Submitted by wednesday in Anarchism

let me start by saying this isn't something i've thought about in a lot of detail, so this is just a sketch of some of my initial thoughts, which i'm posting in the hope of getting some feedback rather than to make an actual argument. so that said...

in a broad sense, 'cultural appropriation' seems to describe a real thing: members of a dominant or majority culture adopting cultural traditions or traits of a minority culture, while at the same time oppressing the culture they borrow from.

i don't have a problem with this general framing. it seems like something bad is going on here.

but i'm less convinced by some of the responses to this problem, which often seem rooted in liberal or leftist identity politics and lead to conclusions that seem incompatible with anarchy. two things in particular seem troubling:

firstly, because these leftist reactions are rooted in identity politics, they necessarily depend on someone's claim to an identity: if someone 'is black' or 'is native american' then they are permitted to make use of black culture or native american culture, while if they don't possess that identity then they aren't. but this creates the same problem found in other expressions of identity politics, which is that these identities are not (and should not be) clearly delineated borders, and trying to make them so means reifying identity in ways which are explicitly harmful, such as 'blood quantum' rules or the white supremacist conception of 'white' meaning 'anyone not tainted by non-white blood'. i find this incompatible with my anarchism, at least, because i cannot find any path to individual or social liberation through arbitrary division of people into named categories.

secondly, these restrictions on appropriation are often framed in terms of 'ownership' of ideas. for example, i recently leaned about the idea of 'indigenous intellectual property', an attempt to bestow legal ownership of cultural 'IP' on indigenous people. but even when not framed in an explicitly legal context like that, the rhetoric is often that certain aspects of culture are 'owned' by a particular group and therefore they should have the right to control how other people use those ideas. since 'rights' and 'ownership' (whether of physical or 'intellectual' property) are incompatible with anarchism, i don't think this framing can be supportable. but if that's true, then there's no basis for anyone to object (in a general sense) to 'appropriation' of culture.

all that aside, some of the things often identified as cultural appropriation are actually harmful, but perhaps these can be re-framed. for example, someone appropriating AAVE to make fun of black people is harmful, but the harm there is racism. someone appropriating native american culture to sell it for profit is harmful, but the harm there is from the economic system which allows them to do that.

is there any framing of cultural appropriation which is both defensible from an anarchist position, and can be usefully applied to create meaningful action beyond action anarchists would already naturally support?



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ramonita wrote (edited )

I always think of this as boiling down to the people at the other end.

I once bought a bottle of Baron Samedhi rum, because I love the Baron, and that drew my attention. Only later I looked it up: It's a large Canadian company with a wide variety of drinks, each with a theme and an aesthetic. They have no connection to vodoun traditions, they don't practice vodoun, they don't send money to vodoun folk. They just put a vodoun skin to sell a product, a vibe, among hundreds of others like so many Funko Pops. The product sells to people like me because having the Baron in it makes it look cool; but the coolness comes from vodoun, not the product, its market value was taken—appropriated—from vodoun culture without asking and (crucially) without giving back.

I think this is a pretty shitty thing to do, not on some abstract transgression-sin level, but to living, breathing vodoun people (also dead ones hihi). If I was a practictioner I would be very pissed. Hell I do a sister tradition (umbanda) and it already annoys me.

Now suppose some dread-wearing white French hipster is fascinated by Baron Samedhi and wants to make a little altar in her apartment. Is this cultural appropriation? That's the wrong framing, the framing for me is: What do the people think of that? Are you being an asshole to people? Now based on my experience with Afrodiasporic traditions the opinion of basically everyone lies between "cool, the Baron likes it, it helps the tradition go on" to "what? who gives a fuck what some gringo does?". Now if this was something like, dunno, Candomblé rituals meant only for initiates, and you aren't an initiate, then to take those rituals would imply being an asshole to the people who developed and passed them to you. The ethics of taking without permission isn't different than any other anarchist ethics, i.e. who are you stealing from matters, and why.

