Sensitivity Writers. AKA: avoiding cultural appropriate in writing

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Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
But there is nothing wrong with emulating culture.
Actually, there is. And it's a big reason. That's how minority cultures die out. And more often than not, it's intentional by the majority to do so. Native Americans adopted and given "white" names and dress. Taking pagan holidays like Winter Solstice and making it the celebration of Jesus's birthday (despite him being born in August), and things like christmas trees, and presents, and dressing up for Halloween.

Really, the list is pretty exhaustive of how cultures in history have hijacked other minority cultures as a way to eliminate their influence and culture.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Actually, there is. And it's a big reason. That's how minority cultures die out. And more often than not, it's intentional by the majority to do so. Native Americans adopted and given "white" names and dress. Taking pagan holidays like Winter Solstice and making it the celebration of Jesus's birthday (despite him being born in August), and things like christmas trees, and presents, and dressing up for Halloween.

Really, the list is pretty exhaustive of how cultures in history have hijacked other minority cultures as a way to eliminate their influence and culture.
Wait a second. Your mixing up all kinds of things here. You are talking about the Christianization of Europe which relied on adopting pagan elements to make Christianity more appealing (it also relied other things as well like force). That is way more complicated than borrowing headgear and slacks. And it was a conversion effort. Minority cultures die out because they get displaced, people take their land, they are the victims of genocide, they are pressured to assimilate, etc. I don't think people appreciate the kind of conspiracy minded thinking going into this narrative you are building. If you examine the history of the Christianization of Europe, I don't think this is the lesson you take from it. I would say more often than not, an unwillingness to engage with outside cultures, rather than a willingness to engage, is to blame for bloodshed, genocide and cultural destruction. You are cherry picking aspects of history to make a case for people not borrowing musical scales or visual patterns that come from cultures outside their own. I don't think you can compare the spread of Christianity or the spread of Islam to someone borrowing a bit of music, or wearing their hair in a certain style. Christianity and Islam were massive cultural shifts.

Also very important here: without that kind of approbation we wouldn't have our own vibrant culture that includes things like celebrating halloween, decorating Christmas trees, etc. Everything comes from somewhere. The pagans got those ideas from other people too. This drive to distill cutlural elements to some kind of mythical pure form, I think is deeply misguided.
 
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Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Wait a second. Your mixing up all kinds of things here. You are talking about the Christianization of Europe which relied on adopting pagan elements to make Christianity more appealing (it also relied other things as well like force). That is way more complicated than borrowing headgear and slacks. Minority cultures die out because they get displaced, people take their land, they are the victims of genocide, they are pressured to assimilate, etc. I don't think people appreciate the kind of conspiracy minded thinking going into this narrative you are building. If you examine the history of the Christianization of Europe, I don't think this is the lesson you take from it. I would say more often than not, an unwillingness to engage with outside cultures, rather than a willingness to engage, is to blame for bloodshed, genocide and cultural destruction. You are cherry picking aspects of history to make a case for people not borrowing musical scales or visual patterns that come from cultures outside their own.

Also very important here: without that kind of approbation we wouldn't have our own vibrant culture that includes things like celebrating halloween, decorating Christmas trees, etc. Everything comes from somewhere. The pagans got those ideas from other people too. This drive to distill cutlural elements to some kind of mythical pure form, I think is deeply misguided.
No, I'm not mixing up things. It's all part of the same thing. It cheapens, lessens, and bastardizes genuine culture when others take bits and pieces of it to hijack it for their own. See the above spirit animal reference. So many white people go around using it, that our culture now not only doesn't have the proper respect for people who that is actually sacred to, but it's been jumbled so much that most people don't even realize that most Native Americans don't believe in the concept of a spirit animal that is being used by non natives. Rather most people treat Native American cultures as some sort of homogenized culture now. And that is how actual cultures get lost.
 
