Category: On Appropriation

September 10, 2013 / / On Appropriation
February 20, 2013 / / Entertainment

by Fashion and Entertainment Editor Joseph Lamour

Emily DiDonato in Namibia. Image via SI.com.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard or you’ve read articles about the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition fail that swept like wildfire through the tubes and pipes of the internet. We have enough “WTF, mate?” articles about this most recent cultural appropriation fail, and unless I’m breaking a story–which I’m clearly not since this happened last week–I like to add something new to the conversation. I took a look at the (offending) pictures from this shoot and, frankly, regardless of the use of race props, most of the (again, offending) pictures are just terrible.
Read the Post Suggestions For The Future: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition

September 25, 2012 / / LGBTQ

By Guest Contributors Paul and Renee of Fangs for the Fantasy; originally published at Feministe

It’s not a new idea–we’ve certainly seen it raising its ugly head in media repeatedly, but it’s become popular again–the “flipped prejudice” fiction. Victoria Foyt’s racist Save The Pearls did it for race and we now have the homophobic versions: a Kickstarter for the book Out by Laura Preble and the film Love Is All You Need. I hate linking to them but they need to be seen. They both have the same premise: an all gay world that persecutes the straight minority.

So that’s more appropriating the issues we live with: our history, our suffering, and then shitting on it all by making us the perpetrators of the violations committed against us. How can they not see how offensive this is? How can they not see how offensive taking the severe bigotry thrown at us every day and throughout history–bigotry that has cost us so much and then making our oppressors the victims and us the attackers–is? This is appropriative. This is offensive. It’s disrespectful–and it’s outright bigoted.
Read the Post Reverse Oppression: A Fad That Needs To End

October 13, 2011 / / On Appropriation
March 8, 2011 / / On Appropriation

Like, late night I’m on a first class flight
The only brother in sight the flight attendant catch fright
I sit down in my seat, 2C
She approach officially talkin about, “Excuse me”
Her lips curl up into a tight space
Cause she don’t believe that I’m in the right place
Showed her my boarding pass, and then she sort of gasped
All embarrassed put an extra lime on my water glass
An hour later here she comes by walkin past
“I hate to be a pest but my son would love your autograph”
(Wowwww.. Mr. Nigga I love you, I have all your albums!..) […]

For us especially, us most especially
A Mr Nigga VIP jail cell just for me
“If I knew you were coming I’d have baked a cake”
Just got some shoe-polish, painted my face
They say they want you successful, but then they make it stressful
You start keepin pace, they start changin up the tempo

—“Mr. Nigga,” Mos Def featuring Q-Tip

 

Recently, I was invited to speak at a major feminist event.

It was for a cause I cared deeply about, and I would share the stage with some of the best recognized figures in feminism.

And yet…I hesitated.

Less than three years ago, I would have jumped at this opportunity, delighted to be invited, honored to be included, proud to make my contribution. But that was then.

Now, I read the email with a healthy dose of suspicion.  Why did they want to invite me? They mentioned receiving my name on referral from another marquee named feminist, which made me wonder why the referral was needed.  Did they really need more speakers at this late date? Or did they need to add some color to yet another stage that was sure to be full of white women?

I also instantly felt guilty.  Was I projecting? Over reacting? After all, this was a short notice event. Isn’t the cause more important than my waffling feelings about mainstream, movement oriented feminism? Why was I instantly suspicious of their intent? Can’t I give people the benefit of the doubt for once?

The emotional see-saw over my decisions to participate in feminist focused events has been my constant companion for close to a year or so now, but it took on a new dimension when Jessica Valenti decided to leave Feministing.  That night, I was at a cocktail meetup, when one of my friends grabbed my hand and asked if I heard the news.  I’m a lot more removed from the blogosphere at large these days (our transformation is all consuming at the moment) so I hadn’t seen or heard about the post.  My friend, who is another African American woman, told me to take a look as soon as I got home.  “Basically,” she said, “it was all about her this whole time -she got hers so fuck us!”

So Jessica Valenti’s official departure from Feministing (and Renee’s subsequent response) is why I was actually spurred to write this post, but the problem goes back far longer than just that.

Read the Post On Being Feminism’s “Ms. Nigga”

By Guest Contributor Shannon Joyce Prince

Note: The Houston Zoo uses the term “pygmy” and specifies no particular so called p*gmy ethnic groups.  According to the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee, “This term [‘pygmy’]is used by some communities and organisations, but is considered pejorative by others.”  When I first began writing about the Houston Zoo it was my research-based understanding that as there is no one word that names all the African ethnic groups racialized as “p*gmies” the term wasn’t offensive when speaking of the groups collectively while the names of the different ethnic groups should be used when speaking of them in particular.  In my writings on the Houston Zoo I continue to navigate this issue. Since some communities consider “p*gmy” to be pejorative, I use an asterisk when employing the word when not quoting another source.  When speaking of a particular ethnic group, I use the group’s name, clarifying that the group is labeled as “p*gmy.”  When speaking of the ethnic groups collectively I refer to them as labeled as rather than as being “p*gmy” as I have never been able to find a comprehensive list of all the ethnic groups.

