Tag Archives: culture

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

Quoted: Sandip Roy on Culture

When I first came to the U.S., Americans asked me about that “dot on the forehead.” Now, Madonna wears a bindi. Bollywood borrows Hollywood plotlines (well, two or three for one three-hour film). Now, the Kronos Quartet reinterprets Bollywood composer R.D. Burman. Birthday cards are reproducing old kitschy Indian matchbox covers. Body-hugging T-shirts worn by gay guys in the Castro say “San Francisco” in Devnagari script. There are even Bollywood appreciation classes at universities. My kitsch has become their cool.

Of course, not everything has been alchemized into cool. My big, fat Indian wedding might be hot (“I want one,” a gay man with a Southern accent told me at my neighborhood lesbian bar while sipping a sweet cocktail), but it doesn’t mean the Indian cabdriver, the 7/11 clerk or the Gujarati storeowner are any more acceptable.

Our Krishnas and curries are now public property to be sampled, remixed, chewed up and spat out as millions of cookie-cutter lunch boxes. (Probably Made in China).

It almost makes me nostalgic for the old days when people came up to me and said, “You are from Calcutta? My doctor is Indian. Dr. Harry Patel. I think he’s from that other big city—Bombay?” And they would pause expectantly, as if waiting for me to recognize Dr. Patel. Now, they want to know what restaurant I would recommend in the Bay Area for “authentic Indian food, you know, a hole-in-the-wall place where Indians go, not your white-people-Maharaja-Thali stuff.”

And I am wondering, do I want to tell you?

—Sandip Roy, “My Kitsch is Their Cool,” Colorlines

(Image Credit: Colorlines)

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

Should black folks save Ebony and Jet magazine?

By Guest Contributor Tami, originally published at What Tami Said

This weekend, I received the following breathless entreaty through a listserv that I subscribe to:

Ebony/Jet Magazine on The Verge of Financial Collaspse (J P)
Date: Thu, 12 Mar 2009 07:45:31 -0400

One of the most notable permanent fixtures in every black household (back in the days), was the Ebony and Jet magazine. If you wanted to learn about your history, the plight of Black America, current issues facing Black Americans, how the political process of America affects you, how politics works, who the hottest actors were, what time a particular black television show aired, who got married recently, who were the most eligible bachelors and bachelorettes in your town, what cities had black mayors, police chiefs, school superintendents, how to register to Vote, what cars offer the best value for the buck, who employed black Americans, how to apply for college scholarships, etc., more than likely, Ebony or Jet magazine could help you find answers to those questions.

We have recently been informed that the Johnson Publishing Company is currently going through a financial crisis. The company is attempting a reorganization in order to survive. Many people have already lost their jobs with a company that has employed thousands of black Americans during the course of its existence.

In order to support this effort to save our magazine, my friends and myself have pledged to get a subscription to both Ebony and Jet magazine, starting with one year. We are urging every other club member who comes across this plea to do the same. Please post, repost, and post again, to any blog that you may own or support.

Please email this to every person that you know, regardless of their background. Let them know that Ebony and Jet magazines have been part of the black American culture for three quarters of a century, and that there is a lot that they can learn about black American culture from reading them.

We are currently discussing the idea of throwing an Ebony/Jet Party, where people can eat, drink, and sign up for their subscription on the spot. Please spread this idea around to all that you know. Your Sororities, Fraternities, Lodges, VFW Posts, Churches, Civic Groups, Block Clubs, Caps Meetings, Book Clubs, etc.

It would be a crying shame, to lose our historic magazine, during the same year of such an historic event as the election of our first black President of the United States.