I would recommend (trying to) bypass the issue by reframing your intention as being inspired by certain real world cultures, rather than whether or not you are in danger of appropriating, because in today's volatile context you're going to offend someone. Just be aware, respectful, and think in terms of being inspired by. You are not "appropriating" anything - you are being creatively inspired by cultures and incorporating those elements into your work. Being inspired by is inherently a place of respecting what you're inspired by.

If you are ever actually confronted, you can say "I was inspired by X culture," and really only extremists will be offended - and there is always going to be someone that gets offended.

Here's a very interesting article on fantasy fiction and this issue: Writers blocked: even fantasy fiction is now offensive.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
No, I'm not mixing up things. It's all part of the same thing. It cheapens, lessens, and bastardizes genuine culture when others take bits and pieces of it to hijack it for their own. See the above spirit animal reference. So many white people go around using it, that our culture now not only doesn't have the proper respect for people who that is actually sacred to, but it's been jumbled so much that most people don't even realize that most Native Americans don't believe in that concept. Rather most people treat Native American cultures as some sort of homogenized culture now. And that is how actual cultures get lost.
That seems like a very weak argument to me. I am not saying people should go around using Totem animals. But you see this sort of cultural adoption of things all the time. The Buddha has become a cartoon in certain deceptions, and you see similar things with Jesus. That doesn't automatically weaken faith in Buddhism or Christianity. Other things have to be going on. And I don't think people adopting these cultural elements make them more hostile toward the culture they are borrowing from. I feel like this is a very simple answer people are reaching for that isn't actually the source of the problem.

And the second part of your paragraph makes this even more confusing. How is people believing something false about a culture, going to contribute to that culture dying?
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
It isn't the existence of complaints. It is the proliferation of complaints under the banner of cultural appropriation, which often seem like frivolous complaints compared to more serious conners about offensive material. I think what happens is people start to file any concern under the same grouping as that, and they start taking concerns overall less seriously. There is a big difference between using the N word for example and a Kate Perry video. But the more people hear complaints about a celebrity borrowing from Egyptian culture, the more the dismissive they become overall.
Just because you think something is frivolous doesn’t mean everyone else feels likewise.

Sometimes, a complaint about cultural appropriation isn’t about a single particular example, but an accumulation of similar transgressions.

Can a bunch of complaints lead to fatigue? Certainly! But just like a parent might nag a kid about picking up his toys, perhaps the constant drumbeat of criticisms about cultural appropriation exists because the prior complaints have been dismissed and ignored.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
But there is nothing wrong with emulating culture. If you see something in a culture you like and want to incorporate into a work, I do not understand this new mentality that you somehow shouldn't do that. That is how new ideas come about. What you are advocating is keeping cultural ideas locked in their original context. Or at the very least gate kept by people within that culture so they only evolve at a rate set locally. I look back on the history of the world and think what an awful place we'd live in today if that is how things were done. Ideas need to spread, and people need to absorb them, rework them, and turn them into new things. Otherwise ideas decay.
I am not saying you cannot use elements of another culture within your own creative works. Synthesis is crucial to both culture and science. That’s why Soil & Pimp Sessions plays killer jazz in Japan, why rap is a worldwide phenomenon, why the Beatles & Led Zeppelin’s dabbling in eastern musical modes is celebrated, how Blues became rock & roll.

I’m saying that doing so without understanding & respecting what you’re using is problematic, and THAT is the core of criticisms of cultural appropriation.

That’s literally the gist of my initial post in this thread.
 
But where does it end? And who is the final arbiter? This is the problem - there is no end, or rather the end is dystopian authoritarianism which George Orwell described beautifully in the 1940s.

Furthermore, the "constant drumbeat of complaints" don't in and of themselves prove their own validity just because they're constant. There are a wide range of complaints, and my concern is when no differentiation is made. This is happening in a number of different contexts, from cultural appropriation, the metoo movement, free speech, etc etc.

