Tag Archives: cultural appropriation

Mardi Gras Indians: Can Cultural Appropriation Occur on the Margins?

by Guest Contributor Adrienne K., originally published at Native Appropriations

Mardi Gras Indian

Last week, the New York Times published a really interesting article concerning Mardi Gras Indians, specifically looking at the possibility of  the “Indians” copyrighting their costumes so their images can’t be used in things like calendars, promotional materials, etc, without their consent. I’ll get to that issue in a second post, but I think the entire concept of Mardi Gras Indians deserves a deeper look.
Let’s look at the ‘culture’ of the Mardi Gras Indians, independent of history and context (something the anthropologist in me cringes at, but work with me), then we’ll backtrack a bit.

These men and women call themselves “Indians.” They are members of “tribes,” with names like “Yellow Pocahontas,” “Geronimo Hunters,” and “Flaming Arrows” (a complete list of the tribes is here). They wear over-the-top, elaborate costumes based (very) loosely on American Indian powwow regalia–with headdresses, feathers, and beading (there is a slideshow on nytimes.com that can be found here):


They have an anthem called “Indian Red” whose lyrics include:

I’ve got a Big Chief, Big Chief, Big Chief of the Nation
Wild, wild creation
He won’t bow down, down on the ground
Oh how I love to hear him call Indian Red
When I throw my net in the river
I will take only what I need
Just enough for me and my lover

Objectively, out of context, this is by-definition cultural appropriation. Imagine if these were white men and women. I should be offended…right? Continue reading

Obey the Altruistic Giant, or Else

by Guest Contributor Nezua, originally published at The Unapologetic Mexican

fairey 1

“It’s not like I’m just jumping on some cool rebel cause for the sake of exploiting it for profit.” —Shepard Fairey

Question of Appropriation and Tokenism are areas one must approach carefully. Human beings are involved and there is nuance, to be sure. Good can be done with methods that are not optimally beneficial to all parties involved. Furthermore, that cost must be weighed by each person. And yet, shapes of Whiteness move behind and around us, often invisible. They must be named.

I wrote a post the other day on the new poster by Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena, and essentially it was about how my initial impression was of a white artist appropriating culture in the newest culture-hungry OBEYGIANT art operation. I made various comments about the poster art, both complimenting elements of it (I love Fairey’s style, which borrows hugely from Russian Constructivism though he’d like the borrowing to stop there) as well as criticizing elements of the composition. These were not emotional “Eh, I just don’t like it” type comments; they were grounded in a cultural perspective as well as springing from my own artistic eye. I didn’t feel it necessary to temper my critique, because hey, it’s just one cat’s opinion. Little did I know I’d get the pushback I did.

As I have returned to this issue and this post and these people with as much nuance as I can manage, I expect commenters to do the same. If they cannot engage the ideas here thoughtfully, I will simply block them. I had enough arguing back and forth yesterday though I do very much thank those commenters, too. They forced me to delve deeper and to flesh out the ideas that I intuited right away, but had not yet the background “research” as was said, to argue comprehensively. I have done the research now, and I’m sure they will be satisfied that I took their advice.

Overall, the folks at ObeyGiant and/or ObeyGiant Forums did not care for my critique one bit, and they showed up to accuse me of various things, among those that I was reacting out of jealousy, ignorance, fear, and vanity. (In the same comment I was admonished to stop being divisive and feel the love!) The comments were in turns scornful, dismissive, and furious that I dared “spread misinformation.”

One commentor, “almanegra” wrote “[j]ust don’t start trying to spread misinformation that the whole operation was simply driven by a single factor, profit” as well as “you should really look into where the money is actually going as opposed to assuming that the image was purely profit driven.”

Reading back, I can see that it could read that way. No, I don’t really think it’s that simple. So not that I thought my opinion on it mattered so much, but okay. Ahem, for the record: I don’t think Shepard Fairey’s intentions can be said to be purely profit driven. Profits from the posters go to “creating materials for the May Day marches and donations for immigration reform organizations” and that doesn’t seem very profitable, does it. Of course if the “materials” are more of these posters, then the profits are essentially going back into creating what are highly-visible advertisements for the Shepard Fairey brand, as well. But we’ll push that aside for the moment. Finally, the cat who talked to me about the poster one-on-one says he works with Shepard Fairey and he’s an all right guy. So I have no reason to disbelieve that.

Continue reading

How Do We View Global Hip Hop Culture? [Series Introduction: On Cultural Appropriation]

by Latoya Peterson

Today, I got three text messages in rapid succession from my friend Hae.

“Check out the new MV from 2ne1 called Fire!”

“Song is addicting!”

“Street version is better than space version!”