What I experience in Europe repeatedly is white EU citizens policed by other white EU citizens for their token, symbolic transgressions. This I cannot swallow, it's just white saviourism with more steps. It can be downright farcical, seeing for example white people trying to tell one another that they're bad people if they wear Japanese yukata, meanwhile I speak Japanese and been to the kimono markets and talked in person to people into kimono culture who are desperate to sell their yukata to rich Europeans and struggling to keep that subculture going under the overwhelm of postindustrial European fashion.

tl;dr—there are too many different things going under the banner "cultural appropriation", and it tends to obscure the people-to-people web of relationships which is what matters.


asterism wrote (edited )

What I experience in Europe repeatedly is white EU citizens policed by other white EU citizens for their token, symbolic transgressions. This I cannot swallow, it's just white saviourism with more steps.

This reminds me of a time a while back I got slammed on Facebook (back when I still had Facebook) by white liberals for cultural appropriation because I posted a picture of me in Hmong garb.

Didn't matter said picture was taken at a photo booth at a Hmong cultural festival hosted by friends of mine who were Hmong.


Ant wrote (edited )

People are exploiting a colonial hierarchy when they:

  • cherry pick attributes of an oppressed group for social or monetary capital,
  • doubly so if they have gone about it outside of the conventions of the original culture while still claiming it
  • triply so when they are generally maintaining that colonial hierarchy in their everyday life
  • quadruply so when they have actively racist relations to that group while they pillage it

narbgarbler wrote

The bad thing is colonialists oppressing other cultures- appropriating elements of those cultures is really just adding insult to injury.

There are certainly problems with the popularised narrative of cultural appropriation, chiefly that having had 'your' culture appropriated begs the question what makes it yours- if it's because you're descended from an oppressed population, then there's the suggestion that there's a certain amount of biological essentialism to culture, which is a racist trope.

Of course if you're looking at it simply as a case of stolen intergenerational wealth, that's fair. I fear that that's not what people typically focus on when the topic comes up, though. When people focus on the racist narrative, they either support it- which supports racism- or they dismiss it- which dismisses the issues of genuine grievance.

There's nothing wrong with anyone enjoying and participating in any form of culture, however they wish, provided that it doesn't cause any ongoing harm.

It's worth remembering that nobody is really free of their ancestors having been colonised- today's colonisers are really just continuing a history of colonialism that was applied to them. Europeans for instance are both indigenous and colonised and the colonisers-in-chief. It's not at all clear what a decolonised Europe would look like and this makes it hard to for Europeans to understand what to do with a concept like cultural appropriation.


Blackapocalypsexdd wrote (edited )

Identity politics first coined by the Combahee River Collective

Was primarily focused on survival and liberation in an system hostile to BIPOC people. Which is why I hate that the term is used the way it has been, relatively recently especially on social media. The group Afrofuturtist Abolitionists of the Americas had talked a lot bout this on their Twitter and other platforms


LittleStarlight wrote (edited )

Not a POC/BBIMP but insofar as I've read, no marginalised group is condemning cultural appreciation. As someone who tries to be an ally/accomplice, I don't personally believe that acknowledging cultural appropriation as a problem goes against anarchist ideals

I feel that taking a colourblind approach to this is erasure. Oppressed cultures have every right to exert caution when it comes to allowing white people access to closed practices or knowledge, which does happen in the rare instance a white person has proven themselves to be trustworthy enough to be let in

I'd really encourage you to read more into cultural appropriation and appreciation before you conflate the two


wednesday OP wrote

i am not convinced i have "[conflated] cultural appropriation and appreciation". i'm not making any sort of moral judgement on the act of borrowing from other cultures per se.

my concern is more that the entire concept of a 'culture' being dependent on, and owned by, an identity category seems somewhat iffy, and i doubt that an anarchist argument can be made in favour of this.

i'm not "taking a colourblind approach"; to be honest, i'm not sure what you mean by that, or how my post could be interpreted that way. i explicitly mentioned two ways in which (what is often referred to as) cultural appropriation manifests as harmful practice. i understand "colourblind" to mean "i don't see race", but of course i do see race, because an analysis of race is necessary to understand racism and white supremacy.

i'm also not sure how "access to closed practices or knowledge" relates to what i said. i'm not arguing that people should be forced to share ideas with or talk to other people if they don't want to. how would that even work?


