Cultural Appropriation?

There has been a surprising increase lately in conversations (or online shouting matches) about the horror of cultural appropriation; usually these derail into fantastical examples of Godwin’s Law and leave the rest of us to scratch our heads in disbelief.

Now a quick dip into Wikipedia shows that cultural appropriation is generally defined as the “adoption of elements of one culture by members of a different cultural group, especially if the adoption is of elements of a non-dominant culture by members of the dominant culture” and that this is a bad thing because it [cultural appropriation] “differs from acculturation or assimilation in that “appropriation” or “misappropriation” commonly refers to the adoption of these cultural elements in a colonial manner.

Now, I am a stern advocate that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it, and as such, it is important to note that for many years it was considered perfectly normal for “the imitator, “who does not experience […] oppression […] to ‘play,’ temporarily, an ‘exotic’ other, without experiencing any of the daily discriminations faced by other cultures” and that this was, at that time, inexcusable and downright wrong.

Of course there is a fascinating and full article on the subject, including examples from art, iconography and adornment on wikipedia, and I encourage you to check it out.

That being said, in today’s global world, most of us are doing our very best to not be “colonial” “culturally dominant” or “oppressive”, but rather inclusive and equal. Do we still have major problems with racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia? Absolutely! But I sincerely believe that we’re not going to solve those problems by creating more artificial divides.

Most people living in the Americas for example, have multi cultural backgrounds, whether they actively acknowledge that or not. The majority of the people living on those continents are the descendants of immigrants, who arrived either voluntarily and forced since the 1600’s, but either way, the chances of anyone being able to trace their roots back through just one culture  and one country until records go no more is almost impossible.

Of course we can not forget what happened in history, but I refuse to succumb to historic guilt. I deliberately say “historic guilt” instead of “white guilt” because if I had to apologize for the sins of every culture I descend from, I would never leave the house for shame. I was not there. I didn’t do it. I will not be guilted.

dressI myself am half German and half Irish (with the right to a British Passport since my Mum was born in Northern Ireland), and that’s just the parts I know about. Chances are if I dig into my family tree some more, I will find immigrants from yet more cultures on either side; for example I’ve been told that my Irish family tree has been traced back as far as the vikings. So I guess that also makes me part Norse? My husband is another brilliant example, his father is a white Canadian with family ties leading back to European roots most of those, with exception of the French ties, are unknown to us; and his mother’s family are Asian. Our children will (at the very least) be German, Irish, British, French, Asian-Canadians … now which culture are they expected to settle on?

That being said, what inspired me to even think about this very sensitive topic, is the recent case of several famous music festivals in Canada banning the wear of indigenous feathered headdresses. I can’t help but disagree with the decision and many people have already labelled me a clueless racist for it. (Which in and of itself is racist by the way.) I don’t disagree with it because I don’t appreciate how culturally valuable the headdress is, or from some sort of ignorant disregard for the ongoing unbelievably poor treatment of Native Americans and Canadians, but because I refuse to see one culture as more valuable than another. There, I said it.

In todays society, I do not find it appropriate to cry cultural appropriation, a very clearly negative accusation, when someone wears a feathered headdress, dreadlocks or a sari, while at the same time it’s 1) perfectly fine to dress up as a sexy German bar wench at Halloween, 2) wear green & get stociously drunk while pretending to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day and 3) celebrate Chinese New Year with cheap fortune cookies and chopsticks in one’s hair.

Yeah… those are a thing….

All cultures are special. All cultures are unique. All cultures deserve to be respected. And in my personal opinion there is no one culture who is more important or more entitled to “protection” than  another. Which is why it is almost impossible to draw a line of what is “permitted” and what isn’t. Cultures are not property. They do not belong to only one group and if they did, we would have an incredibly hard time dictating global rules for what can and can’t be worn/displayed/enjoyed etc.

Let’s just presume for a moment that cultures were actually treated s property, the property of those who belong to that culture. How would we go about that? Well for starters we would have to forbid the wearing of ANY and ALL cultural dress, if you can not prove that you are part of that culture. No Dirndl or Lederhosen, no Irish dancing dresses or Aran Jumpers, no Berets, no Kilts, no Salsa Dresses, no Qipao, no Kimono, no Sombrero … and on and on it goes. (There’s a comprehensive list of international cultural attire here: https://goo.gl/t01Vkj) Where does it stop? Where do we draw the line? Does it stop with cultural attire?