I knew YouTube wouldn’t let me down, so I headed over there to see if someone posted an English translation:

2NE1 is just one group in a long line of Korean hip-hop (or hip-pop, according to some, but more on that later*) artists that I have enjoyed thanks to JYP Entertainment and YG Entertainment. While YG is credited with popularizing the hip-hop sound in Korea, both companies have received major success with their artists.

There’s the Wonder Girls:

And Big Bang:

Back when I first discovered Korean hip-hop, I was quite fond of showing my friends this video by 1TYM, called “Do You Know Me?”:

After watching the video, my friends had a range of reactions everything from “Who knew Koreans rolled hard?” to amazement to laughter. But some people weren’t quite as accepting, posing the question “Why do they have to take our stuff?” Continue reading

ALO Again: New Lifestyle Magazine More of the Same Old Orientalism

By Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie. An expanded version of this piece can be found at Muslimah Media Watch.

Last summer saw the launch of ALO Hayati, “America’s Top Middle Eastern Lifestyle Magazine.” Thanks to a gracious donor, I finally got my hands on a copy of the July 2008 issue.

All lifestyle magazines have an aspirational feel to them, and this one was no different. Chock full of advertisements for Dubai hotels and Swiss watches, ALO wasn’t particularly different than any other lifestyle magazine. Considering the economic situation of magazines, it doesn’t seem like an incredibly auspicious time to launch one aimed at a materialistic lifestyle. I wasn’t able to find any updates about the magazine’s publication on the website, and as far as I’m aware, this is the only edition, though in the magazine they refer to an earlier issue in some places.

As someone who enjoys a good glossy every now and then, I delighted over advertisements with Kim Kardashian, and interview with exclusive designer Bijan, and a fluffy piece on intercultural relationships (though I did not care for the cover teaser: “Shocking Intercultural Stories”).

The magazine featured an interview with Leila Ahmed, which was a great one, likening the current western media representation of Muslim women to the same patronizing Orientalism that played out in the first wave of colonialism in Middle East. Her interview shed lots of light on the history and future of the headscarf. Despite the educational qualities of her interview, I kept thinking, “Who is this educating?”

While not every Middle Eastern person is going to be familiar with the history behind the headscarf, it seems sort of odd to have an educational feature about hijab in a magazine aimed at a demographic that has a fairly lengthy history with headscarves, even if many of them aren’t Muslim. Something about this piece tugged at me. It almost felt as if it was aimed at people who were not Middle Eastern. Continue reading

A Footnote on Australia

by Latoya Peterson

Last week, I picked up the new issue of Script Magazine looking for some information on script reviewers . However, what I found was Baz Luhrmann talking about the planning and writing of Australia.

The lengthy article describes the thought process involved in creating a script of epic scope, and reveals that Luhrmann wanted to write a film encompassing the history of Australia. Script explains:

There were a number of issues that Luhrmann knew he wanted to explore, including those related to the continent’s Aboriginal peoples as well as those related to Australia’s to achieve self-determination and self-governance.

After spending six months immersed in research and historical documents, Luhrmann decided to set the film near the beginning of World War II, due to “the transitional period” that it represented in Australia’s history. Also of note:

Another reason Luhrmann chose this time period because it allowed him to shine a light on what he describes as “probably the most heinous and difficult part of our history” – a period that marked a low point in the relationship between Australia’s white majority and the indigenous peoples with whom they share their land. In the time between the two World Wars, so many white Australian cattle stockmen were having relationships with Aboriginal women that the population of mixed-race children was causing a dilemma for those concerned about the country’s racial purity. A government policy was instituted in which mixed race children were taken from their parents, placed in Christian monasteries, and, in Luhrmann’s words, “basically trained to be white. This decimated large sections of the indigenous population – you can imagine the spiritual decimation and the pain. So, it was an extremely dramatic problem that has haunted this nation for a very, very long time and it really began in that period.”

Luhrmann wanted to deal with this issues in his film, not as its primary focus, but woven into the fabric of the piece in much the same way that slavery – while certainly not the main subject of the movie – was an indelible part of the texture of Gone With the Wind.

I find the journalist’s recounting of historical events extremely interesting. Continue reading

Busta’s Busted: “Arab Money”

by Special Correspondent Fatemeh Fakhraie

I know, I know. If you’re looking for socially conscious rap or hip hop, you don’t go to Busta Rhymes. But this still surprises me:

Maytha from KABOBfest has highlighted Rhyme’s song “Arab Money,” which has some disgustingly racist lyrics. Maytha brings up some great points about this video, namely, that it is a blatant example of the acceptability of anti-Arab racism.