Now, like a lot of other black people, I grew up with Ebony and Jet magazines on the family coffee table. I remember fondly sitting in the brown recliner in my grandparents’ back room reading a then-oversized Ebony with Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones and Richard Pryor on it. (Don’t know why I specifically recall that issue of the magazine, but for some reason it is one that remains etched in my mind.) I say this to illustrate that these magazines are part of my cultural history. Nevertheless, when I read the missive above, my first thought (after wondering if the message-writer understands that subscriptions generally account for far less of a publication’s revenue than advertising does) was…”Meh.” I’m not so sure that Ebony and Jet, as they stand today, are institutions worth going to the mat for. Continue reading

Racialicious Responds to “The End of White America”

A Racialicious Roundtable

Whether you describe it as the dawning of a post-racial age or just the end of white America, we’re approaching a profound demographic tipping point. According to an August 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, those groups currently categorized as racial minorities—blacks and Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians—will account for a majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042. Among Americans under the age of 18, this shift is projected to take place in 2023, which means that every child born in the United States from here on out will belong to the first post-white generation.

endofwhiteamerica

“I think white people feel like they’re under siege right now—like it’s not okay to be white right now, especially if you’re a white male,” laughs Bill Imada, of the IW Group…“There’s a lot of fear and a lot of resentment,” Newman-Carrasco observes, describing the flak she caught after writing an article for a trade publication on the need for more-diverse hiring practices. “I got a response from a friend—he’s, like, a 60-something white male, and he’s been involved with multicultural recruiting,” she recalls. “And he said, ‘I really feel like the hunted. It’s a hard time to be a white man in America right now, because I feel like I’m being lumped in with all white males in America, and I’ve tried to do stuff, but it’s a tough time.’”

“I always tell the white men in the room, ‘We need you,’” Imada says. “We cannot talk about diversity and inclusion and engagement without you at the table. It’s okay to be white!”

“But people are stressed out about it. ‘We used to be in control! We’re losing control!’”

So this roundtable has been a long time coming. In mid-January the team started to take a look at Hua Hsu’s Atlantic Monthly article “The End of White America?” And we had a lot of pissed off things to say. And yes it did take us more than a few weeks to corral all our righteous indignation together. But we hope you’ll think it was worth the wait.

On the Cover

Andrea: This is the impression I got from the cover and the article: screamingly alarmist. The half-face of Obama juxtaposed with heavy-block sans serif capital letters that can be seen half a long Barnes & Noble check-out line away. As if to say this single man–a bi-racial man who self-identifies as Black–is single-handedly ruining white people, whiteness, and, most importantly, white privilege. It seems to play off the fear-mongering miscegenation fantasies of yore: the “receding” of the “white” phenotype, that “beiging” of America that Hsu refers to in the piece. Then, before anyone gets any ideas about the writer’s race, in smaller red letters, is the scribe’s name. Sorta like, “Ha! You can’t accuse The Atlantic of being racist ’cause the name can’t be ‘read’ as white.” Doesn’t matter, IMO. The zero-sum game that is US racism is visually in full effect.

Actually, The Atlantic cover reminds me of another cover from a magazine about twenty years ago, when “coloredness”–coded as “identity politics” and “political correctness” back then–was also “threatening to tear the country apart.” From Time magazine, April 9, 1990:

timemag1990

Just some visual perspective on these kinds of articles. Continue reading

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations – Philippines

by Guest Contributor Geo, originally published at Prometheus Brown

The un-anointed are always surprised at how good Filipino food is, offering well-meaning but condescending compliments I’ve long learned to accept with a smile and a lighthearted “I told you so.” Probably has a lot to do with that old stereotype that we Filipinos love dogs. For dinner. I once had a friend (a white guy, if you wondering) over for dinner in 6th grade. As my pops handed him a plate, he paused and stared at the rice and chicken adobo and asked “what is this, dog?” before he excused himself from the table. We stopped being friends shortly after.

Somehow, suddenly, we’ve become the flavor of the month. Filipino chefs have been making noise on the last couple Top Chef seasons (Dale was fucking robbed!). Still can’t forget George W.’s backhanded compliment about his personal Filipino chefs during dictator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s last US visit. And now, with the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain finally taking his No Reservations food/travelogue show to the Philippines, our sweet, salty and sour secret is out.