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 12.20.21 PMOf course not, since cultural appropriation also incorporates music. Yes music! Can you imagine a world where instruments are segregated? Only Europeans are allowed to play the guitar and the piano, almost any “classical” instrument for that matter; bodhrans are reserved only for the Irish, bagpipes for the Scottish, cajòns for Peruvians and the Didgeridoo only for indigenous Australians. (Who own’s computer and techno music then, by the way? Just out of curiosity…)

The next big one of course is religion and spirituality. If we are going to say that one religion or spiritual branch is more sacred and valuable than the other, and that it’s practises and symbols (such as the feathered headdress) are not to be worn or used by other cultures, well then we have a problem that dates back thousands of years and needs to have an end put to right now. (<- sarcasm)

treeIf you are not a christened Christian: no decorative crosses, easter celebrations or Christmas for you. While we’re at it, there should probably also not be any non Celtic Shamans or pagans, if one is not Asian is some way then Buddhism is not for them either, and of course there can’t be any Islam, Judaism or Hinduism outside of their own respective countries, cultures and races. Needless to say this would also mean no Yoga, Reiki, hot stone massage, Thai massage, acupuncture or herb-lore outside of their own respective boundaries either.

Am I the only one who sees how stupid that sounds?

We are a GLOBAL world. Yes, we have shared a past that is overflowing with racism, xenophobia, cultural crimes, atrocities and more but we are not going to heal these wounds and stop them from ripping open again, by continuing down a path of cultural segregation.

We need to work on our tact – absolutely. I know that it can be hurtful seeing someone taking something special to your culture and just messing with it as if it were a play-thing.

For me personally it’s not the headdress, but it’s exhausting to hear the Irish be the punchline to every drunk joke; seeing the whole world get putridly intoxicated on March 17th pretending to be oh so very Irish by being belligerently inebriated (thanks for that stereotype) while completely ignoring the very deep and dark history of the named St. Patrick himself.

It’s embarrassing to see people squeeze themselves into cheap and flimsily made Dirndl costumes or imitation Lederhosen for the other big annual European piss up, Oktoberfest. Those are both a very old and interesting cultural dress, expensive to make and to own, and yet they are only ever used as the “bavarian bar wench & her boyfriend” costume when Oktoberfest rolls around. Show of hands for anyone who actually knows the history of this event? … … …

Thought so… for those who care to know, it started as a royal wedding, with adjoining horse races and beer and wine tastings, that ended up getting repeated as an anniversary and cultural celebration in the same filed (named after the bride) every year there after and evolved ever further. Today it even concludes with celebrations of the day of German reunification …  but thats okay, who cares as long as we can all get drunk, right? *eyeroll* History this way -> https://goo.gl/eU0snz

Of course there are so many more examples such as Chinese New Year being celebrated around the world with oh so many stereotypes (as already mentioned) as well as the world having a surprising amount of bagged and tagged stereotypes (not good ones at that) for the French.

But with all of this in mind, do I want to ban any of it? OF COURSE NOT! How is anyone going to learn the true history of St. Patrick, Oktoberfest, the Chinese Lunar Calendar and Bastille Day if we don’t have open conversations about them? The Claddagh, the Dirndle, the Qipao and the Eiffel Tower aren’t just symbols and adornments, they have history and meaning. History and meaning that is best shared, learned about and appreciated.

I sincerely believe that all cultures deserve to be maintained, kept alive, appreciated, admired and most importantly respected and that also means sharing them with others, so that our beliefs, our ideologies, our songs, our foods, and our languages do not become forgotten bygones.

The future is in a cultural equilibrium not in cultural segregation.

So no, even though I think we need to have a serious conversation about respect and appreciation, I really don’t believe that outright banning the headdresses (or any other cultural anything for that matter) is the right move – at all.

I just hope that with this, I can spark some enlightening, helpful and maybe even multi cultural conversation.

As always, thanks for reading. Take care. xoxo

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Christmas Around The World

I have been very lucky and privileged in my life to meet people from very many different parts of the world, and this Christmas many of them have come together to share their own cultural Christmases with me, which I would like to share with you here.

Naturally, I will also include some of my own cultural and familial traditions, but with no further ado, and for your enjoyment: Christmas Around The World (in alphabetical order.)

