates the relationship between teacher and student.

    One of the tragic consequences of a traditional system of higher education is working with colleagues who claim to have expertise on the topic of social activism, but who have never experienced any form of intervention. I am referring here to those academics who have made careers out of the pain of others by consuming knowledge obtained in marginalized communities. This same practice of “speaking about which you know little (or nothing)” is transmitted, whether acknowledged or not, to the students who we, as teachers and mentors, are preparing to undertake research studies about decolonizing.

    Linda Smith speaks about the disdain she has for the word “research,” seeing it as one of the dirtiest words in the English language. I couldn’t agree more with her. When we sit down each semester to write a guide to “unlearning’,” or rather a syllabus, we must reflect upon how we can include content that will help to transmit a pre-defined discipline in the Humanities with current social realities. How can we create a space where a student can freely speak his/her mind without fear of receiving a bad grade?

    Today, anything and everything is allowed if a postcolonial/decolonizing seal of approval accompanies it, even if it is devoid of any political urgency. These tendencies appear to be ornamental at best, and we must challenge the basis of those attempts. We can’t keep criticizing the neoliberal system while continuing to retain superficial visions of solidarity without striving for a more in-depth understanding. These are acts for which we pat ourselves on the back, but in the end just open up space for future consumers of prestige.

    The corridors of the hallways in the institution where I currently work embodies this faux-solidarity in posters about conferences, colloquiums, and trips in the Global South or about the Global South that cost an arm and a leg. As long as you have money to pay for your airfare, hotel, meals and transportation, you too could add two lines in the CV and speak about the new social movement and their radical strategies to dismantle the system. You too can participate in academic dialogues about poverty and labor rights as you pass by an undocumented cleaner who will make your bed while you go to the main conference room to talk about her struggles.
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  8. Arianna Angelini
    12/05/2017 at 16:09

    Sono un’antropologa.
    Premesso che nessuno nega la discriminazione attuale e tutti gli strascichi della decolonizzazione, osservo questa cosa dell’appropriazione culturale ormai da diverso tempo e la trovo semplicemente ridicola. Solo chi ha una concezione della cultura come una sequenza sterminata di manufatti o prodotti di vario genere può pensare che la cultura sia qualcosa di cui ci si può “appropriare”. A quali parametri dovrebbe corrispondere una cosa per essere definita “culturale”? Forse all’affiliazione ad una determinata tradizione? E a partire da quale epoca storica si può cominciare a parlare di “tradizione”?
    Paradossalmente, con questo tipo di ragionamento si potrebbero accusare le minoranze di appropriazione del moderno pensiero occidentale secondo cui, estremizzando, l’accumulo di beni costituisce la fonte primaria di benessere. E se i “bianchi” hanno imposto loro questo stile di vita, obiezione tipica di molti social justice warriors, allora se ne sarebbero dovuti sbarazzare una volta avvenuta la decolonizzazione e terminata la segregazione razziale. Perché invece non l’hanno fatto?
    La cultura non è un ammasso di simboli o cose rimaste sempre uguali dall’alba dei tempi e dai confini geografici ben delimitati. Oggetti, simboli, rituali e tradizioni cambiano continuamente a seconda del tempo, dei luoghi, della storia e degli incontri/scontri fra i popoli, ma lo fanno in maniera talmente graduale che la maggior parte delle persone ha perso la percezione di questi cambiamenti e crede che tutto sia nato così come lo ha sempre visto.
    Nessuno ha ancora capito che la cultura è invece fluida e sono gli esseri umani a plasmarla giorno dopo giorno in un continuo processo di co-costruzione di significato tra noi e gli altri, amici o nemici, vicini o lontani. Finché la specie umana sopravvivrà, la cultura cambierà sempre, perché la cultura siamo noi. Oggi ci si arrabbia e ci si accusa a vicenda soltanto perché questo continuo processo di contaminazione e produzione di nuovi significati è sotto gli occhi di tutti ed ha dimensioni globali, diversamente da quanto accadeva fino a nemmeno 100 anni fa. Fa paura perché sembra una cosa mai avvenuta, quando in realtà è il semplice fluire della storia umana.
    Le minoranze hanno tutte le ragioni del mondo per essere arrabbiate e non è giusto minimizzare i maltrattamenti che molte di esse hanno subito nei secoli scorsi, ma questo astio è un atteggiamento infantile e controproducente che rivela soltanto la profonda ignoranza di ambo le parti: gli “oppressori” ignorano la storia di oggetti, mode o simboli di cui si “appropriano”, mentre gli “oppressi” ignorano che la tradizione di cui si sentono eredi è soltanto la narrazione molto romanzata di un popolo che nella sua storia ha subito profondi mutamenti e che ha in sé luci ed ombre quanto qualsiasi altro.
    L’unico antidoto per tutto ciò è lo studio della storia e dei contesti geopolitici: così i “bianchi” capiranno le origini di ciò con cui hanno a che fare e sapranno valutare il grado di delicatezza con cui è possibile approcciarvisi, mentre gli “wog” otterranno quella briciola di relativismo utile per capire che tutti i popoli sono in continuo movimento e, anziché rivendicare, potranno accompagnare ed infondere nuova linfa alle tradizioni che stanno loro a cuore.
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  9. ome of this critique was rightly directed at literal cultural theft — the pilfering of art and artifacts by colonial powers — or glaring injustices, such as white entertainers in the pre-civil rights years profiting off black musical styles while black performers’ careers were hobbled by racism. Critics such as Edward Said offered valuable insight into Orientalism, the West’s tendency to fetishize Asians as exotic stereotypes.

    But the hunt for wrongdoing has gone run amok. The recent anti-appropriation rhetoric has targeted creative products from art to literature to clothing. Nothing is too petty for the new culture cops: I have seen them rebuke a Filipina woman who purchased a bracelet with a yin-yang symbol at a fair and earnestly discuss whether it’s appropriation to eat Japanese, Indian or Thai food. Even Selena Gomez, a Latina artist, was assailed a couple of years ago for sporting a Hindu forehead dot, or bindi, in a Bollywood-style performance.

    In some social-justice quarters, the demonization of “appropriative” interests converges with ultra-reactionary ideas about racial and cultural purity. I once read an anguished blog post by a well-meaning young woman racked with doubt about her plans to pursue a graduate degree in Chinese studies; after attending a talk on cultural appropriation, she was unsure that it was morally permissible for a white person to study the field.

    This is a skewed and blinkered view. Yes, most cross-fertilization has taken place in a context of unequal power. Historically, interactions between cultures often took the form of wars, colonization, forced or calamity-driven migration and subordination or even enslavement of minority groups. But it is absurd to single out the West as the only culprit.
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