Let me highlight some of Busta’s rhymes:

Women walkin around while security on camelback

Club on fire now — dunno how to act

Sittin in casino’s while im gamblin with Arafat

Money so long watch me purchase pieces of the Almanac

Ya already know i got the streets bust

While i make ya bow down makes salaat like a muslim

Camelback?! Gambling with a dead PLO leader?! Elsewhere, there are references to growing beards and Prince Al-Walid bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, a member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family known for his success in business (his…uh…bread).

Busta Rhymes’ song (and its fakey Arabic chorus–shudder) is just one more instance of hip hop’s cultural appropriation of Middle Eastern music (producer Timbaland has been “sampling” Arabic songs for years: remember Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin”? That is Egyptian artist Hossam Ramzy’s “Khusara Khusara” that you hear).

Rhyme’s references to Yasser Arafat and Saudi princes create the illusion of ownership: not only are we expected to think that he and Browz understand/speak Arabic and understand Middle Eastern politics and geography, but we’re also supposed to think that he rolls with said Arabs.

When I first heard the song, I didn’t know whether to be angrier about the sexism (Rhymes makes reference to “Middle East women and Middle East bread”—things), the racism, or the casual name dropping in what Maytha calls “baseless stereotypes masquerading as knowledge.” Continue reading

On Cultural Appropriation: Halloween and Beyond

by Latoya Peterson

While I was sick, I received a few interesting emails. While in the context of a larger Racialicious team discussion about Halloween, Andrea linked to a Sepia Mutiny post about Heidi Klum’s choice of Halloween costume.

Here’s the costume:

Fatemeh commented:

Though I have to admit, it was a bitchin’ costume, I don’t think it’s appropriate. I doubt Catholics appreciate it when people go as Jesus. I know lots of Muslims would have a shit fit if someone went as the Prophet Muhammad. I know that sometimes Hindus dress up as their deities for plays and such, but I doubt they’d appreciate it for a Halloweeen costumes. It’s different than dressing up as a Pope or a priest, which are human. You’re essentially dressing up as God.

Then, Fatemeh followed up with a link about how Hindu leaders were angered by Klum’s choice of costume.

Interested, I asked Fatemeh to do a post. But Fatemeh was flying to Denmark, Thea and I were sick, and the other correspondents had work constraints.

The following week, I got an impassioned email from reader Naomi, who wrote in about the treatment of Klum’s costume in an Us Magazine article.

Starting with the title, “Heidi Klum Explains Her Crazy Halloween Costume,” Naomi immediately launches in on the problematic nature of the coverage:

This article is horrible and ridiculous on so many levels:
1. The fact that Heidi Klum went to India and all she got out of it was an offensive Halloween costume idea.

2. The “othering” of non-Western cultures by making them look as odd and different as possible without even seeking to understand them or learn about them, proven by the following point.

3. This quote from the article, stated by Ms. Klum in regards to the goddess who inspired her costume: “I loved it because she’s so mean and killed all these different people and [had] fingers hanging off [her] and little shrunken heads everywhere.” As my Tamal friend pointed out–wtf, that’s not the point of the goddess at all.

4. That she is taking a RELIGIOUS figure and using it as a “scary” costume.. And that Us Magazine doesn’t find this offensive.. They even open with the gosh golly quote: ‘How did Heidi Klum come up with the idea to be a scary Indian goddess for Halloween?’

Then again, V.V. from Sepia Mutiny admits:

What think you, desis? My initial thought was that I should be offended. Then I thought, why? Is that reasonable? People dress up as versions of evil a range of characters, including ones with religious connotations, every year on Halloween. And this Kali is a pretty awesome costume. Klum certainly pulls it off with panache. Maybe that’s easier if you’re twelve feet tall and a model. She’s got all the details—look at what’s around her neck and waist!

While Halloween is three weeks in the past, I’ve been playing around with how this fits into the larger ideas of culture and appropriation. Klum’s costume is gorgeous in both execution and the technical sense. But, as the interview displays, Klum isn’t really concerned about the true meaning of the goddess outside of her immediate need for a cool costume.

Thoughts, dear readers?

And while we’re thinking, does anyone know what the hell Seal was going for with his costume?

Another Hollywood Remake: Oldboy

by Latoya Peterson

Director Chan-Wook Park shocked the hell out of South Korean audiences in 2003, with his theatrical release Oldboy, the second film in the disturbing The Vengence trilogy.

Now, dear readers, I hate horror movies but I love psychological thrillers. Hence, I watched Oldboy. And while I really enjoyed the movie, it is definitely *not* for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. So, imagine my surprise while perusing Dramabeans to see a post describing how Will Smith is going to star in the US remake.

Javabeans, main poster on the blog, is not pleased. Continue reading