Sunday, May 24, 2009

Cultural Appropriation: Preliminary Edition

It's been a few really tough days, with Shatter the Silence, MammothFail and the start of a discussion on cultural appropriation. I'm having trouble parsing it, and so are many other people, thankfully.

My feelings on this issue so far have been the same as my feelings about racist actions: I can't say exactly what about any one incident is racist, but I do feel disrespected, and trodden upon due to my race / nationality / appearance / what-have-i. It's a form of micro-aggression that doesn't scream -ism! in one's face until one thinks about it much later on in light of other systematic micro-aggressions that happen.

Similarly, I wouldn't necessarily see a person who's not from my own cultural group (whether Chinese or Malaysian) using something that can be considered a cultural artefact as being an appropriater - they aren't necessarily being disrespectful to me.

I've very thankfully never come across this feeling very often in the past. Perhaps because I was just not aware of it. Perhaps because there's no real parallel to it in Malaysian culture, because it truly is a culture of fusion and exporting as it is of importing (for example, the practice of "loh meen", which is us Chinese people tossing a mixed plate of food up and the higher we toss, the more prosperous the new year, originated in Ipoh, Malaysia, and exported to Hong Kong, or so I've been told).

This conversation is starting around the blogosphere, and there're no clear-cut answers, but I'm quite certain a few things come into play here: racism, colonialism / imperialism, and cultural exchange.

For some starter reading, here's the discussion at Racialicious and the Angry Black Woman's.

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