LittleStarlight wrote

Okay, no need to be defensive, I'm not looking for a conflict here. I'm totally new to anarchy and am still learning, but I am fairly decently versed in anti-racism and intersectional feminism, which as far as I've been told so far on here are somewhat cousins to anarchy in that the end goal is ending all oppression/hierarchy in its entirety

In an anarchist or truly post-racial society, I agree with you that these barriers would not exist. But as it stands, we are all collectively healing from the impact of colonisation, BBIMP most of all. And to gain true equality, we need to be invested in the idea of equity. Not everyone having the same thing or being viewed as one homogenous group, but everyone having the accommodations they need to access equal standing, and our differences celebrated and respected

i understand "colourblind" to mean "i don't see race", but of course i do see race, because an analysis of race is necessary to understand racism and white supremacy.

I'm glad that you do recognise this, and I apologise for misreading your post. My comment was not intended to be personal, but directed at the general discourse happening in this thread where appreciation and appropriation are being conflated in a lot of the examples given. You yourself said in your original post:

this isn't something i've thought about in a lot of detail, so this is just a sketch of some of my initial thoughts, which i'm posting in the hope of getting some feedback rather than to make an actual argument.

So I was under the impression you hadn't read a lot into this, as well as the link you shared in the top comment seeming to narrow this down to identity politics and disagreeing with the criticism of white people wearing locs, for example, because some Black folks say it's okay. I gave feedback and really don't intend to have an argument either. Again, I apologise for coming off as more confrontational than I intended, but I felt someone had to speak up with this perspective as so far I'd only seen very white ideas put forward


wednesday OP wrote (edited )

to be honest, i was a bit annoyed when i wrote my reply, because i found your comment a bit condescending. but maybe that's not how you meant it, it's hard to convey that sort of thing in text. so whatever; sorry if i was too aggressive.

intersectional feminism

fwiw, i am somewhat critical of feminism and don't consider myself a feminist (... i vaugely recall saying this to someone else here recently, was that you?); not because the problems feminism identifies aren't real - they are - but because i disagree with that particular analysis and path to liberation.

which as far as I've been told so far on here are somewhat cousins to anarchy in that the end goal is ending all oppression/hierarchy in its entirety

sort of. i'm dubious about this idea for the same reason i'm dubious of claims that "Marxists and anarchist communists want the same thing" (i.e.: communism), which is that the means are just as important as the ends, or to phrase that in a more anarchist way, any path to liberation that doesn't prefigure our end goal is counter-productive.

this is why i dislike identity politics: because the argument seems to be that we want to end up in a society where race or gender (or whatever) doesn't matter (or doesn't exist), but somehow, the only way to get there is to enforce an even stronger conceit of race or gender (or whatever). as i wrote in another post here recently, this seems quite similiar to ideas of the socialist 'vanguard party' that would, somehow, use authoritarian practices to usher in an anti-authoritarian society.

... which is maybe drifting off topic a little, but i want to be clear about the position i'm starting from here.

disagreeing with the criticism of white people wearing locs, for example, because some Black folks say it's okay

that's not exactly the point i was trying to make. the title of that essay is really a bit misleading because it's not specifically about dreadlocks, although it does use that as one example. i'm not arguing that white people should, or should not, be 'allowed to' wear dreads. (i hate this phrasing of 'allowed to', and i know you didn't phrase it like that, but...)

so it's not about 'some black people said this' and 'other black people said that'. rather, it's about the idea - according to the narrative of cultural appropriation as i understand it - that 'black people' should be accorded authority on this subject. not because i don't see race and "we're all just people" in a handwavey general sense, but because taking this position necessarily relies on the existence of 'black people' as a category: it cannot be articulated without defining who is black.

i find this objectionable because the entire premise of white supremacy is based on this division of people into categories, and in particular the idea that anyone who isn't the 'purest of the pure' is denied the label of 'white'. this is expressed, for example, in the idea that the child of a black parent and a white parent is "black" or "mixed race", but definitely never white.

we agree (i assume) that this social construction of 'blackness' (and 'whiteness', of course) is harmful and something that we want to abolish. but if that's the case, how can we then rely on this exact definition of blackness - the one created by white supremacy - to bestow authority on people regarding whether particular actions should be culturally acceptable or not?

i'm not arguing against lived experience (of course, to understand any oppression, the best way is to listen to people who experience it) and i'm not arguing that race "isn't real", because social constructions are still real. and i'm not even arguing that "white people should be allowed to wear dreadlocks", because i think a reasonable argument could be made that doing so causes harm by itself, regardless of the ideological position behind it. i don't know to what extent i'd agree with that, but i wouldn't dismiss it out of hand.