There's quite a difference between Harvey Weinstein and Louis CK, just as there's a huge difference between wearing blackface and being inspired by African mythology in a roleplaying game.

The problem with the "constant drumbeat of complaints" is that it tends to drown out any difference or nuance.
 
I’m saying that doing so without understanding & respecting what you’re using is problematic, and THAT is the core of criticisms of cultural appropriation.
I can agree on the respecting part, which is pretty easy to do. But the understanding part is more problematic and creates an impossible bind: claiming you understand could be deemed as a form of appropriation.

It doesn't need to be that complex: just be respectful, be sensitive, but if you end up doing everything possible to not offend anyone, you're going to handcuff yourself creativity and chances are there's someone out there who will be offended.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
I can agree on the respecting part, which is pretty easy to do. But the understanding part is more problematic and creates an impossible bind: claiming you understand could be deemed as a form of appropriation.

It doesn't need to be that complex: just be respectful, be sensitive, but if you end up doing everything possible to not offend anyone, you're going to handcuff yourself creativity and chances are there's someone out there who will be offended.
If you don’t claim to understand EVERYTHING about what you’re borrowing and are open to learning from mistakes, you’re probably good. Nobody has a perfect understanding of any culture. Just know and admit your limitations.

If, however, your claims of understanding are at odds with your actions, that will put the lie to your claims. Ditto if your claims are patently false- for example, I don’t claim to understand the finer points of parenting because I have no kids. At best, I can claim empathy, not understanding.
 
I think people should read this article. The problem isn't solved by just "being respectful and avoid stereotypes." A lot of people are unaware of just how many microaggressions are being perpetrated, and just how harmful those are.

OK, but part of the problem is you're framing the discussion as if everyone agrees that "microaggressions" are a thing. The term itself is jargon coming from a specific ideological framework. If you don't subscribe to that framework, they aren't really a thing, or at least not as much of a thing than if you subscribe to the framework within which they are a thing.

All that said, I agree that Native Americans are one of the most marginalized, under-respected groups in North America. I'm not sure that worrying about Halloween costumes is the way to rectify that, however. I'd rather see that energy put into transforming and empowering Native peoples, reservations, etc.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I’m saying that doing so without understanding & respecting what you’re using is problematic, and THAT is the core of criticisms of cultural appropriation.

That’s literally the gist of my initial post in this thread.
But why? What if I am a very simple and not particularly worldly musician and I walk by a monastery and hear Gregorian Chant. I instantly start emulating it without understanding its original context but I create something new and vibrant. Why is that problematic. The same would be true if I walked by and heard Buddhist chants in Sanskrit or walked by a house playing salsa music and decided to emulate the scales played on the keyboard. We can like things and borrow them without necessarily understanding them. Borrowing aesthetics isn’t a sacred act that has to be officiated by a priest class (which is what I think is going on and why I pointed to how social class plays a role in navigating this issue)
 
If you don’t claim to understand EVERYTHING about what you’re borrowing and are open to learning from mistakes, you’re probably good. Nobody has a perfect understanding of any culture. Just know and admit your limitations.

If, however, your claims of understanding are at odds with your actions, that will put the lie to your claims. Ditto if your claims are patently false- for example, I don’t claim to understand the finer points of parenting because I have no kids. At best, I can claim empathy, not understanding.
I think that's the most important point: Understanding that one cannot understanding the Other, not fully - whether that is your spouse, a friend, a colleague, or a group of people. That starts us off in a place of mutual respect, or at least the possibility of mutual respect.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
OK, but part of the problem is you're framing the discussion as if everyone agrees that "microaggressions" are a thing. The term itself is jargon coming from a specific ideological framework. If you don't subscribe to that framework, they aren't really a thing, or at least not as much of a thing than if you subscribe to the framework within which they are a thing.
Clearly you didn't bother to read that article. If you don't think microaggressions are a thing (they are objectively provable), then we are so far off that I don't know why you're in this thread when I was asking for other opinions and advice on how to avoid pitfalls of cultural appropriation.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I think that's the most important point: Understanding that one cannot understanding the Other, not fully - whether that is your spouse, a friend, a colleague, or a group of people. That starts us off in a place of mutual respect, or at least the possibility of mutual respect.
I don’t think we ever have perfect understanding of anyone, but doesn't this attitude just turn people into more of an other? Essentially it starts from ‘this person is so different from me, they are ultimately unknowable’. That doesn’t seem like it is healthy or likely to produce empathy. My wife is from another country, from another culture and a different language. Somehow we have managed to bridge that. I think if we viewed one another as do alien neither of us could understand the other truly, we’d have no real human connection.
 