Australia: Merry Christmas

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By: Tom

“Aussie Xmas. My family always woke up early Christmas day, champagne breakfast, chocolate and nuts and cherries out for continuous grazing through the day. Presents in the morning once everyone was up (which sometimes took a while due to brother never usually getting up before midday for ANYTHING, Christmas not excluded. My sister was always the most excited, and made sure he got up early) Lunch was a spread of roasts and cold meats, with prawns always as starter before the main bulk came out. After lunch was always siesta time, usually when we got more acquainted with our gifts, and watched any movies that were in the present pile. Dinner was generally leftovers from lunch, self serve whenever you were hungry, because everyone always overate at lunch. I can only speak for my family, but Christmas eve was special cos everyone came home then, and Christmas morning was the exciting fun part. Boxing day was often spent visiting extended family.
[The] Beach is definitely a theme of Christmas. I remember growing up and most years, Beach toys were in the gift pile. And we often went camping to the beach between Xmas and NY.
And omg, I’ll send you some links of the kind of Christmas music we have… It’s ridiculous

Haha it’s a bit different, I can imagine. Xmas is always so hot. Minimal clothing, air con on freezing, and maybe lunch outside in the shade Strangely, with the steady americanisation of Australian culture, Christmas is still associated with snow and winter. Decorations are often snow sprinkled (fake of course haha).”

Canada: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Joyeux Noël

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By: myself

I spent many years living in Canada myself, so all of my teenage Christmases were spent here. It was always a picture book “White Christmas” and my magically there were always the most impressive hoof and sleigh marks on our back deck.

My Mum used to set the tree up on the 12th of December, in the Irish tradition, but eventually my Dad had this great idea to host a Christmas party with a German “Feuerzangenbowle” at the centre of it. So, as is customary in the cultural mixing pot that is Canada, we created our own traditions.

At the end of November, or the beginning of December (usually coinciding with the first advent) we would get the house decked up in all its festive glory, with a glistening tree and fragrant candles, and invited all of our nearest and dearest. It was always “pot-luck” style, meaning every guest brought some food for the table and dinner would be an adventure. However, the staples were always my Mum’s Irish Stew and Irish Coffee’s, my Dad’s German potato salad and Uncle Spencer’s Shrimp Tray and Spinach dip. You always knew that those would be there.

Then, we would gather in the living room as my dad brewed the “Feuerzangenbowle” and we would pass around a Santa Hat. The person with the hat would sing a song, or share a story or poem, usually Christmas themed. It became a staple of Christmas and the singular way of welcoming the Christmas Season for us and many of our nearest and dearest.

Our actual Christmases were an Irish/German combo, so more on that in those sections.

And now, a Canadian tale by my friend Rachelle:

“This was a tradition that my parents passed down to us. Every year when the tree went up and the Christmas angel went on top of the tree we were told that she was a messenger from Santa. Every night she would fly up to the north pole and tell Santa if we’ve been good or not. So you can imagine that the month of December we were as good as gold. I carried this on with my kids and [my daughter] does the same with [my grandson]. [She] told me a few days ago that she would look forward to the tree going up just to have the angel visiting our home.”

France: Joyeux Noël

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By: David

“Christmas in France would not be Christmas without la Bûche de Noël ! http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%BBche_de_No%C3%ABl

The most popular Christmas song is called “Petit Papa Noël”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR5NyGhKQkc

I was also told, that in France, midnight mass is still very prevalent and important, even if not from a religious standpoint but as a cultural component of Christmas Eve.

Germany: Frohe Weihnachten

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By: myself

Christmas is a very popular and culturally important event in Germany and celebrations span over the four weeks before Christmas Eve. The 4 sundays before Christmas are called “Advent” and are counted 1 through 4, with a special candle being lit each Sunday, until finally on the last Sunday before Christmas Eve all 4 Candles are lit. They are usually presented on an ornate tray or wreath of evergreens.

Germany is also the birthplace of the ever popular Advent Calendar that many people in the world enjoy these days, except that it originated with each of the 24 doors revealing a special symbol of Christmas, to raise ones spirits. This eventually morphed into the symbols being moulded out of fine chocolate as a daily treat and of course we now have all kinds of calendars. I make one for both of my brothers and my sister in law every year. This year I even made one each for my Mum, Dad and husband. They’re a lot of work, especially if you want to wrap unique hand selected presents, but it get’s me in the spirit early and I get to watch everyone enjoy a gift every day.