LittleStarlight wrote

Ah I really am sorry about that! 😅

That's fair enough! Like I said, I'm new and I'm reading a lot of different viewpoints. Intersectional feminism has helped me so far in finding my voice and navigating/understanding this world as someone with several oppressed identities, but I never see one school of thought as the be-all end-all and my views could shift the more I learn about anarchy as well. It could well have been me you said that to!

I'm also clueless about communism, but again I see your point and agree that the ideologies shouldn't be conflated just because there may be some overlap

I also agree with the essay you shared in that we shouldn't be following any kind of dogmatic thinking or the focus of our activism being fear of doing/saying the wrong thing, or thinking all members of one group share the same views. I may follow the teachings of intersectional feminism right now, but that doesn't mean I don't read or automatically disregard differing perspectives. I also agree with trying to avoid infighting over "minor" things, while also acknowledging and respecting that microaggressions and the little things can add up and contribute to oppression based trauma, so they shouldn't be dismissed in their entirety while we make an effort to prioritise more pressing issues. I'm really glad we're getting on the same page now!

Again, I'm very very new to anarchy and still very much a fledgling learning the total basics right now, but one of the things I read recently is that deferring to experience/expertise is not the same as deferring to authority. Black people are the experts on their lived experience, and so those are the voices we should listen to the most when trying to figure out how to decolonise and dismantle the systems of oppression they're bearing the most weight of. I'm the least qualified to speak as I am 100% white (got surprised by a dna test I took to diagnose health conditions!), but I try to share what I have learned from BBIMP to amplify their voices when they aren't present to do so themselves, or to show support for what they're saying when they are. So as an active student and aspiring accomplice, I would still have more knowledge than someone who has read absolutely zero theory and whose knowledge is entirely based on the UK secondary school system, for example. Just as I defer to your expertise as someone with knowledge about anarchy that I'm yet to possess. Which now, as I reach the final paragraph of your comment to respond to, I see you already get!

I think the bottom line is, this whole thing is messy, and it's going to take a hell of a long time before we all start to get any kind of real clarity as to the best way to move forward


Crown_of_Ice wrote

I don't want to mix up too much over this, but as I see it, it delves into on whose authority do we ultimately defer to on culture. Any culture. Lesbian culture, black culture, etc. Are lesbians able to exert "expertise" to tell other women when and when not they can use the lesbian label? Similarly, should black lesbians be able to gatekeep the label 'stud' from other races. I once argued with a black lesbian over whether Latina lesbians can use the term stud and what percentage of black heritage does it require for them to use the label if any at all? I don't have any horse in this race, but it seems to me that to reduce incidences of icky gatekeeping, then there cannot be cultural appropriation as long as everyone treats the culture they're exploring with genuinity and respect. I think that's where cultural appreciation and appropriation divide, where exploitation, mockery, and lack of understanding enter into the use of culture.


LittleStarlight wrote

Okay so like I've said, I'm literally super white and not an expert (not to be conflated with authority) on this, but I think you answered your own question somewhat when you asked if lesbians should police other women. I think you'd agree that a cishet man cannot and should not identify as a lesbian, and as a sapphic you understand why it's offensive or even sometimes dangerous when cishet men try to claim to be lesbians to attempt to "turn" or get a chance with us. Not to mention that plenty of gender-nonconforming people can be lesbians, including he/him lesbians and some trans men who want to hang onto that label, because they have already always been a part of lesbian culture and history, whereas a cishet man trying to claim lesbianism is always going to be invasive and problematic

The issue of cultural appropriation is less about gatekeeping, and more about calling out and preventing entitlement felt and perpetrated by members of a privileged class. Protecting what's yours and asking for respect isn't gatekeeping nor contradictory to anarchy. And if it is gatekeeping, well then sometimes gatekeeping might be necessary. Consider the thread that was posted when the majority of reddit users started flooding over here. Asking people to respect an existing culture is not malicious, it's protective

I'm not informed enough about stud discourse to expand further, nor should I be speaking too much on a topic I'm definitely under-informed about as a white person, so I'll share a Black sapphic's perspective in the hopes this helps


Crown_of_Ice wrote

My concern is how can one avoid being a hypocrite over gatekeeping labels from other minorities. Not between an obvious discrepancy between men and women where the imbalance is offensive for men to take up space. But between other women and between other lesbians, how can one say "no, you cannot be a lesbian" or "no, you cannot identify as a stud" while saying the vice versa for the other. Gatekeeping is inherently fascist in that regard as one is dictating how another must identify, or at least prevents them from identifying a certain way. And I don't see how that's permissible under anarchy.