Though I only catch it when it happens to be on, I’m a fan of Bourdain’s show. Yes — there’s a tourist, exoticizing element to it, but you can’t front on Bourdain’s presence and palate. And when he says that our lechon is the “best-cooked pig in the world,” it almost makes me want to eat pork again.

Of course, an hour isn’t enough but the representation is respectable: Tapsilog in the opening breakfast scene, followed by street vendor foods (Chicken balls, Tofu w/ Tapioca Syrup), Pancit Palabok (”Not the greatest thing ever, but good” – and I agree), before moving onto provincial dishes such as Sinigang. Kalamansi rightfully gets its own quick feature. And when sisig makes a cameo (and is pronounced correctly) it becomes official that this episode is a pretty big deal. A redemption of that borderline-racist episode of Bizarre Foods that featured Filipinos eating bugs like it’s our national dish. Continue reading

The Brazil Files: Conflict of Interest

by Special Correspondent Wendi Muse

Before I utter any statements of depth in this piece, I have to present a bias. Though not meant to offend those who believe in proselytizing, I find myself firmly standing on the side of those against it. If you feel that religion and/or a faith tradition of some sort is your source of hope, guidance for life, and possibly even your ticket to eternal salvation, so be it. I respect that, and I fully honor the right we each have to practice some form of the aforementioned. However, the second you start telling me or someone else which form is best (read: which version will prevent me from burning in hell for the rest of eternity), we’ve got beef.

With that said, I want to go ahead and put it out there that I take issue with the bulk of missionary work (past and present), especially that which takes place in developing nations. It is a reminder of the power of nations who sit firmly and comfortably in their G8 seats, spectators in a game of international tennis. Only in the case of missionary work, the victory comes at a higher price, one that can mean not only renouncing one’s culture, but also one’s religion (or at least denouncing it in public) as a means of attaining vital resources. This is not to say that missionaries have not done good work. There are countless records of missionaries who have helped others in excellent ways, minus all the religious rhetoric. However, even if the message of faith lies in no more than an utterance or the simple presence of the mission’s name, missionary work nevertheless boils down to a political campaign in the name of God.

In light of my objection to this line of work, I find myself dealing with a mental conflict almost every day of my present job. My campaign has nothing to do with God, but in terms of international influence, the English language and American culture come pretty darn close. Though I have been teaching English in Brazil since July of 2008, there are still a few things about my current profession that rub me the wrong way. The source of my discomfort in teaching my mother tongue lies in implications more so than tangible, empirical evidence, thus making my inner turmoil all-the-more “inner.” Much like a mosquito bite on the sole of your foot, my conflict has been an itch I can’t quite scratch.

Before enrolling in the program in which I am involved, I already knew I wanted to live in Brazil for a few months to a year to have more exposure to Brazilian culture, particularly an aspect of it that involved more of the quotidian variety. I was looking to go beyond the favela-riddled, bikini-clad, beach bathing, rainforested Brazil with which we are presented on our television screens and in our Netflix queues. I wanted to be forced to speak Portuguese on a regular basis and pushed a bit beyond my comfort zone. I was not looking for a spoiled, privileged, escapist ex-pat experience of the Eat Pray Love genre.

The easiest way to achieve my goal was to teach English here, but I knew in the back of my mind, I would be presented with interesting challenges that I may not have faced if I had chosen another route to secure a job in Brazil. For one, I would have to be a de facto representative of American Culture TM. My language and my country would be placed center stage during class, but what Americans do, eat, buy, and think would be the main topic of conversation at all other times as well. I would be reduced to a living, breathing souvenir. Yet in actuality, I find myself to be a bit of a disappointment to my students and the Brazilian English teachers, not for lack of teaching skills, but for lack of conforming to their ideas of Americans and American life. 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