But why? What if I am a very simple and not particularly worldly musician and I walk by a monastery and hear Gregorian Chant. I instantly start emulating it without understanding its original context but I create something new and vibrant. Why is that problematic. The same would be true if I walked by and heard Buddhist chants in Sanskrit or walked by a house playing salsa music and decided to emulate the scales played on the keyboard. We can like things and borrow them without necessarily understanding them. Borrowing aesthetics isn’t a sacred act that has to be officiated by a priest class (which is what I think is going on and why I pointed to how social class plays a role in navigating this issue)
I personally dont see anything wrong with that, but obviously some people do. You can't please everyone. But then again, I'm not really all that sensitive or concerned about being appropriated, mostly because I don't strongly identify with specific groups, ideologies, tribes, etc (largely due to my general adherence to my algammation of various strains of nondual philosophy - Buddhism, Vedanta, Sufism, etc...hey, I'm appropriating!).

I suppose the only time I get triggered is when people say some variation of "All X are" or "You're such a Y" in a pejorative manner. But that isn't cultural appropriation - that's stereotyping. And I would never try to censor or punish or de-platform someone from speaking their truth, even if I disagree with it or find it ugly.

But here's the thing: From one perspective, concerns about cultural appropriation are the flipside of stereotyping: they are separating, tribal, and divide people from each other. In my view, the big task of the 21st century is to find our underlying unity as one species (among other species), as inhabitants of the same home. If we don't, we're doomed. Stereotyping and complaining about cultural appropriation only serve to further separate us.
 
Clearly you didn't bother to read that article. If you don't think microaggressions are a thing (they are objectively provable), then we are so far off that I don't know why you're in this thread when I was asking for other opinions and advice on how to avoid pitfalls of cultural appropriation.
Did you read the article I posted in reference to your OP? Probably not, so no need to get upset.

But your attitude just furthers the point I'm trying to make: "Either you agree or get out." Either you agree with the basic ideological framework I'm coming from or you don't belong in the conversation. How well does that work?

Oh yeah, I didn't say microaggressions aren't a thing. I said some people don't think they're a thing, and many people disagree on to what degree they are a thing. And by "a thing," I don't really mean whether they exist or not, but how important they are. That is not objectively measurable.

EDIT: I skimmed through the article and agree and empathize with the gist of it. I have had arguments with sports fans about the usage of "Redskins" and "Chief Wahoo" before and frankly find it unfortunate (to say the least) that the NFL and MLB haven't changed them.

But my concern is on the monolithic approach to this issue, as if there's only one way to understand this and that is through "microaggressions" and "cultural appropriation" and other such jargon. Adherents to this underlying ideology tend be antagonistic and dismissive of anyone who holds a different view.
 
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Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I am not saying you cannot use elements of another culture within your own creative works. Synthesis is crucial to both culture and science. That’s why Soil & Pimp Sessions plays killer jazz in Japan, why rap is a worldwide phenomenon, why the Beatles & Led Zeppelin’s dabbling in eastern musical modes is celebrated, how Blues became rock & roll.
But a lot of those things wouldn’t have happened if the concept of cultural appropriation had currency when they were developed.
 
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