LittleStarlight wrote

I'm really not sure I'm best equipped to answer your questions, both because I'm not educated enough about anarchy yet to have meaningful discussions about it, and because as a white person it's not for me to say or speak for the groups directly affected by this

What I will say though is that being part of one or more marginalised groups doesn't negate the privilege you may hold in one or more other identities. I'm oppressed because I'm disabled, lesbian, genderfluid, lower class, and assigned female at birth. But I'm still shielded by white privilege, and none of my other identities can erase that. While solidarity among marginalised groups is important, we can only achieve that by recognising when we're also protected by privilege or perhaps even abusing it. Voting statistics from the time of Trump (though I know voting isn't exactly favoured here, especially if we focus on the US) show that white women were willing to throw themselves under the bus just to target BBIMP (i.e. 'immigration') in the elections. And now we've ended up with Roe V Wade overturned, more attacks on LGBTQIA+ rights, and even as someone from the UK these things end up affecting me because our government tends to follow what the US does, so it has a ripple effect in other countries as well, whether it be in the West with European politicians mirroring US policy changes, or in the East with people being more affected by war and climate crises. So there really is a big problem with white women in particular appropriating when by and large most white women will still throw a BBIMP under the bus when it suits them

Then there's colourism, and how racism/privilege presents among the different groups who experience racism. The more proximity a group has to privilege, whether it be a cishet white woman falling for the fallacy of seeming to be almost adjacent to male privilege, seeing the glass ceiling in her sights. Or, mixed race or light skinned BBIMP passing as white or having some proximity to whiteness, that impacts how they interact with and could be enabling oppression against their kin with darker skin

None of this can stop until we stop tearing each other down from within our communities, but until then those of us hurt most of all by all this crap should be able to preserve spaces and things just for them. The inter-community trust just isn't there yet


Crown_of_Ice wrote

I understand, it's just I have trouble understanding why a black lesbian would gatekeep the term "stud" from a Latina lesbian other than to be territorial. I read the article you sent me, and it isn't impossible for Latine lesbians to experience black culture and be partially black themselves, but I've had people argue with me that it is solely a term for black lesbians. I'm white and Japanese, but my gf is Salvadoran and if she wanted to identify as a stud, I don't see why her background and ethnicity should automatically prevent that. She wouldn't come at it from a point of disrespect or trying to steal culture and if I suspect she did I would question her why. Otherwise, I do not see the point of gatekeeping between minorities where there is no discrepancy in privilege.


LittleStarlight wrote

I mean I'm not entirely too versed in this, but as far as I understand, Latines can be any race- Cameron Diaz is Latina and white. And thanks to centuries of racism, as has already been mentioned in this thread, the majority of mixed people with recent enough Black heritage are read as Black and typically included in Black culture- though I have seen discourse from some Black people who say that light skinned (not even white-passing) mixed race people can't claim Black culture. No group is going to all share the same ideas, that's why all of this is so complex

I think this conversation boils down to colourism, proximity to whiteness, and anti-Blackness. Which means I'm afraid I need to disagree with your statement

I do not see the point of gatekeeping between minorities where there is no discrepancy in privilege

Because plenty of academic research and discourse by BBIMP suggests that there is indeed a discrepancy in privilege even between different groups of racialised people, with Black and Indigenous people being subject to the most vilification. I'd ask you to consider why you chose the word "territorial" when you said

I have trouble understanding why a black lesbian would gatekeep the term "stud" from a Latina lesbian other than to be territorial.

A word which definitely has animalistic or "savage" connotations, when alternatives such as possessive or gatekeeping work without conjuring those images. Anti-Blackness in common/colloquial language is just as endemic as ableist language, if you consider the adjustment many redditors are making right now in the move over to raddle where such language violates TOS. Is raddle then anti-anarchist for "policing" language? Or does it stand to reason that sometimes not allowing people to say or do something is protective and justified?