The Houston Zoo has proudly announced a new project, The African Forest, which is set to open December 2010 if we don’t halt it.  According to the Zoo’s website, The African Forest is not just about exhibiting “magnificent wildlife and beautiful habitats.  It’s about people, and the wonderful, rich cultures that we all can share.”  Actually, The African Forest is about exhibiting and teaching inaccurate Western conceptions of African indigenous cultures in a place designed to exhibit and teach about animals.  The African Forest is also about displacement in the name of conservation.

Fairs, exhibitions, and zoos that showcase, market, or teach about Africans and other non-white peoples as though they were animals are called “human zoos.” Only non-whites are exhibited as or alongside animals. Human zoos allowed and still allow targeted non-whites to be redefined as animals in Western, European, or First World spaces in order to justify white past, current, or planned mistreatment of non-white peoples in the non-white peoples’ homelands.

According to the Zoo’s website, The African Forest includes an “African Marketplace Plaza” selling gifts from “from all over the world” and offering dining with a “view of giraffes;” a “Pygmy Village and Campground” showcasing “African art, history, and folklore” where visitors can stay overnight; “Pygmy Huts” where visitors will be educated about “pygmies” and “African culture,” hear stories, and be able to stay overnight; a “Storytelling Fire Pit;” an “Outpost” where visitors, while getting refreshments, will view posters “promoting ecotourism, conservation messages, and African wildlife refuges;” a “Communications Hut and Conservation Kiosk” where “visitors will use a replicated shortwave radio and listen in on simulated conversations taking place throughout Africa;” a “Rustic Outdoor Shower” representing the fact that the fictional “Pygmy Village” “recently got running water” where children can “cool off;” a section of the “Pygmy Village” where children can handle “African musical instruments and artifacts;” and “Tree House Specimen Cabinets” that showcase “objects, artifacts, and artwork.”[i] (This information is difficult to find on the Zoo’s website, so use the web addresses at this endnote if you want to look it up.)

The African Forest is problematic for several reasons.  For example, Africa is not a monolith.  Africa is a continent of fifty-three nations and even more cultures.  So while one may speak of a Ugandan forest, Yoruba marketplace, or Xhosa culture, Africa is such a diverse continent that the idea of, for example, an “African marketplace” is meaningless.

The Zoo’s website specifies that “The African Forest” is really the “central African forest,” but beyond the fact that Africa is not a monolith, central Africa is also not a monolith.  Central Africa contains Burundi, the Central African RepublicChad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Rwanda.  Therefore, it’s problematic that in a website video the Zoo refers to “the culture of central Africa” as though there were only one.  (Furthermore, the Zoo doesn’t bother to name the village it’s creating a Baka, Mbuti, Twa, etc. village.  But as the Zoo is educating its visitors that all Africans are the same and all central Africans are the same, perhaps all so called p*gmy groups are the same, too.)

The ironic part of representing all Africa in the context of the central African forest is that certain aspects of both Africa in general and central Africa in particular are conspicuously absent from this “everything but the kitchen sink” approach.  For example, why are the large cities, skyscrapers, boutiques, and movie theaters of Africa missing while The African Forest shows off the village that just got running water?  I am emphatically against the idea that there is anything less modern about a “Pygmy hut” than a glass and steel tower, but the Zoo is only showing aspects of Africa that fit Western stereotypes of “primitivism.”[ii]

Read the Post Human Zoos, Conservation Refugees, and the Houston Zoo’s The African Forest

May 5, 2010 / / On Appropriation

By Deputy Editor Thea Lim

Reader Johanna sent us this ad:

and kindly typed out the copy for us, which says:

Discovery is a fearless pursuit. Certainly, this was the case when the Vikings, the first Europeans to reach the new world, landed at L’Anse aux Meadows. While it may only be a three-hour flight for you, it was a considerably longer journey a thousand years ago. But it’s a place where mystery still mingles with the light and washes over the strange, captivating landscape. A place where all sorts of discoveries still happen every day. Some, as small as North America. Others, as big as a piece of yourself.

Ok, so we get that Newfoundland-Labrador Tourism is speaking more of discovery in terms of the self/Oprah kind here, not the Columbus kind. But as Johanna notes, there is still something off-putting about fusing the notion of colonisation with pop-psych finding yourself, and that fact that the land is so strange and sparkly.

This ad seems to encapsulate two of the ways that North America cleanses the story of its origin, refusing to acknowledge that our nations are founded on genocide.

The first: calling the Europeans’ arrival in the Americas “Discovery,” rather than Colonisation or Genocide. You can only call their arrival “discovery” if there weren’t any humans here who had already discovered the land. And if you think about, that’s the implication: it was a discovery, because the people who were already here were not considered human by the Europeans.

Read the Post Newfoundland & the Myth of Land Discovery