The figure of Santa Claus, is known in Germany as St. Nikolaus, who brings gifts of sweets, fruits and nuts to good little girls and boys from the night of the 5th into the 6th of December, which is St. Nikolaus Day.

In Germany, the main festivities are held on Christmas Eve, with the family sitting for a special Christmas Meal in the early evening before going to mass, and once they get back from mass there would be “Bescherung” which is the exchange of gifts that had been brought by the “Christkind“, which is the angel of Christmas.

Ireland: Happy Christmas & Nollaig Shona


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By: Sinead (my Mum)

“Stockings were the biggest things that we loved to get, it was full of chocolates like Bounties, and Mars and Snickers. We would come down in the mornings in our jammies to see if Santa had been there; was the milk gone? Were the cookies gone? And then we all got to find our pile of gifts that Santa had brought. Now that I think about it, I remember that donkeys years ago, our gifts weren’t even wrapped. I remember walking in and seeing my twin dolls staring at me, and I knew they were mine. That just came back to me; when we were small things weren’t wrapped all the time. And the tree was always real; stuck in a bucket with sand that was wrapped in tinfoil and the tree was covered in angel hair. If you got too close it stuck to you. Once we had received our presents we would get dressed in our sunday best; the whitest socks and my Daddy would have polished our shoes the night before and set them by the fire. Then we would go to mass. You would tell all your friends what you got for Christmas and show off your new clothes. After that we went home and when the Christmas Dinner was fully cooked and ready we had our Christmas Dinner around 4 o’clock and watch The Wizard of Oz in front of an open roaring fire. But Mummy and Daddy would wake up every morning to 5 bars of their favourite chocolate on their bedside lockers, because we would each take their favourites out of our stockings (so say if Mummy liked Bounty and Daddy likes Mars Bars) and we would all put ours on their bedside lockers. They would end up coming downstairs and bartering with us, so that they could get a mixture. hahaha.”

Italy: Buon Natale

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By: Silvia

“From now on when I say ‘we’ I’m referring to my family and I, because there are different traditions if you’re from north, central or south Italy. Everything starts on Dec 8th for us. From this day on we build our Xmas tree and a presepe. Do you know what a presepe is? It’s basically a representation of the Holy Family during the night of the birth of Christ. There’s a wee house, a wee statue for Mary, Joseph and Jesus, then there’s also the ox, the donkey and the big star. I’m not a fan of the tree because my mum used to put too many decorations on it. Way too many decorations. The kitsch-est thing ever. I loved building a huge presepe: I used a specialty type of paper to make mountains, fake snow, and moss for the grass. Aluminium foil for the rivers and lakes, tiny houses for the sheperds, sheep, cows, golden fabric for the stars. I also used spare Xmas lights for trees to light up all the wee houses. My dad built some kind of wooden platform for me with tiny holes forthe lights, it protected them from the moist released by the moss (taken fresh from the woods!). It was a realy big thing for me and I also joined a competition for the best presepe among the other Sunday school kids. I don’t remember if I won (nor my parents do) but I don’t thinks so. It’s a shame I don’t have a scanner, I would have sent you a picture of that presepe! But the big fun starts on Xmas Eve, Dec 24th. That’s when we start eating. We only stop on Dec 26th, we have a total of 5 big meals with our relatives, moving from one house to another…. It’s like a marathon. Typicaly menu: 5 different type of starters, 2 pasta dishes (one is usually tortellini soup), 2 meat dishes, 3-5 type of cakes, sweet pies, candies. All washed down with water and wine. After all the food, we also have spirits like grappa (schnaps), limoncello, homemade vinsanto (a very sweet wine from Tuscany, amber coloured), rossantico (another sweet wine with a strong orange flavour, red coloured). Then coffee. Imagine having all of this for 5 TIMES. Hardcore eaters. Ah we don’t have meat on the 24th, because Catholic religion doesn’t want you to eat meat on the evening of big feasts. For example we also don’t have meat the day before Easter. Bullshit. On Xmas day we open all the presents, as usual. After the 26th we don’t celebrate anymore untill Jan 6th. That’s the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Three Wise Man visit baby Jesus. Something I used to do with my presepe was this: I put the three men very far from the crib and after the 24th I moved them a wee bit every day, untill they were next to the crib on the 6th. What happens on that day is this: the day before we hang a red wool stocking next to the fireplace (ore the heaters if you don’t have one….), becase the Befana will bring you candies if you have been a good kid, or (sweet) coal if you have been a bad one. Who’s the Befana? It’s Santa’s wife! XD She’s a very ugly lady that rides a flying broom, some kind of witch with a good heart. My stocking was always filled with chocolate coins, toffee and milk candies. This feast ends all Xmas celebrations all over Italy and this is pretty much everyting I can think of right now. If I remember anything else I will write again!”