I really feel like I shouldn't be speaking this much on it with my cursory knowledge, so I'm going to direct you to a couple more articles and I hope they help 💖

I should also note that both Nicki Minaj and Rihanna have been accused of appropriating Asian culture in the last decade, so it's not a one way street of only being perpetuated against Black people when it comes to addressing appropriation between marginalised cultures. Then there was also the prevalence and increase in anti-Asian violence being perpetrated by all races in the wake of COVID. Some language, some dress, some practices, are sacred- whether through actual spirituality or through the vast meaning they hold among the culture they come from, i.e. the significance of cornrows not just looking pretty, but the fact they were used to smuggle food, and communicate messages and escape routes among slaves. So many people don't consider that deep and often painful history before going "oh, I want a piece of that" and taking yet another thing from a group that's already been bled dry and is still facing repercussions like lower employability or consequences at work whilst a white person won't have to deal with anywhere near that level of prejudice from white peers for the same hairstyle, and is more often than not celebrated for it. As long as a group is still being degraded and discriminated against for a cultural practice, we shouldn't be lauding the oppressing group for taking those things from them and getting credit/glory


Crown_of_Ice wrote (edited )

I just think it would be particularly hurtful to tell someone they cannot identify a certain way because they are too white-adjacent. I don't know if I used the word territorial subconsciously due to some racial bias I still may hold against black people, but I think it would be a little egregious for one black person to tell a lighter skinned black person that they are too privileged to partake in black culture and that follows suit to other BBIMP. We wouldn't afford someone who identifies as a bi lesbian more privilege than monosexual lesbians and say they can't identify as bi lesbian or just plain lesbian just because they can pass into heteronormative society more easily. Or would we? I just see an unreconcilable discrepancy and double standard there if we allow for the lesbian label to be accessible, but labels concerning race not so open.

And the gate swings both ways. I wouldn't yell at Nicki Minaj or Rhianna for appropriating Asian culture and don't think it was disrespectful. Denzel Curry using Yandere Simulator in one of his music videos is fun as far as I'm concerned (not that that really cultural appropriation of any huge deal).


LittleStarlight wrote

Well yeah, I agree colourism for sure is a double edged sword in that on one hand, BBIMP are being erased and excluded from their culture for not being dark enough, and on the other hand darker skinned BBIMP are at much higher risk of violence, discrimination, death due to medical negligence, and microaggressions/prejudice from lighter skinned community members. This can even include their own family when you think of the numerous anecdotes from people who were compared to lighter-skinned relatives, or encouraged to bleach their skin

Sadly I've seen too much of that debate over on AL to agree with you that people don't say that, because it felt like that was ALL that was said over there half the time, and mods were removing any dissenting comments, including my own 😅

I try not to compare race issues with LGBTQIA+ or disability, etc. when I can help it, because as someone who hasn't experienced racism it's not for me to draw that analogy. But I will say, as I've said before r.e. the bi/lesbian debate so often had on AL, that we need to acknowledge the ways in which the intra-community groups are both harmed by society at large and by each other. These things can all be true at once, and it's only through communication between the affected groups (and a lot of time) that there is ever going to be an eventual consensus. I'm happy to parrot what I've learned from BBIMP, and share resources/amplify BBIMP voices, because the onus shouldn't be on already exhausted groups to be educating people over and over again, but ultimately there's only so much I can share. Beyond what I've said in this entire thread, I really have no part nor stake in this discussion. I've shared all I know, so all I can advise is continuing to read through what's already been said by BBIMP so you can form your own opinion, and keep asking questions in spaces where that discourse is specifically invited


RebelWaltz wrote

I think of it similarly to doing foreign accents. My parents rubbed the habit off on me doing them; and I mean everyone’s. The people the city over from us, tourists, people we overheard in the street. It’s a sing-songy, annoying thing I pick up everywhere now. But there’s times when an accent definitely crosses the line into being a racist or just shitty stereotype that is context dependent though felt out pretty easily. As someone who’s had their accent done (awfully) back to them, I try and keep it in mind.


BarbarousPants wrote (edited )

It often ends up just being used for socially acceptable racism. Just another way of saying "people of different cultures should stay separate from each other".