Netherlands: Vrolijk Kerstfeest

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By: Ghyslaine and Anneke 

LINK This sums up what we do with our presents in December.”

“Our family tradition is to put baby Jesus in the little stall on the 25th.. it was always done by my grandmother after we went to night mass on x-mas eve and now my father does it.”
The Netherlands also have the tradition of Sinterklaas, who is a version of St. Nikolaus who comes to the Netherlands on December 5th. This is one of the most interesting traditions, since in the Netherlands they have their big day of gifts and food on that day. Sinterklaas would leave the presents in the children’s boots, just like St. Nikolaus does, but then he would also leave a sack full of bigger gifts.
“Yep that’s how it went when we were kids.. later on, the ‘surprises’ (Secret Santa + poem + crafty joke) came and now we have this sort of dice game where we ‘steal’ each other’s presents… which is a lot of fun! / Oh and this is one of my favourite Sinterklaas songs: LINK “

Japan: メリークリスマス (Merīkurisumasu)

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By: Ula (a wonderful lady, originally from Poland, who now lives in Japan)

“I insist on going to the midnight mass on 24 th and I usually work unles it is a weekend – but on 25 I never accept any evening classes or even emergency translations no matter what – we usually dress pretty and go to some stylish restaurant with some friends – have a meal together -take a photo and exchange some gifts. Sometimes my friends send me opłatek from Poland so we break it and that day . For New Years which is so close to get her we go for hatsumode ( first visit to the temple) listen to jyoyu no Kane beating out 103 minuses of human nature at midnight. Come home and fall a sleep – next morning rush out to get nengajyo’s and have a fancy meal. I always buy ice wine and we have sip of this!!! My super favorite ! And me and Masato play together some tune as a duet . In the afternoon we go the shrine drink some new year sake there and go home .we usually visit his parents and forbid time together before going home.”

In Japan, Christmas is not a major cultural event, so it is not given off as a holiday. This means, that those who do wish to celebrate it, need to request it off separately and that most celebrations are cultural rather than religious in nature, with Japanese youth exchanging gifts and setting up a little tree on weekends near Christmas Day.

Poland: Wesołych Świąt

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By: Ula

“Well here it goes Wesolych świat ! Szczęśliwego nowego roku! (Vesolyh schviont) ( schchenshlivego novego rokoo) We celebrate on Xmas eve. The meal varies throughout Poland . I come from the south so we eat barszcz ( beetroot soup) we serve it with kind of gyoza but the filling is mushrooms and veggies. The main is fish potatoes red salad cabbage, the dessert is compote of dry fruits. Then after we eat, children can open gifts that the aniołek has left.

Aniołek =angel. Has dropped off . He/ she drops them off before the meal. Usually an adult will somehow distract the kids to leave the room and while they are out there will be Xmas gifts under the tree. There should 12 dishes to remember the 12 apostles. Each side dish counts as a dish – definitely no meat but herrings in cream sauce are a must! Pickled! A beautiful tradition, I am very fond of is the breaking of the opłatek. It is a flat biscuit paper thin made with flour and water and pressed like waffles. But it is paper thin – kind of resembles communion bread. There is one for every one at the table. It is tasteless so we offer honey to represent that there is always going to be sweet to go with the tears or hardship that may be ahead. We go to each person and break a little from theirs and they do the same from ours – wishing each other all the best . Then a head of the family or a special guest says a prayer. And we eat . One needs to try at least a mouthful of each dish to avoid bad luck. After the meal we sing a carol or two and kids can open the gifts. Someone acts as the passer of gifts and we edit as each opens and says thank you . We always have a spare plate for that lonely guest should they wander into your home – no one should be alone or sad and any arguing should be put off . At midnight we all go to church for pasterka – midnight mass. Then afterwards everyone wishes each other all the best . That’s about it . There are some superstitions too. As the year draws to the end cleaning – anything that doesn’t get done by New Year’s Eve – stays undone for the year .”

 

This has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for reading. Take care.

Merry Christmas! xoxox